When I wrote BUM DEAL (2018), the 13th of the Jake Lassiter Series, I thought it was the final chapter. That’s right. I planned to bid farewell to my old pal Jake, the second-string linebacker who trudged through night law school and became a combative Miami trial lawyer.
Sure, it was a bit sad for me, but Jake’s been having these problems – memory lapses, confusion, headaches – and it seemed like the right time to say goodbye. Dr. Melissa Gold, a neurologist who treats Lassiter during office hours and spends humid nights with him in his Coconut Grove house, fears he may have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of all those concussions on the football field.
“The past clings to us like mud on rusty cleats,” Lassiter says, and now it takes on new meaning, given his medical condition.
But…you know where this is going. Jake said no deal to BUM DEAL being his swan song. In fact, he said he’d break all my fingers to keep me from typing “The End.” Yes, I know he’s fictional, but trust me, I heard him say it. More about this in the “Update” below.
My first work of fiction – if you don’t count my legal briefs – was TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, published in 1990. The book, which has sold well more than two million copies, introduced Jake Lassiter, who early on admitted, “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”
A dozen more Jake Lassiter novels followed, including the ingeniously titled LASSITER, in which our hero hides a shameful secret from his past, LAST CHANCE LASSITER, a prequel that reveals how getting fired from his first job as a lawyer shaped the man, and now BUM DEAL, in which Lassiter confronts his own mortality. All thirteen titles are available free to Kindle Unlimitedmembers.
In BUM LUCK (2017), Lassiter began showing symptoms consistent with a “precursor” to deadly CTE. I wrote about the issue in the blog item, “Why Does Jake Lassiter Want to Kill His Own Client?” Now, in BUM DEAL, facing an uncertain future, Jake undergoes experimental treatments for CTE, just as he makes a major change in his life, switching sides in the courtroom and prosecuting a surgeon accused of killing his wife. It’s a nearly impossible case with no forensic evidence, no witness, and no body. Complicating matters are Jake’s best friends-turned-antagonists, lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, who defend the surgeon.
Drained of his mental edge just when he needs it most, my old courtroom warrior faces the possibility of losing the case and incurring even greater brain damage when he should be seeking treatment.
So…does Jake Lassiter win or lose the trial? And what’s his condition in when the jury returns its verdict? Hey, don’t ask! I’m keeping my trap shut, relying on attorney-client privilege, the Fifth Amendment, and my desire for you to enjoy the tale. But I will say this. It’s not Lassiter’s final chapter.
UPDATE: Jake Lassiter returns to tackle the true-to-life college admissions scandal in CHEATER’S GAME (2020). I’ll have more to say about that book soon.
“Any book with Jake Lassiter is a drop-everything, read-it-now for me – and this one has Solomon & Lord, too. BUM DEAL is fantastic.” – Lee Child, #1 Bestselling Author of the “Jack Reacher” series
“’Bum Deal’ is the real deal. Jake Lassiter at his smart-talking, fast-thinking best. A funny, compelling and canny courtroom thriller, seasoned with a little melancholy and a lot of inside knowledge.” — Scott Turow, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Fascinating, fully developed characters and smart, well-paced dialogue keep the pages turning. Levine manipulates the expectations of the reader as skillfully as Jake manipulates the expectations of the jury” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Full to the brim with the humor, courtroom brilliance and subtle pathos that have made Levine’s other novels winners.” – Bookreporter
“A terrific setup, razor-sharp repartee, and enough plot reversal to make your head swim like an afternoon daiquiri, Bum Deal is vintage Paul Levine: entertaining and exceedingly smart.” —Andrew Gross, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Jake Lassiter is up against his greatest challenge—an incurable, brain-wasting disease that threatens to rob him of his brilliant, legal mind when he needs it the most. It’s an astonishing, bittersweet, and daring gamble, but those are the qualities that have always set Levine and Lassiter apart from the pack.” — Lee Goldberg, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Author’s Note: This is the last time I sit down with that belligerent, ungrateful wretch Jake Lassiter who owes his very existence to me. He first appeared To Speak for the Dead in 1990, and now thankfully a dozen books later, I’m bidding him goodbye in Bum Deal, in which he switches sides and prosecutes a murder trial while fighting off symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain disease that afflicts former football players. So, no more banging heads in the courtroom. No more trading punches and badgering me with complaints. Sayonara, pal.
