Her heart pounding, cosmetics chemist and ultramarathoner Emma Caldridge strides up a steep Columbian mountainside. With a band of armed guerrillas hot on her trail, she is racing to reach the Lost City, a source of unique indigenous plants that will serve as an antidote to a weapons-grade nervous system disrupter that Caldridge was exposed to earlier. Without the cure, she had only 12 hours to live.
“If my heart isn't going, I figure nobody else will find it that interesting either,” explains Jamie Freveletti (LAW '85)—distance runner, Aikido black-belt holder, and former trial attorney. At an Argo Tea shop in Chicago's Loop, she discusses her fictional character, Caldridge, and Freveletti's second career as an international best-selling thriller novelist. "I write just as I go—I don't make outlines. If I start to get really excited about the story, I know I'm on to something.
Winner of Best First Novel from the International Thriller Writers and a Barry Award (crime literary prize), and selected by the Estate of Robert Ludlum as an author in his Covert One series, Freveletti is on to something big. Her debut Caldridge thriller—Running from the Devil(HarperCollins)—was published in 2009; her second, Running Dark, won a 2010 Lovey Award for Best Novel; and her third, The Ninth Day, was released on September 27.
Freveletti experienced some early literary acclaim as a preteen growing up in Addison, Ill., when her poem on pollution was selected for a book of children's works (Dear Carol Burnett: A Collection of Children's Poems Sent to Carol Burnett). After graduating from IIT Chicago-Kent, she co-wrote a law review that was published in theLoyola Law Journal, but it was not until 2000, when Freveletti was working as a litigating partner, that she fully realized her passion for writing.
While at the firm she attended a creative writing course, and immersed herself into developing her idea forRunning from the Devil, which features a plane-hijacking scene, when the World Trade Towers were destroyed. Recovering from her own shock at the tragedy, Freveletti did not pick up the manuscript again until 2004, when she pitched the premise to an editor at a mystery conference. After 18 months of rewriting and editing, Freveletti had a contract.
“It's a Cinderella story in that it's what a lot of writers only dream about, including me; I was right there with everybody else, dreaming,” she says, adding that her life in the law helped her to learn how to explain facts to people in a way that they easily understand. When not traveling for story research or author's events, Freveletti fleshes out her plots, pitting problem-solver Caldridge against rough-and-tumble characters in troubled nations—all from a corner of her master bedroom facing a window overlooking an alley on Chicago's North Side. From there, Freveletti's imagination takes her continents away.