UPDATE: There are two NEW books in the Jake Lassiter Series. In BUM DEAL, while fighting brain damage, Lassiter switches teams and prosecutes a surgeon accused of killing his wife. Only problem: no evidence, no witnesses, and no body. New in 2020, CHEATER’S GAME, in which Lassiter tackles the true-to-life college admissions scandal.
My first Jake Lassiter novel, TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, was steeped in Miami lore, which is to say it dripped with heat, humidity…and murder. I dedicated the book to “the city of Miami, where vultures endlessly circle the courthouse, some on wings, and some in Porsches.”
This irritated many of my Porsche-driving lawyer pals, though they didn’t dispute the metaphorical accuracy of the comparison. Jake Lassiter often sees his brethren as sharks, vultures, or other predators. In a fourteen novels, including two featuring Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, BUM RAP (2015) and BUM LUCK (2017), the linebacker-turned-lawyer cracks wise and busts heads as he seeks “justice or a reasonable facsimile thereof.”
Confession: I borrowed that line from Lee Child, author of the “Jack Reacher” novels, who describes my hero this way: “Moving fast, cracking wise, butting heads, Jake Lassiter is the lawyer we all want on our side – and on the page.”
Readers often post their favorite quotes from the Jake Lassiter novels on GOODREADS. Here are a few, which I happen to like, too.
“I’m a brew and burger guy in a pâté and Chardonnay world. I’m as health conscious as the next guy, as long as the next guy is sitting on a bar stool.” – FALSE DAWN
Another reader favorite from GOODREADS finds Jake Lassiter at his self-deprecating best.
“I’ve been ridiculed by silk-suited lawyers, jailed by ornery judges, and occasionally paid for services rendered. I never intended to be a hero, and I succeeded.” – STATE vs. LASSITER
A wily veteran of the courtroom, Lassiter observes with a critical eye and pronounces judgment with a wry tone:
“Justice requires lawyers who are prepared, witnesses who tell the truth, judges who know the law, and jurors who stay awake.” – FLESH & BONES
“I stood there, 230 pounds of ex-football player, ex-public defender, ex-a-lot-of-things, leaning agains the faded walnut rail of the witness stand, home to a million sweaty palms.” – TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD
“Honest people don’t need to put their hand on a Bible to tell the truth, and dishonest people could swear on their mothers’ lives and still lie.” – BUM RAP
“That’s called extortion, Mr. Lassiter.”
“Actually, it’s called lawyering.” – BUM LUCK
Novelist Paul Levine has some writing tips. Why is “write what you know” bad advice? What does Stephen King say about rewriting? How does Paul find so much humor in court? And why does he pay homage to John D. MacDonald?
Q: Paul, you frequently speak to aspiring authors. Any writing tips you want to share?
A: Read! If you’re still in school, study history and literature and the social sciences. Everyone should read newspaper every day. Not just blogs and social media. And read both fiction and non-fiction.
Q: And when you’re ready to write?
A: Put your butt in the chair and keep it there. Write! Don’t dream about writing. Don’t talk about writing. Just write.
Q: Do you do a lot of re-writing or are you a first draft kind of guy?
A: Someone said all writing is rewriting. I do at least a dozen drafts. Sometimes way more.
Q: Do you recommend any books with writing tips?
A: Stephen King’s “On Writing.” King says your first draft is where you tell yourself the story. Then, when you rewrite, you take out all the junk that doesn’t belong in the story. Good advice.
Q: You write legal thrillers, but your lawyer-protagonists, Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord in one series, Jake Lassiter in another, don’t spend that much time in court. Why is that?
A: Where would you rather be, in a stuffy courtroom, or on a beach in Key West?
Q: Which brings us to “The Deep Blue Alibi.” In the opening scene, a yacht crashes onto a beach, one man has a spear in his chest, the other is a shady real estate developer. Solomon and Lord have a tough murder trial to defend, but they seem to argue as much with each other as with the prosecutor.
A: I used to be a trial lawyer. My wife, Marcia Silvers, is a criminal defense lawyer, and we frequently banter about cases. Hopefully, the scenes I write are as funny as the ones I live.
Q: Is it true that you based “Bum Rap,” your most recent novel, on a criminal case your wife handled?
A: Yes, the Miami Beach bar girls trial. Marcia keeps asking for royalties.
Q: So Solomon and Lord are Paul and Marcia, not Tracy and Hepburn?
