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Daughters of Daughters of Eve: An Interview with Megan Abbott

Laura Lippman: One thing that struck me about DARE ME is that it’s told by an insider, someone inside the group, not an outsider who’s infiltrating it (Mean Girls) or an outsider (pretty much every book I read as a teen). And it struck me that was a bit new for you, too, especially when compared to THE END OF EVERYTHING or even BURY ME DEEP. If history is written by the winners, isn’t fiction usually written by the outsiders? 

Meagan Abbott: Absolutely. And since most writers are introverts, at least in part, one of the hardest parts for me was writing from the point of view of someone whose position in the world of social power was so different from mine at that age. I’ve written male protagonists, female gangsters, women whose lives were circumscribed by conditions (the Great Depression, pre-feminism) I’ve never experienced, even women who have to commit gruesome acts to save themselves. But somehow it was harder, at first, to imagine myself as a member of the high school elite (and an athlete, but that’s another story).

Of course most writers are voyeurs too, and I certainly am, so the more I dug my feet into those trenches, I saw the same power machinations occurring within the elite group of girls as I’d experienced from the outside. Someone always seems to have what you want and there’s always a moment when you realize: ah, this is how I could get it? Would I do this to get it?

LL: I wrote to you about my fascination with names, once I glommed onto Tacy and we joked about the very small cohort of people on the planet who would recognize a Wire reference and a Betsy-Tacy reference. (Us.) As it happens — awful moment of self-reference coming up — I wrote To the Power of Three from the point of Tib, the third friend in the Betsy-Tacy books who can never catch up; Betsy and Tacy will always have been friends longer. But while this is a book from the inner circle, it’s also a book from the POV of a Tacy, a #2, right? 

MA: Oh, that’s so right about Tacy, though I can’t say it was conscious. And that makes so much sense about the Tib connection in TO THE POWER OF THREE (a book which spoke with such intensity to me, having occupied each of the triangle corners in different friendships in my life).

Interestingly, I have always had a complicated relationship to Tacy. As a girl, I identified with Betsy as the aspiring writer, though I think Tacy’s shyness and reserve was far more my own. In the later books, when they’re in high school, I remember feeling disappointed with how Tacy becomes even less ambitious, even more of a homebody, lacked Betsy’s Jo March-verve.

So it’s particularly compelling to consider how Tacy’s presence might be felt in DARE ME. Because doesn’t the Number 2 (to reintroduce THE WIRE) always harbor their own ambitions? Continue reading “Daughters of Daughters of Eve: An Interview with Megan Abbott”

Brian Michael Bendis Interviews Greg Rucka

iraqOur post-Comic Con celebration of come of our enormously talented, cross-media authors continues with an interview between Brian Michael Bendis, writer of Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Avengers, and Greg Rucka, whose first new thriller series in a decade kicked off with ALPHA, now in bookstores everywhere.

Brian Michael Bendis: So we’re being honest with our reading audience. Last week you were cool enough to come to my class—I teach a class at Portland State—and you came there and dropped some truth bombs on them, and rattled them to the core. It was a lot of fun. But I had questions left over that we never got to because it was more of a free floating conversation, so there was questions I was going to ask, and I didn’t. And the primary question I had that I think is more pertinent to this conversation than the one we were going to have in front of the students, was if you’ve given thought to your goals as a novelist at this point. Like, there’s the goals that you had when you started, which was to get published—and now you’re starting a new kind of phase in your career, in that age we’re in, we get more introspective. OK, we’ve been published—now what? OK, I get to do this—now what am I going to do with it? So I was curious if you had given thought to that, or if you were bring more take it as it comes.

Greg Rucka: You know, it’s weird, because coming into Mulholland, and Alpha is the first new series that I’ve done in over decade in novels, in prose.  Stumptown was sort of the next step, but Alpha is the first in what is initially conceived of as the first of three novels, and may grow beyond that. I did give it some thought. There were two factors at work. The first is the obvious commercial one—you want to write something that’s going to be successful and you want to justify the publisher’s faith in you. You want to return them the money they’re willing to extend to you to write this thing, and most of the other novels are selling pretty well, but none of them have really broken out, and I’m not sure that’s a top agenda point.

