Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Conversation with Attorney and Author Charles Rosenberg

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Charles Rosenberg

We are delighted to welcome attorney and author Charles Rosenberg to Omnimystery News today.

Chuck's new legal thriller — also the first in a new series — is Write To Die (Thomas & Mercer; July 2016 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to spend some time with him talking about it.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the lead characters of your new series. And what is it about them that appeals to you as a writer?

Charles Rosenberg
Photo provided courtesy of
Charles Rosenberg

Charles Rosenberg: Write To Die is the start of a new series, called the "To Die" series. The first novel in the series is set in Los Angeles in The Harold Firm, which is a preeminent entertainment law firm based in Century City. It represents big studios and A-list talent and is named for its founder (and still the big cheese in the firm), Hal Harold.

Rory Calburton, the protagonist, is a 40-year old lawyer — a former college football player — who's just made partner at the firm. But he never finished college and went to a non-accredited law school that I made up out of whole cloth — the Chester A. Arthur School of Law. It's north of Los Angeles, up by Magic Mountain, a Six Flags amusement park. The park has nineteen roller coasters, and the students ride them constantly to bleed off tension. So Rory's origins have given him something of a chip on his shoulder and an inferiority complex because everyone else in his firm went to well-known law schools with national reputations. Indeed, it's hinted that he may have gotten hired in the first place because of his father's connections. He's also a by-the-book kind of guy, which has worked well for him.

The other main character — almost a co-protagonist — is Sarah Gold, a whip-smart, thirtyish, new associate who went to Georgetown Law and just finished clerking for the Chief Justice of the United States. On her first day at the firm, she's assigned to help Rory out on a big case. Oil and water certainly get along a lot better. But Sarah has her own down-market side. She worked her way through law school as a private investigator and has a tendency, to Rory's horror, to go off on her own and use her PI skills to help cases out. In Rory's view, she constantly puts the firm at great risk. He tries, without success, to get her fired.

What appeals to me about these characters is the conflict between them in both background and style.

In background, they reflect a real dichotomy that's sometimes out there in the legal profession — between those who went to law school at supposedly great places and work at large, elite firms and those who went to school elsewhere and often work at a different kind of law and often represent different kinds of clients. A lot of legal thrillers are set in one milieu or the other, and I thought it would be fun to put lawyers from those two different worlds in the same law firm and let them go at it, with the added possibility of romance. In the end, there's something each can learn from the other.

I also thought it would be fun to contrast their styles and play off the tensions that causes, both professional and personal. Rory fights hard, but wants to play by he rules. Sarah finds rules constraining and thinks you can benefit clients by going outside them. Like secretly searching a house for the evidence they need!

OMN: How do you expect these characters to develop over the course of a series?

CR: In the first series I wrote (the "Robert Tarza" series) which begins with Death on a High Floor, the three main characters, all of them lawyers, change a lot in the two sequels. They get married, or get divorced, or hook up (not necessarily with one another), change jobs and so forth. This made writing it more interesting for me, and I think it reflects the true state of the world. It seemed to work for a lot of readers, but there was a vocal sub-set who disliked the fact that I'd changed the character(s) they liked best. So with the new "To Die" series, I have to give a little more thought to how I evolve the characters in the sequels. By the way, in Write To Die, the son of one of the characters in Death on a High Floor makes a cameo appearance, and I have plans for him in the future.

OMN: How do you go about finding the right voice for your characters, especially the female leads?

CR: Both the old series and the new series have strong female characters. In Death on a High Floor, Jenna James is a brilliant young lawyer who appears in a lot of scenes and is a key driver of the plot. But we never see the world from her POV because the novel is written in the first person voice of the lead male character, Robert Tarza. The first sequel, Long Knives, is different. Part of it is voiced in the first person by Jenna. When I wrote her in the first person I perhaps naively never thought I was doing something unusual or difficult or controversial, and most readers, to the extent they mention it at all (rarely), appear to think that I wrote what one called "a credible female character." I admit, though, that to this day I'm not quite sure exactly what that means.

