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Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I was born and raised in southeastern Massachusetts. My mother and father were Portuguese immigrants and were part of the large Portuguese-American community in the area of New Bedford, Fall River, and Milford, Massachusetts.
I attended public schools and received a full scholarship to Bowdoin College, the school from which both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow graduated in the same year, 1825.
I was a student at Bowdoin from 1966 to 1970, the turbulent era of the Vietnam War, Woodstock, and the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations. I was at the legendary Woodstock concert and the dramatic Democratic Convention in Chicago. While at Bowdoin I was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the national honor society for academic achievement, and received my degree magna cum laude.
I was drafted into the United States Army four weeks after graduating from college. I served as an infantry soldier during the Vietnam War, an experience about which I’ve been writing a novel.
As soon as I was honorably discharged from the Army, I enrolled at the Cornell University Law School. When I graduated in 1975 I went to work at a large New York City law firm. In 1983, I decided to set up my own legal practice so that I could concentrate more on the defense of criminal “white collar” cases. I have had my own firm since then.
In 1986, my first full length book, Civil RICO, was published by John Wiley & Sons. Civil RICO has since become the leading treatise on the federal racketeering law known as RICO. Civil RICO is now in its Third Edition, published in 2008 by Wolters-Kluwer.
I have been a serious long distance runner since l joined the Army in 1970. I’ve completed more than 25 marathons around the country, and am scheduled for my sixteenth New York City Marathon in November 2014.
Tell us about your book Extraordinary Rendition? How did it get started?
Extraordinary Rendition deals with the most cutting edge legal issue of the day – what to do with people accused of terrorism. At the center of the novel is a Saudi national who has lived in the United States for many years and who, while on a business trip to Europe, is arrested by American agents who are convinced that, as an accountant and banker, he has become one of the principal conduits for shifting billions of dollars to terrorist organizations around the world.
Extraordinary Rendition tells the story of the suspected terrorist’s long detention in secret “dark” prisons around the world and then the American Government’s decision to bring him to the United States for an open trial in a federal court. The accused terrorist is represented by Byron Carlos Johnson, a very experienced, high-priced Wall Street lawyer who decides to change his life, and ultimately jeopardizes his life, by volunteering to take on the highly unpopular defense of the accused terrorist.
Extraordinary Rendition depicts torture, the legal system, rogue Government agents and lawyers, journalists, and the idealistic Byron Carlos Johnson, who finds in himself hidden reserves of strength as he mounts his defense of the accused terrorist in one of the most highly publicized prosecutions in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
How do you create your characters?
1 base my characters on a lifetime of practicing law in the high tension world of criminal defense work. At a more fundamental level, I create characters who come into existence in my imagination and then on the page based on the wide range of people in the real world in which I’ve lived, first as a boy and teenager in an impoverished community, a student at an elite college and university, an infantry soldier, and years of living in New York City and travel around the world. In other words, characters in the books, including Extraordinary Rendition, arise from the thousands of real people – from Mafia dons to legendary actors and rogues – who have passed through my world.
What inspires you and what got you started in writing?
As a student at Bowdoin, I was taught by two very well-known, widely respected poets of the time, Howard Nemerov and Louis Coxe, as well as Lawrence Hall, a short story writer who was the winner of the O’Henry Prize. I also spent the summers while a Bowdoin student reporting as an intern for the Washington Post. I’ve always loved the process of writing. In 2005, after years of writing and revising Civil RICO and articles for publications such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, I decided to write a novel based loosely on a real trial I had. The result was my first novel, Death’s Witness, which was praised in Publishers Weekly as “guilty of delivering not only sharp courtroom drama but steamy romantic escapism as well.”
Given the success of Death’s Witness, which received several awards, I continued with my novel writing. Extraordinary Rendition was my second novel. My third novel, The Borzoi Killings, will be released as a book by Astor & Blue Editions and audiobook by audible.com in November 2014. Both Death’s Witness and Extraordinary Rendition are now available as audiobooks through audible.com. Moreover, for at least twenty years, I’ve published poetry in some high-profile literary magazines, including The Atlanta Review and Poetry International.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I write wherever I have the time to write because of the enjoyment writing provides. I have written in courtrooms, airports, hotel rooms, and my homes. Most of my writing is done at my house in Sag Harbor, New York, long a place where writers, including John Steinbeck, have made their homes. All I need in order to write is the opportunity to do so – to answer your question more specifically, music and drinks play absolutely no role in inspiring me to write.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Obviously the ideas for a novel develop out of my life’s experiences. Not surprisingly, since I have practiced law for years, the books tend to revolve around trials and the extraordinary pressures exerted by trials on the people involved in them – the defendants themselves, their lawyers, the judges, the prosecutors, the journalists, and others.
But more important than the real life experiences of legal practice that may set the framework for a novel is the inner life that any person has lived, and his or her understanding of the inner lives of everyone he or she has encountered. What drives us? Why do we live? Why do we make the choices we make? What moves us?
What do you like to read?
Like many other writers, I’m also a reader. Over time I have found myself drawn back to the classics that I studied and enjoyed while at high school and college. Rather than read legal thrillers (other than To Kill a Mockingbird, which to my mind is one of the best books about lawyers, crimes and trials ever written), I find myself reading, and often re-reading, Jane Austen, Dickens, Proust and, incredibly enough, Henry David Thoreau.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring authors in regards to writing?
My best advice to working and aspiring authors is direct and simple – just do it. Don’t talk about doing it, don’t dream about doing it. Just sit in a place with nothing in front of you but pen and paper or computer and put in tangible form the thoughts, feelings and visions that you have. The more time you spend just doing it the more satisfaction you will draw from it.
If you write, enjoy yourself. If you find that writing is a chore or a labor, take up tennis, golf, or bird-watching.