Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chatting with debut author Pamela Wechsler

As I promised yesterday, I'm talking with debut novelist Pamela Wechsler today. Pam is a former criminal prosecutor who has worked in both Boston and Washington D.C. When she took a break from the real courtroom, she started working on fictional courtrooms--Hollywood-style courtrooms. She's been a legal consultant and writer for shows such as the Law & Order franchise, Canterbury's Law and Conviction. Next week launches her debut novel, Mission Hill, about a Boston ADA named Abby Endicott. I'll have my review of this exciting new legal thriller later this week, but today's let's chat with the author herself. Please help me welcome Pamela Wechsler.

Q. What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
PW: Even though I went to law school, I never really planned to practice law. In college, I majored in political science because I knew that I wanted to serve my community in some capacity. After graduation, I taught in the public schools and worked for a neighborhood development agency. A few years later, I decided to go to back to school and I thought that law school would open up the most options. During my third year of law school, I visited a friend who worked in the district attorney’s office and I knew immediately that was what I wanted to do.

Q. You spent a lot of time in the legal profession, what sparked your interest in fiction writing--both for the screen and now in books?
PW: When I was working as a homicide prosecutor in Boston, I was contacted by a friend of a friend, who was writing for a television show about a homicide prosecutor. I ended up helping him with some of his scripts, and in the process, I learned a lot about television writing. A few years later, when I was working for the Justice Department in DC, I decided that it was time for a change. So, I studied the craft of television writing, wrote my own spec script, and got an agent. I worked in Hollywood for seven years, consulting and writing for a variety of legal dramas, including the Law and Order franchise. Circumstances brought me back to Boston, and I rejoined a district attorney’s office. A couple of years in, I got a call from producers from The Judge, a movie that was filming in the area. They hired me to be their legal consultant. One day, I was on the set, when the actor who played the role of the prosecutor, Billy Bob Thornton, suggested that I write a novel. So, I signed up for workshops at Grub Street, studied the craft, and wrote the novel that became MISSION HILL.

Q. What do you miss the most about your job as a prosecutor? 
Prosecutors are constantly interacting with other people: detectives, victims, witnesses, defense attorneys, judges, and juries. Writing a novel is a solitary pursuit. I can spend the entire workday alone in my apartment without talking to anyone. That was a big adjustment.

Q. Your bio indicates you're consulting for TV now, are you still doing any writing or are you writing strictly for the novels at this point?
PW: I still consult for television shows, but only as a legal advisor. Right now, I’m working on the second Abby Endicott novel.

Q. How do the two writing formats compare?
PW: They’re very different. Scriptwriting has rules about things like format and length, novels do not. Scripts are much leaner; a one hour drama is about 60 pages long, MISSION HILL is about 300 pages. Also, scripts are mostly dialogue, with little room for description.

Q. When you started writing Mission Hill, what was the biggest frustration for you transitioning to novel writing? And what was most exciting or rewarding about this format?
PW: I wouldn’t call it a frustration, but I did have to learn the craft. I signed up for workshops, and did a lot of research about writing fiction. What I like most about writing novels, as opposed to scripts, is that I can get inside my protagonist’s head and describe her private thoughts. The only way to do that in a television script is through voiceover.

Q. I once read that the CSI franchise was making trial work more challenging because juries had unrealistic expectations for forensic evidence. Does something like that influence the way you write? And how do you balance realism with the demand for thrilling, dramatic suspense, especially in television?
PW: Like real detectives, TV detectives used to solve cases with shoe leather. They were out on the street, chasing down witnesses and following leads. That still holds true, but they also rely on science and technology. One of the reasons the CSI shows work so well is that they combine all the elements of modern police work.

Q. Is there a big pet peeve you've experienced in other books/TV/movies that you would never put into your writing, even for the sake of the suspense?
PW: I hope that authenticity is one of the things that draw people to MISSION HILL. I try to keep it as realist as possible. Still, I recognize that books and television shows are entertainment, not documentaries, and a certain amount of dramatic license is allowed— as long as the story is plausible.

Q. Abby Endicott is your new protagonist. She's a prosecutor in Boston, as you once were. How much of Abby's character comes from your own personality, experiences, etc., and how much of Abby is purely from your imagination?
PW: Abby and I are not one and the same in terms of personality or character. But many of the plot lines are drawn from my own life experiences, both in and out of the courtroom.

Q. So your personal experiences in law have been the basis your story ideas; do you harvest them from other sources as well?
PW: I do both. I was a prosecutor for seventeen years, which gives me a deep well to draw from. I am also constantly trolling the news for story ideas, and when I have time, I walk over to the courthouse to see what’s going on.