But I would like to be able to write something that rewards the publisher’s faith. That actually does matter to me. I don’t hear a lot of writers talk about it. But self publishing is so viable that if you do go with a publisher you do want to make it worth everybody’s time. Content-wise, you touched on it, you know—I’m older. Like you, I’ve got kids. I have a different perspective than I did when I was 24, when my first novel was published. Continue reading “Brian Michael Bendis Interviews Greg Rucka”

A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part I

Suffering from post-Comic Con withdrawal? Get your fix with the below conversation between award-winning writer Ed Brubaker, author of CRIMINAL, SLEEPER and INCOGNITO, among many others, and Duane Swierczynski, originally appearing to celebrate the publication of FUN & GAMES. Hardie endures!

Ed Brubaker: So, Duane – FUN & GAMES, am I right in saying this is your first non-Philadelphia book? (Not counting any co-writing) Did you leave your hometown behind in life and fiction?

Duane Swierczynski: You’re right — this is my first book set in a place other than Philly. I still live in Philadelphia (for the time being), and my fictional heart still lives here, too. But I do cop to a little bit literary wanderlust. The idea for FUN & GAMES, grew out of repeated visits to the Hollywood Hills over the years, and even though I tried (at one point) to set it closer to home, it refused to work anywhere but L.A.
Ed, how important is “place” in your work? You’ve created this brilliant fictional location in CRIMINAL‘s “Center City,” but was that on purpose? Why not, say, Chicago, or Seattle, or NYC?

EB: I think with CRIMINAL, it was to make it like the city in Walter Hill’s The Driver, or to use Chandler’s Bay City and Macdonald’s Santa Teresa as location names. Also, I was a Navy brat, so I don’t have that hometown thing a lot of writers have. I lived in DC (or right across the bridge in Arlington) in the summer of 1979, so I get Pelecanos’ views of it from the little I experienced at age 12, but I think one of the reasons I’m drawn to a lot of crime writers I love is the way their books inhabit a city, in a way I never could, as the always traveling outsider.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part I”

One-Shot Stopping

GunfightOne of the worst myths created by movies and TV is the one-shot stop. You know how it goes: an action-adventure hero runs into a warehouse filled with bad guys. A gunfight breaks out. The hero runs through a maze of crates and equipment and takes down every bad guy he encounters until he reaches the evil mastermind, who is too skilled and devious to be taken down so easily. Cat and mouse ensues until the evildoer is either brought to justice or killed in some vengeful and Technicolorful manner.

A lot of these scenes take place with the hero using a handgun. He shoots guys on catwalks a hundred feet away (and they fall dramatically into vats of acid or molten metal or they get impaled on some sharp object). Apart from the incredible skill needed to shoot people fatally while running and using a pistol, the even greater fiction foisted on audiences through repetition is that one bullet will kill a human being.

Bad guys go down with one shot, yet the good guys often sustain multiple wounds and keep on going like Energizer bunnies. Isn’t this becoming a cliche’?

One handgun bullet can kill a human being, but at any distance other than close-up, it’s unlikely. The ultimate one-shot showstopper in movies is always the head shot. But in real life, even a head shot is not certain. Just think of Gabby Gifford, the Arizona Congresswoman who in 2011 was shot in the head at point blank range by a would-be assassin. She survived and is gaining back her normal functionality at an amazing rate. Continue reading “One-Shot Stopping”

The Story Behind Hunt the Wolf

We kick off our celebration the release of HUNT THE WOLF by Don Mann with Ralph Pezzullo, a Seal Team Six novel now in bookstores across the country, with an article by Pezzullo on the fascinating origin story of the novel. Check back again later as our week-long coverage continues!

In early 2010, I received a call from a fellow mystery-thriller writer named Tom Sawyer. (No joke, it’s his real name.) He said that he wanted to recommend me to a former Navy SEAL who was interested in collaborating with a writer on a series of high-octane thrillers. The guy, he said, claimed to have lots of stories. I said, “Sure, give him my number and ask him to contact me.”