UPDATE, May 11, 2020: Whoops! Lassiter takes on a new case, tackling the college admissions scandal in Cheater’s Game. I told him he wasn’t physically up to it, but did he listen?
Paul: Sit down, Jake, and take a load off.
Jake: You busting my chops about my weight, noodle neck?
Paul: What are you these days, two-fifty, two-fifty-five?
Jake: You’re the one who writes the descriptions, scribbler. I remember in MORTAL SIN, you said I looked like a young Harrison Ford.
Paul: These days, it’s more like an old Ford pickup. I shouldn’t have fed you so many burgers, poured you so many beers.
Jake: I’m as health conscious as the next guy, as long as the next guy is sitting on a bar stool. (“I’m a brew and burger guy in a paté and Chardonnay world.”)
Paul: Maybe if you’d evolved into a modern man, you’d have a longer run.
Jake: Sorry that you can’t find my mug on Instagram. And that I don’t have a life coach, an aroma therapist, or a manicurist. And I sure as hell don’t do Pilates.
Jake: I’ve seen the promos. What’s this, “Jake Lassiter: The Final Chapter?”
Paul: BUM DEAL is the last of the series. That’s all. (Yeah, that’s what I thought at the time! Jake didn’t ask my permission before getting involved in CHEATER’S GAME.)
Jake: That’s all! I got no life outside those pages.
Paul: Time to hang up the briefcase, just like you hung up your cleats.
Jake: I didn’t retire. The Dolphins cut me, and I went to night law school.
Paul: Same deal here. You’ve lost a step in the courtroom. Face it, you’re getting along in years.
Jake: Look who’s talking! When are you moving into the Old Writers’ Home?
Paul: Deal with it, Jake. You’ve got brain damage from all those concussions playing football. Maybe you shouldn’t have run full speed into the goalposts. Or all those helmet-to-helmet tackles back in the day.
Jake: You made me do that, you pulp fiction masochist.
Paul: You lose your train of thought. You’re more ornery than usual.
Jake: Look who’s talking, or did I already say that? So what do you expect, people are gonna buy the first twelve books just to find out what happens to me in the thirteenth?
Paul: Every book in the Lassiter series stands alone. They can be read any order.
Jake: That’s right, the LASSITER SERIES! Not the Levine series. No one gives two hoots about you. It’s me, the hard-charging defense lawyer who’s the star.
Paul: In BUM DEAL, you switch sides and prosecute.
Jake: The hell you say! I’d never do that.
Paul: See, the ink is barely dry, and you’ve already forgotten. You’re appointed to prosecute a surgeon accused of killing his wife. Only one problem, or maybe three. No witness, no evidence, and no body.
Jake: That is a bum deal! You’re setting me up to lose.
Paul: Aren’t you the guy who says, “If your cause is just, no case is impossible.” It applies to the state, too.
Jake: That’s your wordsmithery. I just say the lines you feed me.
Paul: Oh, one more thing. Your pals Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord defend the case.
Paul: The lead characters in Solomon vs. Lord. Your best pals. See what I mean about your thought processes.
Jake: I’m just messing with you, word boy. But, please not Solomon and Lord. I taught those two kids all my tricks.
Paul: Sorry, Jake. You’ll just have to dig deep and try something new. How about sticking to the rules, standing by the facts, and living with the outcome?
Jake: Why do writers always say things in series of three?
Paul: Probably because it’s pleasing to the ear, easy on the brain, and part of hard-wiring.
Jake: Hilarious, pencil pusher. Say, why would I want to prosecute, anyway? My heart is with the little guy, not the behemoth of the state.
Paul: You’re burned out. Too many guilty clients over too many years.
Jake: There’s truth in that. I lose a lot. Or plead my guy guilty. It’s a dirty little secret, but that’s the deal with most criminal defense lawyers. If anyone knew our real winning percentage, they’d cop a quick plea or jump bail.
Paul: You’ve said that before, Jake. In BUM RAP. Remember?
Jake: Not my fault you’ve got so little imagination that I repeat myself, carbon copy boy. BUM RAP. BUM LUCK. BUM DEAL. What’s the next one, BUM BOOK?
Paul: You forget already? No next book. This is it. The end. The final chapter. Finis. No más.
Jake: Jeez, you’re depressing me.
Paul: Maybe this will cheer you up. Dr. Melissa Gold, an esteemed neuropathologist, takes an interest in you, during and after office hours.
