Story Line Attorney is accomplished author as well

By Debra Talcott

Legal News

From Farmington Hills to Ann Arbor to Los Angeles. That is the path Michigan native Mary Hanlon Stone followed as she went from high school student to law school graduate to practicing attorney and author.

A 1985 graduate of University of Michigan Law School, Hanlon Stone credits her father, retired attorney Arthur Hanlon, for inspiring her to seek a career in the law and "Carolyn Keene" -- the pseudonym used by the various authors of the Nancy Drew novels -- for inspiring her to write young adult fiction. When her first novel, "invisible girl," was released earlier this year, Hanlon Stone felt honored that her bailiff, her court reporter, and her clerk immediately went out to buy copies of the book.

"It's funny -- when you get your first novel published, you start out being totally excited. Then you suddenly realize that people you know are actually going to read it, and you're terrified," says Hanlon Stone, a deputy district attorney.

So when the presiding judge in her courthouse called for her, Hanlon Stone expected to be asked to give an opinion on a case. When she found her colleagues in the courtroom with the judge, all holding copies of the book, she admits to being speechless.

"I was so honored that they went out and bought the book and so appreciative of the support, yet I felt completely naked at the same time. I felt like my worlds were colliding between my lawyer life and my writer life."

It is the natural meshing of those two lives that culminated in the story of Hanlon Stone's protagonist, a high school freshman who is relocated from her working class Boston family to live with a well-to-do family in L.A. after she is abandoned by an abusive mother and a father who is ill equipped to raise a teenage daughter.

"I can't recall when I first came up with the idea of the main character because she really was more of a feeling than a conscious thought," says Hanlon Stone. "I've been a deputy district attorney for 23 years, and the majority of that time I've been in a special unit, prosecuting sexual assault and domestic violence cases. I've handled hundreds of cases involving teenage girls, and I have a special place in my heart for them."

Hanlon Stone thought her setting, which juxtaposes the rough Boston environment against the glittery world of Los Angeles, would highlight the difficulties faced by teens who are victims of neglect or abuse.

"I am always touched by how hard their lives are as they try to manage the general teenage 'warfare' with the additional weight of bad secrets inside them," says Hanlon Stone.

This attorney-author says she enjoys all facets of her career but takes special pride in helping victims.

"Part of it may be because I'm the second oldest in a big family, and I'm used to being a big sister and watching out for people. I have really bonded with my victims over the years, and that's what motivates me to come to work every day."

She also enjoys how "alive" she feels in the trial phase of her job.

"You get to, essentially, tell a story during opening statement and really paint a picture for the jury of what happened in a case. Then you get to fight a war for justice for your victim. I really like that. I like to go to battle for what I believe in."

Hanlon Stone also believes in the power of literature to influence readers' lives, and she looks back on her undergraduate years as an English major at Michigan and on her third year law school elective courses with fondness.

"My biggest hero was Professor June Howard. I took every class she taught and even organized an independent study group that met with the professor and three other students weekly. All of the classes involved the analysis of literature and creative writing and were excellent preparation for ultimately writing a novel."

Hanlon Stone followed in the footsteps of her father and older sister when she applied to the University's law school.

"I knew I wanted to go to Michigan Law because it has such an amazing national reputation," says Hanlon Stone. "With my older sister, Colleen, in her third year at Michigan Law when I started, I was really lucky to have an instant support system.

Although the elder Hanlon and his daughters attended law school more than 20 years apart, all three can say they studied under Professor Cunningham for the property course.

Upon earning her J.D., Hanlon Stone worked for a year at a Chicago firm then took a position as a deputy district attorney in L.A. It was there that she met her husband, Richard Stone, who is now the presiding judge in the Beverly Hills courthouse, near where the couple lives with their two sons.

"We were best friends for years, and we were dubbed the 'When Harry Met Sally' of the office when we finally got together," she quips.

Hanlon Stone credits her husband for being her source of support and her secret weapon for maintaining balance in her busy life -- which recently included participating in the pilot of a legal reality show filmed in Chicago. To that she adds her anticipation of the release next spring of her second novel, "The Comedown Life."

"I tend to be pretty emotional," she says, "and Richie is always really level and supportive. Plus, he does all the cooking -- something I've never mastered -- unless you count really good salads."

Hanlon Stone says that of all of the "hats" she wears, her favorite is that of mother.

"I love having sons -- I have four brothers, so I'm used to the world of guys. Both my sons love to read, so we go to the bookstore and library and load up. For fun, I read some of the same books that they do. They, of course, have gotten into the world of the Kindle, but I still like the feel of a solid book in my hands."

When she is not working, writing, or reading, Hanlon Stone enjoys playing football.

"I grew up playing with my father and sibs in the back yard. Just holding a football puts me back in touch with autumn in Michigan, and I feel such a strong connection to my essential self," she says.

Staying true to her essential self is a lesson also learned by Hanlon Stone's main character, Stephanie, in "invisible girl." Stephanie learns to move beyond the fear that students at her new high school will discover what she's been hiding, and she finds the strength to stand up for herself and be different from the popular crowd.

"My target audience started out as teenage girls," says Hanlon Stone. "Then a lot of the moms of the girls started reading the book, and I've been asked to drop by or video chat with quite a few women's book groups."

Hanlon Stone says that at this point she gets an equal number of messages from both teens and adult women through her web site: maryhanlonstone.com.

Hanlon Stone, who graduated in 1978 from Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, says that, thus far, she's never been invited back to be a guest speaker.

"But I'd get on a plane tomorrow and go if they wanted me," she says. "I'll always be a Michigan girl inside, and if there's any way I could inspire or help the kids from my hometown, it would be a great honor."

Published: Fri, Sep 17, 2010