Children are the most consistent theme running through Danielle Boccio’s life. Not only is she a mother of two, she’s also a published children’s book author, and spends her week days working with children as a prosecutor for the Family Court Division of the New York City Law Department. It’s safe to say that Danielle thinks about kids—a lot.
A second theme? Making it happen—whatever “it” might be at any given time. Whether it was her decision to switch from med school to law school, pursuing some of the most difficult cases possible from the start of her career, or working tirelessly to get her books published, Danielle doesn’t shy away from a challenge. “Instead of just accepting that I can’t accomplish something, it becomes my personal challenge,” she says. “I hope that work ethic and dedication is something that I can pass down to my children.”
This dedication and passion for each aspect of her life has gotten her far. She’s one of the most senior SVU juvenile delinquency prosecutors in New York City and has already published two of her stories. And still she makes the time for Girl Scout troops and crafting intricate Halloween costumes for her kids.
I spoke with Danielle about both her law and writing careers, and the unexpected twists and turns each has taken.
Tell us a little bit about your early life—where did you go to school?
I grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago called Dolton. I lived there up until my sophomore year in high school and then moved to a rural town called Peotone, where I graduated from high school. I then attended the Honors College at the University of Illinois at Chicago where I double majored in English writing and Psychology. I was actually pre-medicine for four years, but I had a summer internship through the University of Texas at Houston that changed my path. During that internship, I conducted medical research at a juvenile detention center in Houston where I tested urine specimens from detained juveniles for Chlamydia Trachomatis. I realized that I was way more interested in the juveniles’ legal histories than their medical histories. That led me to become pre-law and I stayed in school for an extra year in order to take additional courses that I needed to take the LSAT. I chose to attend Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota because they offered a Children and the Law concentration.
How did you end up getting involved with the Law Department, and moving from the Midwest to New York City?
During the summer before my last year of law school, I had an internship at the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx. I really had no interest whatsoever in going to New York because it was right after September 11th. I really had my heart set on an internship in California that I did not get. So, I took the internship in the Bronx. One of my best friends met up with me shortly after I moved there for the summer and a guy who she knew who lived in New York was supposed to show us around. He, fortunately for me, had to go to L.A. for work and asked his best friend, Rob, to show us around instead. Rob and I were engaged in less than 6 months. That’s how I ended up moving to New York permanently. Once I was in New York, I had to focus on passing the bar exam and the Law Department was my first interview.
What exactly do you do at the Law Department? What is the most challenging part of your job?
At the New York City Law Department, I work in the Family Court Division where I prosecute cases of juvenile delinquency. I am in the Special Victims Unit and the Major Case Unit. I’ve been there for 12 years now and still love it. I have handled cases from robberies, burglaries, conspiracies, to terrorist threats, rapes, and gun possessions. The most challenging part of my job usually involves the Special Victims cases. In general, they are often very difficult cases to prove. The worst thing is having to tell a parent, whose child has been sexually abused, that I cannot prosecute the case because I would not be able to prove it in court. In juvenile delinquency cases, the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard in our courts. Those conversations are hard. Maybe even worse than that is putting a child through that kind of testimony before the court and then not winning the case.
When you started at the Law Department, why did you choose to pursue the SVU and MCU cases?
At the time I started, there was only one attorney in my office who handled the SVU cases. When she announced that she was leaving the office, I jumped to take her place. I don’t recall anyone else even showing any interest at that time. They are hard cases and it’s easy to get burnt-out doing them. I guess I unconsciously separate myself from the cases, whether it’s an SVU or MCU case, because otherwise, I might as well just crawl under my desk and cry. The things that some of the victims experience are often depressing and heartbreaking. On the other hand, I have the opportunity to sit down with a victim after a traumatic event and be someone who steps in to make the court process easier so they can start to focus on healing. That part of it is very rewarding.
Would you ever consider practicing a different kind of law?
I wouldn’t limit myself to say that I would never do another area of the law, but I can honestly say I cannot envision myself doing anything other than what I do now.
In addition to your work as a lawyer, you’re also a published author! How did you get started writing?
I started writing when I was a kid. I used to carry around little notebooks and write my own “books.” In college, I took several writing classes which reunited me with creative writing. I loved those classes, but it wasn’t until I had kids that I started writing stories again. It was not really a conscious decision to write children’s stories but my ideas just tend to be children’s-book material rather than novels. And I have been exposed to a ridiculous amount of children’s books since having my kids.
How many stories have you written, and how long does it typically take you to complete one?
