Friday, August 20, 2010

So You Want To Write A Legal Thriller?

Reece is offering two copies of The Insider to two commenters today.

I'm pleased to have debut legal thriller author, Reece Hirsch, as my guest today.

Aside from the fact that his book is a must read, he has some practical pointers on pursuing the ambition to write and be published. Reece covers The Law of Literary Inertia (which cracked me up), Write What You Know – Then Make Stuff Up, Don’t Chase Trends, Embrace the Process, The All-Important First Page, and  Develop a Thick Skin. Sounds like he's been there and done that, doesn't it?

Reece calls it his six year struggle.

Scott Turow and John Grisham are a little like the Beatles and Stones of the legal thriller genre. Everything that has come after them tends to be categorized and measured in terms of those two highly successful lawyer-authors. When Turow’s Presumed Innocent was published in 1987, I was a first-year law student at U.S.C. When Grisham’s The Firm was published in 1991, I was a first-year associate at a Los Angeles law firm.

Like many other lawyers of my vintage, I read those two enormously successful (and very different) books and thought, “I’d like to try writing one of those someday.” But it took 12 or so years for me to find the time to make the effort. After all, the demands of practicing law and maintaining a personal life don’t leave a lot of spare time for creative endeavors.

Eventually, though, I did begin writing and in May 2010 my debut legal thriller The Insider was published by Berkley Books, a division of Penguin, as a mass-market paperback. I’d characterize The Insider as more of a “Grisham” than a “Turow” because it’s a fast-paced story of a young lawyer who becomes a pawn in a complex criminal scheme that involves, among other things, Russian mobsters, insider trading and a secret government domestic surveillance program.

While I am but a humble beginning writer, I think I learned a few things in my six-year struggle to complete a novel and get it published. For those of you with a partially completed manuscript in a drawer or a long-postponed goal of writing one, I hope these pointers will make your journey a little shorter and less arduous than mine was.

  • The Law of Literary Inertia. 
To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, a writer at rest tends to remain at rest, while a writer who is writing tends to continue writing. After I turned 40, I began to hear the literary equivalent of a biological clock ticking. I knew that if I was ever going to make a serious effort to write a legal thriller, I’d better get started. Then I hit the snooze button and commenced writing in earnest two years later.

In order to jump-start my literary efforts, I enrolled in a U.C. Berkeley Extension Novel Writing Workshop. The weekly assignments forced me to write regularly, and I enjoyed the process of getting and giving feedback.

At the end of the workshop, I had about fifty pages written and an encouraging evaluation from my teacher. It gave me just enough momentum to continue writing consistently on weekends, early weekday mornings and on the BART train to work. Later, I joined a weekly writers group, which provided the same kind of weekly deadlines and critiques that were so helpful to me early on.
  • Write What You Know – Then Make Stuff Up.
Despite the number of legal thrillers that line the bookstore shelves, I found that, as a practicing lawyer, there were still many facets of the legal profession and law firm life that were relatively new ground for the genre. For example, in The Insider, I touch upon the tussles over billing credit among partners that can sometimes define a career. In one scene, I try to show the drama that can be found in the gamesmanship of an M&A negotiation. I also drew upon my knowledge of privacy and security law in developing one of the novel’s key plot elements.

Of course, a little legal verisimilitude goes a long way with most readers. If I had stuck to the real-life experiences of a young, workaholic corporate attorney like my protagonist Will Connelly, my thriller would have been about as thrilling as a day spent in a due diligence room reading corporate minutes. To remedy that, my story also includes plenty of deception, betrayal – and a sizable body count.

  • Don’t Chase Trends.
As tempting as it might be to write a legal thriller about vampire lawyers following a series of clues that may reveal the lost secrets of the Freemasons, chasing publishing trends is futile. The lead-time involved in writing and publishing a book is so long that any fad will be hopelessly passé by the time your book reaches the market. However, it is helpful to read the genre that you’re writing in and think about how you can bring a fresh angle.
  • Embrace the Process.
Like most things, writing a novel is something that you learn by doing, and by making mistakes. Many of the debut authors that I’ve met recently have a first, unpublished manuscript in the drawer, their “learner book.” Instead of scrapping my first attempt and starting over on a second book, I chose, perhaps from sheer stubbornness, to laboriously rework and rework my first book until it was publishable. Whichever route you take, there seems to be no getting around the fact that, unless you are some sort of literary prodigy, writing a publishable novel often takes years of painstaking revision and refinement.
  • The All-Important First Page.
The first page, and the first chapter, of your manuscript are critical. The competition to grab the attention of literary agents and publishers is intense, and if they aren’t absolutely riveted by the first pages, they simply won’t read further. No matter how brilliant the climax of your book is, it probably won’t get published without a killer first chapter.
  • Develop a Thick Skin.
To write is to be rejected. Unless you are that literary prodigy that I mentioned earlier, you will amass a fat stack of rejection letters from agents and later, if you’re lucky, publishers. You will amass so many form rejection letters that a handwritten rejection will seem like a drink of cool water in the desert. Fortunately, lawyers are well known to be fairly impervious to abuse. And that may be the lawyer-author’s secret weapon.