A: It’s a classic genre. Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate.” Hammett’s “The Thin Man.” TV’s “Moonlighting.” Two people love each other, but they also love to argue.
Q: Harlan Coben described your books as: “Carl Hiaasen meets John Grisham in the court of last retort.” Fair assessment?
A: I’ve long said Harlan is a genius. Yes, I bring humor to the legal system because I see so much that’s absolutely nutty there.
Q: In “The Deep Blue Alibi,” there’s a chapter at a Florida nudist resort. Is it fair to ask how you researched the scene?
A: Like Tom Cruise, I do my own stunts.
Q: Is the title of the book an homage John D. MacDonald’s “The Deep Blue Good-By?”
A: “Homage?” That’s French for “cheese”, isn’t it?
Q: Now, you’re being facetious.
A: That’s what they pay me for. “The Deep Blue Good-By” was the first of MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. His writing deeply influenced me. You want more writing tips for thrillers? Read JDM’s “The End of the Night.”
Q: You and MacDonald are both Florida writers. Did you ever meet?
A: He passed away four years before my first novel, “To Speak for the Dead,” was published in 1990. But one of my first fan letters was from Maynard MacDonald, John’s son.
Q: Why do the judges in your books all seem a little wacky and the lawyers crooked, or at least somewhat flexible in their ethics?
A: Even though the “Jake Lassiter” series and “Solomon vs. Lord” series 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.
Q: You wrote 20 episodes of the CBS show “JAG.” and co-created the Supreme Court show “First Monday.” Any writing tips when working for television or features?
A: The great difficulty in writing for network television is the time constraint. Forty-three minutes to tell a main story and a B-story. You have to “write tight” and use the visual aspect of the medium.
Q: Any writing tips for those who want to break into Hollywood?
A: Marry a blood relative of Les Moonves or J.J. Abrams.
Q: Lacking that, when aspiring screenwriters sit down at the computer, what should they be writing?
A: Ransom notes, maybe. Look, it’s really hard to break into the business. Some people suggest writing a spec script. Be advised, though, how difficult it is to sell a script. Long ago, Elmore Leonard said, “Writing a script and sending it to Hollywood is like drawing a picture of a car and sending it to Detroit.”
Q: Any final writing tips?
A: Some people say to “write what you know.” But what you know is probably boring. You can always research something new. You can always travel to a new place. My advice is to “write what you love.” Because if you don’t love it, no one else will.
Crime Fiction authors Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman remind me of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. And no, neither Lee nor Joel has a mustache.
Ninety-five years ago, Chaplin and Fairbanks (along with Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith) opened their own studio: United Artists. They’d been working for the big-name studios and thought they could do a better job making movies. They also wanted the creative control that the commercial studios wouldn’t give them.
Brash Books Bursts Onto the Scene
This month, Goldberg and Goldman, both highly successful writers in the crime fiction genre, opened “Brash Books,” a new publisher of ebooks and paperbacks. They are already offering selections from crime fiction stalwarts Bill Crider, Dick Lochte, Dallas Murphy, Barbara Neely, Bob Forward, Tom Kakonis, Noreen Ayres, and others. Here are some of the paperbacks.
The Brash Books tagline is…well, brash: “We Publish the Best Crime Novels in Existence.” Oh, how the ebook revolution has turned the publishing industry upside down. Twenty years ago…make that ten years ago, this would not have been possible. The cost of production and distribution of “dead tree” books would make wanna-be publishers blink.
Crime Fiction Rookies Welcome
While the initial offerings are from established crime fiction writers, Brash is opening the door (or transom?) to unpublished authors, too. Go here to see how to submit your work. Why do I think they’ll be deluged with manuscripts?
Well, there are lots of unpublished authors out there, some of whom are very good. There is also a contingent of formerly published crime fiction writers who can no longer get a contract with a New York publishing house. But as some doors close, others open.
Crime Fiction Back in Print
In my case, the ebook revolution gave second life to many titles that were long out-of-print in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Those books are now alive and well on Amazon. There’s another benefit for the writer, too. By giving re-birth to the first book in a series — in my case, “To Speak for the Dead” (1990) — electronic publication opened the door to fresh NEW ebooks and paperbacks. Again, in my case, the tenth book of the same series, “State vs. Lassiter” (2014).
As for Brash Books, let’s look back at United Artists a moment. It remained independent for nearly 50 years, producing everything from “The Three Musketeers” with Fairbanks in 1921 to “A Hard Day’s Night” with the Beatles in 1964. I’m hoping Brash Books is around for a half century, too.
