Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My summer vacation

Remember that essay you had the write the first week back to school? Well, bloggers have to write one, too. It's a rule. But not an essay for me, I know your attention span wouldn't stretch to that. A list, instead.

What I learned this summer:
  1. People in Texas are very friendly. People in the north east are nice, sure, but only once you start talking to them. Up there eye contact and passing 'Hellos' didn't seem to exist so much.
  2. No matter how cold the water, give me a boogie board I will go into the ocean.
  3. My kids are incredibly well behaved. In comparison. On planes, especially.
  4. You can be bitten by a shark and live. I know. I was bitten by one. For real.
  5. Bed bugs prefer the taste of my wife to me. Good for me, not so much for her.
  6. There's nothing like sleeping in your own bed.
  7. When I go through customs at the airport, TSA officials spot my badge and whisper conspiratorially, "Are you armed?" (Never, "Do you have a gun?" "Are you carrying a weapon," "Are you packing heat?"). Weird.
  8. Having your toes nibbled by a baby sand shark counts as "being bitten by a shark" for blogging purposes.

Friday, July 22, 2011

For my newer readers: the language barrier

For those of you who are relatively new to my blog, I wanted to share a post that got me some national attention. Not for my wit or brilliance, I hasten to add, but because it was funny.


So we don't file many written motions in criminal practice. Really, just a handful of the same one each time (I should post about those sometime).

This means that only important motions get put before the judge. Like this one:

And my response:

Monday, July 18, 2011


I'm going to start the week with a couple of confessions. Insincere ones, just for the record.

First, while you were picturing me waging battle against a fearsome foe in court, I . . . wasn't. No, the case pled out on late afternoon on Monday. Not my decision, but the correct one from my colleague.

So, the sword has been sheathed, it's glinty sharpness remaining . . . glinty and sharp, for another day.

Second, I'm on vacation in New Jersey. Yeah, I know. Got off to a cracking start (excuse the pun) when the aged great-grandmother took a spill on the sidewalk an hour after we arrived and gashed her hand open. We're in Avalon and credit to the first-responders who were on-scene in minutes. But can you guess the first-responders in a seaside town?

First came the police, then the ambulance arrived, and then we heard the distinctive tinkle of the ice cream truck. Seriously, they must have known there were three kids standing around at the accident site.

Anyway, GG (as she's known) went of to hospital and I retired to the veranda to recover with a single malt. This is my youngest guarding the Stella Artois chaser.

And yes, I expect crime to sky rocket in Austin while I'm gone, I really do. I just don't plan to hear anything about it until I get back. I'm trading my sword for a boogie board this week.

And I fully expect to be back here to gloat about it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Some forensics for you...

In the past I have posted interviews with folks who work in the criminal justice system. A friend of mine, on her blog, has just posted one with a retired forensics investigator. Makes for fascinating reading, I mean one answer begins with him saying, "There is a certain feel to a place that has a body..."

So if this stuff interests you, hop on over there.

And have a grand weekend!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Author interview: Todd Bush

As you know, I have featured a number of best-selling authors here on my blog. But I also like to bring you the occasional undiscovered gem (like Carol Carr, for example) because new writers need readers, too.

Today I want to introduce you to a versatile and very talented writer. He has two young adult books out, adventure stories for boys, but I particularly enjoy his adult fiction. I see them as "noir" stories but I'll let him discuss the delicacies of sub-genre. I'll stop at "crime fiction." Excellent crime fiction, too, with characters who pop out of the page and brilliant voice.

Ladies and gentlemen, Todd Bush.

First, you write under the name "Scott Chase," a pen name. Why is that?

I wrote my YA thrillers under my real name, Todd Bush. However, I also love writing darker, noir tales that you wouldn't want your average teenager picking up simply because the same person wrote it. So it's really about branding. Todd Bush is for YA stuff, whereas Scott Chase will be the name I will write stories and novels geared toward adults.

Ah, yes, very sensible. Now, tell us what does "noir" mean exactly in the literary sense?

Welcome to one of the longest, and at times most annoying, literary arguments going today! Crime fiction has two main sub-genres: hard-boiled fiction and noir fiction. Otto Penzler, the owner of the famous Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, wrote that the difference is in the psychological outlook of the stories and their characters. Penzler suggests that hard-boiled stories, mainly those with a private detective at the center of the tale, have a positive outlook on the world even if the hard drinking, dour PI doesn't; noir, he says, contains none of the positive aspects of its cousin, but rather glorify the negative.

I tend to think in basic, simple terms. Noir stories lack hope. The characters are heading on a path toward doom and destruction. They think it is because of their actions, and thus their direction can be altered; unbeknownst to them, it is because of who they are, and not what they have done, that they cannot change their fates. This lack of hope is what separates the two and makes noir so distinctive.