Ten minutes later I got a call from Don Mann. He told me his remarkable story – how he’d transformed himself from a wild hell-raising teenager into a hard-ass Navy SEAL, spent eight years with SEAL Team Six, was deployed on countless covert ops all over the globe, served as a platoon member, assault team member, boat crew leader and advanced training officer. My jawed dropped as I listened. The crazy part was that as he described his tales of combat and other mayhem – firefights, raid, knife fights, decapitations – he did so in a calm, dare-I-say, gentle voice.

The one caveat is that since most of the ops he’d been on as a SEAL were top secret, the only way we could write about them without raising the ire of government censors was as fiction.

I was fascinated. Beyond fascinated. More like totally pumped. It seemed to me that he had enough material for a whole series of exciting SEAL thrillers. Not chest-beating, unbelievable stuff, but interesting stories with fleshed out characters from the perspective of someone who has actually lived them.

I asked Don to send me more about himself – brief descriptions of missions he’d been on, stories from his life, some of the more memorable SEALs he’d served with, his favorite color (only kidding!).

Over the next week and a half my e-mail server was bombarded with material. It’s as though the guy literally turned himself inside out. He told me about his family, his wives, the songs he listened to when he worked out, the mountains he’d climbed, the ultra-marathons he’d competed in, etc. It was a literal (or literary) goldmine of stories, characters and impressions.

Now it was up to me to mold it into something. Inspired by what he’d told me, I wrote a brief treatment about a team of SEALs who enter Pakistan under the cover of mountain climbers on a mission to takeout an al-Qaeda leader. Don said he’d been deployed on several similar missions to Pakistan. We were off to the races!

To say that working with Don is a pleasure is an understatement. He’s amazing! In fact, the nicest, most considerate, appreciative and thoughtful guy you’d ever want to meet. Also, he’s a genuine hero. I’m proud to call him my friend.

Ralph Pezzullo is a New York Times bestselling author and award-winning playwright, screenwriter and journalist. He is also the author of Jawbreaker (with CIA operative Gary Berntsen).

Don Mann (CWO3, USN) is the author of Inside SEAL Team Six and has for the last thirty years been associated with the Navy SEALS as a platoon member, assault team member, boat crew leader, or advanced training officer; and more recently program director preparing civilians to go to BUD/s (SEAL Training). Up until 1998 he was on active duty with SEAL Team 6. Since his retirement, he has deployed to the Middle East on numerous occasions in support of the war on terror. Many of the active duty members of SEAL Team 6 are the same guys he taught how to shoot and conduct ship and aircraft takedowns, and trained in urban, arctic, desert, river, and jungle warfare, as well as Close Quarters Battle and Military Operations in Urban Terrain. He has suffered two broken backs, two pulmonary embolisms, and multiple other broken bones, in training or service. He has twice survived being captured during operations.

HUNT THE WOLF is now available in bookstores everywhere.

A Conversation with Mark Billingham and Lee Child: Part I

This week we salute BLOODLINE by Mark Billingham as it hits bookstores in paperback. The New York Times Book Review raved that BLOODLINE offers a “psychologically twisted and strikingly original plot” with a “relentlessly swift pace and high emotional pitch.” Here, we present Part I of a conversation with Lee Child, the #1 bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series. And don’t miss the newest Tom Thorne novel THE DEMANDS, now available in bookstore everywhere.

Mark Billingham: I was thinking a lot about series and the demands that writing a series makes on you and the benefits of it.  Obviously in the last week or so there has been heaps of internet chat in response to the rumor that Tom Cruise might be about to play Jack Reacher. Whatever your thoughts are about that, it’s an incredible testament to the power of the series and the ownership readers feel they have of the character.  Do you feel that Reacher is yours?  Do you feel like you share him?

