Welcome to the latest instalment in Crime Watch's ongoing series of quickfire author interviews; 9mm - 9 MurderMystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors. Before we dive into it, thanks again to all of you Crime Watch readers who took the time to place some feedback about the series as a whole. Feel free to place more comments and give more suggestions - I'm always open to hearing who and what the readers of this website want to read about.
After a nice recent run of great female crime writers (Stella Duffy, Faye Kellerman, Alix Bosco, and the magnificent PD James), for the 29th instalment in the 9mm series, Crime Watch is featuring Texan lawyer and courtroom thriller writer Mark Gimenez.
A former partner at a big Dallas firm who now fills his working life with commercial, property and tax law on a project basis (writing novels in between big legal projects), Gimenez, who has been favourably compared to John Grisham, has now written five legal thrillers. His latest, The THE ACCUSED, was published earlier this year, and marks the return of the lawyer-hero from his acclaimed 2005 debut, THE COLOUR OF MONEY.
You can read my NZLawyer feature article on Mark Gimenez here.
But for now, the lawyer and thriller writer from Texas stares down the barrel of 9mm.
The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Mark Gimenez
Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Let’s see, my favourite… I have a lot. One of my favourite authors is Elmore Leonard, but he doesn’t have too many recurring detectives. I would guess my favourite would be Dave Robicheaux, by James Lee Burke. I really like James Lee Burke a lot, and I like his character, I like Dave Robicheaux a lot.
What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. [My debut novel] THE COLOUR OF LAW was essentially an update of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. That book inspired me since I first read it when I was 14 or 15, and I’ve probably read it a dozen times since. I think it’s a great American novel, and I just have never read anything close to that.
I just love that it’s told from the child’s point of view, I just love that. But it was Atticus, and being a single father and raising his children and trying to be a good father, a good man, a good lawyer - all of which by themselves are hard, I’m finding. But to try and do them all, and to take that case. In the book, moreso than in the movie, he did not want it, he really did not want it, so he’s a reluctant hero, and I think that’s the true hero - he was reluctant, but once he took it on, he did it right. I really, just most admirable fictional character ever… he’s who we all want to be I guess, we’re not, but we wish we were like him.
Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I had written several other books. I think THE COLOUR OF LAW was the third book I’d written. I’d written another book, I’m not even sure what it was, and once it got to 1,600 pages I stopped, you know because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. And a big part of that was not outlining it first, just starting writing … from then on I’ve outlined.
Then I did a political thriller that you know I never really was happy with. And actually I was working on THE ABDUCTION, which was called SAVING GRACE at the time, and was working through that one, and again not quite - I felt like I had the story on that one, but I just couldn’t quite put it all together - and then my son came home with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and we always talk about everything at dinner. So we started talking about it, and he said ‘Could that happen today? Could an innocent person go to prison just because he’s black?’
And I remember saying, ‘well, he would if he’s poor’. It’s the same for a poor person of any colour - a black person, a brown person, a white person, a poor person will go to prison and a rich person will go home. That’s… I remember saying ‘the colour of law today is not black and white, it’s green’. And we’ve proved that in Texas, because we’ve so far released 40 people from prison with DNA testing, and we’re undergoing a complete review of all of that. And people have been in prison, 28 years I think was the longest one, completely innocent. Can you imagine that?
But anyway, when I said that, I thought ‘that’s a story’, and so I set SAVING GRACE/THE ABDUCTION aside, and I outlined and wrote THE COLOUR OF LAW is six or seven or eight months, and it all just came out, it was all just there. So all that work I’d done before, wandering around aimlessly and trying to write, it all came out on that one, and I spent six months finding an agent, and two days selling it. It was astounding how fast, you’ve got to be kidding me, we sold it within two days. Submitted it on Wed, sold it on Friday, or something like that, it was astounding.
Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I work out constantly, I play golf. I play golf and tennis with my 11-year-old son, keep up with him, you know he’s an athlete. So he has a baseball tournament this weekend, we played tennis this morning, he’s my athlete, so his older brother is our maths-science-engineering guy, and he’s off at an internship at some engineering company in St Louis this summer. My younger boy is here doing his sports. So between my sport and keeping up with his, that’s what we spend a lot of time doing.
What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
In Galveston [where I grew up], the greatest thing you can do if you go to Galveston, there’s a place called the Moody Gardens, and it’s the most amazing… I don’t know if you’d call it a resort - it started off as a rehabilitation facility and now it’s grown into the most amazing thing. They have these three huge pyramids. And under one pyramid is a living rainforest, I don’t know how many acres it is, under glass, a living rainforest with fish, birds, trees, plants, it’s huge. Another one is an aquarium which you can walk under, around, and through, and there’s every fish imaginable, there’s penguins, and it’s just huge. And the third one is the Discovery Pyramid, it’s a science based pyramid, one time they’ll do space flight, and it’s everything to do with that, so it’s become an educational destination. And they also have you know the four IMAX theatres, and things like that. It’s the most amazing place I’ve ever been, in the United States at least, as far as a man-made thing. It’s fantastic, really amazing. In Galveston.