  • What some of the lessons you've learned along the way to publication?

The Insider Back Cover:
San Francisco corporate attorney Will Connelly's well-ordered life is shattered when he watches a colleague hurtle to his death outside his office window. Within days, Will is the prime suspect in a murder, the target of an S.E.C. insider trading investigation, and a pawn in a complex criminal scheme involving the Russian mafia and a ruthless terrorist plot. Now, Will must ensure that a deadly enemy doesn't gain access to the nation's most sensitive and confidential information—and the power to do incalculable, irrevocable harm.  
Hirsch's fast-paced, film-ready plot and tough, ambitious characters will keep fans of legal thrillers on the edge of their seats."
—Publishers Weekly
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Reece Hirsch Facebook
Reece Hirsch's debut legal thriller THE INSIDER was published by Berkley Books in May 2010. He is a partner in the San Francisco office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, specializing in privacy, security and healthcare law. Reece is also a member of the Board of Directors of 826 National, a non-profit organization that conducts writing and literacy programs for young people.

Reece earned his law degree from the University of Southern California and a B.S. degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Prior to law school, Reece worked as a journalist in Atlanta for several years, including a stint as an assistant editor of a business magazine. For three years, he edited and published an arts and entertainment magazine in Atlanta.

In writing THE INSIDER, Reece drew upon his experiences working in law firms and his background in privacy and security law. THE INSIDER touches upon privacy concerns raised by government domestic surveillance in the wake of 9-11 and is based in part on the true story of the Clipper Chip, a National Security Agency encryption program from the mid-Nineties.

Reece lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife Kathy and their dog Simon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Interview With Dale Cozort

Two copies of Exchange will be awarded to two commenters 

My guest today is Sci-fi debut author, Dale Cozort. Dale and I met through a Gather writing contest and I fell in love with his writing. I’m a big Sci-fi fan and have always been and was thrilled when Dale got a contract. Dale is funny, smart as a whip, and I swear he had to have touched the Blarney Stone, because he tells a great story. 

Tell me a bit about Dale Cozort? By profession you’re a teacher?

Yep. I teach computer skills and do hardware and software support.

Oh, I love computer geeks! I learn so much from them. What do you like to do for fun and relaxation?

In the winter I read quite a bit—mostly science fiction and mysteries, and spend too much time watching TV. In the summer I love long bike rides. We have a couple of nature trails and pretty much every day we can see chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits along the trail. We see deer and raccoons a couple of times a year. It’s nice.

You’ve been writing for some years, how long have you had the goal to be published?

I got serious about it sixteen years ago. I took a couple detours of several months to a year or two along the way, most importantly when I was helping my aunt with a lawsuit she got involved in.

I understand Exchange was entered in a writing contest, correct? How did you do in the contest?

Yep. Gather’s second First Chapters contest. Exchange made the semifinals—in the top twenty-five out of over three hundred. Unofficially it ended up in tenth place.

I know I was not only impressed with the quality of your story but where you ended up. Gather’s First chapters’ contests were very tough to brutal, in my opinion.

What lessons did you learn from it?

I learned a lot about how difficult it is to stand out from a large field. The structure of the Gather contests really gave you a feel for what editors and agents go through as they try to find marketable writing in a sea of writing that ranges from awful to just not quite good enough.

I have to agree. It certainly gave me more of an appreciation for agents and editors too. There were some very good entries, but after reading them all, there were more entries that ranged from god awful to, as you put it, not quite good enough.

Do you feel writing contests benefit writers?

It depends on how they’re structured. If they give good and meaningful feedback, then yes, they can be great. If not, they’re just another slushpile—not necessarily bad, just no real advantage.

Good point. How have you handled discouragement that comes with submitting and getting rejections?

A long walk or a bike ride usually helps. A good book can help. Sometimes I write. Some of the edgiest writing can flow when you’re discouraged, angry, experiencing any kind of strong emotion.

How would you classify Exchange? I know it has, as all good books and movies, an element of romance but is this Sci-fi?

It’s definitely Science Fiction, but it explores relationships more than people usually expect from science fiction. If you go into it as a person who only reads Romance, it’ll be an okay read, but not a great one for you. If you like Science Fiction and Mysteries and you also like stories where relationships are important, then you’re the core of the target audience.

What drew you to this genre?

I’ve been reading science fiction and mysteries since I was in middle school. I like exploring new worlds and trying to figure them out. I love what-ifs.

