Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Today we have J.D. Rhoades.

What is your earliest memory of writing?

As a kid I read all the time. One of the books I really liked was Louise Fitzhugh’s HARRIET THE SPY. I immediately got a notebook and started writing observations down. Later, as a teenager, I was big on keeping journals. I wrote a few short stories, but nothing that I dared show anyone.

How does it feel being published?

Well, I’ve been published, and I’ve been out of print. Published is better.

When did you decide to be a writer?

I’d taken several courses in the creative writing curriculum in college (UNC Chapel Hill). I had some great teachers like Doris Betts and Lee Smith, but I got a real inferiority complex out of the experience--I was interested in science fiction and mysteries, and there wasn’t a whole lot of understanding or tolerance for “genre fiction.” So I didn’t write much of anything for the next thirteen years. Around 1996, I wrote a couple of short, satirical letters to the local newspaper, which led to them asking me to write a weekly column. The editor at the time said one day “Hey, you’re pretty good, why don’t you write a novel?” So I did. It went nowhere, but by then I had the bug.

Do you get writer's block? How do you combat it?

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I have, however, occasionally suffered a total failure of motivation, where everything I wrote was so god-awful to my eyes that it physically hurt to look at or even think about. When that happens, I just can’t bring myself to sit down at the computer.
So I try to shake things up. I’ll write a chapter in longhand, for example, just for the change of pace. Or change the font. Or read something I wouldn't normally read. Anything for a little mental jolt.

Where do you write? Do you write longhand, typewriter or computer?

I write on a couple of different computers at home and at my day job. I used to have to save to a flash drive and carry the MS from place to place. Thanks to “cloud computing”, though, I can now save my WIP to something like Dropbox and pick it up later to work on on another machine.

Tell us about your Latest Book.

LAWYERS GUNS AND MONEY is the story of Andy Cole, a successful small town criminal lawyer who’s gotten where he is by keeping the towns’ secrets and generally going along to get along. When he’s asked to defend the younger brother of the local crime boss on a murder charge, he starts finding out that there are secrets even he doesn’t know. The pressure ramps up on him to go along with selling out his client and keeping the secrets buried. Andy has to face the loss of everything, including his life, if he does the right thing. Along the way, he starts developing real feelings for the woman with whom he’s been having an on-again, off-again affair, and she ends up at risk as well.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

AIC,FOK. Ass In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. Everything else is arguable.

J.D. Rhoades lives in North Carolina, where he was born and raised and where he sets his books. He's worked as a radio news reporter, club DJ, television cameraman, ad salesman, waiter, practicing attorney, and award winning newspaper columnist. He's appeared on public television and radio and on the BBC World Service.

Why I wrote this book: Since my day job is as a practicing attorney, people have been asking for years when I was going to write a "legal" thriller. Most of those, however, have a very distorted view of how law practice actually works--you don't have just one client or case, your clients aren't always innocent (even though they may not be guilty of what they're charged with), you worry about getting paid, etc. I've also wanted to write a classic hardboiled P.I. novel, the one where the world weary and cynical sleuth finds he has a heart and a soft spot for the underdog. So this one, I hope combines the two.