If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Man, that’d be a boring movie, I tell you. Ah, you know, I’d like to say Seve Ballesteros in his prime, but I was never quite that good. You know my grandfather immigrated from just outside Barcelona, to Galveston in 1890. Man, who would play me? One of my favourite actors is Dennis Quaid - we’re trying to sell one of these books to him, THE PERK, I actually wrote that for him. I think he’s an underrated, terrific actor. My wife certainly wishes I looked like him.
Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
[big pause] Wow, that’s like asking me which of my boys is my favourite, ‘cause they’re all different. Every one of my books is different. I guess if I was really in crunch and had to pick… gol-ly, that’s tough. I want to say THE PERK, because I wanted to be a small-town judge. That was my career plan when I went off to Notre Dame Law School, and go back to Texas Hill Country where I went to college at, and be a small-town judge, but it didn’t work that way; I became a big firm lawyer.
I guess I would say THE ABDUCTION, and the reason is the hero of THE ABDUCTION is an ex Vietnam war hero who’s never adjusted back to real life, and never found his peace, and he’s a grandfather and he’s that sort of thing. And I have heard from so many veterans, both from America but also from Australia, because Australians fought with us in Vietnam, and I’ve heard from a lot of people, and how that war affected people’s lives - the soldiers, their wives, their children, their parents, their brothers and sisters. It you know, it’s amazing, it’s astounding - and just how any war is, but particularly that war, how they were treated back here, they weren’t treated well… I’ve heard from so many people, and I have ongoing email correspondence with them, ever since the book came out. And they were profoundly affected by that war, and I’d read about it, but I didn’t know much about it, and I’d met several Vietnam veterans during my practice, and they could not speak about it, they couldn’t talk about it. As close as I got to some of them, they could not talk about it. So I started reading more about it, and I really wanted to write a story about one of those guys, you know.
I’ve heard from so many of them, one telling me I’ve got it right, which is so great, because I wasn’t there, and it’s always the fear - it’s a real event in life, and you want to make sure you got it right. And then, that the book touched them, and that meant a lot. So I guess in that sense, that would be favourite book, but it’s tough to choose.
What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
You know, I’m not really a type of guy who would go and celebrate. I’m kind of low-key, calm and quiet. So there was no real celebration. But I guess it came home when the books came in, and there were two boxes, one for each of my boys you know, and all of this stuff, so when I’m long gone they can tell their kids that I did something half way decent in my life, you know. So to be able to give THE COLOUR OF LAW to my older boy at the time, and see the look on his face, you know, that Dad’s okay - that was probably the best moment of the whole thing. You always think about the father being proud of the son, but it’s really the reverse - you want your children to be proud of you, and it’s really amazing how much that affects your behaviour and conduct in life and what you do. You’re thinking, geez, will my sons be proud of me? But it looked like he was sort of proud of me that day, so it was a good moment.
What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
There are two kind of interesting things. One is, just in general, how many readers I’ve heard from by email. It honestly just never occurred to me to write an author - I’d read the books, and it never occurred to me to email an author. But it occurs to a lot of people. And I think I’m getting close to 5,000 emails now, from readers all over the world. Lots and lots from New Zealand and Australia, hundreds and hundreds. And all kinds of people - lots of lawyers and judges of course, but all kinds of people. I get this long, long email from the High Commissioner of Refugees at the UN, and he picked up the book at Heathrow for the flight to Geneva, and he wrote me this long story about all kinds of things, and you know, we go back and forth.
The interesting one was from a lady in New York, who never knew me, and her and her friends went out to eat in Chappaqua, New York, and Bill Clinton came down and sat next to them. So they started talking, and started talking about books, and he said ‘Oh, you’ve got to read this guys books, Mark Gimenez’, and he was telling them about my first two books, and was selling them on my books. And he said he couldn’t find THE PERK, so I’ve sent him THE PERK, and heard back from him several times.
Another interesting thing is we have the Texas Book Festival in Austin, which is a pretty big festival, and the authors are brought to the Governor’s Mansion - which somebody torched it a few years back, so this beautiful building burnt down - anyway, we went there and the Governor hosted us there with the first lady, and it was very nice, and my wife and I walked in, and found out that he’d been reading THE COLOUR OF LAW the night before, and his wife had been telling him to turn off the light, and he was like ‘No, I’ve got to finish the book’, so that was a funny coincidence.
Thank you Mark Gimenez. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.
So what do you think of this 9mm interview? Have you read any of Gimenez’s legal thrillers? Do you like courtroom thrillers with plenty of action outside the courthouse? I'd love to read your comments. Please share your thoughts.