Lee Child: That’s a great point and it’s something I’ve been very aware of as the years have passed because it’s completely a progression, obviously.  On Day 1, nobody in the world knows anything about Reacher apart from me because it’s the first book. It’s a work in progress, it’s not finished, and nobody has seen it. Then, the first book gets published and then the second and the third.  And gradually the ownership of the character does migrate outwards into the public realm.  I was very aware actually of the particular point which was after eight or nine books, maybe ten books.  Previously to that people were kind of deferential.  They thought Reacher was an independent entity, but they knew somehow he belonged to me. Then, after about the tenth book, he became totally publicly owned to the point where I now get abused just like any other fan with a different opinion.  I count for nothing anymore.  Reacher is completely independent and completely out there.  And you’re right, the casting choice in Hollywood is being made right now.  My attitude towards that was whoever is cast, whoever it was, 99% of the fans would be outraged because it would be a sheer coincidence if whoever it was matched their own personal image.  I think it’s just proof actually of how tightly owned a series character becomes by the readers, which is great really because that is the advantage of a series.  This is a tough trade.  Launching one book every year is a new mountain to climb every time and if you can get any help at all carried over from previous years you need it.  Of course, one of the great helps is, if it is a series, (to borrow the language of credit card companies) the new book is kind of “pre-approved.”  The readership thinks, “Well, I liked the last six, so I’ll probably like this.”  It’s a much lower hurdle to get over.  I think with people who write standalone books, the author’s name obviously continues and counts for something, but you’ve got a slightly higher mountain to climb.  Are they going to like it?  Is it the same as what you’ve done before? You’ve mixed it, haven’t you?  How have you felt about that?

Continue reading “A Conversation with Mark Billingham and Lee Child: Part I”

Why I Write “Strong Female Characters”

[This post originally appeared on i09]

Greg Rucka has rocked the worlds of comics and novels for years, including memorable Batman writing, plus the Queen and Country series and the Atticus Kodiak books. But he might be best known for being a man who writes a lot of “strong female characters.”

People always ask Rucka why he chooses to write so many hard-hitting women. And now, to celebrate the release of his new novel Alpha, he’s explaining why.

The first story I can remember writing, that I truly set down on paper, was a Christmas story that I wrote when I was ten years old. The irony of this isn’t simply that I’m Jewish, nor is it that the story was about what happened to North Pole Operations when Saint Nick “went to join the bleedin’ choir invisible.”

No, it was that, in this little school assigned short-story I wrote, the mournful elves were roused from their grief by a determined and forceful Mrs. Claus, who took – ahem – the reins of the operation in hand. Under her steely gaze, toys were made, presents were wrapped, reindeer were harnessed, and the sleigh took flight with her in the pilot’s seat.

It wasn’t, I think, a terribly good story, but it had two things going for it. It had the shameless unselfconsciousness of a ten year old author, and it had a clear feminist agenda.

Shades of things to come.

When I was in high school, I started writing a serial novel, longhand, set in the Arthurian mythos, and influenced not incidentally by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. It was the story about a young pagan priestess, a Lady of the Lake, as it were, named Adriana, and the various adventures, trials, and tribulations she experienced. I wrote this in several college-lined notebooks. This was what I did sitting in the back of the classroom during English. My thinking was, well, I’m writing it in English, aren’t I? An excuse that, incidentally, did not impress my teacher at the time, Mr. Murray.

I still have those notebooks buried in a filing cabinet in my office. As with Mrs. Claus, the story – in memory, at least – isn’t terribly good. And like Mrs. Claus, Adriana was no wallflower. While I’m certain I never once put a sword in her hands or armor on her form, she was undeniably kick-ass, strong-willed and proud and disinclined to back down in the face of adversity.

Why I Write "Strong Female Characters"In graduate school, I wrote a one-act play called Work Ethic under the guidance of the terrific writer David Milton. There were three characters in this play, two men and one woman. The woman was a Deputy U.S. Marshal by the name of Carrie Stetko, a later-iteration of whom would reappear as the protagonist in the graphic novel Whiteout, written by me, and illustrated by Steve Lieber. Whiteout was my key through the razor-wire and spikes surrounding the comics industry.

