Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Conversation with Legal Thriller Writer Hubert Crouch

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Hubert Crouch

We are delighted to welcome author Hubert Crouch to Omnimystery News today.

Hubert's second legal thriller to feature attorney Jace Forman is The Word (Serpentine Books; April 2015 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the chance to catch up with him to talk more about it and the series.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to Jace Forman. What it is about him that appeals to you as a writer?

Hubert Crouch
Photo provided courtesy of
Hubert Crouch

Hubert Crouch: Jace Forman is a trial lawyer in Fort Worth, Texas. He is in his mid-forties, single (he recently lost his wife in a car crash), and has one son, Matt. Contrary to the image many have of trial lawyers, Jace is humble and honest — not the flamboyant, acid-tongued advocate customarily portrayed in print and televisions series/movies. As a result of his humility/honesty, he is highly effective in the courtroom — juries trust him.

Jace is also flawed. His personal life is a mess. He was not faithful to his first wife. His son blames him for his mother's untimely death. These imperfections give readers reason to like him — he is human just like they are.

OMN: How do you expect his character to develop over the course of the series?

HC: The characters are always evolving, learning about themselves, changing as we all do — but there are fundamental characteristics that remain essentially static (e.g. in Jace's instance, his integrity). Relationships evolve as well. Jace works closely with his legal assistant, Darrin McKenzie. In addition, he contracts with a PI, Jackie McLaughlin, to do investigative work. His relationships with Darrin and Jackie evolve and keep the reader guessing as to who might be the best match for him, and why.

OMN: Into which fiction genre would you place your series?

HC: Legal thriller. I hope readers find my books want to be exhilarating page-turners. By design, the chapters are short and end in a way to make the reader want to keep turning the pages. Many of the posted reader reviews state they finished the first book in the series, Cried For No One, in two sittings. I want to keep it that way.

OMN: How would you tweet a summary of The Word?

HC: A fallen soldier, a fanatical crusade, a volatile mix of freedom of speech, women's rights and religion.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

HC: The characters are amalgams of people I have personally come in contact with in my personal or professional life, or whom I have read about in newspapers, Internet articles, or books. In no instance do I attempt to mimic or capture a real person.

OMN: Tell us a little more about your writing process.

HC: I prepare a detailed plot outline (which I revise many times) before writing the first word of the actual novel. I also prepare biographies of all the characters in the book that detail their ages, physical traits, and other personal characteristics. I have found that this type of thorough preparation makes the actual writing go much more smoothly. When I would write court briefs, I used the same methodology.

OMN: Where do you most often find yourself writing?

HC: Writing environment is so important. My wife and I have a mountain retreat in Monteagle, Tennessee — not far from the campus of The University of the South (Sewanee). I write from a screened-in porch looking out over the Pelham Valley several thousand feet below. I often tell my wife there is not a more beautiful, serene, inspiring setting anywhere. There are no annoying distractions (like car engines, leaf blowers, or grass mowers), the only sounds are those coming from the chickadees, hummingbirds, cardinals and wrens, and the occasional pecking of woodpeckers. It is a wonderful place to let your mind roam freely!

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories? Have you come across any particularly challenging topics?

HC: I use multiple sources to fact-check my books. The vast majority of the research occurs during the "outline" phase. My predominant resource is the Internet. I also consult with experts. For example, I contacted a federal judge in Dallas about how she would conduct voir dire (jury selection) in a highly publicized trial. She was kind enough to give me a detailed description of her approach. I also rely on my personal experience. I have been a trial lawyer in Dallas since my graduation from SMU Law in 1976 and have handled countless cases. I don't need to fantasize about what goes on inside a courtroom — I know from actually living it.

The most challenging (and rewarding) topic I researched was The Bible. I had never read The Bible from beginning to end. I did this — very, very slowly and with the assistance of excellent resources: How To Read The Bible by Harvard Professor James L. Kugel and several books by Bart Ehrman, Chair of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. What I learned was enlightening, surprising and, at times, troubling. I urge everyone, believers and non-believers, to undertake this journey.

OMN: How true are you to the settings of your books?

HC: Cried For No One and The Word are both set in Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin, Texas. I take some liberties (e.g. street names) but many of the places (restaurants being a good example) really exist. Many are institutions such as Hut's, the famous hamburger joint in Austin, and Angelo's, the go-to place for barbecue in Fort Worth. I think the Texas setting is very important to my characters. When people think of Texas certain images come to mind: bigness, flashiness, corruption, and far right politics, to a name a few. People like to read about the extraordinary and that's easy to find in Texas. I capitalize on that in my novels.

OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world to research the setting for a book, where would it be?

HC: A rustic get-away in the English Cotswolds. The reasons: my ancestry is English/Scottish, some of the best playwrights and writers penned their works there or nearby, and the surroundings appear serene and inspiring. Seems like a wonderful place to outline/write a novel. Besides, I love The Beatles and have never been to Liverpool or Abbey Road in London (which would be easy side trips).

