Author of the Month
William Lashner 
[AUGUST 2005]
Chosen by reviewer Beverly Rowe, MyShelf.Com

    To me, the very essence of a great story is a great character. Victor Carl answers that description. He's a character you can really relate to...like the rest of us, he doesn't always come out on top. He isn't quite stylish, and can't be considered handsome. He has a strong moral code that is all his own, sometimes doing the right thing, but for the wrong reasons, and if he's your lawyer, he's loyal regardless of consequences and gives you his absolute best. He's just a bit jaded because of his past experiences defending mob members and hoods.

     I chose William Lashner as Author of the Month because I have become addicted to his books...I wish he could write them faster. I suppose quality would be sacrificed if he did, like so many famous authors whose writing has evolved into just something to meet their contract obligations, so I'll try to be patient. Lashner writes with freshness, vitality and profound insight. His sense of humor and sharp wit make his books great fun to read, and the suspense and smooth prose keep you reading right up into the morning hours.

     Lashner was a Philadelphia lawyer who graduated from New York University Law School and served as a trial lawyer in the Criminal Division of the United States Justice Department. He also attended the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and is now a full time writer. He lives just outside Philadelphia with his family.

       I was excited when Mr. Lashner agreed to answer some of my questions about his writing.


Interview

Bev: Mr. Lashner, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us here at MyShelf.com. I only recently discovered your books, and I am totally addicted. Could you tell us about yourself...your life before writing?

William: I've been writing since high school, but before I became a professional I had fallen into the pit of despair known as the legal profession. When I quit that to write, I had never sold a thing. I promptly got married, had a baby, bought a house. My father always said nothing focuses the mind like a mortgage and he was absolutely right. I was reading a Raymond Chandler book and I remembered how much I liked his writing, so I tried my hand at it, except I didn't know anything about being a detective so I made the hero a lawyer. That was how I ended up writing HOSTILE WITNESS, the first novel I sold.

 

Bev: Tell us about your pursuit of writing. Did you abandon your legal career? What path led you to become a writer?

William: I had wanted to be a writer for the longest time, but whenever I took time off to write. The results were discouraging. I came to the realization that I was not going to be able to make a living as a writer and so I went to law school. But even in law school I kept writing and I turned down any job that wouldn't give me time to write, which really put a crimp in the old career. Eventually, I decided that I needed to give the writing thing a full shot, so I quit my job and went to writing school in Iowa, which was a blast. After that, even without having sold anything, I decided that they couldn't make me do anything other than write if I didn't let them, and I suppose that's when I really became a writer. It was nice actually selling something, but that was after the decision was finally made that this was what I wanted to do. Now I write full time and the idea of ever doing anything else fills me with terror.

Bev: What books do you like to read?

William: I read everything, mysteries, literary books, biography. I like to pick up old stuff I had never heard of. Just finished Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton, and I loved the Dylan autobiography that came out last year. I tend to read stuff that falls through the cracks but that interest me. Right now I'm reading a biography of Dean Martin.

Bev: What author do you feel has most influenced you and why?

William: I read Raymond Chandler for his language and the way he keeps things moving, I read Irwin Shaw for his structure, I read James Salter for his prose, I read Martin Amis for his biting humor, I read Shakespeare because he always undercuts the clichés.

Bev: There are certainly a lot of writers currently doing legal thrillers...but yours stand out from the pack. Victor Carl is one of my favorite characters. Is he autobiographical?

William: Well, first, I don't think of my books as legal thrillers as much as detective stories with a lawyer as the hero. Victor is close to Marlowe except that he uses the law instead of a gun and he doesn't pretend to be a tough guy and he seems to throw up in every book. Victor appeared at a time in my life when I was feeling left out of the literary world because nothing I had ever written had ever been published. I was feeling bitter and so I created Victor, who also was bitter. That was the Victor in HOSTILE WITNESS. But through the years Victor has changed, mellowed a bit and become funnier and more self aware. He develops book to book the way a person would, which was not so intentional but which I find very interesting. But it couldn't be any other way -- it would be impossible to go through the stuff that Victor goes through without changing. Victor is still trying to figure out what kind of man he wants to be, but he doesn't work hard at it. In PAST DUE he wrote a line that I think really captures him: "The unexamined life might not be worth living, but the examined life is pure murder."

Bev: Victor's experience as a pro bono attorney for a small child in Falls the Shadow is so inspiring. Tell us about developing that part of the story plot.

William: Victor's representation of Daniel Rose in FALLS THE SHADOW was pretty much taken exactly from my pro-bono representation of a little boy in Philadelphia. He was at risk and then I learned that his sister had been given away, for the very same reason Tanya Rose was given away. It broke my heart, and scared me too, and I went all out to find her. She had been given away to a fortune teller who had passed her on. I eventually did find her and she was in pretty much the same situation Tanya Rose found herself. It was both heartbreaking and inspiring and that's why I wrote about it. I think it really worked in this book because it was the perfect counterpart to the Bob story.

Bev: I really love all your characters, but Bob, the dentist, in Falls the Shadow is certainly in a class of his own. Can we expect to see him in any future stories?