This question recently appeared on Facebook: “Who’s your favorite character in hard-boiled fiction?”
The answers were smart and reflected knowledge of both classic and post-modern noir crime fiction. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer were among the answers. So, too, of course was Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. How could he not be an icon of hard-boiled mystery books with lines like this from “The Maltese Falcon?”
“When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him.”
More contemporary tough guys like Dave Robicheaux from James Lee Burke’s mystery novels, Matt Scudder from Lawrence Block and Easy Rawlins from Walter Mosley were also on the list. So, too, were Spenser and Travis McGee. I think those two iconic tough guys display a tad too much sentimentality to be considered characters of old-school hard-boiled mystery books, but no one can deny that Robert B. Parker and John D. MacDonald created protagonists who will live forever. The occasional female character also cropped up. Lisbeth Salander, from Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, made an appearance, as did Sara Peretsky’s V.I. Warshawski. Hard-boiled babes, as it were.
“[A] literary genre sharing the setting with crime fiction (especially detective stories). Although deriving from romantic tradition which emphasized the emotions of apprehension, horror and terror, and awe, the hardboiled fiction deviates from the tradition in the detective’s cynical attitude towards those emotions.”
Can Heroes of Hard-Boiled Mystery Books Have Tender Hearts?
One answer on Facebook blindsided me. That was Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer in 10 of my mystery books, including the recently released “State vs. Lassiter.”
Funny thing is, just as with Spenser and Travis McGee, Jake never seemed that hard-boiled to me. Oh, there’s the occasional tough-guy line: “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”
Then he’s occasionally getting punched out, digging up graves, and flirting with disbarment.
But is that enough? I always thought he had a hard bark but a tender heart. To determine whether Jake is hard-boiled or merely cynical, I recently had a not-too-friendly conversation with him:
Paul: You look like you’re still in shape to play for the Miami Dolphins. How do you do it?
Jake: Being fictional helps. By the way, you look like pelican crap.
Paul: You’re just peeved because I got you indicted for murder in the new book.
Jake: I don’t get “peeved.” I get pissed, and when I do, someone gets decked.
Paul: Let me ask you a tough question.
Jake: Take your best shot, scribbler.
Paul: You’ve been called many things. “Shyster.” “Mouthpiece.” “Shark.” But murderer?
Jake: I’m not bad. You just write me that way.
Paul: Okay, in “State vs. Lassiter,” your client’s money goes missing…
Jake: I never stole from a client, bribed a judge, or threatened a witness, and until this bum rap, the only time I was arrested, it was a case of mistaken identity.
Paul: How’s that?
Jake: I didn’t know the guy I hit was a cop.
Paul: Okay, at the start of the book, you’re having an affair with a beautiful woman who also happens to be your banker.
Jake: So sue me. Women think I look like a young Harrison Ford.
Paul: One keystroke, I’ll turn you into an old Henry Ford. You and your lady are having a fancy dinner on Miami Beach. She threatens to turn you in for skimming client funds, and next thing we know, she’s dead…in your hotel suite.
Jake: Is there a question in there, counselor?
Paul: What happened?
Jake: I take the Fifth. Ever heard of it?
Paul: You go on trial for murder.
Jake: Hold your horses. No spoilers!
Paul: “Hold your horses?” What are you, an extra in “Gunsmoke?”
Jake: Sorry if I’m not hip enough for you, scribbler. You won’t find my mug on Facebook. I don’t have a life coach, an aroma therapist, or a yoga instructor, and I don’t do Pilates.
Paul: So you’re not trendy. You’re not a Yuppie.
Jake: I’m a carnivore among vegans, a brew and burger guy in a Chardonnay and paté world.
Paul: You’re a throwback, then?
Jake: If that’s what you call someone with old friends, old habits, and old values.
Paul: Bring us up to date. You first appeared in “To Speak for the Dead” in 1990.
Jake: Yeah, and Hollywood made a TV movie with Gerald McRaney. My ass is better looking than him.
Paul: Who should play you in a movie?
Jake: Easy. The Duke.
Paul: John Wayne? You’re kidding.
Jake: “I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on.” Sort of sums it up, don’t it?
Paul: “State vs. Lassiter” is the tenth in a series of mystery books. But you’re facing life in prison. Is this the end?
Jake: Not entirely up to me, is it scribbler?
Paul: Last question. Do you consider yourself hard-boiled?
Jake: (Reaches across the table and pops Paul with a left jab. Ka-pow!). What do you think?