Comments on the Gideon Marshall Mystery Series, and especially the forthcoming one: THE WEATHERFORD TRIAL (TWT) (comments given to my Beta readers):
This version of the fourth Gideon Marshall Mystery is now in its sixth or seventh draft, and ready for some Beta reader comments. Although each of these books is written to be a stand-alone mystery, with the second one (THE STITCHER FILE) I started working in enough backstory to accomplish that task. I was determined to make this fourth one a trial, for a number of reasons. First, I simply wanted to see if I could handle a trial in fiction. Second, an arrest, at the end of THE EARTHQUAKE LADY, needed a trial to follow. And finally, I wanted, and needed, to do one in third person, with the narrative extended over a several month period, again as a training exercise. The first three books are written in what I call “first person real time” in the sense that aside from backstory, all of the events take place within a few days, the main character is Gideon Marshall, and he’s narrating the action from his own POV. In a trial, because participants are not allowed access to all the information and witnesses can’t observe courtroom action until they are called to the stand, the third person narrative was necessary.
In preparation for writing this one, I read Robert Traver’s ANATOMY OF A MURDER, much of John Grisham’s A TIME TO KILL, and the introductory pages of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. These three books came up repeatedly when I asked social media contacts about fiction that contained trial scenes. I had also read Grisham’s SYCAMORE ROW and ROGUE LAWYER, both of which had trial scenes. I also spent many days in the Lincoln Hall of Justice watching district court judges and attorneys functioning in their particular roles. Finally, I studied several trial transcripts, including that of Oklahoma City bombing perp Timothy McVeigh. The big question to be answered was: what do these successful writers get by with in terms of demands on a reader? In this book I tried to be somewhere in the ballpark, my estimate of the size of that park being based on those previously published books.
In general, my writing goal is to make a manuscript interesting no matter where one starts. In working through my own edits, I repeatedly open up the stack of paper at random places and ask whether the text is at least somewhat interesting. I also do that with books in the library and in Barnes and Noble, just to see what hard-cover published authors are getting by with. They get by with a lot of crap. In TWT, the main character is the defense attorney, Connecticut “Connie” Bergen, part of the legal team of Stevens Oil, Inc., a global energy enterprise owned by Delmar Stevens, a multi-billionaire. The focus of all these Gideon Marshall mysteries is intellectual property produced by scientists, important because of Stevens’ belief that this work has enormous value and can provide its owner with unimaginable power, assuming that owner also has the tools to implement the ideas. Stevens has the tools and wants the property.
In my opinion, this one still needs some intrigue and the main device I’ve introduced for providing that intrigue is a 3x5 card. After I get comments from readers, I’ll probably need another 500-1000 words scattered throughout to weave that card into the narrative so that the last two pages make sense.
Thanks for taking the time to look at this one!