I received a book not long ago that I immediately added to my bedside table (where I have a wide collection of volumes in various stages of discovery). This particular book, Free of Malice (http://www.freeofmalice.com), was intriguing to me because it tells the story of Laura Holland, a young writer who is attacked in her own home…but fights back. It then follows this woman’s distressing journey to find healing and to seek self-defense training. She even eventually purchases a firearm. But when the main character learns that she could have gone to prison had she followed her instincts and shot the fleeing assailant, she seeks the help of a criminal defense lawyer and decides to write a hypothetical case using the details of her attack. But “as the two work together to develop the story, Laura’s discomfort escalates, particularly when [her lawyer] seems to know more about that night than he should.”

I felt a little like I was reading something from the John Grisham lineup of legal thrillers. So, for that, I truly enjoyed racing through the pages of this book and navigating the various twists and turns. But I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of training this book offers. Author Liz Lazarus does an outstanding job of presenting pieces in the story in a way that teaches the reader essential information, such as the importance of firearms safety and training, the seriousness of using a gun for self-defense, and the potential horrors of the legal system.

Parts of the book are actually modeled after real-life experiences the author had herself. And I was lucky enough to ask Liz some questions that she graciously answered. So, in her words, here is a little more about her background and about her first book.

1. How long have you been involved with firearms (training/ownership)?

My father had guns in our home in south Georgia, but he kept them hidden so I didn’t really grow up knowing about guns. After my attack, I became more interested in owning a gun and my boyfriend at the time took me to the range to learn to shoot. I ended up buying the gun that I shot most comfortably (a 9mm Ruger) but admit that I didn’t practice shooting consistently. As I embarked on my research for Free of Malice, I went to the range with an instructor so I could write the part where my protagonist learns to shoot. To my surprise, instead of my instructor taking me straight to the firing range, we started in the classroom and I learned that I needed to understand a lot more. For example, when he asked if I’d shoot to kill or to wound, I answered incorrectly. So not only did I receive the information I needed to write the novel, I became a more diligent gun owner, going to the range and practicing. After all, shooting is like exercise—it’s possible to get “out of shape.” I’ve since joined The Well Armed Woman and we meet monthly, so it’s a great way to have a sisterhood, learn about gun safety, and to practice.

2. Do you carry and/or have a preferred firearm?

I am in the process of getting my carry permit and taking the steps to feel comfortable, including training. My Ruger is quite large so I’ve been testing out a few guns (Glock 26, M&P Shield) to see which one would be my best carry weapon.

3. In your thoughts/words, what’s the meaning behind the title, Free of Malice?

The original, working title of my book was Sweet Sam. My editor urged more than once to choose a different title, one that didn’t glorify the bad guy and portrayed the content of the book, but nothing struck us. Then, as we were proofing one of the chapters, we read this paragraph with the term “free of malice:”

Thomas shook his head while lowering his arms to the desk. He leaned forward slightly. “There is a term called good faith. It means that, throughout the incident, you avoided using any more force than you had to. If it can be proven that even though you were free of mal­ice at the start, you decided somewhere during the struggle to retaliate with undue force, you’ve just lost your claim of self-defense.”

It just resonated with me because it does capture one of the themes of the book about self-defense, and though I swore I wasn’t changing the title—I did!

4. Some people argue that women with guns are just paranoid. How do you address that?

In college, I was the opposite of paranoid. I was naïve. Here I was living in one of the most dangerous areas of the city without an alarm, without a gun, with no means of self-protection. I will never know what made my assailant pick my home. I think he might have been targeting my housemate—she was new to the U.S., quite timid, and that probably showed in her demeanor. What I do believe is that those who are looking for targets pick well, and a woman who has been trained to protect herself, whether through martial arts, gun ownership, or just the way she is situationally aware, is a major deterrent.

5. If your readers could walk away with one thing from the book, what would you want that to be?

Education. I’ve been told that Free of Malice is not only entertaining but educational. Whether it’s learning about the criminal defense system or guns or EMDR, I’m pleased that my readers expand their knowledge from reading the book.

6. Can we look for more firearms-related books from you?

I’m so honored that readers are asking for more. I have the working title and plot, but still a ways to go—so stay tuned!

All in all, I enjoyed this book on many levels and would certainly encourage others to crack open these pages for an exciting tale and for a poignant reminder of how important it is that responsibly armed Americans are safe, vigilant, alert, and (fittingly) free of malice.