03 July 2007

Author Answers with James Grippando

With the holiday falling on a Wednesday, Word Nerd decided to move the weekly author Q&A up a day so it didn't get lost.

So, give a welcome to this week's author, James Grippando. Grippando writes the series of Jack Swyteck legal thrillers and recently wrote his a book departing from that series, "Lying with Strangers."

For more on Grippando, check out his website.

WN: Your latest book is a departure from your Jack Swyteck series. What's it about and why did you take a break from the series?
GRIPPANDO: Lying with Strangers is the story of Peyton Shields, a high-achieving young doctor who seems to have it all-until series of strange, increasingly dangerous events take their toll on Peyton, her career, and her marriage, moving her closer to a terrifying stalker who seems to know her every move.
It wasn't so much a break from the Jack Swyteck series as it was a story that evolved over a period of years. The seed for "Lying with Strangers" was planted in 1998, when my son spent the first eight days of his life in the hospital's neo-natal intensive care unit, and we had to monitor him closely after he came home. Luckily, I had a friend who had graduated at the top of his class from Harvard Medical School and who had just been named Chief Resident at Boston Children's Hospital. Dr. David Weinstein was in the most coveted position at the best pediatric hospital in the world, but he always found time to take my calls. During one of our conversations, I told him-only half-jokingly-that I ought to write a novel about a pediatrician. Later, he phoned and said, "Why don't you come up to Boston Children's and shadow me, see what hits you?" I couldn't get there fast enough.
During my stay at his house, David told me about another pediatric intern-a brilliant and beautiful young woman who had been stalked by a patient's relative. A light immediately went on, and Peyton Shields, the lead character in "Lying with Strangers," was born. I realized, however, that I was building quite a challenge for myself. My editor and I were about to
launch a series for HarperCollins featuring Jack Swyteck-a man who is a lawyer in Miami. The story in my head was about a woman who was a doctor in Boston. We went with the Swyteck series-the right decision-but Peyton Shields was never far behind in my heart and mind. I wrote it while writing the next five Jack Swyteck novels. So I never really took a clean break from Jack Swyteck-I just hung out wit Peyton every now and then.

WN: Swyteck is a lawyer and you are a lawyer. How much of your real experiences have turned up in print as Jack Swyteck's experiences?
GRIPPANDO: A few things in my own life have reappeared in Jack's fictional world, but it's really the overall experience of being a trial lawyer that has benefited me most in my writing. As a trial lawyer, you see the best and worst of people. You see victims of crimes who have the courage to come into a public courtroom, look their attacker in the eye, and work through the emotional pain of telling a jury exactly what happened. Just as courageous, you see third parties with no personal stake in the case come forward-sometimes at the risk of their employment or personal safety-simply to make sure that justice is done. So, in some sense I see the world as filled with unlikely heroes. On the other hand, you deal with the snakes who can't give an honest answer to a simple question. You deal with some lawyers who think litigation is just a game and that the rules are for losers. That overall perspective that I've gained through personal experience is written into every chapter of the Jack Swyteck novels, and into "Lying with Strangers" as well.

WN: How hard was it to transition from legal writing to fiction writing?
GRIPPANDO: It took me six years to become and "overnight success," so what does that tell you? Becoming a writer was never a goal for me-it was a life-long dream. In 1988, I was five years into the practice of law and tired of the fact that no one-including judges-seemed to be interested in any of the legal stuff I was writing. I also noted that the hottest show on television was L.A. Law, and the hottest book in the country was Scott Turow's"Presumed Innocent." There seemed to be this insatiable public appetite for stories about lawyers written by lawyers. So I started writing, nights and weekends, still practicing law full time. Finally, after four years, I had a 250,000-word monster in the box that no publisher wanted. But my agent assured me that I had received-get this-the most encouraging rejection letters he had ever seen. With his encouragement, I wrote "The Pardon" over the next seven months, and it sold to HarperCollins in a weekend. It's now all over the world in 26 languages. Don't you love happy endings?

WN: Were you a reader as a kid... what turned you on to reading/writing books?
GRIPPANDO: The first book I remember buying was "Bambi," and I was hooked ever since.
I'm sure that my love of books was an important part of becoming a writer, but the way I grew up was also a huge influence. Loon Lake in Antioch, Illinois-my boyhood home-is a little lake at the end of a dirt road. It's where I spent hours playing ice hockey in the winter, swimming in the winter, and doing all those things that parents worry their children might be doing. I mean really - does anyone actually fish inside an ice fishing shed? I had a great deal of freedom as a child, and I think that freedom-or at least the desire to be free-is what nudged me toward creative writing.

WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you? What's the most challenging part of writing for you?
GRIPPANDO: The best part is the freedom to write whatever you want, wherever you want. I live in south Florida, so I write in my backyard. My outdoor office has these essentials: a patio table and chair, a big shade umbrella, a laptop computer, a hammock, a hot tub, and a swimming pool. The cell phone is optional. If I get tired of writing about Jack Swyteck, in Miami, I can
write about Peyton Shields in Boston and spend a summer in Martha's Vineyard. But mentioning Peyton does highlight the most challenging part for me: Writing from a woman's perspective. It helps to be married to an English Literature major. But even so, I can still see my wife looking up from the early drafts of "Lying with Strangers," rolling her eyes, and telling me "A woman would never say that!" Now, the feedback from women readers is glowing, so it was worth sweating the details.

WN: What's next for you as a writer?
GRIPPANDO: "Last Call" (Swyteck #7) will be released in January 2008. In 2002 "Beyond Suspicion" (Swyteck # 2) introduced readers to Jack's colorful sidekick, Theo Knight. Theo is Jack's investigator, bartender, best friend, and confidante, and of all the death row inmates Jack represented, only Theo was truly innocent. In "Last to Die" ("Swyteck #3) I mentioned that Theo's mother was murdered when Theo was a child. In "Last Call," Jack and Theo finally find the killer-and readers will see a side of Theo Knight they have never seen before. I'll be touring for "Last Call" in early 2008, while putting the finishing touches on my 2009 release (Hit and Run). As time permits, I'll continue to visit schools and libraries across the country to
promote my young adult novel, Leapholes.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
GRIPPANDO: It's not technically a book, but I read the Pulitzer Prize winning play "A Man for All Seasons" in high school, and it's unforgettable. It's the story of Sir Thomas Moore, who was tried for treason and beheaded after he refused on principle to sign an oath approving the marriage of King Henry VIII to Ann Boleyn. It stuck with me throughout my career as a lawyer, especially early-on, when I was young and naïve and appalled to discover how many witnesses lied under oath. People complain that lawyers are always trying to trip them up with their clever questions, but in my experience witnesses too often had to be tricked into telling the truth. In my most cynical moments as a trial lawyer, I'd go back to Sir Thomas Moore and the sanctity of an oath.

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