Bestselling author Scott Turow will be joining the National Writers Series on May 20 for a live-streamed event, days after his new thriller, The Last Trial, is published.
Turow, still a practicing attorney with a Chicago law firm, is best known for writing books that demystify the legal process while keeping it edge-of-the-seat exciting, including Presumed Innocent and The Burden of Proof. The Last Trial is no exception. Sandy Stern, protagonist of many Turow books, is now 85 and ready to retire. But first he agrees to defend his good friend who has been charged with fraud, insider trading and murder.
Use this link to join the live stream National Writers Series event with Scott Turow at 7 p.m. May 20 with guest host is Patrick Livingston, news director at 7&4 UpNorthLive. There is no preregistration required and no fee. There is an optional Morsels book bundle deal with an order deadline of May 15. For $40, you’ll get a dozen “Scotch Turow” morsels and a signed hardcover copy of Scott Turow’s “The Last Trial” from Horizon Books. The book and morsels will be safely delivered to homes within 15 miles of Traverse City on May 20. Click here to order.
The National Writers Series recently had an e-chat with Turow.
NWS: How are you? Where are you isolating? Are you able to write?
Scott Turow: We are in Naples, Florida, where we’ve migrated for winter for four years now, staying longer each time. It’s great to be able to be outside every day but no, I have not gotten as much done on a new novel as I might have hoped. As I like to say, in a reference that dates me, the whole global and nationwide crisis has been like having a badly scratched record playing next door, with all the skips and repetitions. Just can’t concentrate.
NWS: How do you feel about technology during the pandemic? Do you have experience with Zoom?
ST: Yes, Zoom and other videoconferencing apps have been a tremendous addition to our lives. I’ve done publicity events for The Last Trial this way, Hollywood meetings and several Zoom dinners with close friends and family, which have been remarkably satisfying.
NWS: What level of knowledge do you need to have to write about clinical trials and pharma firms understandably? (Ph. D? Masters? Sixth grade?)
ST: I always like the line Robert Parker used when we were once on a panel together and someone in the audience asked him about the wonderful credibility of his novels. “Oh,” said Parker, “I’m just a good typist.”
I admit that I read a great deal about the clinical trial of new pharmaceuticals, and eventually concluded that the combination of advanced science and minute regulations was going to require some telescoping. A law degree and decades of legal practice in hand, I still often found the process impenetrable.
NWS: Do you employ anyone to help you with the books? If so, what do they do?
ST: I have a dedicated staff who help me keep my schedule and financial life in order, but I do almost all the writing and research myself. I did rely on an outside expert on clinical testing, Shawn Hoskins, a friend of my daughter’s, who was of enormous help.
NWS: How do you make a seemingly indefensible person likable? Are there certain go-to words or actions that help?
ST: That’s the essence of what a novel is. Both the defense lawyer and the novelist must realize that every human has a point of view, a way of looking at the world in which s/he has responded to circumstances reasonably.
NWS: How do you come up with winning descriptions like the one of the Israeli accent? Do you have to listen to Israeli accents over and over? How long did that sentence take you to write?
ST: Not all that long—I was listening to an Israeli author read one of his short stories on a podcast.
NWS: Stock cash-outs before the pandemic are in the news. Nice planning! What are your first thoughts when you see news of something you’ve just written about? Panic? Delight? Horror? Glee?
ST: Crime, unfortunately, is eternal. It’s never a surprise when people pull the same stunts, although one of the joys of practicing criminal law is that there is almost always a new wrinkle. As I like to say, although it’s seldom recognized as such, criminality is one of the great venues for human creativity. Who would imagine that a U.S. senator would take the occasion of the deaths of hundreds of thousands to enrich themselves?
NWS: Do you ever worry that a crime you’ve written about in a book will inspire a real-life crime? And you’ve plotted it all out in a way that someone could get away with it?
ST: When I was in college, I attended a lecture by a great English critic and professor, George Steiner, who was talking about the fact that the works of the Marquis de Sade seemed to have inspired the unspeakable torture-murders undertaken by a British couple. If we read literature, Steiner argued, because it can enlighten and elevate us, then we must accept the fact that it can change certain imaginations for the worse. I have always borne that in mind: occasionally some goof will take what you’ve written as a jumping-off point for some lamentable behavior. As Steiner implied, it’s a risk of the profession.
NWS: How do defense attorneys deal with knowing they got an acquittal for someone who did something so nasty? “Kept archbishop out of prison despite many frauds …”
ST: Frankly, it’s easy. A defense lawyer’s job is to put the government to its proof, in the belief that the liberty of every citizen is at stake in every criminal case. If it was easy for the government to imprison anyone it likes, we’d all be in danger. If you don’t accept that to start, you’re unlikely to want to defend criminal cases.
NWS: How involved were you in the movies? Did you like them? Which is your favorite? Why?
ST: I’ve had limited involvement. For one thing, studio and network executives want to get their money back, and they don’t put a great priority on whether the author is happy. More important perhaps, I don’t regard it as my right to tell another creative person whose talent I admire, whether we’re talking about a director or writer, how to do their work. As I always remind myself, the film will never change one word of the novel. I like all the films that have been made from my novels. But I don’t pick favorites. With no disrespect to the enormously talented actors, directors and writers who’ve been involved, I’ll always think the book is better.
NWS: What is Sandy Stern going to do in retirement?
ST: I wrote a passage yesterday for my next novel, in which the main character mentions in passing that Sandy is now doing a podcast about current legal events!