Alicia Hilton doesn’t have a problem finding things to write about. With an intriguing and accomplished background as an FBI Special Agent, an attorney and law professor, and a fine art consultant, ideas that she can formulate into expressive writing abound. During a recent interview, she revealed how she draws inspiration from not only her professional background, but also from her artistic interests.
1) Tell us about your educational and professional background.
I received a BA in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, a JD from the University of Chicago, and an MA in Humanities with a focus on Creative Writing from the University of Chicago. I also graduated from the FBI Academy. I am a poet, essayist, author of creative nonfiction and fiction, and a law professor. Prior to becoming an attorney and teaching law school, I was an FBI Special Agent. Before I joined the FBI, I was a financial consultant with Merrill Lynch, and I was a fine art consultant with three art galleries.
2) When you were growing up, did you ever dream of being an FBI Special Agent, a lawyer, a writer, or all of these?
Since I was a young child, I have loved reading books. Reading inspired me to want to be a writer. When I was twelve, I started reading books by Mario Puzo, Robert Ludlum, John le Carré, and other suspense novelists. Stories about espionage and organized crime intrigued me, and I became interested in working for the FBI. My father is a lawyer, and my grandfather was a lawyer and a politician, so I grew up around the law. My mother was a science teacher and a technical writer. Before she died of cancer, she had started writing her memoir. She encouraged me to follow my dreams of being a writer and working in law and law enforcement.
3) Which writing genres do you prefer?
My favorite writing genres are poetry, fiction, and memoir/personal essay.
4) How has your professional background enriched your writing?
My background helps me to write articles for the legal and law enforcement community. I also draw on my professional training, skills, and experiences when I write fiction, and some of my longer poems are about crime or people who have overcome victimization.
5) Most people think that FBI Special Agents lead exciting lives—from what they’ve seen in movies. What are the stark realities of it—the kind of casework you were assigned to and the dangers involved?
As an FBI Special Agent, I was a member of a foreign counterintelligence squad—I investigated spies. I also worked undercover in two long-term criminal cases, posing as a drug dealer with ties to organized crime. Undercover assignments are exciting, stressful and dangerous. If actors do not play their characters well, they get bad reviews. If undercover agents do not play their roles well, they can get killed. My favorite aspect of being an FBI Special Agent was undercover work because I knew that I was undertaking a very active role in helping to apprehend criminals and to prevent people from being victimized.
6) You are writing a novel. Is it a crime novel?
Yes. The main characters are a retired hit man, an art thief, and a female FBI Special Agent. It’s a work of fiction, and the FBI character is not me, but she works undercover like I did, and she knows some of the things I learned when I was an FBI Special Agent. My experiences as a fine art consultant and my knowledge of art and art history help me to write about the art thief and his motivations. As an FBI Special Agent, I met many different types of criminals, and I learned that criminals, like other people in society, are multifaceted human beings—they usually have some positive traits. My retired hit man character is an art collector, and he loves music and poetry.
7) How did you discover haiku and why do you like to write it?
I started reading and writing haiku in 2009 when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, studying creative writing. Haiku paint vivid images and can evoke powerful emotions. Haiku are short, but they can have a big impact on people’s lives. Writing haiku helps me to appreciate nature and other aspects of the world around me, and writing haiku helps me to relax. Sometimes I incorporate humor when I write haiku. I hope that reading my haiku helps other people to be happy.
8) What kind of articles do you write?
I write articles about law, law enforcement, art, popular culture, health and fitness. My legal scholarship focuses on criminal procedure and preventing law enforcement misconduct. I’ve also written law journal articles about terrorism and art law. My law journal articles have been published in the United States and in Australia, and I write law enforcement-related articles for “Police Magazine.” Cooking is one of my hobbies, and I write a monthly column on healthy eating that includes recipes for the “Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.” I also write art exhibit reviews for the “Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.”
9) You have a music and art background, and even write song lyrics. Tell us about this.
About seven years ago, I started playing the violin. I am a member of the Music Institute of Chicago Community Symphony. I also like to sing. While I was in law school, I was a member of the University of Chicago Vespers Choir. I appreciate a wide variety of music—classical, opera, rock, pop, hip hop, rap, and country. I enjoy collaborating with musicians.
10) You’ve taken time off from being a law professor to write. What do you teach and lecture in?
I have taught courses on Criminal Procedure, Criminal Law, Cultural Property and Museum Law, and Undercover Operations and Informant Management Law. I have guest lectured on White Collar Crime and Property. Though I’m taking time off from full-time teaching to write, I still work as a guest speaker. In 2011 and early 2012, I was a guest speaker at thirteen law schools: Duke, Vanderbilt, Baylor, University of Hawaii, Texas Wesleyan, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Memphis, University of St. Thomas, St. Mary’s University, Hamline University, University of Tulsa, and Barry University. I also have taught workshops for writers.
11) What are your writing goals?
I view my writing as a way of engaging in a dialogue with readers, and one of my writing goals is to connect with people around the world. I just finished the first draft of my memoir. I want to polish that manuscript, finish my novel, and write more poetry. I want to learn more about the craft of writing and improve my writing.
12) Can you share three of your published haiku?
clear blue sky
a fly treads water
in the baptismal font
Chrysanthemum, Issue 11, 2012
the grasshopper thrashes
in the rooster’s beak
World Haiku Review, April 2012
a cherry blossom
drifts on her laughter
Acorn, Issue 28, 2012
13) What is your website address, and how may people contact you by email?
Copyright 2012 by Charlotte Digregorio.