10 Questions with Robert Rotstein
Thanks so much for having me. The novel features Parker Stern, an LA trial lawyer and once a rising star in the legal profession. Parker hasn’t entered a courtroom since his mentor Harmon Cherry committed suicide.
The tragedy so traumatized Parker that he experiences severe stage fright every time he walks into a courtroom. But then a powerful church, a cult really, charges one of Parker’s former law partners, Rich Baxter, with embezzlement. A terrified Baxter claims that their ex-boss Harmon Cherry didn’t really kill himself at all, but was murdered.
So Parker takes on the case, and at great personal risk, uses the legal system to get to the truth about the death of his mentor. In the course of solving the mystery, Parker must face his fears and confront some long-buried demons in his past.
2. Who is Parker Stern and how did you go about creating their characters?
Parker is a brilliant trial lawyer—a performer, really—who’s lost his identity. His unusual, difficult past has been obliterated because of horrific events that occurred when he was a child, and his second family—his beloved law firm—has suddenly disintegrated in the space of six weeks. His beloved mentor, a father figure, has died. He’s even lost the ability to perform in court. To avenge these losses, he doggedly pursues the truth based on the old adage that it will set him free, even though his experience often seems to prove otherwise.
I forge my characters out of imagination, observation, and (I hope) empathy. I’ll notice interesting behavior in real people and try to imagine what the internal logic for that behavior is. I acted a bit in high school plays, and writing characters feels something like learning a part in a play. As far as Parker Stern goes, he’s purely fictional, but was inspired by lawyers who were incredibly successful at an early age, but then later faced obstacles. And Parker has a characteristic that to a great extent defines him – his stage fright.
3. What kind of research did you do for CORRUPT PRACTICE? How much did your legal background help you craft this work?
Because I’m a practicing attorney, I didn’t have to do much research about the workings of the legal system. However, there’s a subplot in the book that involves a fictional obscenity prosecution involving purely textual material – no images at all. I did quite a bit of research on recent free speech and obscenity law and was surprised to find that a 1970 United States Supreme Court seems to hold that the government can prosecute an individual for criminal obscenity based on text-only stories.
The novel also involves a fictional group called The Church of the Sanctified Assembly, which Parker believes is a cult. I did a significant amount of research about cults, going back to the Nineteenth Century. Finally, there are events in the book that required research on criminal forensics and pathology.
I write early mornings, nights, weekends, on airplane flights, during lunch breaks using my iPad. Fortunately, I write fairly quickly and am a decent typist. The harder question is, when do I find time to sleep?
5. How entertaining is being a lawyer in the entertainment industry?
I’ve had the opportunity to represent some interesting and talented people. But for me, the most interesting part of my practice has been the important legal issues that have arisen as a result of technological developments. I practice copyright law primarily. When I started out, most copyright infringement suits involved big entertainment companies and established writers. With the growth of the Internet and the ability of anyone with a computer to make perfect digital copies of a song, a book, or a movie and distribute them to hundreds of millions of people, everything has changed. For an entertainment/copyright lawyer, it’s like being alive when the printing press was invented.
6. A word of advice for new writers?
First, learn the craft. Like most other endeavors, you have to learn the basics no matter how talented you are. Even Tiger Woods has a swing coach. Read the works of great writers constantly. If feasible, find books or take classes on the craft of writing. The Internet contains a lot of good, cost-free writing advice for fledgling writers.
Second, realize that criticism – from trusted readers – and editing is a part of the writing process. I benefitted from the fact that I started writing after practicing law for many years. Legal writing is a collaborative effort among several lawyers in a firm and usually the client. So, lawyers learn to accept editing as a natural part of the writing process. It’s not necessarily enjoyable to receive notes, but the ability to recognize and embrace the good suggestions will greatly improve the quality of the writing.
7. Why do your write?
I get to be an adult who creates a make-believe world (and no one suggests therapy or meds!).
8. What are your favorite pastimes?
I have a day job as a lawyer, so writing fiction has been my primary outside activity over the past few years. Maybe because I grew up in the shadows of the MGM studios, I’ve always been a movie buff. I’m also a huge sports fan, particularly of baseball. It’s a metaphysical, literary sport, favored by writers like George Will, David Halberstam, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s also the only sport where a single game could in theory last for all eternity, something I find quite mystical. And I play what I call “aerobic golf” – I take so many strokes that I get a cardiovascular workout.
9. What do you like to read and what are you reading at the moment?
I’ll try to alternate a mystery or thriller with a work of so-called “literary fiction” (with the occasional non-fiction book added to the mix). Among my favorite authors are Philip Roth, Haruki Murakami, James M. Cain, Jennifer Egan, Dennis Lehane, and Henning Mankell. At the moment I’m reading Lehane’s Live By Night, which just won the Edgar Award for best mystery.
10. What other book(s) are you working on?
I’m currently working on the next Parker Stern novel. A reclusive, iconoclastic video game developer known to the world only as “Poniard” has released an online game that charges a Hollywood tycoon with the 1987 abduction and murder of an actress. Poniard hires Parker to defend him in the tycoon’s libel lawsuit. When Parker starts investigating the actress’s disappearance, he starts uncovering secrets that very dangerous people want to keep hidden.