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He was tipped back in one of my client chairs, head thrown back, his leather cowboy hat pulled down over his eyes. His long gray ponytail hung straight down, almost reaching the floor. A battered leather satchel sat next to the chair. He had his Tony Lama boots propped up on the desk and his hands folded on his chest. He looked like he was asleep.
“Voit,” I said, raising my voice slightly, “I ever come in your place and put my feet up on your bar?”
Slowly, he raised the hat and looked at me for a long moment. “Don’t recall that, no,” he said.
“Then why don’t you do me the same d*mn courtesy?” I knocked his feet off my desk with my free hand. He wobbled for a moment in the chair before it tipped forward and brought him upright with a thump. He sat straight up and glared at me.
A lot of people would have called me crazy for laying a hand on Voit Fairgreen. He’d shot men for less, or so the legend held. He’d never been charged with anything above a class G felony, and thanks to me, he’d mostly avoided jail time for those. Mostly. But people who’d made him angry or crossed him in his diversified businesses—drugs, gambling, non-tax-paid cigarettes and alcohol--had a habit of dropping suddenly out of sight and not coming back. All that said, with some clients you have to take a stand damned quickly, or they’ll make your life miserable. Voit Fairgreen definitely fell into that category. Plus, he obviously needed me, or he wouldn’t be here this early, so I figured I was fairly safe.
I sat down in my chair. “So what can I do for you?” I asked pleasantly.
His eyes were still narrowed, but his voice was calm as he said, “I come to talk about Danny.”
“Ah,” I said. “And how is the white sheep of the Fairgreen clan?” Of the five brothers and three sisters that Amos and Paulette Fairgreen had inflicted on an unsuspecting world, Danny, the baby of the family, was good-looking, a gifted athlete, and the only one who showed any promise of being worth a d*mn.
“You ain’t heard, then?”
I shook my head.
“He’s in the jailhouse.”
“Huh. What’s he charged with? DWI? Possession?”
Fairgreen’s shoulders sagged. “They say he kilt somebody.”
I put my coffee cup down. “Hold on just a second.” I picked up the phone and hit a button. “Chuck,” I said, “I’m going to need you to cover the calendar call for me this morning. Max has the files. Continue what you can, handle what you can’t.” I hung up the phone, cutting off Chuck’s questions. He’d figure out what to do. He’d passed the Bar only three weeks ago, but being tossed into the deep end without water wings is the lot of the young associate.
“Now,” I said. “Who’s he charged with killing?”
Voit rubbed his eyes. The lines in his weathered face looked like canyons. I felt bad for being so rough with him earlier. I let the feeling pass through me.
“Girl named Chloe. Worked at the Rancho. Waitress.”
“What makes them think he did it?”
“They found him passed out in her house. With her.”
I nodded, keeping the poker face in place. Your client being found in the presence of a dead body is widely regarded as a bad thing among the defense bar. Still, you have to show confidence, even if you’re not feeling it. “Okay. He had his 96 hour hearing yet?” A person arrested had to be brought before a judge within 96 hours of being locked up to be formally advised of his charges and his right to a lawyer.
Voit shook his head. He picked up the satchel and reached inside. He came out with a bulging manila envelope, which he threw on the desk. It made a satisfying thump. “Tell me if that’s not enough.”
I picked up the envelope and opened it. It was stuffed with bills, most of them hundreds. “Do I want to know where this came from, Voit?”
“It comes from me,” he said. “That’s all you need to know.”
I let it go. “I’ll be at the hearing at 9:30,” I said. “Tell Danny you hired me. And tell him to keep his mouth shut. He talks to no one about this but me. No one. Got that?”
Voit sounded a little insulted. “He knows all that,” he said. “He’s a Fairgreen.”
Which doesn’t make my job any easier, I thought, but I didn’t say it. I walked Voit out into the waiting room. Two more of Voit’s younger brothers were seated there, taking up most of my waiting-room couch. It’s a rare gift to be able to look as if you’re looming while you’re sitting down, but the twins, Liberty and Justice, were big and ugly enough to pull it off. Both twins were once and future clients as well. A lawyer with less expensive tastes and fewer ex-wives could probably have made a comfortable living off the Fairgreens alone. I nodded to them as they got up. They nodded back.
As I walked back into my office, I caught a glimpse of Maxine, my office manager, in the hallway, talking to Becky-or-Becca. I couldn’t see her face, but from what I could see on the receptionist’s, there was a thorough ass-chewing going on. I went in, sat down, and checked my calendar. Looked like a medium-heavy day in District Court. Nothing Chuck couldn’t handle. I hoped.
Max came into the office. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days. There were dark circles under her eyes, her normally crisp pantsuit hadn’t been ironed, and her shoulders looked like she’d been carrying concrete-filled sacks. She fell into one of the client chairs and ran a hand absently through her short, iron-gray hair.
“Sorry, Boss,” she said, her voice rusty and hoarse. “I should have been here. He’d never have gotten past me.”
“No worries,” I said.
“Say the word and she’s gone.”
“Nah,” I said. “You’ve put the fear in her. We’ll see if it takes.” I held up the manila envelope full of cash. “Looks like we’ve been retained.”
Her tired eyes got wider as I dumped it out onto the desk. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she said, then crossed herself. “What’d Voit do now?”
“Not Voit,” I said. “Danny. He’s charged with murder.”
“Danny? No way.”
“I hope the jury has the same reaction. Count this up and put it in the trust account till I figure out what’s going on.”

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