Marcia Clark is a former prosecutor for the State of California and is author along with Theresa Carpenter of the best-selling book Without a Doubt. She has provided coverage of high profile trials and had done occasional reporting from the red carpet at awards shows such as the Emmys. She is also a frequent media commentator and columnist on legal issues.
You are, for us here in the UK, best known as the lead Los Angeles County Prosecutor in the O J Simpson case but I am sure that there is more to you than that. Would you like to tell us a bit more about yourself?
Nope, that’s all there is.
I started my career in law as a criminal defense attorney, and then switched to prosecution because I wanted to stand up for the victims. I loved being a prosecutor, especially during my ten years in the Special Trials Unit, which allowed me to work my cases up from the moment the body was found – a very unique thing for prosecutors here. But in general, the fourteen years I spent as a prosecutor before the Simpson case were the happiest, most fulfilling experiences – and the most representative of being a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles. Those are the years that form the basis for my novels.
After the Simpson trial, I gave lectures across the country on domestic violence, women’s issues, the trial – of course, hosted a variety of legal shows on television, frequently appeared as a commentator on cases in the news, hosted my own radio show, wrote for a legal magazine named Justice and for a blog called The Daily Beast, was a legal correspondent for Entertainment Tonight (a syndicated evening show), and then wound up writing scripts for television legal dramas. That ultimately led me to decide to fulfil a childhood dream of writing a novel.
What made you decide to write a crime novel?
I’ve been a devoted fan of mystery/thriller novels since I was a kid. Even when I was a prosecutor, in my free time I’d read mysteries. When I sat down to write a novel, I wanted to write the kind of book I’d like to read – so it had to be a crime novel.
Was it as difficult as you thought it was going to be?
I didn’t really know how difficult or easy it was going to be before I started. I just sat down and did it…and discovered how hard it was in the doing. It’s a lot of work and it requires a willingness to think, re-think, do and re-do until you get it right.
How pleased have you been with the response that Guilt by Association has received?
So pleased! It was wonderful to get all those starred reviews and the fantastic quotes from James Ellroy and David Baldacci.
Is Rachel based on anyone that you know?
Rachel is based on so many women I’ve known, and of course, that includes myself. But no single person in particular. She’s an amalgam of many.
Rachel Knight is an interesting character to follow. She’s very well balanced and though
tough but also quite feminine. Could you talk about her?
Rachel is tough, no question. She’s a survivor of an extremely traumatic childhood that was punctuated by grievous loss at an early age. Those experiences made her guarded and excessively protective of her own privacy and boundaries, but in counterpoint, still desirous of close relationships; a bit of a contradiction there, but isn’t that true of many of us? She’s driven by a need – in part due to her own background – to find justice for crime victims and has little compunction about breaking rules or bucking authority to do what she believes is necessary to succeed in that mission.
Her best friends, Detective Bailey Keller and fellow Special Trials prosecutor Toni LaCollette, are her closest family. The three women share confidences with each other in a way they wouldn’t with anyone else, and are there to support each other through thick and thin.
Rachel’s early romantic life was limited to superficial dating, but after joining the D.A.’s office, she found real love with Daniel Rose, a lawyer who was an expert witness on claims of attorney incompetence. That relationship foundered for reasons related to Rachel’s difficulties with trust and commitment, but they remained friends. In “Guilt by Association,” Rachel embarks on a new love interest with Lieutenant Graden Hales, who is leading the investigation on the central case that involves the murder/suicide of an office mate of Rachel’s and a child prostitute.
What would I find in Rachel’s fridge if I were to take a look?
Russian Standard Platinum vodka, probably a couple of bottles of Chardonnay for friends who prefer white wine, some olives of course, lemons for those who prefer their martinis with a twist, and some nice cheese to go with it all. You’ll notice that this shows Rachel is aware of the importance of a balanced diet that includes all major food groups: starch (potatoes - vodka), dairy (cheese), vegetables (olives) and fruit (grapes).
What makes a character real for you? Must you work everything out about them beforehand or do you just let it flow?
A little of both, I think. I first imagine the character superficially, how she looks, walks, talks, etc. Then I work backward to construct a history for her, such as where she was born, her family, how she lived, and what she liked to do. As I write the book, I play out that history and how it shaped her/him to determine what the character would do in a given situation. Somewhere along the way, I get a feeling for what part of his or her character was nature and what part nurture. I guess you’d say it’s kind of a gestalt process.
Is there anything in the way Guilt by Association was written that you would change?
I haven’t thought so yet, but you never know!
What was your favourite part of the book and what did you most enjoy about the writing?
My most favourite part? The “Acknowledgements”! Laughing.
