Novelist Rebecca Forster has made a career out of some simple, direct concepts -- like crisp, proper answers to a rigorous cross-examination.
|Forster & Sons, Inc.|
Sheís melded imagination, love of prose and fascination with the U.S. legal system into a marketable commodity with tough, tense and triumphant legal thrillers that offer courtroom drama rife with the ďhuman factorĒ -- at the wayward-jury hands of which even the smartest lawyer can be done in, the innocent railroaded and the little guy beaten down, or up.
In her world, everyone has something to loose in the end, even if theyíre attempting to gain something else in the meantime. It might be their time, their money. It might be their life. For Forster, law literally is -- her life, that is. Sheís married to a prominent L.A. Superior Court judge, is an tireless advocate for motivating writers of all ages, a speaker and guest on radio and TV and at writerís conferences, womenís symposiums and book festivals, includng repeat appearances at the Los Angeles Times Festival Of Books.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Forster was raised in Southern California. She traveled back to the Midwest to attend Loyola University, Chicago before returning to earn her MBA at Loyola Los Angeles. Her latest series that includes Hostile Witness and Silent Witness are set in Southern Californiaís Hermosa Beach and feature volleyball-playing attorney, Josie Baylor-Bates. Privileged Witness will be released in February 2006.
IN: You write legal thrillers. Do you see yourself, as many do, as the female equivalent to John Grisham or are your respective works of a completely different nature?
RF: My husband started his legal career as a federal prosecutor who specialized in organized crime and terrorism. He became a criminal court judge, moved to civil court and now, for the next three years, will be in an administrative capacity in the courts.
His career -- and especially those of our friends who are female attorneys -- have inspired me. I have seen first hand what it takes to put a case together and the human elements that are necessary to make our legal system work. Self discipline, extraordinary curiosity about law and justice, self sacrifice (especially for prosecutors) and the courage to stand up to a criminal element make lawyers exceptionally fertile ground for a novelist.
I donít think you can write a legal thriller without delving deeply into characterization. In any legal action there is always something to loose. It may be as little as a personís time or as serious as the ultimate loss of life. A lawyer stands between the court and the accused -- there is nothing more dramatic than that.
As for seeing myself as the female equivalent of Grisham. Every writer has a distinct voice so I think of myself as writing within the genre of wonderful authors like Grisham and Turow but parallel rather than equivalent.
IN: As a strong advocate for education and for women looking to make a mid-life career change, what time management advice can you offer to writers? Especially advice for women with children, an existing job and the desire to become a full time writer.
RF: Time is always a problem even when you write full-time. When I started, I had two babies and a full-time job. I carved out a specific hour each evening to write. I didnít worry if the writing was perfect, only that it moved the story forward. If I did five pages I was thrilled. There is no way I could have done this effectively without my families full support, though. That is very important. As my children grew I would put them on the floor with paper and crayons and tell them they could write their books while I wrote mine. Weíd have a quiet hour.
The one thing a writer must not do is to beat herself up if she doesnít write on a schedule. Some people write 10 pages a day. Some write a page a day. Itís all good. Half of my work is done in my head. So if Iím cleaning the house, running errands or taking care of the yard Iím working. I can make creative connections that couldnít be made if I was "pushing" it in front of a computer.
IN:You are an instructor at the Professional Writers Certificate Program at California University Extension Services, CU, Long Beach and you motivate children to become involved in writing. To all ages of writers what is the best advice that you can give about creating characters and stories?
RF:The best advice I have for anyone who writes is to watch everything and everyone. Notice the way peopleís voices sound, the words they speak, the gestures they make. How do they change with the weather? How do they dress? Those are all clues to building a memorable character. Use your words and paint pictures with them. Tell us what you see when you look at the world. Finally, always ask what if." Thatís how stories are made. If you have a story about going to the grocery store itís a little boring if all you buy is milk. But if you ask, "what if someone tried to rob the grocery store while you were buying milk" then youíre on your way to a story.
Iíd also like to urge the new writer to use books they like as "mentor" books. I love it when people use one of my books and analyze it to see how it is crafted. How are characters drawn, how is the suspense peppered throughout the book, what kind of description moves the story forward.
IN: Who have been the most influential people during your writing career?
RF: A high school teacher who told me I wrote well. My dearest friend who dared me to write a book and didnít laugh when I told her I was going to do it. That same friend who still reads everything I write. My husband and two sons who have always been my cheerleaders.
IN: When one of your new books is launched how important is touring, conferences and book signings to help ensure success and book sales?
RF: Truthfully, it is almost impossible for an author to affect sales without the backing of their publisher. Many bookstores donít like to do signings unless its for a big name author because they canít get people to come out. They end up returning inventory.