Whiteout was made into a movie. There’s a Carrie Stetko in that, too. She shares the name, but the similarities between Movie Carrie, Comic Carrie, and One Act Play Carrie begin and end with the name. Comic Carrie and One Act Play Carrie would shake Movie Carrie down behind the bleachers, laugh her out of the You Share Our Name Club, and send her limping and mewling home to mother. And they wouldn’t feel a moment’s regret about doing it, either.

In early 2001, Oni Press published the first issue of Queen & Country, a comic book series written by yours truly and illustrated by many wonderful artists throughout its run. I later wrote three novels that are – depending on your point of view – either tie-ins or crucial parts of the series. The main character of both the comics and all three novels is a woman named Tara Chace. Tara is a Special Operations Officer for the British SIS, or MI6 if you’re the kind who likes Old School. She’s basically James Bond, except without the hyperbole and the bullshit. Quiller set in a Le Carré-influenced world might be a better description.

Tara can kill people with her bare hands and escape from Iran with two bullets in her body, but she can’t maintain a personal life worth a damn.

There are more. There are a lot more. There’s Renee Montoya and Kate Kane and Sasha Bordeaux, all over at DC Comics. There’s Black Widow v1, Natasha Romanov, and Black Widow v2, Yelena Belova, and Elektra, and currently Sergeant Rachel Cole-Alves, all at Marvel.

There’s Bridgett Logan, and Natalie Trent, and Alena Cizkova, all from the Kodiak series of novels. There’s Miriam Bracca from A Fistful of Rain, and there’s Dexedrine Callisto Parios, from Stumptown, and there’s Her Ladyship, Captain Seneca Sabre, from the webcomic that I write and that Rick Burchett draws, called Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether. There’s Victoria Black from a Project That Is Yet to Go into Production but by the grace of God will soon see the light of day.

There are a lot of women.

You will have no doubt detected a theme, here. Continue reading “Why I Write “Strong Female Characters””

Brian Michael Bendis Interviews Greg Rucka: Part II

Greg Rucka’s ALPHA, the first thriller in a new series from Rucka in over ten years, is in stores now! The celebration continues with Part II of Rucka’s conversation with fellow comics writer extraordinaire Brian Michael Bendis.

Missed Part I? Read it here.

BMB: Well, we talked about this a little last week, but it happened to me this morning, so I laughed, that thing where someone accuses you of a stereotype of some sort because the character doesn’t exactly represent their life. Someone this morning was very angry at me for Luke Cage’s wardrobe being a T-shirt and jeans, and how stereotypical it is, and can you please shave his goatee? and that’s not what African-American men look like. There’s a look for all African-American men? I have to have that conversation now? Not all people look exactly alike or have the same taste and this character does not represent all things to all people, and yes, it does not look like you, nor was that my attempt to find you and duplicate you into this comic. You want to respect it at the same time—no, move on. I’ve got to get going.

GR: I don’t understand that kind of self-limiting, to solely read oneself into a work in order to empathize and identify with the characters. Empathy shouldn’t be contingent on their wardrobe.

BMB: I know that 99% of the audience doesn’t do this. But it’s so loud, and directed at you, you can’t stop and think, wait, did I do something subconsciously? No. Stop. That’s not true. Leave me alone.

So I am very excited about the book, and it really comes from your excitement from it. When I see my friends or co-workers, you can see that they feel really good about this one. When the creator can push past their self-loathing, and get excited, it’s really exciting to me because I know how hard that is. So that’s very, very cool. After this, what are your goals in comics particularly? I’m curious. I feel like you’re cooking up to something again. Continue reading “Brian Michael Bendis Interviews Greg Rucka: Part II”

An Interview with Marcia Clark: Part II

Marcia Clark’s Guilt by Association, the first novel starring Los Angeles prosecutor Rachel Knight, was released to critical acclaim and success in 2011. The paperback of Guilt by Association came out in March, and now, Rachel is back in the gripping Guilt By Degrees. A former prosecutor herself, Clark has a deep fascination for the wheels of justice and contemporary criminal trials. This laces Guilt By Degrees with a gritty authenticity sure to appeal to fans of Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller series. Like her lawyer-writer compatriots Scott Turow, John Grisham, and William Lashner, Clark understands the nobility of the legal profession and knows how to craft a thrilling narrative.