Seriously, I can’t really say I had a favourite part. I enjoyed seeing how the characters led me along through the story. I’d have an idea of what Rachel or Toni or Bailey might do in a given situation, but then as I actually wrote the passage, I’d find that wasn’t right – almost as though the character was telling me I had it wrong. Note, I said, “almost.” If the character could completely dictate the story, I’d go off to the beach and let him have at it!
How difficult was it when you were writing Guilt by Association to ensure that you did not overwhelm the reader with too much legal and criminal information?
Very important. It’s one thing to lend a feeling of authenticity by showing how the criminal justice system really works, but it’s quite another to bury the reader in legal minutiae that doesn’t move the story or illuminate the characters. I tried to include just enough explanation and detail to “keep it real” and offer some insight without getting boring or pedantic. Hopefully, I succeeded.
You have two simultaneous plots going on in your novel. Firstly the rape of a young girl whose father is a prominent physician and the other he rather brutal murder of Rachel’s friend and prosecutor Jake Pahlmeyer. How did you manage to juggle the two storylines without one overwhelming the other?
I had to develop each storyline and think carefully about how each case would actually be investigated so I wouldn’t skimp on either story. It was a bit challenging at times, and I did have to go back and add to one story or the other as I’d remember things I’d left out.
There are unintentional echoes of the O J Simpson case in the novel did you realise that you had incorporated these into your novel?
No. But I think you could draw parallels between the Simpson trial and practically any case you can think of. All cases involve some version of the same issues we saw in the Simpson case. Issues of bias, race, gender, these are universal in all trials to one degree or another. So while I didn’t set out to incorporate any aspect of the trial in this book, consciously or otherwise, I’m not surprised that others might see such reminiscent themes.
There is in fact a darker side to Guilt by Association. Could you talk about the darker side of this novel and in particular Kit and his background?
Kit was born to a drug-addicted mother who passed him off to the foster care system. Though he eventually wound up with a good foster mother, by the time she got him, he was a prostitute and a feral creature who was too damaged to be reached. The tragedy of children who are abandoned and left to a life on the streets with all its attendant dangers is an underlying issue in the book.
Are you still practising law?
Yes, I’m handling court appointed criminal appeals.
Are there any of your cases that you still think about?
I think about all of them. Simpson was the most famous case, but by no means more important to me than any of the others.
Did you enjoy being a prosecutor?
I loved being a prosecutor. It was a wonderful mission and I got to work with great people. It was because I loved it so much that I decided to write this series based on a prosecutor, which begins with Guilt by Association.
I understand that the second novel is tentatively entitled Guilt by Degrees, are you able to tell us anything about it?
Guilt by Degrees again features Rachel, Toni and Bailey. We learn more about Rachel’s history, the traumatic event in her childhood, and see how it impacts her current life. The crimes at issue are two separate murders and a new villain is introduced.
Are you a reader of crime novels, and do you still find time to read? If so have you got any authors that you prefer to read now?
See above, I’ve always been and still am a devoted fan of crime novels – and I probably always will be. I’m a long time fan of James Ellroy, Robert B. Parker, David Baldacci, James Lee Burke, William Diehl, Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George, P.D. James, and of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Do other books influence your writing and if so what other types of writing are you attracted to?
A big influence on my writing that was not per se a mystery series, was Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. The beautifully drawn, wry, quirky, unique characters, gorgeous imagery, and well written dialogue inspired me to want to write a series rather than stand-alone novels.
How would you describe Guilt by Association to someone who wanted to know what it is about in a few sentences?
Guilty by Association is a murder mystery set in L.A.’s law and order system. It’s got a little something for everyone – murder, rape, blackmail, street gangs, child prostitution and pornography, shady power brokers, and a blossoming love story. The leading characters are strong women who don’t take s@#$t from anyone and never 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.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I can’t remember! Okay, seriously, hiking, yoga, reading, golfing (though I haven’t had any time for it lately and very much doubt that it would help my game much if I did!), walking and playing with the dogs (I have two, a brother and sister I rescued from the animal shelter shortly after birth).
Is there anything that you wish to do that you are yet to find the time to do it?
It would be nice to just have time off to float a bit and do nothing. And to do some travelling just for the fun of it. I actually haven’t even had time to consider this question because I haven’t had more than three days off at a time in about ten years.
Any last words?
I hope you have as much fun reading Guilt by Association as I did writing it!
Mulholland Books published GUILT BY ASSOCIATION in April 2011.
More information on Marcia Clark and her books can be found on her website - http://www.marciaclarkbooks.com/
Mulholland Books is an imprint of Hodder and Stoughton.