Obviously, some people think that male and female characters have vastly different characteristics on the page, and that a male can't write a female and vice-versa. But you know, I'm writing about lawyers, and maybe male and female lawyers aren't all that different in the way they practice law (I can hear the screaming now as some people violently disagree). I've worked with lots of female lawyers and taught lots of female law students. Putting anatomy aside, they don't strike me as profoundly different from male lawyers except in one regard — the average woman lawyer may have a larger range of empathetic emotions to draw upon, particularly in dispute resolution, than the average male lawyer and that may be an advantage. But so far, I've not really tried to explore that particular set of possible differences or what they might mean to success or failure. And, of course, mental-emotional characteristics supposedly more common to one gender than to another are only on average, if they really exist at all. There's lots of overlap.

By the way, I don't mean to suggest that women have had an easy time in the legal profession. They've been majorly discriminated against in law schools, law firms and the courts. And I've seen it personally. My first law firm in Los Angeles, which was widely considered one of the most liberal firms in Los Angeles, both politically and socially (not a stiff-ass place) had NO women lawyers when I got there. And the number of women in my law school class was well below ten percent. It's somewhat better today in many ways, but it still goes on.

I've not explored that gender discrimination in the law in my novels, but maybe I will (perhaps I should!) at some point.

OMN: We called Write To Die a legal thriller. Would you agree with that?

CR: Yes. Of course, they are not thrillers in the sense that if the mystery isn't solved the world will end or New York City will be nuked. They are simply good mysteries with a dead body and courtroom scenes. So in that sense, I think the genre name is a bit misleading. I'm not sure who coined it or where it came from originally. A better name might be "legal drama" or "courtroom drama," and I've seen those used, too.

The legal thriller genre is a little limiting in that readers have clearly come to expect courtroom scenes if the novel is categorized that way. Paris Ransom, the third book in the "Robert Tarza" series, has courtroom scenes, but they are in Paris, where trials are conducted quite differently. Some readers were clearly disappointed with that. Others were not. But given the amount of objection, I probably won't ever do that again. Well, okay, maybe I will. I spent a couple weeks in England last year exploring their legal system (including watching a murder trial in the Old Bailey), and I'm not going to let all of that work go to waste.

OMN: Suppose Rory Calburton were to interview you. What would be his opening question? And what would your answer be?

CR: That's a great question!

I think Rory Calburton's question might be: "Hey, I'm the main protagonist of Write To Die, but I know almost nothing about myself. Like where I grew up, or who my parents are, or how I ended up in California. I'm forty, and I don't even know if I was ever married. Or what my dreams are. When am I going to learn all of that?"

And I'd say, "Get all your friends to buy the new book, and I'll write a few sequels and we can both find out the answers." So yep, that means I don't do a detailed biography of my characters before I write them. I learn about them as I go along.

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Charles Rosenberg is a graduate of Antioch College and the Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He has taught extensively as an adjunct law professor, including at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, the Loyola Law School International LLM Program in Bologna, Italy, the UCLA School of Law, the Pepperdine School of Law, and the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA. Chuck currently practices in the Los Angeles area. He has been a partner in several law firms, including a large international firm. Currently, he is a partner in a three-lawyer firm.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at CharlesRosenbergAuthor.com and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Write To Die by Charles Rosenberg

Write To Die by Charles Rosenberg

A Legal Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)

Hollywood's latest blockbuster is all set to premiere — until a faded superstar claims the script was stolen from her. To defend the studio, in steps the Harold Firm, one of Los Angeles's top entertainment litigation firms and as much a part of the glamorous scene as the studios themselves. As a newly minted partner, it's Rory Calburton's case, and his career, to win or lose.

But the seemingly tame civil trial turns lethal when Rory stumbles upon the strangled body of his client's general counsel. And the ties that bind in Hollywood constrict even tighter when the founder of the Harold Firm is implicated in the murder. Rory is certain the plagiarism and murder cases are somehow connected, and with the help of new associate Sarah Gold — who's just finished clerking for the chief justice — he's determined to get answers. Will finding out who really wrote the script lead them to the mastermind of the real-life murder?

Write To Die by Charles Rosenberg

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