of the Month
William Lashner [AUGUST
Chosen by reviewer Beverly Rowe, MyShelf.Com
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.
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
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
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
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.
Falls the Shadow
William Morrow / HarperCollins - May 1, 2005
it at Amazon
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,
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.
Verititas (published in Hardbound - also published as
Bitter Truth in paperback)
Falls the Shadow