Monday, February 28, 2011

An Odd Case of Snobbery

Last week I wrote about why I do this job, why money isn't a primary force, and why civil law gives me the creeps. Here's the blog entry.

A couple of colleagues mentioned the post while we chatted in court and asked me about the attitude that many civil attorneys have towards those practicing criminal law.

That attitude is best described as an odd case of snobbery.

Let me demonstrate with an example from my previous job. It was at a civil law firm, one of about 50 attorneys who did everything from wills, to real estate, to civil litigation. Towards the end of my time there, work was slow (I did civil litigation) and I was trying to be creative in bringing in work (and therefore income) to me and the firm.

I suggested that, as a former ADA, I take a few criminal cases. Maybe some DWIs. Nothing too sordid and grubby, after all this was a law firm. But even the wives, husbands, and children of civil lawyers get arrested for DWI, right?

I talked to four of the senior lawyers there, one-on-one. They all appreciated my attempts to think outside the box, to generate revenue for the firm. But every single one of them stiffened when I mentioned doing criminal work. Oh no, they said. We don't do that here.

When I pushed it, when I actually told them I thought they had a prejudice against the practice of criminal law, they essentially admitted it. They conceded that they couldn't give me a logical, coherent reason why the firm shouldn't engage in a little criminal work. They admitted, point blank, that there was a prejudice against such a practice, and that they were willing participants in the prejudice.

I was pretty surprised. Each of these men had said things like, "We couldn't possibly engage in that kind of business," and tempered their distaste with "You know, some of my best friends are criminal defense attorneys."

Remind you of anything?

Me too.

So, what we ended up with was, instead of providing legal services to clients and those in need, the firm opting to continue to pay me a salary to do very little. Instead of bringing in much-needed cash I was twiddling my thumbs, all because of this pre-existing disdain for the practice of criminal law. A disdain no one could adequately explain.

As you may know, I grew up in England and went to school with some startlingly snobbish characters. People who came from long lines of the upper crust, people with more money than brain cells, frankly. And these folks, usually around the age of 8, would deride the people they described as "nouveau riche." Families whose money hadn't come from plundering the Armada or the Belgian Congo.

My response was always, "Oh, so you're mocking those who actually earned their money, rather than had daddy give it to them?"

Actually, I never said that, I just thought it--as a kid, one has an over-riding wish to fit in.

But I think the analogy is fair: there exists an inexplicable and hypocritical prejudice that has no basis in objective reason.

And, to explore this subject further, later in the week I shall point out that, in fact, not only is the prejudice misplaced, but one could argue (hypothetically, of course) how any disdain could legitimately come from criminal lawyers towards civil lawyers.

Inverse snobbery, you might say.

Hypothetically speaking.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Author interview: J.T. Ellison

And they just keep getting better.

You know, it's not just gratifying when great writers agree to do interviews, but when they really take their time to answer the questions, to show us a little about themselves, it's an absolute thrill. This week, I'm ecstatic to have J.T. Ellison on the blog. She's the best-selling author of the Taylor Jackson series that started with the acclaimed ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS and continues with. . . well, you can read about her new one, below.

And do check out her website - so many author sites are old or clunky (or both). Ms. Ellison's contains a wealth of information about her, her books, and writing generally.

And, for heaven's sake, buy her books. They are awesome and so is she.

Did you always want to be a writer growing up, or did you come to it as an adult?

Both. I was a huge reader as a kid, and wrote the requisite horrible poetry about my loves – boys who kissed me, rock formations, clouds, blue sky and cats… Eventually I went to school for a creative writing degree. I was actually a double major in English and Politics. My senior thesis advisor wouldn’t write me a recommendation to the MFA program I wanted, told me I’d never get published. So I quit writing and got involved in the political world, got my Masters at GW in Politics instead of the MFA. I didn’t come back to writing for fifteen years, when I found John Sandford. Reading the Prey series reminded me of what I loved most about writing – storytelling. I decided on the spot that I wanted to be a storyteller, ASAP.

Did you have a lot of support when you began writing, or did you suffer the same raised eyebrow most of us do? In other words, what kept you motivated at the start of your career?