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

HC: I have loved music since I was old enough to walk. I started with Elvis and, when the British Invasion hit, I became (and still am) an avid Beatles fan. In 7th grade my mother bought me a candy-apple-red 1964 Fender Mustang guitar. I spent hours teaching myself to play and then, while still in junior high, formed a band dubbed "The London Fog." The music bug never waned and I continued to play actively after graduating from law school, forming an all-lawyer band known as "The Live Band" (we didn't have a name for our first gig and, when we saw the invitation boasting "live band," felt that moniker would fit us nicely). We have played at private parties in the Dallas area for over forty years. And, yes, music does play a part in my writing. Interestingly, I recently read Stephen King's Revival and was pleased to learn he also played in a band in high school (his reminisces in this regard played a significant role in the book). I have even penned some songs which can be accessed on my personal website, and/or purchased on iTunes under the band name "Turnstyle." Give "Till I Come Back Around" a listen — you just might like it.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author?

HC: Draft an outline before starting to write. I have found it's much more effective for me to know where I'm ultimately going to end up before starting on the journey. I am sure other authors might disagree, and insist this approach is too confining — rather, you should let your mind wander as you write, let it take you wherever it wants. In a way, it's similar to the argument among songwriters as to whether it's better to write the lyrics first and then the melody, or vice versa. John Lennon and Bob Dylan preferred to write the lyrics first; in contrast, Paul McCartney usually came up with the tune before writing the words — a good illustration is "Yesterday" which Paul sung as "Scrambled Eggs" while working out the melody.

As far as criticism is concerned, the harshest has come from my wife. When I draft an outline or write a chapter, she is the first to read it. Her comments are candid (at times, brutal) but typically right on. My wife is my most loyal fan and harshest critic.

OMN: Tell us how you came up with titles for your books.

HC: Both of my novels have been titled after Beatle songs. The first, Cried For No One, was the inspiration of "For No One" from the Revolver album. The Word came from a song off "Rubber Soul." I chose them as a nod to the strong influence Beatles music has had on me throughout the years, and because the titles worked with the plots. For example, The Word is about, in a significant sense, religious fanaticism, and begs the question: who really knows what The Word is and what it means? People are still killing each other over that one, aren't they?

OMN: How involved were you with the cover designs?

HC: My wife and I were intimately involved in the cover design for both books. The first was a photograph of a "Weeping Angel" from the Oak Lawn cemetery in Metairie, Louisiana. We purchased the photograph at an art gallery in the French Quarter. When we were trying to come up with a cover design, my wife suggested the photograph. I called the gallery owner, Joe Dunn, and asked if I could use it. He told me that he didn't read much and deferred to his wife Pamela. Smartly, she wanted to read the manuscript before agreeing so we emailed it to her. She loved it and gave her consent, provided we gave her husband credit (which we gladly did).

OMN: Suppose your books were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the key roles?

HC: I have been told by a fair number of readers that Cried For No One would make an excellent movie. As a result, I have given some consideration as to who should play Jace (as well as the other characters). Recently, my wife and I watched The Judge starring Robert Downey, Jr. After we finished, we turned to each other and said, "He would be perfect."

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

HC: As a child, I read all of the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift books, and then progressed to the James Bond series, all of which influenced my choice of genre.

OMN: Who are some of your favorite authors to read today?

HC: For entertaining reads, the authors I most frequently turn to are: John Grisham; Greg Iles; Robert Harris; Thomas Cook; Stephen King; and Nelson DeMille. Recently, I reread Deliverance and, for the first time, Winter's Bone. Both books are beautifully written and suspenseful at the same time.

OMN: What do you look for when selecting a book to read?

HC: When searching for an entertaining book to read, I look for a thriller/mystery that is not over 400 pages. I want a page-turner I can finish in two or three sittings. Writers who try to awe the reader with beautiful writing but offer little plot get no interest from me.

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any topic.

HC: My top five movies are (not in any order): Godfather (I & II — I can't decide which is better); Forrest Gump; A Few Good Men; Silence of the Lambs; and Scent of a Woman.

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Hubert Crouch is a practicing trial lawyer in Dallas, Texas. He graduated from Vanderbilt University (B.A. 1973) and then obtained his law degree, Order of the Coif, from the Dedman School of Law, Southern Methodist University (J.D. 1976). Crouch is a founding member and partner of Crouch & Ramey, L.L.P. He and his wife split their time between Dallas, Texas and their mountain retreat in Monteagle, Tennessee.

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

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The Word by Hubert Crouch

The Word by Hubert Crouch

A Jace Forman Legal Thriller

Publisher: Serpentine Books

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

Ezekiel Shaw and his fanatical followers preach a gospel of hate, picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers, and praising God for sending America's soldiers back in body bags. But when they disrupt the funeral of Second Lieutenant Lauren Hanson, a West Point graduate killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, hard-charging Fort Worth trial attorney Jace Forman becomes determined to put an end to their crazed crusade no matter the cost.

As Jace and reporter Leah Rosen battle the odds and the clock in pursuit of justice and truth in the courts, they draw closer to uncovering a shocking conspiracy — and facing sinister forces that will stop at nothing to keep them from revealing the truth.

The Word by Hubert Crouch


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