Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Interview with Justin Peacock, Edgar Nominee

Within the last week, I've had the chance to interview some of the authors whose books have been nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. David Fuller and Tom Epperson both took time for interviews. Justin Peacock, author of A Cure for Night, is answering questions here today.

Justin, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions, and introduce yourself to my readers, many of them mystery fans. Would you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born in Detroit. After graduating from the University of Michigan, I eventually found my way to New York City, where I have lived for most of my adult life. I did sneak out of the city for law school, but returned after graduation. I had a fairly wide-ranging legal practice prior to my book’s being published, but am currently working full time on my second novel. I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with my wife, a civil rights lawyer. You can learn more about me at www.acurefornight.typepad.com

Your novel, A Cure for Night, has been nominated for the Edgar. Can you summarize the book for us?

A Cure for Night is narrated by a young lawyer, Joel Deveraux, whose white shoe legal career collapses after a drug-related scandal at his law firm. He becomes a public defender in Brooklyn, where he tries to rebuild his life while adjusting to a legal world that operates by very different rules. Joel ends up second chairing the high-profile case of a black pot dealer accused of killing a white college student, working alongside a prickly but vulnerable female attorney.

Justin, I read an article about your love of Brooklyn. How important is the setting in your novel?

The novel is very much intended as a valentine to Brooklyn (to the extent that a book about a murder trial can be such a thing…). Part of the early inspiration for Cure was the idea of writing a New York City novel that took place entirely outside of Manhattan. Brooklyn is a place of incredible diversity, which makes it a perfect setting for a book about the urban criminal justice system. That system brings together disparate elements of the city that would otherwise never meet.

How did you learn about your Edgar nomination? What was your reaction?

My wife told me as soon as I woke up that morning (a friend who works in publishing had alerted her). It was a tremendously exciting way to start the day, especially to be nominated for an award that has so much history and tradition behind it.

Did you always want to be a writer? What pushed you to write your first novel?

I’ve been writing seriously since I was in high school, and wrote countless pages of apprentice work, including an unpublished novel. I wrote Cure while working full time as a lawyer, which made it a very drawn out process. The original kernel of the idea was to write as realistic a courtroom novel as I could, while still having enough drama and intrigue to keep readers turning the pages.

Who would you say influenced you in your writing? Who do you like to read?

I’m an extremely eclectic reader, and I enjoy all sorts of fiction. I’m particularly interested in novels that explore how social forces impact on characters, and in turn how protagonists battle against the imposition of social roles. To me, there’s a direct line between the novels that Dickens and Balzac wrote in 19th century Europe and those that people like Richard Price and Dennis Lehane write today. I’m far more interested in novels that are actively engaged with society (without preaching) than I am in navel-gazing tales of upper-middle-class anomie.

As to influences, there are really too many to count.

I hope you're going to be attending the Edgar Awards ceremony at the end of the month. Who would you like to meet there, and why?

I’m definitely going to be there and am really looking forward to it. It’ll no doubt be a great chance to meet a lot of talented people in the mystery community. While I’m certainly hoping that some of my favorite writers will be there and that I’ll have the chance to meet them, I’m also really looking forward to meeting my fellow nominees in the best first novel category. While it’s certainly exciting to meet those who have inspired you and who have reached the pinnacle of success, I think it’s even better to get acquainted with your peers. Hopefully my fellow nominees and I will be encountering one another at future events for many years to come.

We're almost finished, Justin, but I have one question I always ask. I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

I really fell in love with books during my early teenage years. My local library definitely played a very important role in my literary education – I couldn’t afford to buy many books, and the public library was my primary supplier throughout high school. I have very fond memories of the time I spent in that library, and the many, many books I read from there.
Also, as a first time writer, I’ve been very gratified by the support my book has received from the librarian community.

Thank you, Justin, for taking time to introduce yourself, and A Cure for Night. Good luck with the book, and the Edgar award.

Justin Peacock already said his website is www.acurefornight.typepad.com

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A Cure for Night by Justin Peacock. Bamtam Books, ©2008. ISBN 9780385525800 (hardcover), 336p.


Molly said...

Another wonderful interview, Lesa. I am absolutely fascinated with law (briefly considered going that route after college) and this sounds like a books that I can really get into.

Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention (although I will have to soon get a 2nd job to afford all the books you have recommended that I simply cannot live without!)

Lesa said...

Public library, Molly, public library! I don't want to be the cause of you having to get a 2nd job. I don't mind if I cause your TBR pile to grow, though. (grin)

I hope you get a chance to get Justin's book. It's been fun getting the chance to "meet" these first-time authors.