October 16, 2009
When A Time To Kill was first published I was brimming with the typical enthusiasm of a rookie novelist whose dreams were not even connected to reality. The warning signs of failure were everywhere…but I was wonderfully oblivious to all that. Five thousand hardback copies were printed and we couldn’t give them away. The book, originally, never made it to the paperback stage. The grand ideas of foreign translations and movie rights and so on were dashed within two months of publication.
My plan at the time, if any struggling writer can realistically claim to have a plan, was to try again with another type of book—the legal thriller. Hopefully such a book would find a wider market, thus allowing me to return to Ford County, my own little fictional world where there were, and still are, so many stories to be told. Fortunately, The Firm found an audience, and I was suddenly free to write whatever I wanted.
Through the years—and I hate to use those words because they sound too much like an old man looking back—I have wanted to return to Ford County, to Clanton, to the colorful lives of a people still dealing with a complicated past. I have visited it occasionally, in The Chamber and The Summons, and almost all of The Last Juror took place there, but I have yet to move back permanently and write the thick, layered meandering stories that I carry around with me. And I firmly intend to, one day. Maybe next year.
Meanwhile, I continue to think about Jake Brigance, and Harry Rex Vonner, and Judge Noose, and I often wonder where Carl Lee is and what happened to his daughter, Tonya. Could these characters possibly produce enough drama for another book? I’m not sure, but their neighbors and ancestors certainly can. I’ve had dozens of ideas for Ford County novels, almost all of which peter out for one reason or another, but when one fades away, two more pop up and hold my attention for a year or so.
The good stories stick, but they’re not always long enough to become novels. To give them life, and to make sure I don’t eventually forget them, I have collected seven of my favorites, seven longer stories, which Doubleday will publish next month. The collection is titled simply Ford County: Stories. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did writing them.
January 27, 2009
I’m excited about the publication of THE ASSOCIATE. Over the years, many of you have asked when I might write another book like The Firm. I have a feeling this new book might be just what you’ve been looking for. Kyle McAvoy reminded me a lot of Mitch McDeere as I was writing it, and I had a great time setting the action in New York, a city I’ve always loved but had never featured in one of my novels before. I hope you have as much fun reading this one as I had writing it…
October 10, 2006
Writing nonfiction has seldom crossed my mind—I’ve had far too much fun with the novels—and I had no idea what I was getting into when I started writing The Innocent Man.
This story, and the research and writing of it, consumed eighteen months. It took me to Ada, Oklahoma many times, to the courthouse and jail and coffee shops around town, to both the old death row and the new one at McAlester, to Asher, where I sat in the bleachers for two hours and talked baseball with Murl Bowen, to the offices of the Innocence Project in New York, to a café in Seminole where I had lunch with Judge Frank Seay, to Yankee Stadium, to the prison in Lexington where I spent time with Tommy Ward, and to Norman, my base, where I hung out with Mark Barrett and talked about the story for hours.
With every visit and every conversation, the story took a different twist. I could’ve written five thousand pages.
The journey also exposed me to the world of wrongful convictions, something that I, even as a former lawyer, had never spent much time thinking about. This is not a problem peculiar to Oklahoma, far from it. Wrongful convictions occur every month in every state in this country, and the reasons are all varied and all the same—bad police work, junk science, faulty eyewitness identifications, bad defense lawyers, lazy prosecutors, arrogant prosecutors.
In the cities, the workloads of criminologists are staggering and often give rise to less than professional procedures and conduct. And in the small towns the police are often untrained and unchecked. Murders and rapes are still shocking events and people want justice, and quickly. They, citizens and jurors, trust their authorities to behave properly. When they don’t, the result is Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz.
Ada is a nice town, and the obvious question is: When will the good guys clean house?