|Q&A with Robert Rotstein
'Zine: Corrupt Practices, your first novel, was officially released on June 4. How and when did this story first take shape in your mind?
Rotstein: I conceived of the story idea about four years ago, when I learned that in unrelated arrests, two former work colleagues had been jailed for allegedly stealing from clients. I combined those events with the actual, shocking 1981 suicide of a high-powered Los Angeles entertainment lawyer and began fictionalizing. So Corrupt Practices features Parker Stern, a fast-rising young star in the legal profession whose mentor, Harmon Cherry, kills himself. A devastated Parker begins suffering from stage fright so severe that he can't enter a courtroom. Then an ex-colleague, Rich Baxter, is charged with embezzling millions for a powerful, dangerous cult. Not only does Baxter proclaim his innocence, but he claims that Cherry was murdered.
How does it feel now that Corrupt Practices has become a reality?
On the book's release date, I was walking my dog Fido (his real name), and realized that of the childhood dreams I had-to play centerfielder for the LA Dodgers, to travel into outer space, to write books-the best one came true.
Photo by Glen La Ferman
You and your protagonist Parker Stern share the profession of lawyer. Are there elements of your own personality in his character?
We're both litigators and we both practice some entertainment law, but the similarity ends there. I actually tried to make Parker different from me, because I think novice writers often misstep by writing characters too much like themselves (I know I did in my early attempts). Parker hasn't entered a courtroom since his mentor committed suicide. The tragedy so traumatized him that he experiences severe stage fright every time he walks into a courtroom. Fortunately, I haven't suffered from that affliction. And an important plot point in the novel is Parker's horrific childhood-entirely fictional, fortunately.
Do elements in Corrupt Practices draw from experiences you've had in your career?
As I mentioned, the novel is based loosely on two real-life incidents, though highly fictionalized. I try to portray the legal system dramatically, but also accurately. When I write about a trial, I hope the reader will think, "What an exciting scene-I didn't know that could really happen!"
You work full-time - how did you even find the time to write?
I write early mornings, nights, weekends, on airplane flights, during lunch breaks using my iPad. Fortunately, I write fairly quickly and am a decent typist. The harder question is, when do I find time to sleep?
What about Los Angeles appeals to you as a setting? Any plans for Parker Stern to venture further afield in future books?
LA is, geographically and culturally, an illogical city-accidental sprawl rather than planned verticality. It's also still a relatively new city, its history as a major urban center measured in decades, not centuries. While all cities have a gritty side, LA's grit is less polished than that of cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco. Maybe that's why it's the setting for so many noir novels-and Corrupt Practices has a noir feel. LA also provides fertile ground for the development of a new religion like the Church of the Sanctified Assembly, which promotes materialism and celebrity as part of its tenets. And LA is a good place to hide your past, as a number of characters in the novel seek to do. Finally, the novel derives much of its character by portraying some uniquely Los Angeles subcultures-the movie industry, the porn business, entertainment law firms, and of course, automobile traffic.
I'm working on the second Parker Stern novel, and that does take place in Los Angeles. This is dictated by the plot-a reclusive, iconoclastic video game developer known to the world only as "Poniard" has released an online game that charges a Hollywood tycoon with the 1987 abduction and murder of an actress. Poniard hires Parker to defend him in the tycoon's libel lawsuit. LA is a natural setting because of the "Hollywood" element. But I do have an idea for a third novel, in which Parker ventures to distant cities to solve a decades-old crime.
Parker Stern is fighting a powerful cult in Corrupt Practices - is this based on any one particular organization?
The Church of the Sanctified Assembly is fictional. I once heard a virtuoso jazz guitarist describe how he learned to improvise: he would compose short jazz riffs and then forget them, so when he actually improvised on stage, the notes and chords would get mixed, matched, and transformed. I tried to use the same technique by researching cults throughout history and then in the writing process combining various characteristics of real cults, along with imagination, to come up with the Assembly.
We think that Corrupt Practices is a must to bring to the beach. What are your favorite beach reads?
Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone mysteries. Before I tried my hand at writing, I thought they were great, and now that I'm writing a follow-up novel, I'm in awe of Grafton's ability to portray an evolving protagonist through many different novels, yet have each novel stand alone. Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest, an early example of hard-boiled detective fiction. Legal thrillers by Michael Connelly. Paul Goldstein's Errors and Omissions, an inventive legal thriller involving a copyright case.