Ms. Clark spoke to Mulholland Books about her long-standing passion for the mystery novel and the process of crafting a new Rachel Knight adventure in Guilt By Degrees. This is the second of a two-part interview.

We pick up our conversation by continuing to discuss Ms. Clark’s writing process:

What’s your writing process like — do you have a set number of pages or goals for a day? How do you get from the idea and outline process to putting words on the page?

What I like to do is give myself a little bit of a road map, so I’ll bang out one line or even a paragraph per chapter, just to set myself in motion…I don’t sit down at a set time everyday because I’m working criminal appeals and I have other things going on that take up time in unpredictable spurts. But I do sit down every day, especially when I’m writing the first draft, seven days a week, and I write for as long as I possibly can. I make it a minimum of ten to fifteen pages a day. I feel like it gives me pacing, it keeps the pace of the story going if I’m in it continuously. So that first draft is a real bitch (laughs), because I’m writing constantly, seven days a week and a minimum that is a pretty long minimum.

Now, it doesn’t happen invariably — some days are bad, I get only five pages done, but it pretty much goes that way so the first draft gets done in a month and a half.

Once that first draft is done, what’s the rewriting process like? Do you take a break, do you revise as you go, or do you start immediately on rewrites?

I try not to revise as I go, because that makes you redo, and redo, and redo, and you don’t move forward. And you lose pacing–that sense of urgency and you’re living with your characters, what are they going to do now? There’s always some type of pressure in a case to get things done, whether because you’ve got a trial date looming or you’re going to lose a witness who’s gonna run away or going forget, you’ve got to trace down your evidence before it deteriorates. There’s always some type of time pressure, and if you keep going back, you’re going to lose that sense of urgency — I will, anyway.

So I have to stay with it, and I don’t find it’s very helpful to keep rewriting. I did that with in the first book. I’d go back, and fix this and that and think of this and that…and now what I do is I make notes, so that when I finish the first draft, when I go back, as I’m going to literally go back line for line, I can insert or add whatever notes I’ve given myself.

The rewriting process…what do they say, “it’s all in the rewriting?” That’s where I really feel I shape things and give it more twists and more nuance and color. You kind of set out the bare bones of the actions and the way it’s going to flow and in the rewrite is where you give it all the richness. But it’s a long process, I try to walk away. I walk away for as long as I can–a minimum of a week–to let things fly away out of my head, so that when I come back, I bring as fresh eyes as I can to the party.

And then literally start  with “Prologue.” First word.

Is there an example–without spoiling anything, of course–from Guilt By Degrees where you added something when you were rewriting? Or maybe you had to take something out all together that changed the way you were shaping the novel?

Of course, the last thing that happened is the one that comes to mind — by no means it’s not limited to this, but towards the end of the book there’s a big event that happens that literally becomes life and death for both Bailey and Rachel. And Rachel realizes in the aftermath that she put them in that place because of her obsessive nature, because all she could focus on was justice and the capture of the bad guy, because she had her blinders on that way. She’s used to being a little personally reckless with herself, but she realizes for the first time that her singular focus and obsessive drive for justice, which in part stems for what happened to her sister, caused her to put Bailey in harm’s way as well.

I went back a few times to make it clear that she’s had an awareness here, an epiphany, about how crazy she can get, and how dangerous that is, not just for herself, but the people around her. At first, when I first took a pass at it, I neglected it. I took my second pass at it, I overwrote it. I took my third pass at it, trimmed a lot away, because I don’t want characters to explain themselves. I hate self-referential writing…you’ve got to show it–they do it. So I didn’t want her to go in this long, Hamlet-like soliloquy…It wound up getting trimmed down to just a few lines, but hopefully the lines are evocative enough of the epiphany that I hope to convey.