My husband, absolutely. And my parents. They all seemed to believe I had it in me to write, even though I barely believed it myself. My husband let me stay home and write full time instead of getting a job, and that made all the difference. Not just the time factor, but because I had to teach myself HOW to write, and that took almost a year. The storytelling came naturally, but I didn’t have the first idea about how to write a novel. I ended up deconstructing a Sandford book, chapter by chapter, until I finally saw the patterns emerging. Then I tried it for myself.

What is your writing schedule?

I used to be militant about shutting things down and working from 12 - 4 daily. As the pressures of writing, editing and promoting two books a year mount, I find myself snatching time whenever I can get it. I’m always working – whether my fingers are on the keyboard or not. The mental writing is vital to the actual writing for me. I map the story out in my head, then go to it. I’m getting back on the 12 - 4 schedule though. Mornings are usually for business, but I’m turning some of the heavy lifting over to an assistant so I can focus on the creative again.

Do you work in a study, all alone, or do you prefer a cafe where there are people to watch (and bug you!)?

I’m a loner, no doubt. I’m a magpie, easily distracted by shiny objects. I need quiet and solitude to coax my Muse into showing herself. She can be quite shy. That is, when she’s not being a totally slutty wanton beast, begging me to tease her into being. She does that a lot too.

Do you actively look for story ideas (combing newspapers etc.), or do they just come to you?

That’s a good question. I read a lot online. Crimes and stories catch my attention, and I usually glance at them, then pop them into Evernote to be looked at later. I also have an idea box, with newspaper clippings, story ideas, titles… Strangely enough, I find that I rarely look through either of those forums for ideas. I guess the good ones lodge in my head. I bookmarked a story last year that really got under my skin, and now I’m writing it, so I guess my system works, however ragged it may be.

As a full-time writer, do you miss the hustle and bustle of a 'normal' working day, or do you get enough interaction in other ways?

No. Absolutely not. It’s terrible to say that, I know, but I really am happier all by myself. I never did play well with others. And I stopped working in an office environment in 1998, so all I remember was how annoying the constant interruptions would get. Ironically, I tried to go to my husband’s office to work yesterday, and I ended up looking out the window at the skyline, cursing the fact that I didn’t have my wrist pad, wondering who the big hulking dude was in the hall and whether he was going to break into my office, and why no one ever seems to flush toilets anymore. Very, very distracting. At home all I have to battle is my cat’s incessant need to be in my lap. I use Facebook, Twitter, email and the phone to interact with people, and it works great for me.

Have you ever thought about writing in a different genre?

Sure. But it always boils down to crime for me – I think it’s the act that transcends genres.

Am I right in thinking Lee Child blurbed your first novel? How on earth did you manage that?!

Lee is a darling man who was quite keen on helping a group of new writers all published in 2007 called Killer Year. He was assigned as my mentor through ITW’s debut author program, and I was so honored to have him. He was incredibly kind to me, in myriad ways, and taught me so much about publishing. And trust me, that blurb made me cry.

You have a new novel coming out, tell us about it.

SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH is in stores now – it is the sequel to 14. The Snow White’s Apprentice, now called the Pretender, is back, and making his final move in the chess game he’s been playing with homicide Lieutenant Taylor Jackson. But Taylor doesn’t play games. She is a vengeful angel in this book, out to stop the Pretender at all costs, even if it takes everything from her - her moral code, her sense of justice, even her life.

How much energy do you put into the language aspect of your novels, the “art” so to speak?

A lot. Like everyone, I’m always learning and growing, searching for the best way to phrase something for the most impact. I’m not a reviser in the sense that I belabor a sentence until it’s perfect. Instead, I’ll go back and adjust as necessary during the revision process. I write fast and try not to think about it too much until I hit that second draft. Then all bets are off and I’m working very hard to make sure my meaning is succinct and crystal clear and the language is vivid without being purple and bruised.

Who are your favorite authors and inspirations?

