September 30, 2015

Does Art Have To Imitate Life?: a guest post by Eric Matheny, author of "The Victim"

About The Victim: In the spring of 2003 on a desolate stretch of Arizona highway, Anton Mackey’s life was changed forever.  A reckless decision to get behind the wheel when he was in no condition to drive spawned a moment that threatened to destroy everything the 21 year-old had spent his life working toward.  In an instant, Anton made a decision to save himself.  A decision that claimed the lives of two people.

Eleven years later, Anton is a rising star in the Miami criminal defense community.  He is married and has an infant daughter.  He is earning a good living and steadily building a name for himself as an aggressive advocate for the accused.  Anton shares an office with veteran defense attorney, Jack Savarese.  A mentor of sorts, Anton strives to model his practice – and career – after Jack’s.  A Miami criminal defense legend, Jack’s accomplishments in the courtroom are second to none.  However, Jack remains burdened by the conviction of Osvaldo Garcia, a mentally-ill client from ten years earlier found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the death of a troubled teen.

When Daniella Avery, the beautiful wife of a man accused of a heinous act of domestic violence, comes into Anton’s office seeking his services, Anton thinks he’s landed a great case with a great fee.  But when he succumbs to temptation, he realizes that Daniella is a figure from his past.

Anton finds himself caught between the possibility of being exposed and the fact that his client – Daniella’s husband – may be an innocent pawn in the victim’s attempt to carry out her revenge against Anton.  As Anton struggles to balance defending his client while concealing the secret he has sought to forget, he uncovers the truth behind what really happened on that highway eleven years earlier.  The truth that may be connected to the conviction of Osvaldo Garcia.

Does Art Have To Imitate Life?: Do Genre Thriller Writers Have To Live The Stories They Tell?
a guest post by Eric Matheny

When I began writing, I never consciously sought out to become a legal thriller writer.  I guess that’s just where my imagination takes me.  Now, I am a practicing criminal defense attorney and the world of cops and prosecutors and courtrooms is what I experience on a daily basis.  I like to bring my experience and firsthand knowledge to my stories to create a sense of authenticity.  I’m big on that.  If you’re going to write a technical story - a medical thriller, a spy thriller, a police procedural - then you’d better know what the hell you’re talking about.  Some of the great genre thriller writers have worked in the fields that set the stage for their stories.  Grisham and Turow were both practicing attorneys (Turow still is).  Barry Eisler was a CIA operative before becoming a bestselling author of spy novels.

Not that firsthand experience is required.  Tom Clancy never operated a nuclear submarine and I’m pretty sure Stephen King has never seen dead animals rise from the grave.  Michael Connelly and John Lescroart are not lawyers yet they create excellent, well-researched legal thrillers (Connelly has the acclaimed Lincoln Lawyer series and Lescroart has a string of bestsellers featuring San Francisco lawyer Dismas Hardy). 

A great writer can research a field they know little about and create a magnificent and authoritative novel.  While not my favorite stylist, Dan Brown’s work (The Da Vinci Code, Angels And Demons) is a clinic in research.  His pages resonate with authority yet he does not have a background in symbology.  He was a musician and an English teacher before becoming a bestselling author.  But when he takes on a subject - be it the Vatican or the works of a renowned Renaissance artist - he dives headlong into grasping the minutia of a subject, creating an experience for the reader where one is entertained at the same time they are educated. 

I think that is a tremendous feat for a writer.  Keep your readers turning the pages while at the same time teaching them about a subject they know little about.  I certainly tried to do that with The Victim, walking my readers through the progression of a criminal case from arrest through trial. 

As far as process goes, here’s what I can tell you from my experience.  If you are a lawyer and you are writing a legal thriller, the research component has likely been satisfied.  Your life’s work is your research.  The years spent in law school, the tough cases you’ve handled, the battles you engage in on a daily basis, make up the lifeblood of your story.  The technical details that non-lawyer-authors will have to seek externally (talking to other lawyers, observing trials, reading texts and treatises) are already there for the lawyer-authors; a built-in mechanism.
So in that respect - and perhaps only in that respect - is the writing process a little bit easier for us.  At the very least, less time-consuming.

For your non-lawyers, you must look beyond your own experience to find the technical accuracy your audience demands.  Talk to practicing attorneys about their cases, go watch trials and take copious notes on procedure.
The same can be said for any genre.  Non-doctors can write great medical thrillers (read Trouble by Jesse Kellerman).  Non-CIA operatives can write great spy novels.  Clancy, Baldacci, and Terry Hayes (I Am Pilgrim) all come to mind.

The difference I see between writers with technical experience and writers without is not in the major plot elements.  A non-lawyer can just as easily understand how a criminal trial works the same as a lawyer.  But those in the know - your lawyers, your doctors, your spies - understand the personal aspects of their trades.  How their characters think and feel beyond their professional arenas - outside the courtrooms, away from the operating tables.

I believe it is that experience that provides a richness and depth that may give the slight edge to those writers who have walked the walk.

Eric Matheny was born in Los Angeles, California, where he lived until he went away to college at Arizona State University. At ASU he was president of Theta Chi Fraternity. He graduated with a degree in political science and moved to Miami, Florida, to attend law school at St. Thomas University. During his third year of law school, he interned for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, where he worked as a prosecutor upon graduation. In 2009, he went into private practice as a criminal defense attorney. He is a solo practitioner representing clients in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Broward County, Florida. He has handled everything from DUI to murder.
In his free time, Eric enjoys writing crime fiction, drawing from his experience working in the legal system. He published his debut novel Home in 2004, which centers around a successful drug dealer catering to the rich in Orange County. His second novel Lockdown, published in 2005, follows a law student trying to prove that an inmate serving a life sentence in one of California’s toughest prisons might actually be innocent. Eric’s latest novel The Victim, is a tense, fast-paced, legal thriller/psychological suspense novel that centers around a young defense attorney whose horrifying misdeed from his college days comes back to haunt him. It was published by Zharmae in August 2015 and is available for sale on Amazon.
Eric lives outside of Fort Lauderdale with his wife and two young sons.
Readers can connect with him on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.
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1 comment:

  1. The art of writing novels does benefit a great deal when it imitates the realism of life. I enjoy genre thrillers that have that gripping feel of realistic melodrama. Novels that are born of realistic characters and believable plots really draw the reader into the events. Novels like that are hard to forget. You don't even want to forget them. You end up wanting to reread and recommend them!

    Hubert Singleton @ RDF Attorney