SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Thriller writer Phillip Margolin spent 25 years as a criminal defense attorney before turning to writing full-time and found his preparation for court was also an asset to writing fiction.
Margolin, who became a full-time writer in 1996, has just released his 13th novel, “Executive Privilege”, in which the U.S. president becomes a murder suspect.
Margolin, 64, who was born in New York and now lives in Portland, Oregon, spoke to Reuters about writing and his career shift:
Q: Was this novel timed for an election year?
A: “No, I had the idea in the early 1990s. Writers like to push the envelope so I thought what if you had a president who was a serial killer? I usually get an idea for a book and think about it for quite a while. I kept getting ideas but could not work out how to end it. Then I was in my car about two years ago and the ending popped into my head. It just so happened to come out in 2008 in the midst of a presidential election.”
Q: Can’t you write without the ending?
A: “The ending is the most important part of the novel. It is what the reader takes away with him and I hate reading books that are great but have a lousy ending. Until I have a good ending I won’t even start writing it.”
Q: Do you work on more than on book at once?
A: “I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I work on one book at a time and when I have finished I move on to the next one. Usually I have the idea for the next one ready. I have ideas periodically that I throw into an ideas file. If I have a lot of ideas for a book I will create a separate file for it.”
Q: But you have the rest of the book planned out too?
A: “I was a criminal defense lawyer for 25 years and I am used to doing murder trials. I will do drafts of 50 to 60 pages for each book that take months to write before I start. I think that is a part of my legal training. You don’t walk into a trial without knowing everything that can happen. I am like that with my writing. I’ve got into the habit of being very well prepared.”
Q: This is your 13th book. Why did you decide to give up legal work to write full-time?
A: “I always wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer and the writing was sort of a hobby. I loved my law practice but I had been doing it for about 25 years and it was mainly death penalty murder cases and federal drug conspiracy cases and you are in court for a long time. My first two books were not bestsellers but my third book was. When I ended up being out of state for about three months on book promotions I realized that you cannot do that and give 100 percent to a murder case so you have no business starting it. I loved being a lawyer but I loved being a writer too and it is less stressful so I gave it a shot and it has worked out very nicely.”
Q: Has you legal experience helped your writing?
A: “I have only used two real cases as a basis for books but the books I write are mostly about lawyers and murder and the fact I have done these trials helps makes them realistic so I guess being a lawyer has been a big help.”
Q: Where do you work?
A: “I have kept my law office so I go there every day. Every morning I get in about 7.30 in the morning, do the New York Times crossword puzzle, check my emails, walk across the street for (a coffee), and come back to the office and work until noon then work out for an hour and so on. Most writers that I know won’t just wait for inspiration to hit them. Most people treat it like a business. You have to be organized.”
Q: What do you find the hardest part about writing?
A: “Getting ideas. The writing is really easy for me but getting ideas is really hard. I’ve been lucky so far in that I only have to write one idea every year and a half or so. My books are very complex with tonnes of twists and surprise endings so I can’t be sloppy with them.”
Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?
A: “The first thing I tell people is not to rush. If you get an idea the natural instinct is to get excited and start writing. I say put it away, work out an outline and an ending first. Scott Turow took 12 years writing ”Presumed Innocent“ on the train to and from work. The other thing is to do an outline. Work out the book completely before you write so you won’t get writer’s block. And be organized. People think authors get up at 10 and get a snifter of brandy and pull out a quill pen and let inspiration come. That is not how it works.”
Editing by Miral Fahmy