Jake: So just as I’m losing my marbles, you’re giving me a lady that lasts? Is that fair?
Paul: That’s life, pal.
Jake: I hope you get carpal tunnel in both arms, smart guy. You got any other happy news?
Paul: Bum Deal opened as the number one bestselling new legal thriller on Amazon with 98% four and five star reviews.
Jake: Sometimes, 2% of the people are right. Tell me, this, you grim storytelling reaper. Is the last scene in the book my funeral?
Paul: Would I do that to you, Jake? Really. Would I?
(Author Interviews Note by Paul Levine: The closest I ever got to Harvard was in 1973 when its law school offered me admission to its LL.M. program. I was just about to graduate from the University of Miami Law School and thought I wanted to be a professor. Oh, that was a long time ago! Anyway, I was a new father and needed a paying job, not more tuition, so I reluctantly said “no thanks.” This week I sat down with Mary Yuhas of The Harvard Square who grilled me with questions, both literary and personal. (Hemingway was unavailable). This is adapted from her article, which appeared February 12, 2014).
Author Interviews: Lawyer-Turned-Novelist Paul Levine
The author of 18 novels, Paul Levine won the John D. MacDonald fiction award and was nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, and James Thurber prizes. A former trial lawyer, he also wrote more than 20 episodes of the CBS military drama “JAG” and co-created the Supreme Court drama “First Monday” starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. The critically acclaimed international bestseller To Speak for the Dead featuring Jake Lassiter was his first novel. Levine is also the author of the Solomon vs. Lord series and the thrillers Illegal, Ballistic, Impact, and Paydirt. His most recent novel is State vs. Lassiter. He is a graduate of Penn State University and the University of Miami Law School. More information on his website.
Author Interviews: The Q & A
H.S.: How did you begin your writing career?
Paul: I blame windsurfing. I was on vacation in Maui and got injured windsurfing off the North Shore. It was hard to walk so for two weeks. I had nothing to do but lie on the beach. I had a pen and a yellow legal pad, which was useful because, at the time, I was a lawyer. I was thinking about a case of mine in which an old man’s busty secretary set up the theft of $2 million in negotiable bonds from his home office. In real life, the story was fairly boring. I got the bonds back; no one went to jail, but I saw possibilities for fiction…involving windsurfing.
H.S.: So you started writing in longhand on a legal pad?
Paul: This was a long time ago. A “laptop” was a dance in a strip club. Anyway, I scribbled one sentence on the legal pad: “The old man loved money, gadgets, and large-breasted women, and at the moment, he had all three.” It’s the first line of fiction I ever wrote unless you count all the legal briefs I filed over the years. The sentence got me started. It opens chapter one of Riptide, one of the Jake Lassiter series.
H.S.: Your novels “often have a sly, sardonic tone,” according to Wikipedia.
Paul: They’re one to talk.
H.S.: Seriously, you often write about murder trials, and yet you often bring humor into play.
Paul: As Jake Lassiter points out, there’s a hilarious sign in every courtroom in Miami: “We Who Labor Here Seek Only Truth.” Then there’s Steve Solomon who makes up his own rules: “When the law doesn’t work…work the law.” Let’s just say that, having tried cases for 17 years, I have a healthy skepticism about what Lassiter terms the “so-called justice system.”
H.S.: If you were starting out today, would you look for an agent or publish via an e-book?
Paul: I would definitely try the traditional approach of a getting an agent and a legacy publisher. Self-publishing a single work without a backlist is very, very difficult. How many ebooks are out there? Five million? Six million? More? How do you get noticed? The optimum way is the old hardcover/paperback deal. Or trade paperback by a recognized publisher.
The Equation: Writing Equals Rejection Squared
H.S. Did you ever have doubts about your writing ability, especially after harsh criticism or literary agent rejections? How did you handle it and what do you suggest to others?
Paul: I am filled with self-doubt! I am always surprised when a story works, or dialogue zings, or a character becomes real. I wrote two books on spec that never sold to publishers. Yes, that hurt. I also now see the weaknesses in those books. I also wrote many spec features that didn’t sell to Hollywood and wrote TV pilots (both hired by the networks and on spec) that didn’t were never made. There should be an equation. Writing equals Rejection Squared. Advice? Handle it! Persevere. Don’t whine. Put your butt in the chair and write!