When I look at picture of a city's skyline at night, I don't see the lights or the buildings. I see the shadows and I wonder what's going on in all that darkness. The same goes for people. Luke Skywalker was a pretty cool guy, but I want to know all about Darth Vader. He was well-rounded, he'd seen his dark side and decided to turn toward it. That was the basis for my interest in the genre.

Makes sense. Now, tell us about your wonderfully titled book, "The Backseat Virgin: A South Florida Noir Collection"

This is from the back of the book itself and describes it perfectly: South Florida is glitz, glamour, surf and sand. But it’s also full of shadows, a place where life's hard road crawls through back alleys, dark corners and right up to the doorstep of the sexiest place on earth. Some say this dark side is the very thing that makes it sexy. This collection of stories shows the hidden side of South Florida, and the human soul, in all its noir glory.

The inspiration of the stories came from watching a few documentaries on South Florida during the late 1970's and early 1980's, during the drug boom and the ensuing war in the streets. I thought it was a perfect place to search for that darkness, that lack of hope.

Where can people find and download it?

It is available for download at Amazon.com, BN.com and can be purchased in print at Amazon.

Who influenced you most in this style of writing?

I didn't even think about trying to do this kind of writing until I read James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia. It was fun to think about writing something that was not only a great story, but also a window into a time and place that so many people wanted to learn about. Ellory is a master.

So who are the good noir writers these days?

George Pelecanos is the best going right now. He is best known as a writer for the TV series, "The Wire." Also, John Rector and Steve Sidor (his early stuff), who you have interviewed on this blog, could be considered noir writers. It's tough, because certain people write mysteries that could be noir. However, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the queen of noir, Megan Abbot. If you haven't read Pelecanos or Abbot, do so. Soon.

These stories conjure images of Bogart and Cagney... do you have a favorite classic crime movie?

That's really a compliment. One reviewer said that it was nearly impossible to read this collection without seeing the action in black & white. To be compared to the classics like that is a real honor. I like the old movies. "Double Indemnity" is good, so is "The Postman Always Rings Twice". "Chinatown" is great. But lately, some newer films have touched on noir and done it quite well, including "The Big Easy", "Memento", "The Machinist", and "Fight Club" are tremendous examples of modern, or neo-noir.

Tell us about your normal life, what you do and who you are when you're not writing.

I work at a high school. In fact, I am a teacher, trying to educate our youth about writing. It's a tough job because they have two diametrically opposing forces pulling them away from good technique. First, society is abandoning the written word for texting and Twitter and boiling our lives down to 140 characters; second, modern educational theory puts out the theory that bland is good and creative thinking is bad. Drives me nuts.

I do have a family, contrary to the dark tone of my writing. My wife and I live in South Florida, have one son and another baby on the way.

That's one busy life -- when do you find time to write?

That is a great question, especially considering this time of year. Normally, I write at night after work, sitting at my dining room table with my in-laws watching TV in the living room and my wife watching TV in the den. Not the ideal quiet space, but it works for me. However with summer coming to an end, I am going to have to put a lot of my writing on hold. Aside from being a teacher at a high school, I also am an assistant football coach at the same high school, and football season starts in August. So until December, I'll be busy and writing will take a little bit of a back seat. Once again, it's not ideal, and I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who is starting out, but it works for me.

What do you think about the self-publishing, e-publishing revolution?

Some people see this as a two-front war, with those who espouse the traditional publishing model on one side, and those who claim digital is the way to go and the traditional way is dead on the other. I disagree. Both are methods of getting stories to readers, which is the goal of every writer. I self-published two YA novels before this collection, Rick Frost & the Alaskan Adventure and Rick Frost & the Sword of Calibum, both available in print and as an ebook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I tried to find an agent, and had two that were interested. In the end, I decided that I wanted to get my product out to readers quicker than the standard two year wait of traditional publishing. Some might say that was a bad decision because I haven't sold tens of thousands of copies, but my books have only been out for a month. And as a smarter person than I once said, "it's a marathon, not a sprint." I think both ways of publishing are going to be around and continuing to give readers entertainment for a long time. Hopefully, I'll be along with them.

I'm guessing you will. Thanks, and much success to you!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sharpening my sword

Oh, don't be so filthy minded. No indeed, today I'm going back into battle, putting on my serious face for a jury trial. This will be my first since the Big One in April, and I couldn't be happier about it.

For one thing, I'm sitting second chair, which means I am the trial's eye-candy, just sitting there and doing what my first chair tells me. And it'll be especially interesting because my first chair is Geoffrey Puryear, the newest member of the 167th District Court team. He came from a different jurisdiction and this will be his first felony trial. I always enjoy working with new lawyers in trial because I get to see their personal styles, and maybe learn a thing or two. Mine is pretty set, I just try to be me (apart from the inappropriate jokes and arriving places not wearing trousers) but you're never too set in stone to learn a little something.