Q. You were recently a technical advisor on a TV movie called Doubt that deals with a defense attorney, but your writing has focused on the prosecutorial side of the courtroom. Any desire to write about the defense side?
PW: Sure, I’d love to write a series about a defense attorney.

Q. Abby's boyfriend is a jazz musician. Is this your preferred genre of music? Do you listen to it while you write?
PW: I like a variety of music genres, including jazz. I don’t listen to music when I write, unless I’m in a coffee shop.

I made Abby’s boyfriend a jazz musician because I wanted his career and personality to be very different from hers. They are both successful, but she is hard-charging and adrenalin-addicted, he is levelheaded and cool.

Q. What would you say Abby's theme song would be?
PW: Dirty Water by the Standells.

Q. A few years back I did a blog feature series based on the book Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure. I asked authors what their six-word memoir would be, so I'll end with that question for you.
PW: Does this thing come with directions?

Many thanks to Pam for taking time to chat with me today and share a little insight into her road to publishing and her debut novel, Mission Hill. Pam is on Facebook and Twitter; you can also learn more about her and Mission Hill at her website. Mission Hill is available Tuesday (May 3rd) and if you'd like to take it for a test run first, Criminal Element has an excerpt posted.

Happy reading, friends!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sorry...and Catching Up

Greetings! Long time no blog. First, I would like to send out big, warm virtual hugs to those people who sent me nice messages. They were so kind; not one of them said, "hey slacker, what the heck is going on?" I apologize for my hiatus.

For those that don't know, I went on vacation to Virginia during the second week of April, where I played with dogs and chickens and my wonderful friend Ginny Phillips who blogs over at gspotsylvania.

Henrietta Poppy



I'm sorta, kinda caught up from being away. As much as I'm ever caught up, I guess. Anyone else  feel perpetually behind? Ah well, 'tis life. It's all about the journey, right? While I was away, it snowed in NE Ohio. Left several inches on the ground. But then I returned to the mowing season. My dog Rufus was getting lost in the grass, so I figured it was time to drag the mower out. While I complain about the snow in Ohio, let me say right now, I'm glad I don't live in Denver. Unless you're a snow lover living there, I'm so sorry Denver folks. I hope this last storm is it for y'all now.

I did quite a bit of reading while I was on vacation--that's the joy of vacationing with a fellow book lover. Finished up a great book from Lindy West called Shrill, Steve Hamilton's new one--The Second Life of Nick Mason--fantastic, and the upcoming book from Ben Winters, Underground Airlines. I'm on a run of good books and worried about when I'm going to hit that bad one that wrecks everything. I don't think it's my current read, though--Broken Ground (Karen Halvorsen Schreck) is off to a great start.  You'll be hearing about them all in more detail eventually, of course.

Since I drove down to Virginia, I got plenty of good audiobook time in as well. Finished up Michael Robotham's Close Your Eyes; David Taylor and Keith Szarabajka once again blew me away with the audiobook for Night Work (the second Michael Cassidy historical crime novel); and now I'm listening to a fun audio called Spill Simmer Falter Wither, which is dog-centric instead of crime-centric.

What good books have you been reading or listening to lately?

I posted this on Facebook, so you may have already seen it, but it's in print so I feel like it's real now, and I can share it with people--even though I still have a hard time believing it. I'm going to interview Fredrik Backman for his bookstore appearance at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL next month. If you are in the area...whether you live there or are maybe in Chicago for BEA...I hope you'll come out. I'm so thrilled and excited about this. Hopefully I manage to keep my inner fan girl under control and won't make a fool out of myself.

Coming up on the blog I have plenty of reviews to catch up on, but I also have an interview with  debut novelist, Pamela Wechsler. She's a first time novelist, but she's writing and consulting for TV prior to her first book, Mission Hill.  I'll be sharing that interview with you tomorrow. I thoroughly enjoyed Mission Hill, a legal thriller, and it's due out next week, so I'll be reviewing that for you later this week as well.

I'm also hoping to get a new post up, probably next week, about the books I'm looking forward to this summer--as far as I know at this point anyway. And I have more posts for Where Jen's Book Thoughts' Readers Are Reading. I'm still taking submissions (details here). If you haven't sent one yet, I hope you'll consider doing so. I'd love to have YOU on the blog. It's been fantastic connecting with some of you for the first time through this feature. So thank you to everyone who's sent something in so far.