William: Bob is a pip. He was one of those characters that sort of developed himself. I didn't think he'd be so charming, I thought he'd be dour and dark and mysterious, but as soon as he opened his mouth the jokes started coming. I think Bob might come back, he likes Victor and wants to save him. The only thing I'm pretty certain of, though, is that if he does come back it won't be as a dentist. I have the feeling that Bob sheds professions as easily as he sheds his surnames.

Bev: I thought I had discovered one of your books that I missed when I saw Bitter Truth. I grabbed it, only to discover that it is Veritas, reprinted. Why the change of name on the reprinted version?

William: When I started with a new editor, and she decided to reprint my paperbacks to give them a uniform feel, we thought that the new title fit better within the series. That people end up buying the book twice was only a bonus.

Bev: Tell us a bit about your writing process. How long does it usually take you to write a new novel? Do you plot and outline?

William: It takes me between a year and a year and a half to do a novel. I start with the idea and spend a lot of time just working on bits and pieces of it. I need a few moments in the story that I think will really be cool and I work out sequences that I think will be fun and I need a few surprises. All that is figured out before I decide to begin the writing. I generally have the ending in mind, but it usually changes by the time I get there, not so much in result as in the action that achieves the result, if that makes sense. I like to, within the plot, indicate to the reader that this is the big finish so that there is a sense that the ending is coming. That helps speed up the reading, I think, and then I like to spring the surprises. When I start writing, I go fairly slowly, trying to keep it funny and interesting. I spend most of my time just trying to figure out how to make each scene work in the best way. It's funny, but the actual writing part is a lot easier than trying to figure out how to start each scene and how to keep it from being ordinary. These are, after all, detective stories and everything's been done hundreds of times already. My job as a writer is to keep it all fresh.

Bev: What do you feel is your greatest reward as a writer?

William: When things are really working in the manuscript, which is, sadly, rarer than I would hope.

Bev: What is the hardest part of being a writer?

William: When nothing is working, which is like every day.

Bev: On your web page there is mention of writing many short stories before publishing your first novel. Your fans would be interested. Do you have any plans for an anthology of these stories?

William: Heavens no. I have come to the conclusion that I'm simply not a short story writer. It was a sad realization, like when I realized I wasn't a ballplayer, but I had it and I've moved on. I'm not a poet either, but that I'm not so sad about. But would you like to hear me sing?

Bev: Oh, boy....actually, I would. Tell us about your current project?

William: I'm finishing up another Victor Carl book, which is pretty cool. He wakes up after some nights of debauchery with a tattoo that he doesn't remember getting. The tattoo contains the name of a girl he doesn't remember meeting. Is she the love of his life or a terrible mistake? Victor has to delve into a strange new world to find out. The tattoo is just one of the problems facing Victor in the book, another is that he finds himself falling in love with every woman he meets. Of course hilarity ensues, but he finds his emotional instability troubling, and he realizes he has hit rock bottom when he ends up sleeping with a realtor.

Bev: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with us?

William: Just that I really appreciate anyone who picks up the books and gives them a chance. I feel very lucky to be able to do this for a living and it's all because there are readers out there who are looking for the types of book I love to write and I'm very grateful. Thanks.

Bev: Thanks so much. This has been a real pleasure for me. I'm anxiously awaiting your next book! Poor Victor...it sounds like you really gave him some problems to overcome in this story.


Reviews

Falls the Shadow
By William Lashner

William Morrow / HarperCollins - May 1, 2005

0060721561 - Hardbound
Mystery -- Suspense
Buy it at Amazon
Read an excerpt

Beverly J. Rowe, MyShelf.com

    Victor Carl bends to the pleading of his partner, Beth Dillinger, and takes on the appeal of Françoise Dube, a chef who was previously found guilty of murdering his estranged wife. The delivery of a large retainer helps to convince him that defending Dube is the right thing to do. Victor really thinks Dube is guilty, but true to his own ethics, must give his client his very best effort to prove him innocent.

   Victor has no illusions about himself, but he's far from the self-described dork he would like you to believe. He is witty, and charming, but less than a fashion plate. He performs very well in the criminal courtroom, but life is still not as good as he would like it to be. Then he meets dentist Bob Pffeffer, a self-confessed do-gooder who has no personal qualms about manipulating the lives of others to conform to what he thinks is right. He always seems to have the right answer and the right connections to solve every problem.

    Lashner is a master at characterization, and a genius at plotting. You feel that you know these people intimately, and feel their complicated emotions as they race through the innovative, multi-level plot. I fell in love with Victor when he was appointed the pro-bono attorney for a four-year-old boy, whose sister had been given away. What a touching, inspiring sub-plot!

   Falls the Shadow is a highly entertaining, suspenseful novel with edgy, inspired dialogue. Allow plenty of time to read this book, because you won't want to put down this legal thriller. I can't wait for Lashner's next book.

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Booklist -Amazon.com-
Hostile Witness
Verititas (published in Hardbound - also published as Bitter Truth in paperback)
Fatal Flaw
Past Due
Falls the Shadow

2005's Honorary List

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