John Sandford, who inspired the Taylor Jackson series, John Connolly, who inspired my ever-evolving writing style, Lee Child, who’s friendship and guidance has been invaluable. The thriller chicks: Tess Gerritsen, Erica Spindler, Alex Kava, Karin Slaughter and Allison Brennan, for showing me how not to compromise my subject matter just because I’m a woman. Diana Gabaldon, for teaching me how to create worlds. J.K. Rowling, for teaching me to follow my heart. Sharon Penman, Karleen Koen, Danielle Steele and Mary Stewart, for helping me move from children’s books to adult books (i.e.: teaching me the differences between love, romance and sex. I guess I better include Judy Blume’s FOREVER in there too, for that very reason.) Ayn Rand’s ANTHEM changed my life, Book VII of Plato’s REPUBLIC got me into graduate school, Sun Tzu’s THE ART OF WAR helped me find my soul mate, and my all-time favorite, LOLITA, by Vladimir Nabokov, showed me it’s possible to have lovable monsters.

What was your favorite thriller/mystery novel of 2010?

Oh, that’s an impossible question. Put it this way, I gobbled up Daniel Silva’s THE REMBRANT AFFAIR and Suzanne Collins HUNGER GAMES trilogy.

If you could offer just one piece of advice to aspiring novelists, what would it be?

Read everything, and try your best to write every day, even if you feel like it’s crap. 750 words of crap can be refined into 500 gossamer, silky threads, and if you do that every day for six months, you’ll have a novel.

Do you outline your novels?

I try desperately not to, because any time I know what’s happening next, I get bored and lose momentum. I do a lot of mental planning, building around particular scenes that occur solely in my head, and that seems to work best. Every time I outline I get very grumpy. At times it’s necessary, but that kind of outline for me is very top line – no more than a single sentence describing the chapter’s message, purpose or climactic event.

Do you recommend any specific "how-to" writing books for mystery/thriller writers?

On Writing - Stephen King
Write Away - Elizabeth George
The Writer's Journey - Christopher Vogler
Screenwriting Tips for Authors - Alexandra Sokoloff
Forest For The Trees - Betsy Lerner
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp
Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life – Winifred Gallagher
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Hamlet's Blackberry - William Powers

What is the value of writing conferences -- do you attend, or have a favorite?

They are invaluable, because you can meet everyone – heroes, agents, editors… there isn’t a better way to get involved in the writing community than sharing a few sweaty, tipsy days with a bunch of fellow writers and readers. Thrillerfest is always a good time. And my favorite small conference is Mayhem in the Midlands, in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s stellar.

You participate in a blog, Muderati: is that for marketing purposes, to connect with other writers, or just 'cos?

I’ve been on Murderati from the beginning. It started as a way to market myself, because I didn’t have a book deal, and was nascently involved with my wonderful agent. We’ve built a lovely community or readers and writers who speak the truth about the industry. I think it’s the most important forum I participate in.

What do you think of the e-book debate - is the trend away from paper books it good for authors, readers, publishers, anyone, everyone?

I want readers to read, and I don’t care what format they choose so long as they’re reading. That said, I never thought ebooks would kill the bookstores. I’m crushed to see the carnage out there right now. It’s horrid. I hope that somehow, someway, we can save our bookstores. That’s paramount right now.

Thanks so much for having me, Mark!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Don't bother bribing me

For a lot of those in my profession, and I've found this to be particularly true of law students, the lure of money is powerful. It was for me, too, when I was in law school, sick and tired of being poor, of driving crappy cars or taking the bus.

For that reason, and because my law school oriented us to do so, I signed up with a big firm in Dallas where I practiced civil law and was paid a bundle. A large bundle. Later, I did the same at a firm here in Austin. Which means that twice in my legal career I've left lucrative law firm jobs, taking a $50k pay cut to be an ADA.

Some people have a hard time understanding this. Last week, a non-lawyer colleague looked at me like I was insane and asked why I didn't go back, make big bucks instead of sweating in my over-heated little office at $5 an hour, plus tips (or thereabouts).

Simple answer: it's not about the money. It really isn't. And please, let me explain further why I do this job, and not civil litigation, which is the only other kind of law I know. That way, when someone asks me about it next week, I can just refer them to this post.

1. Money. Okay, I said it's not about the money but let's address this issue up front because no one believes me. See, I have a lot of talents: I'm fast over 100 meters, I'm a good writer, I'm funny, I'm George Clooney handsome (or thereabouts), and I'm a patient and loving father. However, I am not the best at managing money. And by "managing," I mean "not spending." So, whether I'm paid $70k or $150k, by the end of the month I'm checking my wallet and finding cobwebs. My conclusion: there's no great benefit to earning more money other than getting to spend more money, an activity that doesn't do much for me these days.

