A writer before he was an attorney, Mr. Martini worked as a newspaper reporter in Los Angeles and a capital correspondent at the state house in Sacramento, California. It was while he covered the “Helter Skelter” murder trial, and watched prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi in action, that he became interested in the law.
About Steve Martini
An Interview with Steve Martini
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An honors graduate at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Mr. Martini holds his law degree from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law. He has written widely on the law and politics, having covered both state and federal courts, the state legislature, and the administrations of governors Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown.
In 1974 Mr. Martini entered private law practice with the Sacramento firm of CoBen, Cooper and Zilaff where he represented clients in both civil and criminal matters. In 1976 he joined the staff of the State Bar of California and was selected as one of three representatives of the Bar assigned to appear regularly before the California State Legislature. Mr. Martini has drafted numerous pieces of legislation affecting California’s justice system. Among other items, he was instrumental in crafting ballot arguments for a constitutional overhaul of the state’s Commission on Judicial Appointments and the Commission on Judicial Qualifications, the agencies charged with confirming those nominated to the appellate courts in California and disciplining errant judges.
In 1986 he was appointed by the Governor to serve as Deputy Director of the State Office of Administrators Hearings. He has served as an administrative judge and as a special council on assignment from the Governor’s Office to the California Victims of Violent Crimes Program.
From his first book through his last, Martini has garnered both critical and popular praise for his New York Times bestselling novels. To date, he has authored ten books, The Simeon Chamber, Compelling Evidence, Prime Witness, Undue Influence, The Judge, The List, Critical Mass, The Attorney, The Jury and The Arraignment, as well as numerous news articles and commentary on the law and politics. His novel The Judge was made into an NBC-TV miniseries that starred Chris Noth and aired in May 2001. Mr. Martini lives on the West Coast.
Steve Martini talks about writing, the Internet and his bestseller The List.
Putnam: How did you begin writing?
I actually started writing as a journalist in 1969 for a newspaper in Los Angeles. At the time I was not a lawyer, but had just graduated from the University of California and intended to enter law school. I wanted a couple of years in the real world before plunging back into studies. What started as a brief diversion became an obsession. I found something almost therapeutic about composing at a keyboard. At the time it was an ancient manual typewriter. The news stories I wrote were converted into print for the paper on an old hot lead "Linotype" machine. I became hooked on writing, though at the time I had not ventured into fiction. All of my writing was on a daily deadline and intended for publication in the newspaper. I covered the courts and local government, and in 1970 I was transferred by the newspaper to the State Capital in Sacramento where I became a capital correspondent and ultimately bureau chief covering state government and the courts.
Putnam: Did you intend to become an author, or do you have a specific reason or reasons for writing each book?
For many years I thought about writing fiction, but couldn't seem to find the time to do it. I actually crafted several story lines and started at least one manuscript in the mid 1970's. It was probably a good thing I didn't finish it. I don't think I was ready to write a good novel. You find a great many novelists who seem to launch their careers in their 40's. Every writer is different, but for me, I don't think I had the wealth of experience needed to craft a good story until that time. When I started my first serious manuscript, like everyone else I had hopes of being published, but suffered the same anxieties as every writer at that point -- could I find a publisher or an agent willing to read the manuscript? The reasons I write are both therapeutic and commercial. I enjoy the process of writin, setting thoughts to paper, and my stories generally have a theme. Often times it is the message that the law is not necessarily the best place to go searching for the truth, and that justice is sometimes a stranger in the courtroom. As much as I enjoy the esthetics of writing, I consider myself a commercial author. I write for a living. I try to tell stories that will be appealing to a wide audience in a manner that will both inform, excite and entertain the reader.
Putnam: What authors do you like to read?
Most of my reading is in the field of non-fiction. At present I am reading Thomas Jefferson, a Life, a biography by Willard Sterne Randall. Also on my nightstand is A Civil Affair, by Jonathan Harr.