Give me a glimpse of this world you’ve created?

I see it as being both beautiful and incredibly tough. The size and variety of animals makes the North America of Exchange feel more like Africa before it was tamed down than anything else, though in some ways it is recognizably North America.

“Before it was tamed down?” So, are you talking about prehistoric creatures too?

The big, fierce animals that didn’t survive past the ice ages in our world are still around in large numbers, along with some exotic ones like the swarms of fast-running little monkeys. Sharon, the heroine saves a young monkey from a flood, and when he attaches himself to her she gets a lesson on how different the new world she has entered is.

The monkey showed no sign of aggression. It also showed no sign of going away. It foraged for insects and bats in the grass near Sharon, snatching them and popping them in its mouth so quickly that the motion blurred. Sharon thought about trying to chase it away, but decided that might precipitate whatever danger the monkey posed. Instead she found a couple of rocks and tried to chip a point on one.

Within a short time, Sharon’s hands were cramping and bruised from her. She noticed the monkey watching her intently and held up the rocks. “Don’t you wish you could do this? This is what separates us from you.”

The monkey strolled over and picked up a couple of the larger chips that she had flaked off. It chipped at one of them for a couple of minutes with quick, practiced motions, then moved back, carrying a sharp-edged chip in an odd grip between its thumb and the top of the next finger.
Sharon stared at the monkey and said in a subdued voice, “Well, that’s supposed to be one of the things that separates you from us.” The monkey chipped an edge onto a larger rock and handed it to her.

I like Sharon; she’s got a wry sense of humor and she’s emotionally strong and not afraid to tackle whatever needs to be done. What do you admire about Sharon?

She just keeps going. No matter how hopeless the situation seems, she just keeps working away at it until she finds a way of going on.

Your hero, Leo, is a bit of a rogue, a good dose of mystique, some dangerous edges and I think he’s very interesting and complex. Leo, in my opinion, is rather hot with a good amount of sex appeal, as many dangerous men do. What do you like about him?

Leo is a mystery. He has layers of secrets, and as you unravel one you become aware of a bunch more. At the same time you get the feeling that it’s worth the time of finding out what he’s really about.

Do you have a favorite scene in the book?

My first thought is, sure that’s easy, but it doesn’t turn out to be.

I don’t do easy, Dale, lol! That’s what you call a deceptively simple question. So what was your second thought?

I had a lot of fun writing the scenes between Sharon and Leo, as she tries to figure out who he is and what his motives are.

I love their relationship. Would you mind sharing one with us?

One of the earlier ones without spoilers:

Sharon heard a fragment of the reply, “…don’t care who he is. I haven’t had a woman in years.” She eased the pistol from her belt.

Not a man. Just a target.

The balding convict spurred his horse and approached at a gallop. He raised a stone-tipped spear. The others eyed Leo and stayed put. Sharon raised the pistol, thumbed the hammer back, and aimed at the center of the man’s chest.

“I’ll shoot.”

He grinned and kept coming. Sharon hesitated. The sight wavered.

No choice. Do it.

She fired. The pistol jerked against her hand and the bullet’s crack echoed in the still landscape. Above his paunchy stomach, a red stain blossomed on the man’s tattered shirt. The spear dropped at Sharon’s feet. The convict fell with one foot still in the stirrup, spooking his horse, and the animal ran off, dragging his unconscious rider. Sharon caught a glimpse of a rifle tattoo on the convict’s flailing forearm—AK. She shuddered when his head bounced off a rock outcropping and turned away, only to find the convicts’ semicircle had dissolved into chaos. Another convict fell off his bucking horse, which kicked him in the chest with both hind feet when he started to get up. The man flew backward and twitched in the grass.

When the remaining convicts got their horses under control, the man with the pockmarked face spoke to Leo.

“Don’t imagine you’d sell the bitch?”

“You can’t afford her,” Leo said.

Sharon stared at her companion. A strange, eager expression faded from his face as she watched.

“Let us just get what’s left of Joe and catch the horse that ran off. Then we’ll be on our way.”

“Good idea.”

While Sharon and Leo watched, the convicts hauled up the bodies and arranged them on horses. They rode off, several looking over shoulders to stare or gesture at Sharon and Leo.

Sharon kept her pistol pointed warily toward them until they disappeared over a hill.

“They didn’t seem like the kind of men to give up that easily,” she said. “He was an AK. I think they all were.”

“Aryan Kings? Probably. They’re in most prisons and a lot of cities in the Midwest.”

“Not people to run away from a fight.”

Leo grinned. “Maybe you scared them off. Only three of them had guns and who knows if those guns had ammunition. Could be a lot of things.”

“I don’t think so,” Sharon said. “I think you scared them.”