That being said, I think conferences, books groups, womenís groups, writing groups are all necessary to the success of both an individual book and a career. I am so grateful when people choose one of my books over the hundreds available to them. I love to have the chance to say thank you, to share the knowledge I have of the industry, to be a cheerleader for other people who have stories in their heads. That is the kind of promotion that is successful -- the kind that your heart is in.
I think one of the most effective promotional tools is the mail -- snail and e-mail. I have always answered every letter I ever received. I actually have pen pals Iíve had for over 15 years because they wrote after reading a book. Thatís even more important than touring, I think.
IN: You have been on numerous television and radio shows. What advice can you give new writers on how to handle being interviewed for the first time?
RF: Keep it simple, simple, simple. Thatís my best advice. Dress comfortably. Donít get a new outfit that is out of your element. If you do youíll feel uneasy throughout the entire interview. Remember, youíve already written the book. You know what inspired you, how long it took, what you hope readers take away from it. Have fun. Always smile, tell something funny and keep it simple.
IN: Are there special insights you can pass along from your experiences in dealing with agents, editors, and publishers?
RF: Listen. That is my first, and best, advice. I learned the craft of writing by listening to the professionals. Editors, agents and publishers see hundreds of manuscripts a year. If they are interested in your work, they will do their best to make it saleable. The best education I ever had came from a caring editorís rejection letter or an agentís suggestions. That doesnít mean you canít ask questions, but Iíve seen a lot of authors blow deals because they refuse to give up a subplot or a character quirk.
IN: You have your own, dedicated web site at http://www.rebeccaforster.com How important is it for writers/authors to have a web site presence in this day and age?
RF: I think itís incredibly important to have a website or at least an e-mail address where people can contact you. I feel very strongly about allowing readers to check out my books and a website allows me to open those first pages to them.
IN: With the rapid changes to publishing that have happened since the encroaching predominance of the Internet, ebooks, and self-publishing software, what do you think is best about the book publishing industry? The worst?
RF: The best thing about traditional publishers is that they have experience, sales people, distribution, art departments for great covers. The worst thing is that the wheels move slowly in New York as they try to keep up with the authorís work in all its stages and keep abreast of new marketing techniques.
IN: What are the greatest challenges facing new writers on the path to becoming successful authors?
RF: I think the greatest challenge to new and established authors is the avalanche of books available with e-books, self-published books, the internet not to mention competing media. The poor consumer has so much "clutter" to work through in order to reach the individual author it can seem overwhelming. Sometimes we all feel like weíre drowning. New authors should take it one step at a time and enjoy each one. Donít worry about being a best seller before you have a book deal, donít worry about the cover before the book is written. Each step is exciting. Enjoy them all.
IN: Any advice for writers about the merits or pitfalls of taking writing classes, attending conferences, etc.?
RF: I would like to encourage people to listen very carefully to any instructor (myself included) and be objective during a class. Is the instructor giving you solid reasons for changing your writing, rethinking your story or how to approach the marketplace? No one has the magic bullet. No one can teach you how to write but they can teach you how to craft a story, submit it to publishers, promote your work.
If you take away one, solid piece of information that changes your work, or your work ethic, then the class was a good experience. I love conferences where a writer can actually hear an editor or agent speak; better yet, one where you can make an appointment to pitch your work. Thatís worth every penny of a conference fee!
IN: IN believes in the idea popularized by Catherine Ryan Hyde of "paying it forward" http://www.payitforwardfoundation.org which is based upon the concept of doing a favour for another person without any expectation of being paid back. Would you like to do someone a favour here in this interview space?
RF: Julie Moore and her two partners are the dynamos behind the Young Writer's Conference. Concerned that writing skills were falling by the wayside, the ladies put together a professional conference just for kids. When a school books the Young Writer's Conference the speakers are published authors, screenwriters, newspaper people, poets and more. Each student can choose their own writing track. The Young Writer's Conference gives kids in big and small schools the confidence to write and permission to use their imaginations. Everyone can see what it's about at http://www.youngwritersconference.org
IN: What's next for Rebecca Forster?
RF: Well, Iím just beginning a project thatís a little out of my normal realm. It combines fantasy with legal fiction. Thatís about all I can tell you now. If it works out I think it will be terribly exciting.
Privileged Witness ISBN# 0-451-21777-2 Publisher: Signet
Keeping Counsel ISBN#0821752812 Publisher: Zebra
Hostile Witness ISBN#0-451-1163-4 Publisher:Signet
Silent Witness ISBN#0-451-21424-2 Publisher: Signet
Read Rebecca Forster's excerpt from Privileged Witness.
Diego X. Jesus is a Dominican-born American freelance journalist and associate editor of IN who makes Toronto his home approximately half the time. Otherwise, we don't know where he might be. email Jesus
Mark London is a Toronto based freelance writer and associate editor of IN who has been with the FWO-Int'l from the early years volunteering much of his time in assisting young writers' careers. email Mark: firstname.lastname@example.org