2. Job satisfaction. This is really Reason Number 1. I love what I do, and for several reasons.
First, it's just plain interesting. Every case is different and the facts can be exciting, bizarre, odd, or tragic. But they are always interesting. Compare this to civil law where cases last years and so much time is devoted to the finer points of civil procedure, and the rest is devoted to the process known as "discovery," where lawyers get into huge fights over documents that they spend days, weeks, or months, reading but that are inherently uninteresting (tax returns, anyone?) and will never find their way into a trial.
Second, I feel that what I do is important. One can agree or disagree about the relative merits of probation v. jail but one cannot argue, I don't think, that those decisions don't matter. I'm dealing with real people, either as victims or defendants, people whose lives have been affected and will continue to be affected. Compare this to civil litigation where you're dealing with companies fighting over money. Sure, you can argue that somewhere down the line a human being might be affected but it's not immediate, it's not personal, it's not (so sue me!) as important. There, I said it.
The irony here is that many, many civil lawyers have an inexplicable prejudice against those who practice criminal law. I plan to write about this later because it's an interesting phenomenon, but the bottom line for this post is that almost every day I'm dealing with issues of life and death, people's freedom, their constitutional rights, and the after-effects of crime. Again, by comparison, in the civil world they deal with, in essence, one thing: money. The truth is, I find it hard to get worked up about other people's money, especially when those "people" are corporations.

3. Trial. I enjoy being in trial, it's why I became a lawyer. Being in trial is like performing in a play and like directing one at the same time. It's challenging and exciting. And it's something civil lawyers don't get to do. Rephrase: civil lawyers in big firms never get to do it. "Never" may be a bit strong, but a lawyer at a big firm can go ten years without first- or second-chairing a trial. I spent five years at firms and first chaired precisely one, and that was a pro bono case that none of my superiors cared about. Since I've been an ADA, totaling three years, I've first chaired more than a dozen, and second-chaired almost as many.

4. The people. The working relationships between prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers is infinitely more respectful, civil (irony intended), and honest than the interactions between civil lawyers. I will state that as a plain fact and think I'm in a better position than almost anyone to assert it. Now, it's also true that I can't explain it, but my experience has absolutely been that civil lawyers are more apt to be aggressive, less than honest, full of bluster, and just plain unpleasant than criminal attorneys.
I extend this "people" preference to my bosses. Law firm partners, in my experience, are generally. . . ach, I'll stop. I like the people I work for now, and I'll leave it at that. :)

Any questions?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bits and pieces

A brief update addressing a few things and then, out of the kindness of my heart, a little gift.

First, a reader asks about the market for ADAs in Texas. Interestingly enough (right?!) I talked a little about this once before, not long ago. Here's the post, entitled "Who gets to be an ADA."

Next, another reader ask about "Affidavits of Non-Prosecution." These are sworn statements filled out by, usually, the victims of domestic violence who do not wish to see the person charged with assaulting them prosecuted. (As the name of the affidavit suggests...)
The bigger question is what we do with them and the answer is, "It depends." It depends on the defendant's criminal history, the severity of the assault, and other incident-specific factors. Sometimes they lead to reduced charges or dismissal, and sometimes they don't. We do try to make sure that whoever filled one out did not do so under pressure of any sort, and we also try and make sure they get counseling, separate and apart from what we do with the prosecution.

Third, and relatedly, the question: "As a victim of domestic violence can you request the defendant get court ordered counseling?" Short answer: kind of. The way it would likely work is that counseling is ordered as part of a probation plea. And here, we always get input from victims and take into account their wishes. Now, if it's the defendant's 50th vicious attack and he's been through counseling etc, he might face a prison sentence, and any counseling would be up to the prison folks.

Finally, the gift, in this case a recommendation. Oh, I know it's Thursday which usually means a book rec. But this time it's music. They are called Band of Horses. Fabulous. You can hear their music on their website, and I challenge you: go there and listen to Factory, the first track. If that doesn't blow your socks off and have you listening to the rest, I'm a monkey's uncle.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Trial Bumps

I'll post the trial schedule later, but one case will be missing: mine. Well, my colleague Jackie Wood's case, actually--I was going to second-chair her. But the case pled out right before we picked a jury, leaving us on the down-slide after getting all ramped up.

