Marcia Clark is probably best known as a prosecutor in OJ Simpson’s criminal case and with this book, Guilt By Association, Clark gives novel writing a try. In between that case and this book she has worked as a legal analyst, most recently with the Casey Anthony case.
I was skeptical as to whether she could pull off this book and prepared to dislike it. There are times when it is formulaic and I was intiially thinking it was becoming too predictable, but it had some nice twists and ultimately I decided I liked it. Give it a read and let me know what you think of Clark’s book.
Why did you decide to write a novel?
I’ve wanted to write thrillers since I read Nancy Drew as a little kid. Over the years, I think I’ve read thousands of mysteries and thrillers, and with every single book, I’d think about what I would’ve done with the story, the characters, the dialogue. So in a way, I’ve been writing crime fiction in my head for many, many years.
Did you consider having it focus on something other than courts or was the plan from the start to write something based on your knowledge base namely the courts?
I really don’t focus on courtroom work in either Guilt by Association or Guilt by Degrees. I put my lead character Rachel Knight and her best friend, Toni LaCollette, in the Special Trials Unit, where I worked for ten years. That unit was a small group of prosecutors who handled the most complex, high profile cases. Unlike regular prosecutors, Special Trials deputies get the case within a day – or even the same day – the body is found, and they work up the case along with the detectives; so that means they go out and find witnesses, talk to witnesses, collaborate on decisions about the finding and handling of evidence, etc.
That is not the life of the ordinary prosecutor by any means. Most prosecutors have little or no time to go out in the field and interview witnesses or work up the evidence. In fact, they frequently get the case file the day before they have to start picking a jury.
So in these first two books, I wanted to show the unique life of a Special Trials prosecutor. I’m currently at work on the next book, and I’m planning to have much more courtroom action, so it’ll be a more traditional legal thriller.
Many know you just as “that lady who was part of the OJ case.” Can you give the pitch on why they should try out your novel, telling them what the story is about?
I’m able to deliver stories and characters based on my real life experience as a criminal defense attorney and as a prosecutor who worked in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office for fourteen years. I can show the dark and the light of the life of a prosecutor in L.A. in a way outsiders can’t. Being a prosecutor was more than just a job, it was a way of life. It was hard work, but it was also fun – even hilarious at times, and that’s something most people don’t know. And I’ve worked as a defense attorney as well, so I’ve had experience with the defendants and their families too. As a result, I have an unusual breadth of insight to share.
As for Guilt by Association, it’s a murder mystery set in L.A.’s law and order system with a little something for everyone – murder, rape, blackmail, street gangs, pornography, shady power brokers, and a blossoming love story. It starts with Rachel Knight finding out that fellow Special Trials prosecutor, Jake Pahlmeyer, was found dead in a seedy downtown motel room, next to an equally dead teenaged male prostitute.
The leading characters are strong, no b.s. women who don’t take themselves too seriously, so the dialogue has lots of wise-cracking. It’s the kind of fast paced murder mystery/who-dun-it I love diving into.
How would you describe the novel’s protagonist? Some are going to assume it’s based on you so I will let you address that one directly — how is Rachel similar to you and how is she different?
Rachel Knight, as a result of a traumatic childhood, has a need that verges on obsession to seek justice for others, which makes her a risk-taker who’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done, regardless of the cost. Though she’s brilliant, she’s impatient, has a smart mouth, and is headstrong to the point of being insubordinate – traits that frequently put her in the crosshairs of the powers that be.
Some would say the smart mouth part bears resemblance to…well…someone who might be me.
On the personal front, Rachel has a hard time opening up. She’s somewhat guarded and gun-shy about romantic relationships after having sabotaged a seemingly perfect fit for reasons she only belatedly understood. So when we begin Guilt by Association, Rachel is single and unsure of whether she’ll ever be up to trying for a connection with anyone else.
Relationships are difficult for everyone – especially for those whose jobs consume their lives. In that way, Rachel and I are similar. But I’d guess that in that way, Rachel and I are similar to many, many people, right?
In any case, whatever her failings in the romance department, she knows how to make and keep good friends. Her best friends, Toni – also a Special Trials prosecutor, and Bailey Keller – a detective with the famed Robbery Homicide Division, have been with her through thick and thin for a number of years. They remain her closest friends.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I found that my experience as a criminal defense attorney and prosecutor for the past thirty years, and now as an appellate attorney gave me plenty to draw from. Anything else I needed, like the medical aspects of the case, I did on the internet.
Did you read novels other former and current prosecutors have written? Who are some of your favorite writers, both from lawyers and others?
Oh no! The “my favorite authors” question. I always forget to mention so many, I’ve come to dread this one. So I’ll limit my answer to my earliest inspirations: Raymond Chandler, Robert B. Parker, and James Ellroy.
What parts of being a prosecutor do you miss and what do you not miss? Do you still do some legal work beyond legal analysis for television programs?
I’m still actively practicing as a criminal appellate attorney, which gives me the ability to stay current with what’s going on in courtrooms now, how cases are being tried and how they’re turning out.
I understand you’ve been working on this book since 2006 — can you talk about that? Did the story change much or was there a lot of editing?
I’d written three books before this one. In the first book, the prosecutor was a background character – the victims had center stage. An agent told me that wouldn’t work, I had to make the prosecutor the protagonist. So I did that, but after many rewrites, I realized the story didn’t work. I threw it all out and started over. I thought long and hard about who Rachel Knight really was, and who her friends were, then I came up with new stories that gave me more room to stretch out, and by the time I sat down to write, I felt (and hoped!) I was on the right track.
The story in Guilt by Association bears no resemblance to the stories in the earlier books (which are now ashes in a bin somewhere).
I understand you have a two book deal. Can you talk about what the second book will be about?
In the second book, there are two murders committed two years apart – one of a beloved police officer, one of a homeless man. I introduce a new character – a villain, who plays a major role, and will be a recurring character. And I delve more deeply into Rachel’s childhood, the traumatic event that gave rise to many of her current issues as an adult.
What’s the biggest mistaken stereotype about you and about your work?
I’m not sure I know what my stereotype is, but I do know that when people meet me, they’re always surprised that I laugh a lot, that I can be a total goofball. I’d guess that’s because the people who only saw me during the trial saw me in a state of mind that was pretty grim. And I was pretty grim. There wasn’t a whole lot to joke about. But that was only one side of me – and even that side was shown under very unique circumstances.
What do you think the legal dramas, like the Law and Orders?
I thought Law and Order – the original – was the best of them in terms of being accurate. That show gave a fairly realistic sense of how cases get put together and what happens in trial.
Lastly, this is what I call my bonus question: What question were you hoping I’d ask that I didn’t? Here’s your chance to ask and answer it.
Have you lost weight?
No answer needed.