I have seven completed stories and a few more that are either partially written or just general ideas. Two of my stories are published: Little Brooke and The Popcorn Predicament. The amount of time it takes me to write one varies. Little Brooke was written in a few hours, whereas The Popcorn Predicament was finished over several days. I generally finish a story within a week but then I leave it alone for several months and then come back to it.
Describe your publishing journey, and picking writing back up as an adult. How did you get published?
The first book I wrote as an adult was Little Brooke. That stemmed from a conversation I had with my daughter who was probably around 3 years old at the time. She came up with a rhyme of “bees on knees” and I just went with it. That story just sat for several years. My intent was really never to pursue publication but it was just fun to write it and read it to my daughter, who the story is named after. I read it to my mom, who reacted like any mother would and said, “You should get that published!” I still didn’t take it too seriously, but I continued to read a lot of children’s books at night with my kids, which pushed the idea that I should at least try to get it published. I did some research and made a few submissions to publishers and tried to get a literary agent, but nothing came of it. Eventually I became more passionate about getting it published as a gift to my daughter. So I continued to submit it but still was not successful. Then I came across MeeGenius, an ebook publishing company. I submitted it along with a couple other stories I wrote, including Bryce and the Sticky Rice, which is my story named after my son that I wrote out of mommy-guilt. (I can’t possibly have a book named after my daughter, but not my son!) A few weeks later, I received an email that they wanted to go forward with publishing Little Brooke!
What was it like getting that email?
It was incredible! It was a validation of my writing. It’s one thing when my mom, husband, and other family and friends said it was publishable, but they kind of have to say that. At least that’s what I thought. But to have someone who is in the business of publishing tell me that they like it and want to pursue it is an awesome thing.
How did your daughter react the first time you read the published version of Little Brooke with her?
She was only 5 years old at the time, so I’m not sure she fully understood the significance of Little Brooke when I read the published book to her for the first time. She had already heard the story multiple times but the illustrations were kept a mystery to us during the publishing process, so seeing herself as an illustration for the first time was exciting. My mom was visiting us from Chicago when it was published so my whole family was huddled around the computer to see it on the day it was released.
Do you have any advice for writers or young lawyers?
It’s interesting how being an author was always something I wanted to be as a kid. It was my ambition before I became an adult and had to think of how I would pay off those student loans or how I would make a comfortable living. Those realities are certainly why following a career in writing did not happen earlier. Yet, in my thirties, my childhood passion has found itself again. I don’t have a tremendous amount of free time, so I tend to do most of my writing on my iPhone when I’m commuting on the train to or from work. So, my advice would be not to lose sight of those things that make you happy and make sure you make time for them.
What are you most proud of?
If you had asked any of the adults in my life what they thought I would grow up to become, no one would have guessed a lawyer or an author. One reason for that was that I wasn’t a strong student in grade school. Also, my family was the only one in my neighborhood with divorced parents, and we struggled sometimes to make ends meet. But in spite of these circumstances, something inside me made me strive for more, and I became a much better student around the 6th grade. I also went full throttle when I wanted to accomplish something. For example, when I was in high school, I wanted to attend a summer program in Houston for those who aspired to become doctors. The program cost over a thousand dollars and I certainly did not have that kind of money at my disposal. So I went door to door to different local businesses and asked to be sponsored. In return, I promised to put out a big thank you ad in our local newspaper as advertising for them; it worked. That flight to Houston was my first flight ever. That story is kind of the theme of my life. Instead of just accepting that I can’t accomplish something, it becomes my personal challenge. I hope that work ethic and dedication is something that I can pass down to my children. As I continue to strive to publish more children’s books, I make it a point to tell my kids every time I receive a rejection letter. They see first-hand that success is not always immediate. I don’t know if that lesson is fully ingrained in them yet, but when it is, that will be my biggest and most important accomplishment.
What’s at the top of your “bucket list”?
I have many things on my “bucket list” but on the top are: go on an Alaskan cruise (which is currently in the planning stage), walk the Great Wall of China, and publish a children’s book in print that I can check out at the library with my children (or grandchildren).
Who would play you in a movie version of your life?
A movie about my life would be a mixture of drama and comedy. If I got to choose who would play me, it would be Jennifer Aniston. Not because I look like her, but if I get to choose, why not?
Why not, indeed! With Danielle’s passion, creativity, and drive, there’s no reason “why not” for anything–and I’m sure that outlook will continue to help her achieve whatever she might set her sights on next.