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6 Nov 2012

Indie author interview - Mari Passananti

Another indie author interview. This time it's Mari Passananti with her new novel The K Street Affair.

1) You practised law. I interviewed another lawyer a while ago… Strange that so many lawyers are wanting to write. Why do you think that is?
Law school teaches issue spotting, i.e. finding and answering the right question(s) in a given situation. Most novels, at their core, begin with a question. What if X happened? Or what if A did this?
Also a lot of English majors, and other liberal arts majors who write a lot, end up at law school. In my experience, which isn't of course broad enough to be statistically significant, not all of those students enter law school with a burning desire to practice law. Many of them land  at law school almost by default: maybe they're averse to blood and gore, or hopeless at higher math. Maybe they do want to practice and become disenchanted by the grind. Big firm practice has little to none of the glamour shown on television. Junior lawyers spend years of their lives reviewing documents and recording their research for senior lawyers. At the biggest firms, a decade can pass before an associate enters a courtroom unchaperoned.

2) What do you think about the stigma attached to lawyers? The greedy shark stigma?
Anyone who goes to law school to get stinking rich is a fool.
That said, I suppose we can thank the most successful plaintiffs' lawyers for the greedy shark stereotype. The ones who take out billboards and television spots, demanding to know: "Have you been injured in an accident?" A tenacious personal injury lawyer with good sales and business skills, who is picky about the cases s/he accepts (they work on contingency so they don't want to take likely losers), and has several lower paid attorneys under him or her to churn out the actual legal work, can make a fortune suing medical device companies, insurers, etc.
But those lawyers are outliers.
The finance and business world makes far more million- and billionaires than legal practice.  Top partners at top firms can also do very well, but they're usually no strangers to eighty hour work weeks. It's a treadmill: as a partner in a big firm, you need to bill about 2000 hours a year, but you also need generate new clients, and spend countless hours engaged in care and feeding of existing clients.

3) I’ve never been to Boston. If you were trying to get me to take a holiday there, what would you say to me?
Boston is a very walkable city. It's an old city by American standards, with incredible seafood, fantastic neighborhood restaurants, a storied baseball team, a top flight symphony orchestra, and easy connections to the quintessential New England sea shores of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

4) If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Time travel.

5) You choose female protagonists for both your novels (The Hazards of Hunting while Heartbroken and The K Street Affair). And in both, the character is much stronger than she appears. Can you elaborate on that? Why did you choose to do that? Is it something personal that you have faced?
I write from the female point of view, because I think writing in the voice of the opposite sex would be much harder to pull off convincingly.
I think that a lot of younger women, particularly in male dominated professions, have a tough time dealing with the old boys' club. I count big firm law practice as a male dominated profession, because even though law schools graduate more women than men, the partnership ranks of the biggest firms are still overwhelmingly male.
I've heard male partners wonder out loud, whether it's worth investing training resources in female associates who might opt out to have babies. Workplace harassment may not be common, but it's not rare, either. And there's this pervasive stereotype that an assertive woman is a bitch. An assertive man has balls. Think about that language. It says something about how we perceive go getters in the workplace.
Women get bombarded with social cues to be soft, to be feminine. The messaging starts early (pink is for girls, but not good enough for boys; yet blue is for everyone).
I think both Zoe (THE HAZARDS) and Lena (THE K STREET AFFAIR) conform to those expectations until their circumstances change and they're forced to find their backbones.

6) Is anything in your book based on real life events? Such as the clients from your firm financing the murder of hundreds of civilians.
No. Although I know a handful of people who know disgraced, imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, if that counts.The Abramoff case very loosely inspired the idea of having a fictitious lobbyist (William Acheson) as the power broker between American politicians and corporations and various foreign interests.

7) How do you feel about the ethical side of being a lawyer? If you had a client who you knew, or assumed was guilty, would you still try defend them?
I believe strongly that the our adversarial justice system only works if every accused person has competent, zealous representation. No matter how despicable the charges. If a lawyer cannot bring him/herself to defend a client, that lawyer has an ethical duty to step aside.
The system serves to protect the innocent. Imagine being falsely accused, without the ability to cross examine witnesses, consult with a capable lawyer, present evidence and refute the accuser's evidence.

8) Tell me a little more about the multinational mega-corporations and politians that run the free world. Do you support them and what they do?
Wow. Broad question. I find the inflated role of mega-corporations in government is terrifying. I think Citizens United is the worst U.S. Supreme Court ruling since Dred Scott. Citizens United allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. Yet corporations, large and small, exist for one purpose: to maximize profits for shareholders. (Regardless of whether what's good for the shareholders is good for the general public.) The ruling not only gives corporations too much influence, it reduces the ability of the average citizen to be heard.

9) Do you believe in the various conspiracy theories about secret societies, such as the illumaniti, that are running the world?
 I like a well-crafted conspiracy theory as much as the next person. Surely certain fraternal organizations influence decision-making, but I doubt any are actually running the planet.

Find more information about Mari on her author page http://maripassanantibooks.com/author.php.
You can also find out a little more about her on her blog http://thelittlegrape.blogspot.com.

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  1. Great interview! My step-daughter is just out of law school, no job of course...huge debt. I'm not totally sure it was worth it at this point. If you can't make the big bucks to pay back the borrowing with interest to get the degree, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

  2. Hmmm, that's something I hadn't though of...
    Is the cost of a degree maybe a little too much these days?

  3. All higher ed is very costly, at least here in the U.S. Not an investment to be made without consideration, obviously.

    Law has another wrinkle: the large firms (usually the only viable option for expedient pay down of staggering debt, and the easiest stepping stone to writing one's "ticket" going forward) are very formal, credential conscious employers. That means students with weak grades, as well 99 % of those who graduate from lesser schools, will be shut out of the large "prestige" firms.