HOW I CAME TO WRITE
LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY
When people find out that I'm a practicing attorney as well as a mystery novelist, they immediately think I write legal thrillers, a la John Grisham. While I would by no means object to Grisham-sized advances, I have always had to tell them that no, I don't write courtroom dramas where the brilliant crusading lawyer pulls off some derring-do in front of a jury, whereupon said jury proceeds to completely exonerate his client (who is, of course, always completely innocent and is, moreover, the only client said brilliant crusading lawyer has to worry about).
Problem is, most of that stuff drives me up the wall. You never have just one client, and you don't have the luxury of only being hired to defend the innocent, not if you're used to regular meals and a roof over your head. Don't even get me started on the way these fictional lawyers get away with crap in the courtroom that would get a real lawyer tossed in jail, if not disbarred.
There are, however, certain novelists who have gotten it right. Margaret Maron's first book, for example, provides one of the best descriptions of small town legal practice I've ever run across, possibly because part of her research involved shadowing the Chief District Court Judge in the district where I practice. And one of my literary heroes, George V. Higgins, wrote a couple of books featuring a Boston criminal lawyer named Jerry Kennedy which perfectly portray the blend of idealism and cynicism you have to develop to keep your head on straight in this business (although he does do that annoying one-client-at-a-time thing).
So I'd been toying with the idea of writing “the lawyer book,” as I privately called it. I'd also always wanted to write a classic hardboiled P.I. novel, the kind that starts when the world-weary gumshoe with a cynical exterior, a tough, sassy secretary and a taste for rotgut whiskey meets the client who may or may not be playing him for a fool.
Then, as so often happens with me, it all came together around a piece of music. In this case, it was a song called “Cottonseed” by The Drive-By Truckers. “Cottonseed” is a story song, narrated in the voice of a hardened criminal who's apparently addressing one of those “Scared Straight” classes:
I came to tell my story to all these young and eager minds
To look in their unspoiled faces and their curious bright eyes
Stories of corruption, crime and killing, yes it's true
Greed and fixed elections, guns and drugs and whores and booze
So I'm driving along through rural North Carolina, going from one court to another, and listening to this song cranked up to 11. When it got to this verse:
I used to have a wad of hundred dollar bills in the back pocket of my suit
I had a .45 underneath my coat and another one in my boot
I drove a big ole Cadillac, bought a new one anytime I pleased
And I put more lawmen in the ground than Alabama put cottonseed
I suddenly had a character. And he had a name: Voit Fairgreen. Voit's the bad-ass criminal who hires my jaded lawyer, Andy Cole, to defend his brother Danny on a murder charge, and sets Andy on the path either to his redemption or his destruction, or maybe both. And I knew that along the way, we needed Greed and fixed elections, guns and drugs and whores and booze. So that's how I wrote it.
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- J.D. Rhoades is the author of LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY, e-published in February 2011, and another e-pubbed novel STORM SURGE. "Traditionally" published books include the Jack Keller series of thriller novels: THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND, GOOD DAY IN HELL, and SAFE AND SOUND, as well as a standalone, BREAKING COVER, all from St. Martin's Minotaur, and coming soon for e-books. In his day job, he practices law in a small town in North Carolina. Visit his Website.