Interview: September 7, 2007
September 7, 2007
Lawyer-turned-writer Mark Gimenez is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel THE COLOR OF LAW, as well as the newly-released THE ABDUCTION. In this interview with Bookreporter.com's Joe Hartlaub, Gimenez discusses what prompted this shift in careers and describes the inspiration behind some of the characters in his latest book. He also credits Harper Lee, Larry McMurtry and Elmore Leonard as the biggest influences on his work, shares his thoughts on why many attorneys try their hands at writing fiction and reveals his plans for future sequels to both of his already-published books.
Bookreporter.com: THE ABDUCTION is a very different type of book from THE COLOR OF LAW, your debut novel. While THE COLOR OF LAW was somewhat focused on the courtroom, THE ABDUCTION concerns the kidnapping of Gracie Brice, the daughter of a Bill Gates-type software designer and a no-holds-barred white collar defense attorney. There are no courtroom scenes or drama, and the focus in THE ABDUCTION is more action and relationship-oriented. What inspired you to write a book so significantly different from THE COLOR OF LAW?
Mark Gimenez: Actually, it was the other way around. I wrote THE ABDUCTION first, but I wasn't happy with it. So, I put it aside when the idea for THE COLOR OF LAW came to me, and I wrote that book instead. Then, with what I had learned from two great editors on THE COLOR OF LAW, I was able to rework THE ABDUCTION into a novel I was happy with, with further editing by my UK editor. (A great editor is the best thing that can happen to a writer.)
BRC: While THE ABDUCTION focuses primarily upon Gracie Brice’s kidnapping and the efforts of her grandfather, Ben Brice, to get her back, the subtle foundation of the book is the relationship between the characters involved: between Gracie’s parents and grandparents, between Gracie and her father and grandfather, and between Gracie’s father and grandfather. It was your exploration of these relationships, as much as the pursuit and catch element of THE ABDUCTION, that really made the book for me. Did you have most of these relationships worked out before you started THE ABDUCTION, or did they work themselves out as you began writing the book?
MG: I knew where I wanted to go with the family dynamics --- a family torn apart by the past but brought together by a crisis; the strong bond between Gracie and Ben; and the specific relationships between the characters --- before I began writing, but once I started living the characters' lives on a daily basis for a year or more, the details of their relationships really became clear. That's when the characters and their relationships develop for me, when I'm actually writing the story.
BRC: Ben Brice was, for me, the most interesting character in THE ABDUCTION. A war hero in the truest sense of the word, he is badly damaged both by his experiences during the Vietnam War and his subsequent reaction to them. Yet, he is able to reach down inside himself with the purest and most basic emotions as motivating factors. Did you have a particular real-world role model for Ben, or is he a combination of a number of people?
MG: I had met several Vietnam veterans who had been profoundly affected by their experiences; I had also read extensively about the men who fought that war, particularly the Green Berets. They were true believers; they went to Vietnam to free the oppressed, just as their motto says. So, I knew I wanted Ben to be one such soldier, but I had no specific model for him. He's solely a product of my imagination and research.
BRC: A great deal of THE ABDUCTION deals with Vietnam; as Ben Brice says at one point, “Everything has something to do with that war.” Why do you think that Vietnam, some 30 years out, continues to loom so large in the American psyche?
MG: Because our leaders lied and good men died; so, people began to distrust the government and our leaders, and we see that same distrust today. Also, we lost a war. That had never happened before. Failure makes us look at ourselves differently.
BRC: Did you infuse any of your characters with your own characteristics? Of Ben Brice, John Brice and Elizabeth Brice, who would you think is most like you?
MG: I'm not as smart as John, as tough as Elizabeth, or as brave as Ben. I try to imagine what the characters' personalities would be rather than burden them with mine. But we do share one trait: if my child were abducted, I would never stop searching.
BRC: What authors, if any, have influenced your work? Is there any particular author or work that you turn to for inspiration or encouragement?
MG: Harper Lee. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRDinspired my adult life to date.
