Paul with Elmore Leonard
A former trial lawyer, Paul Levine is the award-winning author of the "Jake Lassiter" thrillers. To Speak for the Dead, the first of the series, was named one of the top ten crime novels of 1990 by the Los Angeles Times and was adapted into an NBC World Premiere movie.
Levine is also the author of Solomon vs. Lord (nominated for the Macavity), The Deep Blue Alibi (nominated for an Edgar and the James Thurber humor prize), and Kill All the Lawyers (a finalist for the International Thriller Writers award). He also won the John D. MacDonald Florida Fiction Prize for the Lassiter series.
A linebacker-turned-lawyer, Lassiter is a tough guy with a tender heart, a guy with "old friends, old habits, and old values." Or, as Jake says:
"I don't drink fizzy water from France or booze in fluorescent colors. I don't have a life coach or an aroma therapist, and I'm not into tweeting, sexting, or spinning. I'm polite to cashiers and bartenders and the paperboy — okay, the illegal alien in the Ford pickup — who tosses the Herald into my bougainvillea each morning. I still help little old ladies cross the street, and sometimes, tall, pretty ones, too. In short, I'm a regular guy. A carnivore among vegans, a brew and burger guy in a Chardonnay and paté world."
Levine also wrote two critically acclaimed stand-alone thrillers: Reversal and Illegal. The Supreme Court thriller Reversal was the inspiration for "First Monday," the CBS television drama co-created by Levine and starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna.
Illegal is set in the world of human trafficking and was termed "timely, tumultuous, and in a word, terrific" by the Providence (R.I.) Journal.
Levine also wrote more than 20 episodes of the CBS military drama JAG. His next book will be Lassiter, a Bantam hardcover scheduled for September 2011.
More information at www.paul-levine.com
TSG: How'd you become a writer?
Paul: I was practicing law in Miami and woke up one day to discover I didn't like my cases, my clients, and even my partners. There were some judges I wasn't too fond of, either. At the time, I was an avid windsurfer. On a vacation to Maui, I got injured so I took out a legal pad and started writing my first novel. Somewhere, I still have the pad, smeared with suntan oil and speckled with sand. I didn't know it at the time, but writing the book was my therapy. Instead of seeing a shrink to talk about my mid-life crisis, I created Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer, a tough guy with a tender heart. He could do things I couldn't -- like get in a fistfight with a witness and gladly go to jail for contempt.
TSG: Describe yourself as a writer?
Paul: I'm 6' 2", 180 pounds. Oh, that's not what you mean? I write crime fiction. Often legal thrillers, often with humor. Jake Lassiter is a hard-boiled guy but with a wry edge, a "carnivore among vegans, a brew and burger guy in a Chardonnay and paté world."
He's realistic about lawyers: "They don't call us sharks for our ability to swim."
Lassiter knows how the game is played. “A good lawyer is part con man and part priest, promising riches if you hire him, threatening hell if you don't."
In many ways, he's just a regular guy. "I don’t drink fizzy water from France or booze in fluorescent colors. I don’t carry a Blackberry, a Bluetooth, or a purse, and you won't find my mug on My Space or Facebook. I don’t have a life coach, and I’m not into tweeting, sexting or spinning. In short, I’m not a yuppie, a metrosexual or Generation X, Y, or Z. I have old friends, old habits, and old values. If I had to describe myself in one word, “throwback” comes to mind."
I've written seven Lassiter novels with the eighth due out in September 2011. It is titled, cleverly, "Lassiter." I've also written four "Solomon and Lord" novels, featuring a pair of squabbling lawyers, Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. They've been nominated for an Edgar, a James Thurber humor prize, and the International Thriller Writers award. My border thriller "Illegal," which was published last year in hardcover, will be out in paperback in January. So save some money, and buy it then.
TSG: Your influences?
Paul: Mainly Clase Azul tequila. Sometimes Jack Daniels. Oh, you mean writers? John D. MacDonald. Raymond Chandler. Elmore Leonard. Scott Turow. Outside the genre, Tom Wolfe. As I was beginning to write, I also was influenced by Carl Hiaasen's ability to express a strong, significant theme with humor in "Tourist Season."
TSG: Your first sale?
Paul: "To Speak for the Dead," the first Lassiter novel was sold in 1988 and published in 1990. I was trying a case in Islamorada in the Florida Keys when I got word from my agent. No cell phones in those days. I remember calling from a pay phone outside the courthouse. You could see the Gulf of Mexico from there, and it was just surreal. I'm up to my ass in alligators in a trial, and I'm on the phone with a guy in Manhattan who is about to change my life. Bantam offered a two-book, hard/soft deal. The feeling was indescribable, which for a writer, is tough to admit. I went back into court and said to the judge, "May it please the court: I'm a novelist." I finished the trial and won. True story.
TSG: Your biggest, most memorable thrill as a writer?
Paul: I think the answer to the previous question might do here, as well. One more thing, too. I'm not a big believer in awards to measure a career, though I suppose if you win the "Cy Young," you're a pretty good pitcher. Early on, I was honored with the second John D. MacDonald award for Florida fiction. The first winner was Elmore Leonard, one of my heroes.
TSG: What new books are on the horizon?
Paul: I’m out this week with the e-book edition of “Riptide,” a Jake Lassiter thriller. Here's the setup. A professional windsurfer and his girlfriend rip off Jake’s favorite client for $2 million. Jake chases the pair from Miami to Maui where he gets in way over his head. The woman is beautiful, a modern-day femme fatale who's a great athlete. The windsurfer is stone cold killer.
TSG: So “Riptide” doesn’t take place in the courtroom?
Paul: More like blue skies and turquoise waters, a jungle on Molokai, and a helicopter that flies over an active volcano with three men aboard and returns with only two.