An Author on Authenticity, Crime, and Writing What You Know
As a former prosecutor who now works as a defense attorney, Eric Matheny has dealt with both sides of criminal prosecution. As an author of legal/psychological thrillers, he explores the intricacies of crime and the legal system. His new novel, The Victim, was released on August 13th and is available on Amazon. Readers+Writers Journal asked him about his writing process, how his “day job” relates to his writing, and if he has any advice for new writers.
About the Book:
Anton Mackey is a man with everything. At least, he seems to be on the surface. He has a rising career as a private attorney, a lovely wife, a beautiful daughter; he and his family live in an idyllic neighborhood that most people dream about. Sure, there are troubles that plague this family, the same as any other, but all in all things are looking up. Life is good, and the future is better.
Except Anton has a past, too, and something has been looming, bearing down on him from that history, just waiting for the chance to strike. Soon, everything will change, and the life he’s struggled so hard to build will come crashing down around him.
And the worst part of it all: Anton Mackey has no one to blame but himself.
You write crime fiction, and you’re a lawyer. How much of what you write is based on your own experiences in the legal system?
When you are working in a technical genre, I believe that authenticity is key. People want to be entertained but at the same time, they want to learn something about a field that they may not know much about. The legal aspects to the novel – the courtroom scenes, the attorney-client interactions, the behind-the-scenes case prep – is all 100% accurate. However, it is not necessarily based on something that I have done personally. Some of the experiences I portray in the story may be loosely based on some of my own. Certainly some of the interactions Anton, the main character, has with the judge, the prosecutor, and his clients, were at the least inspired by some of the interactions I have had. But by and large, this book is entirely a work of fiction, albeit fiction rooted in technical facts.
Your most recent novel is called “The Victim.” Why that title?
Plain and simple, it works. I like straight to the point titles. I don’t want to be poetic or artsy. I’m a Grisham man, and his titles are right to the point. Usually The followed by something. The focal point of this book is an attorney representing a client who is charged with violently assaulting his wife. That woman is at the center of the story, so she is technically the victim of the assault. But her involvement goes much deeper. In all, the title accurately sums up the book.
What process do you follow when you write?
I get an idea and I let it stick around awhile. I get a thousand ideas every day but most of them are garbage. Like Stephen King says, it’s like sifting bread crumbs through a strainer. The bad ideas will fall through but the good ones will stay. Once I have a persistent idea, I will begin the story. Usually I have no idea where it’s going to go. I’m not much of a plotter and I almost never outline until I’m many chapters in. And by “outline” I mean one or two sentences describing the action in the chapter. Many of the plot twists that occur in The Victim came to me on the fly. Literally as I was typing. The Victim was a book I got particularly wrapped up in. It occupied nearly every second of conscious thought during the six months I spent writing it. When I’m in the thick of things and a story is flowing, I try to hit 2,000 words per day. Now I run a full-time criminal defense practice so my time is limited. If I have a lull during the day I can hit my 2,000 words in one shot. If I’m busy, it might be little bursts here and there. During The Victim, I used my notes app on my smartphone late at night while working out at the gym. I wrote the entire first chapter while on an exercise bike.
Is there a writer you’re most influenced by and why?
John Grisham got me into writing fiction. I read The King of Torts when I was 21 and immediately sat down and started writing my first book the day after I finished it. He is outstanding when it comes to plot. His plots are airtight and they move like a bullet from a gun – straight line, no stopping. He employs simple, plain language, creates strong characters, but most of his emphasis is on the plot. As a legal thriller writer, John Grisham is the standard to which we hold ourselves.
What is one thing that aspiring writers should know but probably don’t?
Have patience. Too many writers just want to get published so they submit work that’s not properly revised, or try to submit work before their craft is at its best. While we can debate whether writers are born or writers are made (I think a bit of both), it is such a competitive and highly-saturated market out there that you cannot afford to submit work that’s not up to standard. Spend time reading, spend even more time writing (even stuff you don’t intend to publish), until your skills are as sharp as can be. You will know when this happens. Remember that scene in Castaway where it’s four years later and a mangy -bearded Tom Hanks seamlessly lobs a spear from like ten feet away and hits a fish? Yeah, it’s kind of like that. When your talent is the literary equivalent of that, then you can submit your work to agents and publishers. And even then, there are no guarantees. You will be rejected. The Victim was rejected about 20 times. The unpublished novel I wrote just a few months before The Victim was rejected by everybody (which is why it is unpublished). Also, if you can’t get a story published, don’t throw it away or delete it. Save it. There’s some good stuff in there. You may find yourself in a situation in a subsequent work where you can recycle the old material. Don’t waste good words. Save everything you write.
About Eric Matheny
Eric Matheny was born in Los Angeles, California and attended Law School at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida. During his third year of law school, he interned for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, where he worked as a prosecutor upon graduation. In 2009, he went into private practice as a criminal defense attorney. He is a solo practitioner representing clients in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Broward County, Florida. He has handled everything from DUI to murder.
In his free time, Eric enjoys writing crime fiction, drawing from his experience working in the legal system. He published his debut novel Home in 2004, which centers around a successful drug dealer catering to the rich in Orange County. His second novel Lockdown, published in 2005, follows a law student trying to prove that an inmate serving a life sentence in one of California’s toughest prisons might actually be innocent. Eric’s latest novel The Victim, is a tense, fast-paced, legal thriller/psychological suspense novel that centers around a young defense attorney whose horrifying misdeed from his college days comes back to haunt him. It was published by Zharmae in August 2015 and is available for sale on Amazon. Eric lives outside of Fort Lauderdale with his wife and two young sons.