H.S.: What’s the biggest mistake first time authors often make?
Paul: Impatience, which causes poor writing. With beginning writers, there’s a tendency to think you’re done when you’ve finished with your first or second draft. Unless you are a genius, which I’m not, you’ve just reached second base. To score a run, you’ve got to rewrite and rewrite. Hemingway said, “all good writing is rewriting.” Take his advice. Rewrite and polish.
H.S.: Any other tips for first-time-authors?
Paul: Read good authors in a field you enjoy. But DON’T copy their style. There’s nothing worse than a faux Elmore Leonard. Read books about story structure and writing novels. There are really too many to recommend, but Stephen King’s book On Writing comes to mind. And, of course, write!
H.S.: Is it easier or harder to get into writing today than when you started?
Paul: It’s harder to break into traditional publishing than when I started in the 1980s with Bantam because there are fewer major publishers. There has been some growth in smaller, independent presses, which is good, but the flip side is that the amount of the advance is generally less. But then, there is the new world of self-publishing on the internet with Amazon and its competitors. Nothing wrong with that, but there seems to be a myth that self-publishing ebooks is an easy way to riches and fame. That’s not the case.
H.S.: Author Interviews wants to know: how long does it take you to write a book?
Paul: From idea to concept to research to outline to writing and revisions, it takes me nine months to a year for most of the series books. I already have my protagonist and his world in my head. I don’t need to drive to the courthouse to see what a courtroom looks like. For standalones, such as Illegal, it took closer to a year and 1/2 to two years Part of the book is written from the point of view of a young Mexican woman and part from her 12-year-old son’s POV. I was terrified I could not write in the voice of a 30-year-old female illegal alien. In the end, I believe it turned out well.
H.S.: How did you break into writing TV screenwriting?
Paul: I became friends with fellow Penn State grad Don Bellisario, the creator of “Magnum, P.I.,” “Quantum Leap,” and “JAG,” among others. He enjoyed my books, and I enjoyed his shows. When he wrote the two-hour pilot of “JAG,” he shared it with me. I told him I liked it very much, but did television really want a show about Navy lawyers? (What did I know! The show ran 10 years and about 220 episodes). Anyway, in the third season, Don asked if I wanted to write a script as a free-lancer. I’d written a couple of TV pilots that hadn’t gone anywhere, and I thought I understood the voice of the show and could write those characters, so I did it, and the episode aired pretty much the way I wrote it.
The next year, I freelanced another script for “JAG,” and the year after that, Don asked me to move to Los Angeles and work full-time on the show. Initially, I didn’t want to do it. But I had just written one of those spec novels that didn’t sell. So I took the job, which frankly paid WAY more money that I expected. And the Writers Guild has a helluva health plan and a pension plan, something book authors don’t get. Of course, occasionally you have to stop working and hit the picket lines. I’m a big believer in unions, by the way. Without Hollywood unions, there’d be no royalties, pensions, or health plans.
In my second season on the show, I took an idea to Don for a drama set at the Supreme Court, focusing on the interactions between the justices and the law clerks. (It was loosely based on my Supreme Court thriller, Impact.) Don liked it; Les Moonves at CBS liked it; and it became the short-lived “First Monday.” Don and I co-wrote the pilot, which starred James Garner, Joe Mantegna, and Charles Durning and folded after 13 episodes, with some of the oldest demographics in the history of television. Or as I like to say, we were a hit with the crowd between Medicare and the mortuary.
H.S.: Any Author Interviews tips for writers interested in script writing?
Paul: Read Robert Towne’s script of “Chinatown.” Read “Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting” by Robert McKee. And good luck.
H.S.: Any truth to the rumor that you steered a nuclear submarine?
Paul: One of the perks on “JAG” was that the writers got to hang out with the U.S. Navy, without having to be in actual danger. One day, we flew from a naval base to an aircraft carrier. The landing was pretty cool. Another day, we spent on a Los Angeles class attack submarine. And yes, they let me steer it for about 30 seconds. No international incidents occurred as a result.
H.S.: Finally, thank you for sitting down with Author Interviews. What’s in your future?
Paul: I read a lot of emails from readers. The ones who don’t point out typos are evenly divided between writing a new Lassiter or another in the Solomon vs. Lord series. If anyone out there has an idea, I’m open to it and can always be contacted through my website. And, living in Miami, I am still trying to make the perfect mojito.