That's it for today. I'll be back tomorrow with Pam Wechsler. I hope you'll join us. Thanks so much, my book-loving friends. Happy reading!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Where Jen's Book Thoughts Readers Are Reading

Happy Friday...Happy April...and I hope you haven't been the fool of any jokes yet today. Or at least not too many anyway. Today our featured reader is definitely no fool. She's a talented photographer, a cat lover and a fellow blogger--she's been blogging at Whimpsulive since 2006! Plus, as you'll see below, she has the most excellent taste in books! I'm determined to meet SuziQOregon one of these days in person, but today she's coming to us from home in Oregon--and she chose the most appropriate of Portland settings, Powell's Bookstore.

I live in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon with The Hubster and two incredibly spoiled cats. I'm in the picture that's a closer view of the window. I'm sitting on the bench inside. The book I'm reading in the photo is Sunset Express by Robert Crais.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Quote of the Week

The hitman apologized, saying he had become quite a wizard at counting years while in the slammer, but all he knew about percentages was that there were about forty of them in vodka and sometimes even more in the kind of stuff that was produced in random basements without any oversight.
   –Jonas Jonasson in Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Surveillance - Reece Hirsch

First line: "The day that Bruen & Associates opened for business was one of the best days of Chris Bruen's life–until the first client walked through the door."

In Reece Hirsch's third book featuring protagonist, Chris Bruen, the privacy lawyer is launching his own business with his significant other, computer forensics specialist Zoey Doucet. What should be a monumental day in both characters' lives turns into the stuff nightmares are made of.

The clients most likely to hire Bruen aren't the type to walk in off the street, but just after opening the doors at Howard Street in San Francisco on the very first day of business, just such a client arrives:

Chris was instantly skeptical that this would amount to anything. One of the occupational hazards of being a privacy lawyer was that you occasionally had to field calls from random paranoids who found your name linked to the world 'privacy' in their Google search results. Sometimes the issues were legitimate, but more often the matter was better addressed by an adjustment in medication or adding another layer of aluminum foil to a hat lining.

Ian Ayres is a former hacker who now owns a penetration-testing and ethical-hacking service. His extreme paranoia–he wants to talk to Bruen outside his office–immediately puts Bruen on alert. Ayres explains that while doing a penetration testing job for a communications company he discovered a government agency downloading terabytes worth of call metadata. When he reported his findings to the client, they acted as though they never hired him and accused him of hacking their system. The contract Ayres had even vanished. Ayres is certain it isn't the NSA; he says he knows how they work. Instead, he theorizes that he's uncovered a secret agency no one is supposed to know about. And now people are after him.

Bruen is unsure whether he believes Ayres or not, but he knows for certain this isn't the type of case his firm handles. So he offers to give Ayres some recommendations. But when they return to the office, Bruen finds his entire staff–save Zoey–have been murdered. Now this secret agency isn't just after Ayres, Bruen is in their cross-hairs as well.

As the two men waste no time getting out of the office and on the run from their pursuers, Bruen calls Zoey, who had been out of the office for coffee, and advises her to go into hiding with an old hacker acquaintance of hers.  The three set off in their respective directions, none of them knowing this is only the beginning of a terrifying ordeal, a modern-day David and Goliath. But do they have a sling shot mighty enough to bring down this unidentifiable Goliath of a government organization?

In the current climate of Edward Snowden, personal privacy and national security debates–a climate that also created a significant debate around Apple's refusal to help unlock an accused terrorist's phone–Surveillance is timely and more than a little disturbing. Hirsch will have readers thinking about their Google searches, phone calls, Skype chats, even library loans–or conversations in their cars, "It occurred to him that an operative with a laser microphone could eavesdrop on his conversation by using the sound vibrations on the car window glass." They're also likely to be far more cognizant of security cameras than they've been before. The reach of the government agencies and their current technologies is complex and significant. And the belief that you aren't doing anything wrong won't be a comfort during this thriller:

'So maybe it's kind of a variation on the Heisenberg principle. Maybe the NSA isn't trying to spy on its citizens so much as it's trying to keep them in line. Maybe the point of observation is to change behavior.'

Hirsch keeps the pace moving quick and fluidly. Short chapters and high intensity suspense propel the plot.  The crafty imagery compliments the subject matter well:

He felt like one of those smartphones that's a couple of generations behind the latest model. It still works, but the battery doesn't hold a charge the way it use to, the software's a bit glitchy–it'll never function again the way it did when it was new.

And Hirsch also manages to sneak some wit into the dark depths of this technological thriller. The Amish way of life may look a little more appealing at the end of Surveillance. Stock up on the tinfoil, folks, the eyes and ears are everywhere.

Surveillance is available in paperback (ISBN: 978-1503933231) from Thomas & Mercer. It's also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-1511365994) narrated by David de Vries from Brilliance Audio.

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