William Styron was “so wildly drunk, it was embarrassing,” says Scott Turow, the man who created the modern legal thriller. Turow shot to fame (and fortune) after publication of his first legal thriller Presumed Innocent (which became a major motion picture starring Harrison Ford).
Turow’s description of acclaimed novelist Styron followed a New York City luncheon where Scott was awarded a Book of the Month writing fellowship. Styron was on stage handing out the awards that day, or at least attempting to. Turow, at the time, had just graduated from college. He went on to teach writing at Stanford and later attend Harvard Law School. At the time, young Turow found the whole scene intimidating. “New York scared the shit out of me in those days.”
Turow later authored a book about his freshman year at Harvard Law School called One L, Harvard’s computer acronym for first-year law students. He says he doesn’t know what Putnam Editor Ned Chase saw in his book, but he’s glad he chose it. Turow’s been receiving royalty checks ever since. For more than three decades One L has become must reading for law students and those considering law school. Chase, a top book editor in his day, was father of comedian Chevy Chase. Before Turow entered Harvard, his agent told Chase about Turow’s idea for the book. Chase wrote up a contract before Turow even entered Harvard. It was Turow’s first published book.
I talked with Scott Turow recently for CrimeReads.com about what it took to get his first novel, Presumed Innocent, published. What it took was years. Click here to read the story. Presumed Innocent is the novel that sparked my interest in writing thrillers. I remember staying up into the wee hours unable to put it down.
When you become as big as Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series, strange stuff happens, he says. In his sixth novel, Echo Burning, he included an attempted assassination. He traveled to Denmark on a book tour just as an assassination attempt on a public official came to light. Child, expecting to be interviewed about his latest novel, was instead asked about the assassination attempt as if he were an expert.
He was candid about it saying he was no expert at all. “I just make things up.”
On another occasion, a member of the Australian Federal Parliament cited Child’s Jack Reacher character during a floor debate in the legislature. You know you’ve arrived when your novel’s protagonist is used in political discourse halfway around the world.
Child’s Jack Reacher series, which has spawned 25 books, is the largest selling thriller series in the genre. Child has sold more than 100 million books. But not any more. He is retiring from writing the franchise and turning the reins over to his younger brother Andrew Grant, also a novelist. For the series, Grant will write under the pen name Andrew Child. The Sentinel, written almost entirely by Andrew Child (with Lee Child’s name still larger than anything else on the cover), was launched this week.
Lee Child says retirement includes buying a new couch to lounge on and do what he loves most. Read books. He will also be busy as executive producer of Amazon’s upcoming Jack Reacher streaming series, which is scheduled to debut in the fall of 2021. Prepare to binge.
I talked with the brothers Grant (Lee Child’s real name is Jim Grant) for a story in The Big Thrill magazine. You can read my story in the upcoming November issue. The Big Thrill is the official magazine of the International Thriller Writers.
BONUS: Ever wonder what goes into designing a book cover? Read my story on the many failed attempts for my novel, Naked Ambition. I learned a lot from this experience. Maybe you will too. It gives you an idea of what goes into the process.
Enjoy this? Please share with a friend. They can sign up for more insider dish here.
Please excuse any typos. The editor, like the author, is in solitary.