I’m curious about the language — how to choose which particular words to use. One of the things I was impressed by is you’re able to use description to put the reader in places we haven’t seen before, certainly places in Los Angeles that we haven’t seen in this genre before. Is that something you’re conscious of as well? How do you stay aware of your style and your language, or is that something you’ll go back and look at during the rewriting?

Fourth and SpringYou know, I’m not aware of it, I have to say. I didn’t take English composition courses and I don’t have an MFA because I went to law school instead, so I’m not really…I just kind of write it the way I see it. What I strive for is to put the reader there with me, to see the parts of Los Angeles that are not very much described but are very much a part of the city, and to get a sense of  the enormous differences and variation in the city, because it’s so geographically huge and spread out. Los Angeles from one end to the other can take you hours to get through, and that’s unique to Los Angeles. And in each pocket of the city you have differences that are enormous. In one part of the city you can feel like you’re in the Midwest, in another part, New York, in another part, Miami. It’s that kind of variation in this city that makes it so fascinating to write about.

So what I try to do is try to convey the differences you can encounter in just one city in just one day. Like in Guilt By Association, I very deliberately described the sense of going to Mordor to Heaven, in going from the Men’s County Jail downtown to the Pacific Palisades, one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s an effort on my part, always, to make it feel like you’re there, and deliver the sights, the smells, the sounds.

You, John Grisham, Scott Turow are all lawyers. What is it about the fact you have some of the more famous writers in the genre who are also lawyers, who are able to tell good stories? Do you think there’s something about being a lawyer that lends itself to being a good storyteller, or being good at fiction?

First of all, I love being put in a category with John Grisham and Scott Turow! (laughing) I’m not so sure I belong in the same breath with them, but I think there is definitely something about being a lawyer that translates very easily to this kind of crime fiction. Lawyers, especially criminal lawyers, but civil lawyers, too, are storytellers. Especially trial lawyers. That’s what you are — you’re a storyteller. You get up in front of the jury and tell them a story.

And you put together all the facts and all the evidence into a story that’s as compelling and dramatic as you can make it, to tell your story effectively. And that’s what you do in a novel. I think it’s a pretty natural transition from one to another.

As a final wrap-up, is there one thing you’d like readers to know about this novel, your fiction, or Rachel, as a whole?

I think what I would say in general, I like to deliver stories with some meat on their bones, with the kind of twists and turns that keep us interested…that I like. I deliver the story I like, I think that’s the honest truth. But also with humor.

Number one, the truth of the matter is between prosecutors and cops, there has to be — especially detectives, homicide detectives, if you don’t have a sense of humor, you cannot survive that job. It’s too grim, the realities of it are too harsh, and if you don’t have a really strong sense of humor, you will not make it through. And so homicide detectives are some of the funniest people I’ve ever met. And that’s is the truth of the camaraderie, the banter, the way they live, they way the see the world…I had a couple of detectives tell me “wow, you really nailed it.”

These are serious crimes, they’re dramatic crimes, but the story is delivered with a heavy dose of humor and fun, and also a deep love and bond between the three women of this book — Bailey, Rachel, and their friend Toni — that underlies and drives all of the stories, and will drives all of the books. And of course, there’s the love interest, that of course happens, because they live in the world and they’re real people. There’s a balance here. It’s not a grim procedural…There’s richness and life and humor and fun involved.

Guilt by Degrees and Guilt By Association are in stores now.

Marcia Clark is a former LA, California deputy district attorney, who was the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder case. She wrote a bestselling nonfiction book about the trial, Without a Doubt, the national bestselling thriller GUILT BY ASSOCIATION introducing DA Rachel Knight, and is a frequent media commentator and columnist on legal issues. She lives in Los Angeles.

Brendan M. Leonard is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and crime fiction junkie living in New York City. He has written for CHUD.com, The Rap Sheet, and January Magazine. There are days he worries about becoming Ron Swanson. Visit his blog here, or follow him on Twitter here.

