Last month, I was lucky enough to hear Robert Dugoni interview Craig Johnson at the Poisoned Pen. Bob is naturally funny, with a terrific interview style. So, when offered the chance to turn the tables on him, I jumped at the chance. His first legal novel, The Jury Master, was a New York Times bestseller. Three of his four critically acclaimed novels have featured lawyer David Sloane. And, if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, grab it. I'll be going back the next time Bob's at the Poisoned Pen.
Lesa - Thank you, Bob, for taking the time to answer some questions. I know you're the author of four books, but would you tell us about yourself before we discuss them?
Bob - Probably the thing that most defines me is that I am the middle child of ten children. I had a fantastic childhood as a result. The house was always filled and though we were competitive with one another, we were also very close. Being a middle child is probably in part why I’m a writer. My older brothers and sisters are all overachievers and I was looking for a way to stand out, to be different. I was always more into the arts than they were, which led me to writing as early as the seventh grade. It sounds trite, I know, but that’s what I always did. I gave up a not-so-promising athletic career in high school because a teacher noticed my writing ability and asked me to edit the paper and it would become my major at Stanford and my passion. Even after I went to law school, I knew I wanted to write. I started by doing theater throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and the artistic bug returned rather quickly. In 1998, married, with an 18 month old son, my wife and I decided it was time and we moved to the northwest so I could pursue my passion again.
Lesa - Which way should I ask this question? Why law, or why writing? What made you go into either career?
Bob- Law was really a product of the overachieving. With my brothers and sisters getting accolades and attending medical school, professional school became something that needed to be on the resume. I was probably lost a bit at that time in my life. Who isn’t at 22? How do you become a writer? I suppose I could have gone to an MFA program or something, but it just wasn’t part of my surroundings at that time. Knowing I didn’t want to be a doctor because I knew the time commitment it would require would all but wipe out any chance of writing, I chose law school…and of course there isn’t much of a time commitment with that profession now is there?
Lesa - Tell us about your character, David Sloane.
Bob - David is a modern day hero. He has a sense of justice and injustice and a high moral standard. He isn’t perfect. He has his flaws, just like the rest of us, but he is somebody that people can trust to do the right thing. People come to Sloane seeking justice that they don’t believe they can obtain elsewhere and because of his own background, Sloane can never say ‘No.’ In a courtroom he is the best, an attorney with an ability to get juries to decide for him that is almost hypnotic but it is the decisions he makes outside to the courtroom that really define him, particularly in Bodily Harm.
Lesa - Bodily Harm is your latest legal novel. What can you tell us about it, without giving away spoilers?
Bob - I had two goals for this book. I wanted it to move right away, a fast paced book from the opening pages. I also wanted to do something that would shock my readers, let them know that they can never predict what might happen in a David Sloane novel. Based on the emails I’ve received from all over the country, I think I’ve succeeded. As the book opens, Sloane is rushing to court to obtain a verdict in a medical malpractice case against a pediatrician for the death of a six year old boy. Sloane has never felt good about this case, which he took over from another lawyer in the office. Something just never sat well with him. He’s accosted in the lobby of the building by a young man with a file. Sloane has no time to talk but as he crosses the street the young man yells, “The doctor did not kill that boy.” When Sloane asks how the young man could possibly know that, the young man responds, “Because I did.”
Now, before Sloane can seek further answers based on the information in the file he takes with him, the young man disappears and Sloane must seek his answers elsewhere and the answers will come at a very heavy price. How’s that?
Lesa - Very good summary, Bob. Nice way to leave us in suspense! Now, can you tell me was there one person, an author or someone else, who helped you in your writing career?
Bob - I’ve received so much help along the way I’d probably miss someone if I tried to name them all, but the bottom line is I wouldn’t be doing this for a living were it not for my college journalism instructor Sam Goldman, which is why I dedicated this book to him. Sam is a force of nature. He was a newspaper man’s newspaper man. For 50 years he was in the business and even now, at 84, he still does statistics for some of the local sports teams in the Bay Area. He taught me to love words and to love to write. He taught me to always find the positive in every day and to never get too hung up on money or awards but to follow my passion and my heart.
Lesa - What has surprised you about the writing field - publishing, writing, or touring?
Bob - It is a tremendous amount of work! Really, writing a great book isn’t always enough. I know so many terrific writers out there who just haven’t broken out, haven’t hit any big lists yet because fans just haven’t discovered them. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to get your name known, to get people to take a chance and pick up one of your books. At the same time, I’ve learned there is no formula. There is no magic. For some it’s being in the right place at the right time. For some it’s that idea that just catches on. But for most of us it’s a matter of just writing quality books for many years and making new readers one person at a time until you hopefully reach that point of critical mass where word of mouth about the quality of your books takes off.
Lesa - What can you tell us about your next book?
Bob - Nothing. (I’m laughing because I know that sounds selfish, but I refrain from doing it because I’m still working on it and want to keep it fresh.) I can say this…Sloane will have to venture into a criminal courtroom to defend someone he loves and he will do so at a time in his life when he is most vulnerable.
Lesa - Is there something you'd like to tell the readers that I've neglected to ask?
Bob - Just that I keep hearing that reading is dying and electronic media is ruining the publishing world and …. You know what? If you love to read, as I do, there will always be books. And if we want to keep our libraries and our independent book stores alive and flourishing, which is so important to a community, it’s up to us to do it. The answer is to just pick up a book and read, and when you find a book or an author you really like, spread the word and encourage your children to read as well.
Lesa - Thank you for that statement about libraries and independent book stores, since naturally, both are important to me. Now, I get to ask my concluding question, and I know you have quite a story to tell. As you know, I'm a public librarian. Would you tell us a story about libraries and your life?
Bob - As I mentioned, I’m one of ten children. My mother didn’t have the time or the energy to entertain us. So often she would load us into the station wagon and drive us down the hill to the Burlingame Public Library. It’s a grand old stucco building with dark wood trim and it had the old card catalogues and dimmed lighting from overhead chandeliers. It reminds me of the grand room in the Harry Potter movies. On nice days the light would stream through the tall thin windows in the vaulted reading room and there we would all be, sitting quietly with our chosen books, reading -except probably my mother. I don’t have a specific recollection of it, but now I picture her sitting with her eyes closed, resting, enjoying the silence and the peace that only good books can bring.
Lesa - Bob, thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions. I'm sure I'll be seeing you at the Poisoned Pen, and on the bestseller lists in the future.
Robert Dugoni's website is www.robertdugoni.com
Bodily Harm by Robert Dugoni. Simon & Schuster, ©2010. ISBN 9781416592969 (hardcover), 373p.