Interview with Paul Levineby Kathleen M. Reade
Paul Levine’s life has been one adventure after another, affording him ample writing material. His edge and humor pervade his work. He has been a trial lawyer, law professor, and newspaper reporter, and is now a full time crime thriller novelist. Additionally, he has written for television, most notably, over 20 episodes for the hit series JAG. He was also a creator and producer of First Monday, a television series based on his Supreme Court thriller, 7 Scorpions.
His latest book, Kill All the Lawyers is to be published in September. His current book, The Deep Blue Alibi is the second in a series featuring lawyers Victoria Lord and Steve Solomon, who draw much of their personality and chemistry from Paul and his wife Rene, a trial lawyer. They met in court and even though they were representing the same client, Paul says they bickered constantly. Publishers weekly has proclaimed The Deep Blue Alibi, “A smart, enjoyable page-turner, Levine once again supplies plenty of quirky characters and witty banter.” The characters have drawn comparisons in their relationship and contentious interaction to Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as well as Cybil Sheperd and Bruce Willis of Moonlighting fame. Paul has written a pilot script for a possible series.
In describing the impetus for his work, Paul was quoted in an interview for his Alma Mater, Penn State, “Even though ’The Deep blue Alibi’ and ’Solomon vs. Lord’ are fiction, real events and real people inspire the work. I practiced law in front of curmudgeonly judges, and I knew lawyers who could shake your hand and pick your pocket at the same time. There were also judges who were absolutely hilarious, some without meaning to be.”
Paul has also written 7 novels featuring Jake Lassiter, “a second-string linebacker turned night school lawyer.” The first one, To Speak for the Dead, inspired an NBC movie, and the novels have been published in 23 countries. They were touted by The New York Times Book Review as “Irreverent genuinely clevergreat fun.”
Please tell us about your litigation experience and how it shaped your writing.
I practiced law for 17 years in Miami. I was a trial lawyer, mostly in the gargantuan firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Before I went to law school, I was a newspaper reporter for 'The Miami Herald', where I covered criminal court. I think both experiences contributed to my general cynicism about what Steve Solomon calls the “so-called justice system.” I make a distinction between “justice,” which is an ideal—and one seldom realized—and the “law,” which is the mechanism for attempting to achieve that idea.
Did your experience as a legal professional enhance your research and writing endeavors?
A trial lawyer is a storyteller. To that extent, trying cases is excellent preparation. Just ask John Grisham and Scott Turow. Or Lisa Scottoline and Linda Fairstein. Or James Grippando and Steve Martini. Or, if he’ll respond from the beyond, Erle Stanley Gardner.
Would you encourage more legal professionals to write, either non-fiction or fiction?
I would discourage all lawyers from writing courtroom novels laced with humor…as I would like to corner that field for myself. Non-fiction is another story. But please, not another dozen books about the Scott Peterson trial.
Please tell us about your television and screenwriting experience.
I wrote 22 episodes of “JAG,” the Navy show on CBS . I got to land on an aircraft carrier and steer a submarine (for about 30 seconds). All told, I figure I’ve spent more time in the military than President Bush. I also co-created “First Monday,” the Supreme Court show that was a spectacular failure. We had a great cast (James Garner, Joe Mantegna, Charles Durning), but we couldn’t make the show both realistic and interesting.
The reason why may be that the Supreme Court is not, in reality, a very dramatic place. I just co-wrote the “Solomon vs. Lord” pilot for CBS …but in an obvious oversight, the network did not pick up the series. I get the rights back in September and will take the books out again. Fun, though writing the pilot. Challenging, too. Boiling down a 500 page book to a 60 page script that would play in 44 minutes.
Please describe the Authors at Sea experience. Are you involved in book signings and other author/reader activities?
Great time. Twenty-five authors, 450 readers. Lots of panels, signings, three ports in Mexico. I do a lot of speaking, including some lawyers’ groups. Last week, I did a panel at the Edgars Week symposium in New York. The subject was “Let’s Kill All the Lawyers…Before They Write.” The title was serendipitous. My next book is “Kill All the Lawyers,” out in September from Bantam. After the panel, I appeared on Catherine Crier Live on Court TV. As you probably know, Catherine was a fine trial lawyer and judge in Texas.
Early in your writing career did you practice law and write, if so how did you divide your time?
I didn’t start writing until the waning days of my legal career. I started as therapy, creating a pro football player turned lawyer, Jake Lassiter. He’d do things I wouldn’t do…like punch out a witness. Not that I haven’t wanted to.
When and how did your first writing become published? Did you have an agent from the beginning of your writing career?
1990 “To Speak for the Dead” was my first novel. Yes. I sent query letters, then the manuscript to lasso an agent.
Please tell us about how you became interested in law and in writing.
Covering the courts for The Miami Herald directly led to my going to law school. Trying cases looked like fun. Of course, I didn’t see the prep work. Once I became disenchanted with the practice, writing funny courtroom mysteries was cheaper than a shrink.
Please tell us about your characters Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, featured in SOLOMAN VS LORD and your new book, "the Deep Blue Alibi".
Here’s the set-up for the series in a nutshell: “Solomon vs. Lord” is a character-driven, battle-of-the-sexes romantic mystery featuring two young lawyers who love/hate each other. Steve Solomon, 33, and Victoria Lord, 28, can’t agree on “good morning,” much less the definition of due process. But life sizzles when they’re together and fizzles when they’re apart. In short, a 21st Century “Moonlighting in the Courtroom,” a courtroom novel with pizzazz and spark, but grounded in the realities of the legal system.
Please tell us about some of the humorous experiences you encountered while practicing law.
Here’s one. In my first year of practice, I was trying a case before a colorful old judge in Miami. A civil case…something so boring a juror fell asleep in my closing argument. I whispered to the judge: “Your Honor. Number three is snoring.” And the judge replied. “So? You put him to sleep. You wake him up.”
Where do your plot and character ideas come from?
Imagination. Experience. Delusions.
What resources do you use for research?
Lexis. General Internet. Los Angeles Public Library.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Read everything you can. And start writing write, write, write. •