Putnam: What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
For me it is a mix of good story tellers and great writers. Occasionally, very rarely, you find both in the same writer. In the field of fiction the book I most admire is The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald.
Putnam: What are the details of your writing schedule and the process of writing?
My day is somewhat unstructured, but I usually try to start writing as early as possible. I find that to be most productive. To be successful I usually try to eliminate as many distractions as possible. When I am involved in a manuscript I will usually spend a minimum of four to five hours a day writing. When approaching a deadline I usually work for more extended periods, at times as long as eight or ten hours. I compose at a computer screen and generally rewrite as I go. Each day as I begin I usually go back over the previous day's work, polish and rewrite and then move on. I do not write a complete draft and then revise. When I reach the end of a manuscript it has usually been rewritten anywhere from eight to ten times from start to finish. At that point it should require only a few minor adjustments before sending it off to my publisher. Based on past experience I do not require heavy editing.
Putnam: Explain the plot of your newest book, The List.
One of the best descriptions of The List, and not to give anything away, was published in Booknews from the "Poison Pen" a bookshop in Scottsdale, Arizona. Based on an early advance reader copy, they described it as a story about "Abby, also an attorney/author. She makes a deal with a charismatic wannabe bestseller to pose as her pseudonym (pen name), Gable Cooper... and then finds she has shaken hands with the devil! A bold scheme to outwit the biggest players in publishing and film promises to be a blockbuster."
Abby is a disillusioned writer who has penned several novels all of which have garnered good reviews, and none of which have met with commercial success. She knows that she carries the baggage of a mid-list author. Publishers all want a fresh name and a face to go with it before they will put up big bucks to promote a book. Abby decides to write a commercial thriller in a male voice and uses a male pen name. Then she goes one step further and hires a good looking hunk, a man with dangerous but alluring looks who is himself a frustrated writer. Jack Jermaine, for a cut of the action, agrees to play the role of the author. The scheme to deceive publishers spins out of control with deadly consequences when the book rockets to the top of the national bestsellers list. Alone with the secret of who really wrote the multi-million dollar bestseller, Abby soon finds herself running for her life. The List, as with all of my stories, contains a number of wicked twists.
Putnam: Why did you decide to write a book with a female lead?
I thought it was fair turnabout. If Abby was going to write a book in an male voice, the least I could do was reciprocate. It wasn't easy.
Putnam: Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions or similar events?
I have not done extensive touring on any of my novels to date. I have traveled in California, and on one occasion to Texas and Louisiana. When I have toured I have met with a good number of readers at scheduled autographings and have spoken at a number of these gatherings. I have found it to be a pleasant experience. I try, but am not always able to respond to all fan mail.
Putnam: Do you interact electronically with readers or use the Internet for research?
To date I have not interacted with readers electronically. I have spoken to other authors who have, and on occasion they have found their E-mail being jammed with too many messages to respond. I do use E-mail for business, though I am a relative novice in this regard. I have used the Net for research and find that I learn something new about the Internet each time I do. The problem with surfing the Net for a writer is that it can become addictive. It is like going to the library to do research on a specific issue. Soon you find yourself browsing and reading things that have nothing to do with the project at hand. While it's a mind expanding experience, it may impede progress on your book. The Internet is wonderful as long as I can maintain my focus. My novels tend to involve some research. The trial stories I have written Compelling Evidence, Prime Witness, Undue Influence and The Judge, each relied in large part for their credence upon scientific forensic evidence whether it be ballistics, or the results of an autopsy. I maintain a considerable forensics library for this purpose and try to up-date and add to it regularly. What is on the Internet is wonderful, but I often find that the depth of information is not as detailed as what I might find in a text or detailed reference book. Don't misunderstand, the Net is a very useful tool, but not an end-all. Books continue to dominate as a source of information for me. That may change as more voluminous materials make their way onto the Net and the technology improves. The ability to search for specific items electronically is a wonderful time saver, but I still like to have the necessary books on my shelf.
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