Trial is funny, you know, it really runs you through the gamut of emotions. And it does so almost every time. Here's one permutation of them:

Steely resolve: this is when the defendant turns down the lowest, most generous, absolutely reasonable-est plea offer. It's the slap with the white glove, the glint in the cowboy's eye: "We're going to trial."

Oh boy: a few days later when you sit down to draft the notices, witness lists, and subpoenas, and make sure all the evidence that exists has been pulled together.

What else, what else?: The paperwork is done, the witnesses prepped and ready. Final trial themes are being bandied about the team and we're making last adjustments to the witness list. (You don't want too many, they might distract from the central elements, but you don't want too few, the jury might not take your elements seriously). You cast around wondering what you've missed... anything?

All this for one case?: There's often a moment, for me at least, amid the mountain of work that is trial prep. A moment when I look at the files piling up around me, when a defense lawyer calls to talk about his or her case and I give them as much time as I dare. A moment when I think, "Wow, I have 150+ cases, and I'm devoting all this work to resolving just one of them. It feels a little like laying out the wedding china, the crystal glasses, the complete set of dinner silverware to eat a solitary pea. The moment passes of course. The defendant's constitutional rights are not to be measured against peas, and I'll always have 150+ cases, whether I try this one or not. Better to focus on my victim, my case, my witnesses.

Here we go...: Our jury panel has been selected and we have the data sheets. We go up to court in our best suits and new haircuts. For some, the nerves are setting in. For others, the jitters come from adrenaline and anticipation. I love doing voir dire, opening statements, closing argument. I don't get nervous, I get hyped up.

Bump: This comes after trial. The adrenaline seeps away and the exhaustion seeps in. Not just from the trial, but on seeing the new batch of cases grinning at me from my To Do bucket.

This week gave Jackie and me a small bump, I suppose, because the trial never really started and so the adrenalin never really kicked in. And any bump has been off-set by the look on the faces of those files in my To Do bucket.

They didn't expect me so soon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Robbery is never the answer - even a polite robbery

I think I may be the last person on the planet to see this video, and certainly I'm late in posting it, but it's mesmerizing. It's almost like a Monty Python sketch, with the excess of politeness, the apologies, and the calm displayed by the victim.

But I'm guessing it was a real gun, which might have been used, and the robber's underlying sense of desperation makes this a bizarre and frightening exchange.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The most common question

You'd think the most common question might be to do with serial killers. Or growing marijuana in the back yard. Or the legality of gambling at home with friends (yes, Justin, this refers to your question... see Texas Penal Code Section 47.02 for guidance).

Those might, of course, be questions regular ADAs get, but I'm from England so I get different ones.

First is usually, "Dude, what's up with soccer? It's soooo boring," which produces a rant from me about baseball and a threat to make the questioner sit down and watch a five-day cricket match.

Next is, "What's the difference between England and Britain?"

It used to be, when I told people I had boy-girl twins, "Cool, are they identical?"
I'm dead serious, people used to ask that all the time, and I'm talking intelligent people with advanced degrees. I got fed-up being nice about it after a while, and responded with, "No, one of them has a penis," which (a) shut them up and (b) really seemed to highlight the idiocy of the question for anyone listening to the conversation.

Anyway, back to the England v. Britain thing. All you ever wanted to know about it, actually, thanks to the suggestion of a reader. Here's the simple version:

And if you want to really get into it, try this on for size (credit to Grey's Blog):

Any more questions?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Great job team!

Just a quick pointer to a verdict in our court today. The two ADAs who tried the case, Jackie Wood and Kelsey Mckay, did a truly bang-up job.
Also, kudos to the two cops who were shot at, Justin Berry and Valentin De Los Santos. I spent a few hours with them this week and I tell you this: APD should be proud of the way they handled themselves during this incident and also during the trial. Classy guys.
Here's the story.

Author interview: John Gilstrap

You know, the one thing I'm discovering as I go about finding authors to interview is just how nice so many of them are. I mean, these are guys and gals stacked with talent and extremely successful, yet more than happy to spend a few minutes talking about the craft of writing, and their own work, with me.