And the frightening thing is, I've been doing this long enough I may even be able to teach some small things (lesson one: show up to trial wearing trousers). Actually, the one thing I always say when asked for "style" advice is precisely that: be yourself. Don't wax poetic if your normal vocabulary is made up of four-letter words, and don't try to be funny if you've had no practice at making people laugh. That's just painful. Jurors are like guard dogs - they smell fear and they know a door-to-door salesman when they see one.

Looks like we're off to a good start today, though, I just checked: Geoffrey's wearing trousers.

Although the eye-candy thing may not work out. Not only is he trousered, he's also a very handsome man.

I'll just take notes.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Author interview: David Lindsey

My devoted readers are thinking, 'Wait, not the David Lindsey?'

To which I reply, 'Oh yes, yes indeed.'

David was kind enough to grant me an interview over a year ago. It is here. The full story is that I emailed him asking if I could send some questions, and he wrote back and said, "How about we do coffee instead?" We ended up doing both, and a nicer man you couldn't wish to meet. Seriously, he spent several hours talking to me about writing and the intricacies of the publishing world, and I was most grateful. A real gentleman.

And this is why I'm so excited to host him here again, you see, he's not published a book for a while. Seven years to be precise, which is a great loss to the thriller world.

Until now.

Oh yes, he's back. A slight change of name, but we won't hold that against him. Here's a new, and quick, interview with him. If you want to see more, David also has a new website.

Welcome back to the blog, you are our first repeat author! You have a new book out, please tell us about it.
Thank you for asking me back again. I appreciate it.

In Pacific Heights, a San Francisco psychoanalyst named Vera List discovers that two of her clients, both women, are having an affair with the same man. The women don’t know each other, and Vera doesn’t know the man’s identity. She realizes that the man must be breaking into her confidential files because he’s using information that could only be found there to manipulate his way into the women’s lives. Terrified by this discovery, Vera hires Marten Fane, a former intelligence officer with the San Francisco Police Department, to discover the man’s identity and stop him. And she wants all of this resolved discreetly, without anyone ever knowing what has happened.

Fane's search takes him into the secret lives of two troubled women who are unaware that they have become the central players in a deadly scheme that has frightening consequences far beyond their own involvement. As Fane unravels the latticework of lies entangling the women, he struggles with a faceless puppeteer who is himself manipulated by an even darker, and more powerful, agency of deception.

Though Pacific Heights introduces Marten Fane who will appear in subsequent novels, it isn’t part of a traditional new series in which Fane is the protagonist in a string of separate stories. The story that is introduced in Pacific Heights will play out over multiple novels. In this regard Pacific Heights is more akin to the first episode in a serial novel, rather than the first novel of a series. This is the beginning of a story that is larger than Pacific Heights. The themes, characters, and story threads that are introduced here will continue, and Marten Fane will continue to struggle with the complexities of what he discovers—and uncovers—in Pacific Heights.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this is an ambitious concept. I realize that the “Marten Fane” story is unorthodox in terms of what mystery/thriller/suspense/spy readers are used to seeing. Strictly speaking, this concept is a hybrid. It’s none of those genre categories exclusively, and yet it’s all of them at one time or another as the story unfolds. The readers, as always, will ultimately decide whether or not this works. As a writer, I’m very excited to be telling a story like this, and I hope I’m able to draw my readers into this larger vision.

So you are using a nom de plume - why is that?
The pseudonym is the child of several fathers. I had proposed the idea to my agent at that time nearly ten years ago. I wanted to write a couple of novels that didn’t really fit into the mold of the kind of the novels I had become known for writing. Once you develop a fan base by writing certain kinds of novels, many readers have very specific expectations of your forthcoming books. They want more of the same. “Something like the last one, but different.” At that time, I ended up not using a pseudonym, or writing the different kind of novel I wanted to write. Now seven years have passed since my last novel. I have a new agent. I have a new publisher. And I have a new idea for a different kind of approach to storytelling. It seemed to me to be a good time to try the pseudonym again and, hopefully, signal the readers to be prepared for something different.

You have an event where people can meet you in Austin, right? Are you doing more of a book tour?

Yes, I’ll be speaking and signing books at Book People on July 11, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. Before that I’ll be on a panel at ThrillerFest VI in New York, and after that I’ll be in Houston, then San Francisco, then at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. After that, I don’t know yet.

What's next for Paul Harper?
As I mentioned above, there will be other Marten Fane novels. I’m already into the next one (and late for the next deadline).

And will we be seeing something by David Lindsey any time in the future?
Paul Harper is in the driver’s seat for a while I think. Options, of course, are always open.

Just a wee taste, I know. But I encourage you to try his new book, and his old ones, too. Hard to pick a favorite but I really loved RULES OF SILENCE and MERCY.