Larry McMurtry. You care about his characters. (I'm also a Texan, so I'm a little biased, but how can the same author write LONESOME DOVE and TERMS OF ENDEARMENT? And win a Pulitzer Prize for a novel and an Oscar for a screenplay? He's pretty good.)
Elmore Leonard. His dialogue is the best.
BRC: Why do you think so many attorneys try their hand at writing, particularly thrillers? What was the impetus for you to make the jump from one discipline to the other?
MG: Because we write a lot in practice, because the law is not very exciting or passionate for the most part, and because the law is not a creative or original endeavor; we follow old laws, old forms and old lawyers. So, lawyers write thrillers, which are much more exciting than real life as a tax or securities lawyer. Writing is creative, original and passionate. And you don't have a billable hours quota to meet each week.
For me personally, writing was where I should have been all along. In college, I majored in political science, but I did a little creative writing and enjoyed it. An English professor suggested I try writing school, but my political science professors said, "Writing school? Are you crazy? You want to be poor all your life? Go to law school." Well, I had done poor and it wasn't much fun, so I went to law school. When I graduated, I was hired on with a large Dallas law firm and soon realized that I should have listened to my English professor.
BRC: Compare and contrast, if you would, your work as an attorney with your work as an author, not only with respect to the act of writing itself, but also with the work --- and it is work --- of getting your book published and marketed.
MG: Both endeavors require self-discipline, perseverance and hard work. Success at law or writing isn't about being a genius; it's about not quitting, working hard and getting lucky. Every successful writer and lawyer got lucky. A few writers will admit it; no lawyer will.
Getting your book published requires the willingness to learn from others, specifically editors. On my first book, a freelance editor did a wonderful job helping me polish the manuscript. I recommend that to all new writers; hire a quality editor to edit your manuscript before submitting it to an agent or publisher because you only get one shot.
Getting your book marketed is another story entirely. The fact that your book is being published does not mean it will be marketed. Unless Oprah calls, a book that is not marketed will not sell. But I've met authors on their fifth books who don't know what co-op is. If you want to be a successful writer, learn the business. It's your career at stake.
BRC: What is your writing schedule like? Did you do anything appreciatively different when you were writing THE COLOR OF LAW from what you did while writing THE ABDUCTION?
MG: I start writing when my sons go to school and stop when they come home. The noise level increases dramatically and there's soccer, baseball, basketball, etc. I write again when they go to bed.
I was still practicing full-time when I wrote THE COLOR OF LAW, so I wrote during my down times and at night. My best days were when my schedule was light; I knew I could write most of the day.
BRC: If you weren’t writing or practicing law, what would you be doing?
MG: I would own a combination bookstore, Southwestern art gallery and coffee shop in Fredericksburg, a small town in the Hill Country of Texas; I'd make money on the coffee.
BRC: What can we expect from you next? Do you have any desire to create or write a series with recurring characters, or would you prefer to continue to write novels that are independent of each other?
MG: My next book, THE PERK, is a legal thriller/family drama about a high-powered Chicago lawyer who loses his wife to breast cancer and is left alone to raise his two young children. He returns to his small Texas hometown and ends up the local judge, which he thinks will be a simpler life. It's not.
I'm going to write a sequel to THE COLOR OF LAW a few books down the road and a sequel to THE PERK, but I don't want to write about the same characters in the same setting every time out. I enjoy researching new characters and settings. For THE PERK we spent the last two summers in a small Texas town, and I met and interviewed dozens of people and learned about life there, from goat auctions to sentencing day at the county court. It was fascinating, and I've lived in Texas all my life.
BRC: Lastly, I have to ask: Gracie’s soccer coach is named “Wally Fagan.” Is there a Steely Dan fan, perchance, in the Gimenez house?
MG: I had to look that up to find the connection; I love their music but I didn't know their names (Walter Becker and Donald Fagan for the readers). But I'm more a Marshall Tucker/Willie Nelson type of guy.