John Gilstrap is one of those authors. I emailed asking if he'd do an interview and he responded within a couple of hours. My mum doesn't respond that quickly, for heaven's sake. He was also kind enough to correct a couple of factual errors in my questions without saying, "Hey, fool, this is the third Grave novel!" Nice, prompt, and classy. When I'm a famous author, I shall aspire to be the same.

Anyway, if you read in the thriller genre you almost certainly know his name, and if you haven't read his books I strongly suggest you do so. He's won awards, been a NYT bestselling author, and he has a new book out this summer.

Here he is:

  • Did you always want to be a writer growing up, or did you come to it as an adult?

Writing is the only thing I've ever been really good at. Well, communication, in general, I suppose. Even as a small child, I would entertain myself by writing stories, or by telling stories to my friends. Curiously enough, I never gave a lot of thought growing up to being a professional novelist. Instead, I always thought I'd work for a newspaper. Then reality intruded after college when I couldn't get a job at a real paper. That's when I went back to graduate school to get a master's degree in safety engineering, and my life wandered far away from my writing roots. I was 38 when my first book was published.

  • Did you have a lot of support when you began writing, or did you suffer the same raised eyebrow most of us do? In other words, what kept you motivated at the start of your career?

I didn't suffer so much from a lack of support as I did from a sense of embarrassment. I was an engineer and a business professional, for God's sake. To tell my colleagues that I was writing book in my spare time would have felt capricious, and would have set the stage for constant cynical questioning. Can't you just hear it? "So, Shakespeare, how goes the writing dream?" When I finally sold my first novel for well over $1 million, the biggest shock among those colleagues was the fact that they had no clue that I'd been writing a book.

  • What is your writing schedule?

I write whenever I can, mostly during evenings and weekends. Full-time writing didn't suit me. I'm too much of an extrovert to toil in the silence of my writing studio. About seven years ago, I went back to a day job--a fairly demanding one at that--so I need to carve out writing time whenever I can find it. My dirty little secret is that I'm more prolific as a part-time writer than I ever was when I wrote full time.

  • Do you actively look for story ideas (combing newspapers etc), or do they just come to you?

They pretty much just come to me, but mostly when I'm looking for them. When I need an idea or when I need to solve a problem, the last thing I want to do is address it directly. The harder I think straight at the problem, the more I become aware of the fact that the solution evades me. Solutions come to me when I'm diverted by other things. It's weird, but it's the way I'm wired.

  • Have you ever thought about writing in a different genre?

I am writing in a different genre; at least on a diferent spin of the old genre. My early books dealt with normal people in mortal jeopardy who had to figure a way out for themselves. Now I'm writing about normal people in mortal jeopardy who are rescued by my recurring protagonist, Jonathan Grave. The Grave books were in fact inspired by the one nonfiction book I wrote, Six Minutes to Freedom, which exposed me to the world of black ops and Special Forces. In fact, that book is the only one that ever got direct input on the record from Delta Force. SixMin is a terrific book, I think, but I learned the hard way that very few fiction fans will follow an author to nonfiction.

  • Your third Jonathan Grave novel is coming out in July - how did you come up with him as a character?

While working with the guys from the Unit--Delta Force--I was fascinated by these guys' unwavering dedication to mission. When Americans are kidnapped on foreign soil, the US government starts working right away to secure their release. In a perfect world, our diplomats leverage local law enforcement personnel to do what needs to be done; but the world is often not perfect. When negotiations break down, the task of hostage rescue falls to the US military. Once the go-order is given, these Special Forces operators' whole mission is to bring the good guys home, whatever it takes. There are no warrants served, and no one cares all that much about the rights of the kidnappers. If the bad guys put down their weapons and cooperate, they get to see tomorrow. If they don't, they don't. Jonathan Grave brings that clarity of mission to civilian rescue here in the United States. As he likes to put it, he almost always operates outside of the law, but never on the wrong side of it.

  • Tell us about the new novel.

In Threat Warning (July, 2011), a group of domestic terrorists wreaks havoc across the US through a series of small but brutal attacks against mid-America. Think commuters and high school football games. In order to up the terror ante, they kidnap a mother and her son as they drive home from the boy's high school track meet, and it falls to Jonathan and his team to bring them home.

