Extreme Plots With Extreme Sports

May/June 2011

Reading time min

Extreme Plots With Extreme Sports

John Hall

As Twist Phelan tells it, Playboy changed her life.

Phelan had a fine career as a plaintiff's trial lawyer in securities fraud, "suing middle-aged white guys who stole other people's money." After courtroom success enabled her to retire in her early 30s, she spent a decade living on a boat, traveling the world and focusing on such sports as triathlon, rock-climbing and team roping. Then she attended a four-week ski training camp in Finland.

Arming herself against the monotony of long Arctic nights, Phelan packed a duffle bag full of books. Unfortunately, a departing member of another team pinched her bag. Desperate for reading material, she discovered a stack of well-thumbed Playboys. "The articles really are good," she deadpans. "Especially the short stories." Inspired by this reading, Twist wrote a novel, Heir Apparent, that became the first in a series. Her Pinnacle Peak novels (Poisoned Pen Press) combine legal-themed mysteries with an Arizona-based protagonist, Hannah Dain, who loves extreme sports.

Phelan has written stories for anthologies and mystery magazines, including "A Stab in the Heart," which won the 2010 Thriller Award for best story, and "Time Will Tell," which was chosen for an annual book of top stories, By Hook or by Crook. A collection of her stories, A Stab in the Heart, is available in a Kindle edition; proceeds from it are donated to her local library.

Twist—notwithstanding how it seems to signify intricate plots—is not a pen name. Phelan's mother, a biochemist, chose the name when she was doing postdoctoral work on the DNA double helix in James Watson's and Francis Crick's lab in England.

These days Phelan locks herself up in her "garret"—the top floor of her home in Denver—to work on a thriller set in Santa Fe about a corporate spy. Not a typist, she composes with voice-recognition software: Her editor still chuckles about the robber who was wearing a baklava instead of a balaclava.

Does Phelan ever miss the courtroom? "The best part of practicing law was telling stories to the jury. Being a writer is a better variation of that: The audience is bigger and I get to make up the facts."

Frances Pordes Phillips, '85, MS '86, is a writer in Denver.

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