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Powell's Q&A

Steve Martini

Describe your latest project.
Some people will do anything to influence the Supreme Court. They will sweet-talk, sway, and seduce. They will beg, borrow, and steal — even lie. But will they kill?

Terry Scarborough is a legal scholar and high-court hanger-on who rubs people the wrong way. He is a provocateur who loves outrageous arguments and the kinds of controversies that make headlines.

When his blockbuster book on the constitutional origins of slavery ignites race riots and demands from black leaders to eliminate once and for all the language of slavery from the Constitution, Scarborough ups the ante. He claims to possess a mysterious piece of historic correspondence — a letter written by one of the nation's founders and said to confirm a dark deal implicating icons of American history in a cynical plot to seal for all time the fate of African slaves in America. When Scarborough is found beaten to death in a hotel room, a young man with connections to hate groups is charged with first-degree murder. It is a case that defense attorney Paul Madriani would gladly pass up, except for one thing: the man charged with the murder is the son of one of his closest and oldest friends.

Madriani, the cagey litigator, suspects something deeper and more veiled behind the murder. Amid the glare of cameras and the jeers of protesters, Madriani digs deep, pursuing evidence, as well as a witness, within the cloistered confines of the United States Supreme Court. This search sears the soul of the nation and threatens to fracture the foundations of the federal government.


  1. Shadow of Power (Paul Madriani Novels)
    $2.50 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "[G]ripping....[T]he mix of racial tension and courtroom drama combines for a suspenseful thriller." Booklist

    "Compelling courtroom scenes, which display a sophisticated knowledge of legal trench warfare..." Publishers Weekly


  2. Double Tap (Paul Madriani Novels)
    $1.50 Used Mass Market add to wishlist
    "The compelling plot builds to a conclusion that should surprise even longtime fans." Publishers Weekly
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
The strangest job I ever had was as special counsel to a program in California for victims of violent crimes. It was strange because I was assigned to sort out government regulations, one of which, under certain interpretations, might have authorized government checks to be paid to a drug dealer when a drug deal went bad and the dealer got himself shot as part of the enterprise. Only government could find itself caught up in that one.

The most interesting job I ever had was as a journalist in Los Angeles covering the courts, local government, and politics. It was my first job out of college. I would recommend journalism to anyone, particularly when you are young, naive, or idealistic (take your pick). Getting up close and personal to politics and politicians is without question the best and fastest cure for idealism. A few stories covering local city and county politics will drive a wooden stake right through the heart of the most ardent idealist. I learned more about the world and how it works in my first 90 days as a journalist than I ever could have in four years at any leading university in the world. Take my word for it: if you want to learn about human nature, drop out of college and become a reporter.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false?
Not all writers, but those who write fiction are no doubt more practiced in the writing of lies than most people. It can be said that the definition of a novelist is "writing lies for a living." This is, after all, what fiction is: something that is made up, a story contrived with skill. A good novelist will either have innate talent or will have developed a keen perception regarding human motivation — what stimulates a person to commit what may be an extreme act of violence, and how to make it believable. If you can't do this, then writing fiction is not your line of work.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
From Moby Dick, the best opening line from any book in American fiction: "Call me Ishmael."

And one of the closing passages of The Great Gatsby:

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I have. I once traveled to Wolf House, the burned-out ruins of the home never lived in but built by Jack London at what is now Jack London Historic State Park in the Valley of the Moon in Sonoma County. The trip was many years ago, long before I wrote my first book. For some reason the memories of that visit have always had some kind of an effect on me, as if to assure me that I can write and to compel me to do so.

Why do you write?
It's less dangerous and pays better than robbing banks.

Who are your favorite characters in history? Have any of them influenced your writing?
Strange as it seems given my attitude toward politicians, two of my favorite historical characters are politicians — Jefferson and Lincoln, one of whom would deny he was a politician (Jefferson), and the other who would readily admit it and aspire to the lofty position it afforded him. These two are my favorites due no doubt to their remarkable ability to use language, and specifically their writing, to convey ideas. Have they influenced my writing? Perhaps, but only in the way that Tiger Woods influences the golfing skills of your average weekend duffer — by encouraging him to keep practicing.

Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
Dogs, definitely dogs! A good dog is the very definition of unconditional and total love. We equate this devotion to their being dumb, but it's not something you are likely to find in another human being.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
For a man who suffered under his own internal demons and was not without considerable flaws, Lincoln comes as close to a political saint as we are likely to see this side of the grave.

Five Great Books on Lincoln and His Life:

With Malice toward None by Stephen B. Oates

Lincoln's Virtues by William Lee Miller

Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills

Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years by Carl Sandburg

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

÷ ÷ ÷

Steve Martini is the author of The Arraignment, The Jury, The Attorney, and other New York Times-bestselling novels featuring attorney Paul Madriani. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.

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