Required Reading

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An Interview with Margaret McLean, Author of Under Oath, The Riveting Legal Drama

Margaret McLean

An Interview with Margaret McLean, Author of Under Oath, The Riveting Legal Drama

Thank you Ms. McLean for agreeing to be interviewed.   I greatly enjoyed Under Fire, your previous book which I reviewed on this blog.   In a world often grossly overpopulated with legal dramas, real and fictional, your books glow with an understated intensity.   Your characters are memorable and your plots intriguing.   I guess now that I have established or ruined my credibility by admitting I am a fan, I guess I will get to the questions. 

1.) Why did you write this book?  What initiated this particular burst of creativity?

A: Charlestown is a working class Irish neighborhood of Boston, which is only one square mile, but it had the highest unsolved murder rate in the country for decades.  I lived there and would say hello to a man everyday on my way home from work.  I’d see him sitting on his stoop, smoking. One day, I didn’t see him anymore. He was murdered and his murder still remains unsolved.  I witnessed the frustration of the homicide detectives as they dealt with this pervasive code of silence: don’t see anything, don’t hear anything, and never talk to cops.  I became consumed with this street code of justice and why it permeated Charlestown.  The Mothers against Murder group and their determination to end the code of silence also deeply influence my writing.

2.) Does your story line develop organically or is it a gestalt before you begin?

A: I start with an idea for a trial, which has a structure from the opening statements to the verdict.  I weave the story around the trial.  I also create a general outline with character biographies.  As the novel progresses, I use a chapter by chapter working outline.

3.) What is the most difficult part about writing a book?
A: When I’m working on the first draft of a novel, I have to force myself to stop procrastinating and forge ahead.  It’s so easy to focus on anything but writing, especially when I’m busy marketing and promoting the latest novel.  It helps to jot down ideas and sketch the next scene on a legal pad, and then type that into the manuscript.  At the end of a writing day, I stop mid-sentence for it’s easier to pick up where I left off the next morning.  

4.) Do you have a favorite character in the book and if so why?

A: My favorite character is the protagonist, Annie Fitzgerald. She is the prosecutor in charge of the unsolved murder cases; thus, it is incumbent upon her to break the age-old code of silence in Charlestown.  At age eleven, Annie witnessed a tragic event in her family’s bookstore in Charlestown involving her father and the code of silence, which forced the family to close the store and move out.  Years later, Annie comes back to Boston with a personal vendetta to change Charlestown and extinguish the code of silence.  As the trial unfolds against crime boss, Billy Malone, Annie becomes consumed with convicting him, exploits her prosecutorial power, and a lead witness ends up dead.   Annie has to acknowledge her mistake and forge ahead in this impossible case for the government.

5.) What do you like the most about writing?

A: I like creating complex characters who must overcome challenges and make changes in their lives.  I’ve also co-written a play, Under Oath, which features Annie Fitzgerald and Buddy Clancy.  There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing these characters come to life on the stage.  The play is currently in development with the Actors Studio in New York City.

6.)  Where do your new story ideas come from?

A: My stories evolve from a combination of real, controversial legal cases and/or trials.  Characters and dialogue come from my experience trying hundreds of cases as an Assistant District Attorney in a high-crime area.  Lately, ideas are born from interviews and forensic research for my radio show It’s A Crime out in LA.     

7.) What advice has helped the most in your writing?

A: The best advice I’ve received is to spend less time on the first draft.  The process is similar to creating a multi-tiered wedding cake: mix the ingredients, get it baked, and then spend more time on the frosting and decorative details.  It’s important to keep writing everyday with the goal of producing that first manuscript.  The storyline and characters are honed in subsequent drafts.

8.) Do you have something new in the works?

A: I’m working on the first draft of Under Treason, another legal thriller starring defense attorney Sarah Lynch (the protagonist from Under Fire) and her crafty uncle, Buddy Clancy.  A CIA agent stands trial for treason and crimes committed in violation of the Espionage Act in federal court.   

9.) Who is your favorite author and why?

A: Harper Lee is my favorite author.  She inspired me with To Kill A Mockingbird.  I loved how she incorporated such rich themes and characters into a courtroom drama.

10.) What advice would you give for the want to be writer?

A: Participate weekly in an experienced writer’s group and join organizations such as Mystery Writers of America.  It’s so important to have a support group.  Writing a novel can be lonely and daunting.  I’d also suggest attending writers conferences for they are a great venue to hone writing skills and to meet other authors, agents, and editors.  

Thank you for answering my questions and I know I look forward to your next book.  

This book may have been received free of charge from a publisher or a publicist. That will NEVER have a bearing on my recommendations.

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