Thanks David, and come back soon!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jump! Bail out! Do it!!

I do hope my faithful readers aren't too tired of my discussions of the differences between civil and criminal law. I wasn't planning to write more on the subject but I received an email from someone needing a spot of advice.

In sum, my advice is the subject of this post.

But to be specific, below is his email and my responses/comments.

Here we go:

I stumbled onto your blog and was really glad I did. Why thank you. I joined a bigger law firm in 2009 and have been with the firm for nearly two years. My sympathies. I've grown tired of civil litigation for all the reasons you mentioned in your blogs regarding civil v. criminal law. I hate that I am essentially told to bill the crap out of clients for any little argument there is to be made, only to have the case settled shortly before trial in an obvious (and desperate) attempt by my supervising partners to avoid trial. I'm with you, mate. Trials and civil law just don't go together any more. There are 4 and 5th year associates at the firm who have never taken a deposition, let alone trial and there are rumors that some of the civil litigation partners with the firm for 10+ years have never gone to trial. Depositions are the new trials. That is, they are so few and far between (and are occasionally interesting) that senior lawyers reserve them for themselves, and clients insist senior lawyers handle them. Not much left for the rest...
Anyway, I was hoping you could speak more about your experience in shifting from civil to criminal law. During your three years as an associate, did you hate it?
No. That may surprise you but I enjoyed the first year. It was kind of like a honeymoon period before reality set in. Second year was okay, third year sucked. And I believe it keeps going downhill from there.

Was the switch a no brainer for you? Was there any one incident that made you say "I'm out!"?
Yes. And yes. But I won't elaborate here, for discretion's sake. Look, attrition is high at those firms for a reason, and it becomes a no-brainer for most associates.

I guess I'm just looking for some guidance as I am contemplating a shift to the D.A.'s office myself. During law school, I liked criminal law the best and I envisioned myself as an AUSA one day. I took the first job that came along b/c the job market was so bad in 2009 and working for this firm was considered "prestigious". Two years later, I am very unfulfilled with civil litigation and working for a big firm. I realize that no matter how long and hard I work, there will always be somebody looking over my shoulder and reviewing a spreadsheet of my billables, realization rate, etc.
Realization rate? Never heard of that one, sounds fun. Look if you're not happy you should go. You have one life to live and once you're out you will never regret it. Of course, many of us are lumbered with debt that makes the decision harder . . . oh, do go on. . .
I guess I just want somebody to convince me that the pay cut is totally worth it. It is. Oh by golly it is. I hate making it about the money, but student loan debts are crushing (~$1225/month - not federal loans) and starting in a new field at only 58-62K is intimidating - I feel like I'd be ditching most of the skills I have acquired over the past two years and that very few would be useful in an atmosphere totally different than a civil law firm.
And what skills would those be? Billing for every second? Sucking up to partners? Carrying briefcases for people? I jest (or do I?). You are probably good at writing and researching by now but you're probably about as good as you'll get. And you won't somehow forget how to do those things. and yes, the atmosphere will be different. it'll be awesome because lawyers making that much are doing it because they want to. Kind of naturally makes for a happier work place, no?

Any additional advice you may have would be great! Love the blog.

Thanks, it loves you, too.

Bottom line: I'm biased. I left the civil world (twice) for the DA's office and both times was delighted to have done so. I'm still relieved, constantly relieved. And we've made the money thing work. Sure, I don't drive a BMW any more and I don't live in a mansion but my car is new and my house is plenty big for my wonderful family.

I still have law school loans, more than you I'd wager. And you know what? Those buggers will get the last of their money. . . when I'm sixty. I'm making 'em wait. In the meantime I'll be doing a job I love and be a happy man at home. Can't ask for better than that, can you?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day . . for now . . .

Yes indeed. Congratulations. Well done.

But don't think we're not coming back. In fact, I'm here already, plotting.

This blog?

It's the start. Oh, just the start. And you're so blind you can't even see it. A British prosecutor? Are you serious?? Who let that happen?

I'm already halfway up the ladder. Should I go for governor or the guy who fixes the elevators? Yes, you see I do know who holds the real power in this country. Governor indeed.

I do have nice hair though. Well, not nice so much as plenty of it. I cut it short, you see. Especially in the summer because, by golly, it gets hot here. So incredibly hot I can't believe it sometimes. I mean, I went for a run at 10am this morning and ended up walking. Yes, me, the perfect human specimen sent to take back America for Her Majesty, walking because it's too bloody hot.

Come to think of it, it's all yours. No way the milky-skinned Englanders could take a full summer of this insane heat. So keep it.

But. . . if you don't mind. . . I'll stay. I've grown rather fond of you all.

And I promise, no more sneaky take-over attempts.

Until the autumn. Fall. Whatever. When it rains and cools down.

So for now, as I said before,