Leo smiled. “You had the gun.”

“I had the gun but they weren’t afraid of me. Who are you?”
You can read the official exerpt and Blurb

What’s coming next from the pen of Dale Cozort?

My next priority is getting Char ready to go out the door.

Yeah! Oh, I loved what I’ve read of Char, as you well know. Can you tell us a bit about this one?

Char is a unique mix of science fiction and police procedural. An apparent cavewoman shows up in rural Wisconsin in the middle of a paintball game. One of the paintballers dies and a very smart female sheriff ends up trying to untangle a mix of clues which includes bare footprints that don’t seem quite human and a trail that comes out of the center of a mudhole with no trail going into it. The sheriff is a wonderful character, with a devastating dry wit and powerful detecting ability. I would love to see people get to know her, along with Char, the cavewoman.

After that I want to finish my work in progress, which involves the modern United States and the US of 1953 coming in contact with each other—and not particularly liking each other.

I’m looking forward to both. I love your premises, the ‘what-ifs’ and the blend of old world and new.

Dale, it’s been a pleasure to talk with you. I always appreciate authors taking time out of their busy schedules to answer questions.

Folks, if you haven’t read Exchange, you’re in for a treat. It’s a fun story that grabs you attention right from the beginning and doesn’t let you go. It has a cast of strong and complex characters, an intriguing storyline with well-crafted suspense and adventure, with a nice touch of romance.  Buy:  Amazon  Stairway Press  IndieBound


Dale is a computer teacher, nature lover, and an avid amateur historian. He has worked as a computer person for the Illinois Bureau of the Budget and DeKalb Genetics and as an underwriter for MetLife.

Dale loves science fiction and mysteries. He lives with his wife, a teenage daughter, three cats, two nervous birds, and a couple of thousand books in a house built in 1864. For many years his home, located in a university town sixty miles west of Chicago, was also a foster home for stray or abandoned Samoyeds and Siberian Huskies.

Dale has written four novels, numerous short stories and novellas, and a number of essays on alternate history and political/military events. For the last twelve years he has written and edited an on-line alternate history newsletter, with issues appearing four to six times per year. Around a dozen of Dale’s articles on political/military events have been published by the news site Dale was one of five finalists (out of 250+ entries) in last year’s TruTv Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest.
Blog  Gather Home Page

Monday, August 16, 2010


I read a number of blogs. An agent writes one blog I regularly read. On this particular occasion there was an informal discussion going on between several agents and editors, chatting about a dichotomy between readers and writers. The gist of it was that there were a whole lot of writers out there that weren’t readers. People convinced that they had a “book or two in them,” but they weren't readers. Then there were the writers who felt you shouldn't read other’s work in your genre because it would interfere with your "voice".

To me, the question has always been how can you effectively write a book if you don't read them? Base it on TV? Your fascinating life? Because you're a professional writer on the job?

I write many things professionally, articles, seminars, notes, and lots of reports. I'm writing something every day and while I don't have the time to read six or more books a week anymore, I do read something everyday. I read for pleasure. I also read to keep an eye out for what is selling, what’s not, styles of writing, and premises used.

I write creatively and have completed three 90k contemporary romance manuscripts of a trilogy and I'm working on a paranormal trilogy. So, I'd say I had “a book or two in me”. I’ve told stories all my life. I come from a very creative family of oral storytellers and published authors.

My love of books came from reading voraciously throughout my life. As a child my parents and grandparents felt to be well read one must read classic literature first. I was also encouraged to branch out and explore various genres, not just one. Consequently, I regularly read various sub-genres of romance; paranormals, suspense and thrillers, and I love Sci-fi. You could say I'm a mood driven reader. I'm the same with music for much of the same reasons--my parents and grandparents.

There is a perception out there that you can't read another’s words when formulating your stories--something nonsensical about copying the voice or premise, yada yada. To me, that's BS. My voice is mine and doesn’t change just because I read someone’s work.

I often think about how coaches train their athletes. It isn't by ignoring the competition. To the contrary, they watch recorded games of the competition so they can be better. Actors know the style of other actors—they watch them. You don't think musicians aren't aware of those who produce the same style of music? Or artists aren't aware of whose style is similar?

As an author, to know what’s marketable you have to read it. Analyze it. That’s keeping your finger on the pulse of market.

I’m a marketing/promotion rep by profession, to sell my products and people; I have to be familiar with what’s out there. Is their product comparable? Better? Worse? How is it packaged? Any book I write is my product and to market it effectively I have to know what’s selling, what my target demographics are and why.

So, you want to be an author? Read. Particularly in your genre. Know what’s selling out there and why.

What are your thoughts about this?

  • What kinds of books do you like to read? By all means share some good ones with  us!

I'll share the covers of a few I've read recently that I've thoroughly enjoyed.