SYDNEY (Reuters) - As a trial lawyer, Richard North Patterson had to find simple ways to explain complex issues, understand the psychology of jurors and judges, and tell a story. All perfect training for becoming a novelist, he says.
Patterson was an assistant attorney general for the state of Ohio, partner in several law firms, as well as the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission’s liaison to the Watergate special prosecutor.
But he finally tried writing aged 29 and his corporate crime thriller “The Lasko Tangent” won him the Edgar Allan Poe Award for the best 1980 debut novel and a new career was born, leading to novels such as “No Safe Place” and “Dark Lady.”
Patterson joined a band of lawyers like John Grisham, Scott Turow and Linda Fairstein, who have all moved on to carve out successful careers as writers.
Patterson, 62, who retired from law in 1993 to write full-time, has just released his 17th book, “The Spire,” in which he returns to a psychological suspense novel after a decade of writing politically charged fiction.
He spoke to Reuters about writing and switching careers:
Q: Did you always have ambitions to write?
A: “Not really. I always thought writing was done by other people with a talent for it and I had never really tried it. But after my experience with the Watergate prosecutor I thought I had a story to tell and I sat down to write. After 13 rejections and 3 re-writes I was published and I won an Edgar Allan Poe award.”
Q: How did you find time to write while working fulltime as a lawyer and with a family?
A: “Any time that I had leisure time I would remind myself that I wanted to accomplish something. Before long I realized that I was that thing called a novelist. I was among those people who I had always thought were different from me and I learnt in the process that I had talent but also the commitment and diligence that it took. That is a large part of it. A lot of people don’t have the discipline to take it further. It is one thing to have a story to tell but it is another — and it is hard work — to actually tell it.”
Q: Did your legal experience help you write?
A: “Absolutely. I was a trial lawyer and there are several things a trial lawyer has to do. You have to make a complicated situation into a narrative. You have to understand your client and translate him or her to a jury and a judge. You have to understand the jury and the judge and that is the psychological part. You also do a lot of writing for a very tired and cynical audience.”
Q: Is there a kind of association of lawyers-turned-authors?
A: “No, but both Scott Turow and Linda Fairstein are good friends. We have met each other and discovered we have things in common besides books.”
Q: Is it harder to come up with story lines now that you’ve left law?
A: “No. There is always something in the world that interests you. I do a lot of research for my books. I went to Israel and Palestine for “Exile” and interviewed everyone from wanted terrorist to the president. I have a new novel coming out called “Honor” which is about a court martial. It deals with human psychology and the relationships between military families and the effect of the Iraq War on soldiers. For that I spoke to Iraq veterans, people involved in complicated court martials and psychologists who treat soldiers. I did everything I could to make the setting as real as possible.”
Q: How do you approach your writing?
A: “I am very disciplined. I sit down about 7 a.m. every day and write all morning and revisit that all afternoon, five days a week, until it is finished. A lot of life is just about getting up every day and showing up and so every day, I show up.”
Q: Do you have much feedback from readers?
A: “Well, I don’t see the Internet. I write my books in long hand and fax them to my assistant and she types them up and sends them back. The advantage of being a troglodyte is that I don’t have the levels of distraction that people have when they have emails hanging over their head. For my business it can be a good thing. I can write emails or I can write novels.”
Q: Any advice to aspiring writers?
A: “First of all make a commitment to do it regularly on a schedule that does not ruin the rest of your life. If you write 5 polished pages a week you have about 250 at the end of the year. Also find a reader, someone you trust to respond sensibly.”
Editing by Miral Fahmy