  • How much energy do you put into the language aspect of your novels, the “art” so to speak?

In writing, language is the only tool I have, so I like to think that I work that tool very hard. Voice is very important to me--far more important than proper grammar or formal sentence structure. In fact, my most liberating moment on my path to publication came when I made a conscious effort to stop writing a book and instead to tell a story. For me, I realized there was a significant difference. I realized that when I tell stories verbally of what happened to me in my various adventures, I use far more dynamic vocabulary than when I was writing. I interspersed humor and an underlying cynicism that made people want to listen. Once I started channeling that voice onto the paper, I found that the storytelling to the page became much, much easier.

  • Who are your favorite authors?

I like Vince Flynn, Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Nelson DeMille. Jeeze, too many to list.

  • If you could offer just one piece of advice to aspiring novelists, what would it be?

Truthfully, it would be to ignore 99% of the advice that's given to aspiring authors. Quit listening and write. Quit reading books about writing and write. Quit thinking about writing, quit attending seminars about writing, and quit studying the creative process of other writers. Read books that you wish you'd written and dissect them. Ask yourself how the author made you laugh or made you cry or made your heart pound. Then sit down and write and write the story that most resonates in your soul. Accept the fact that first books always suck. (My "first" novel was the fourth novel I'd written.) I find that far too many struggling novelists spend far too much time fantasizing about being a writer and not nearly enough actually writing and honing their craft.

  • Do you outline your novels?

I used to outline more thoroughly than I do now--probably because I'm writing a series that has recurring characters. That said, I always know what the last scene of the book witll be before I start writing the first scene.

  • Do you recommend any specific "how-to" writing books for mystery/thriller writers?

I've never read one, so I'm not the best judge of such things. Actually, that's not true. I read Stephen King's On Writing and enjoyed it a lot. I'm not sure I learned anything I didn't know about the craft, but I love King's writing style, and I found the biographical details to be very interesting. I'm of the school that writing is a craft, and like any craft, it has to be practiced. When I teach writing seminars, my very first slide says, "No one can teach you to write," and that pretty much sums it up for me. You can't learn a good golf swing by reading about it, either. You have to do it. Over and over and over again. If you don't get better over time, accept that this might not be your bag.

  • What is the value of writing conferences -- do you attend, or have a favorite?

This is an interesting question, because the value of conferences is 100% dependent upon the attendees' expectations. Pitch sessions to agents can be a valuable experience, but only for those who come prepared with a well-rehearsed pitch, and who are prepared to process the feedback they receive. Outside of the very specific environment of the pitch session, attendees who think they can sell their book by pitching it at the bar are wasting their time and potentially alienating valuable contacts for the future. Conferences are great places to make contacts and hang out with current and future friends. My favorites are ThrillerFest, Bouchercon and Magna Cum Murder.

  • You participate in a blog, The Kill Zone: is that for marketing purposes, to connect with other writers, or just 'cos?

It started out as a marketing thing, but it's evolved into a very nice little community. I feel as if I truly know the regular posters, and that's pretty cool.

  • What do you think of the e-book debate - is the trend away from paper books it good for authors, readers, publishers, anyone, everyone?

I think the trend is most definitely away from paper, but that paper will be around for a long time. I believe that eBooks will send mass market paperbacks and hardcovers the way of the dinosaur in the next five years.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What's cooking in court this week

Starting with the most important court (mine, of course) here are the jury trials going on in the courthouse (district courts):


Defendant: Joel Lara-Cruz
Offense: Aggravated assault on public servant
Prosecutors: Jackie Wood and Kelsey McKay
Defense attorney: Raymond Espersen


Defendant: Cody Duggan
Offense: Murder
Prosecutors: Marianne Powers and Kathryn Scales
Defense attorney: Kyle Lowe


Defendant: Daniel Arriaga
Offense: Aggravated assault of public servant
Prosecutors: Mona Shea and Katie Sweeten
Defense attorney: Karyl Krug


Defendant: Thomas Wyatt
Offense: Aggravated assault w/ deadly weapon
Prosecutors: Bill Bishop and Jeremy Sylestine
Defense attorney: Adam Reposa