An Interview with Marcia Clark: Part I

Marcia Clark’s Guilt by Association, the first novel starring Los Angeles prosecutor Rachel Knight, was released to critical acclaim and success in 2011. The paperback of Guilt by Association came out in March, and now, Rachel is back in the gripping Guilt By Degrees. A former prosecutor herself, Clark has a deep fascination for the wheels of justice and contemporary criminal trials. This laces Guilt By Degrees with a gritty authenticity sure to appeal to fans of Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller series. Like her lawyer-writer compatriots Scott Turow, John Grisham, and William Lashner, Clark understands the nobility of the legal profession and knows how to craft a thrilling narrative.

Ms. Clark spoke with me about her long-standing passion for the mystery novel and the process of crafting a new Rachel Knight adventure in Guilt By Degrees. This is the first of a two-part interview.

You’re a former prosecutor and a lot of being an attorney is crafting a narrative. Was that something you always had an interest in? Were you a big reader as a child? What kind of got you interested in the idea of telling stories in general?

I was a big reader as a child. From, like, three. And murder mysteries in particular got to me when I was really young.  I mean, Nancy Drew was somebody I was reading when I was six. So I’ve always been kind of wedded to this genre. I have to say I think I thought about writing, I loved writing when I was a kid, but I never believed in the ability to live that way…you know, indoors. And so I thought I didn’t have the confidence to try it. And then, even when I was a prosecutor, I was still reading murder mysteries–addicted to James Ellroy. I would literally work all day on murders and come home and then read about it and then watch Law & Order. You know, total immersion. This is kind of a life-long passion for me, I’ve always kind of been like this, so to speak.

I think what got me the confidence to finally try to write a book is having the experience of writing in Hollywood, writing scripts. That got me doing it, and so I thought, “you know, I really want to try to write a book.” (laughing) I had, thank god, no clue how hard it would be! Scripts are short, they’re like haiku, and you bang them out in a week. You may rewrite a bunch, but you bang them out pretty fast because they are so much shorter. And writing a book was daunting, but I was in it to win it. I really loved it and I just wanted to do it anyway. I persevered for years before I turned out something that was worth sending out for someone to read.

You mentioned that you are a fan of James Ellroy. That’s really fascinating. What about his work appeals to you so much?

I think his ability to deliver a really bizarre set of characters and situations that is entirely somehow believable…These are unusual characters, they’re fringe characters, their situations are odd. And yet, stepping into the world, I believed every word of it. And I thought “That is just such an amazing gift.” It’s also a gift that gives you great insight into the world, into characters, into places and things that you wouldn’t ordinarily know. I love that.

I think the other inspiration that I had was Armisted Maupin, on the end completely of the spectrum. Tales of the City…that was, again, the ability to deliver a world with quirky character that were somehow very engaging and very warm. I loved the idea. That’s what gave me the idea of writing a series. “I want to do that too.” I want to create a world that I can go back to over and over again, share with readers over and over again, like a family that you watch develop.

And so the idea of revisiting the [real] world of a prosecutor, which I love…where there was a real sense of community with the cops, with fellow prosecutors, and that the wonderfulness of working a job that was a mission, and not just a job. You know, the belief that you were fighting for something important in the world and helping the victims. It was just a wonderful, great feeling. And so I wanted to go back to that world and share it, and have an ongoing series about it.

It’s definitely something that comes across in both books. What can you tell readers about this second novel, where you got the idea for it, and what fans of the first book can expect from this one?

I can tell because I’m just finishing my third book that every book has its own inspiration from whatever hits me at the time that I’m working up the book.

With the second book, I was inspired by a completely different dynamic. I was inspired by a true story of a homeless man who was killed in New York–this was in Queens, I think. He was killed in the process of trying to defend a woman who was being attacked by somebody on the street. He got stabbed, and lay on the ground after the attack–she got away, he saved her–and he was left to die, bleeding out on the sidewalk, while people walked past him, took pictures of him, stepped over him…It was one of those amazingly heart wrenching stories, and it did get press, and I thought I want to write about that. Continue reading “An Interview with Marcia Clark: Part I”