“Wastelands” tells of decades of litigation against Smithfield, the country’s largest pork producer, whose hog-farming operations caused untold environmental and economic damage to small, predominantly Black communities in rural North Carolina. It has the same vivid cast of characters that Addison’s books are known for, in this case including the piquantly named Mona Lisa Wallace, the attorney who eventually won more than $500 million in trial verdicts and forced the company to change its ways. As Addison wrote on his LinkedIn page earlier this year, ìI wrote it like a novel, yet every word of it is true. I couldn’t have invented a better story if I had tried.”
Many lawyers turn to creative writing later in life, but Addison’s writing and legal careers have nearly overlapped. A native of Carlsbad, California, he majored in mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, but had no desire to build widgets for a living. Instead, he entered UVA determined, he said, “to use the law to change the world.” Even during a busy first year, Addison also managed to finish a draft of a novel, which he had begun in college. “It was terrible,” Addison says now, “but you have to start somewhere.” Undeterred, he wrote another book during his third year of law school and it, too, went nowhere.
After clerking for U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Waugh Crigler, Addison joined the Charlottesville firm Scott Kroner still hoping to change the world, one way or another. He wrote a third unpublished novel at night while practicing law but was now receiving enough positive feedback from agents that he was encouraged to keep trying.
His creative breakthrough came from an unexpected source. In 2008, Addison and his wife, Marcy, saw the film “Trade,” starring Kevin Kline, about international child sex trafficking. The film made a life-changing impression on both of them. Marcy, whom Addison calls his fairest critic, suggested that he take on the subject for his next novel, blending his talent for storytelling with his passion for justice.