Scott Turow: 2010 National Book Festival

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 08.10.2010

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you.
I-- how many of have been in the seat since 10 o'clock this morning?
[ Laughter ]
>> Not bad.
I recognize several familiar faces from when I was
up here three hours ago introducing the wonderful Olga Grushen.
I have been reading Scott Turow for as long as he has been publishing
and I don't believe I reviewed his first book,
the wonderful nonfiction account, One L, of his first year
at Harvard Law School but I've reviewed many
of this novels invariably with greatest admiration not merely
for their very considerable hours entertainment but for their smarts,
their inherent and essential seriousness,
the gracefulness of their prose style.
Scott is a very useful exemplar
of how so-called popular fiction can cross
into the areas supposedly occupied by literature and achieve durable
and lasting moment of its own.
His new book published 25 years
after his first novel is called Innocent and it is
in effect a sequel to his first novel Presumed Innocent.
Both novels center on the figure of Rusty Sabich
and the various extreme difficulties he manages to get himself
into in the course of practicing the law.
I should just say before stepping off the stage that Scott writes
about the manners of the court house and the law and in
that respect makes me think often
of another superb lawyer turned novelist,
the late Louis Auchincloss.
Very different writers but both of them people who continued
to practice law throughout their writing careers
and to distinguish themselves in both endeavors.

[ Applause ]
>> Before it gets too far away,
I would you to make a brief homage to Jonathan Yardley.
I'm not sure reviewers know this
but writers do review reviewers [laughter]
and when they get together and of course most
of the time, it's bitching.
Most of the time that I, you know, they're sharing their complaints
about how unfair, so and so, was to them.
But, you know, when you get to Yardley, he's generally greeted
with a, well, you know, Yardley is not bad.
[Laughter] And in point effect, he is to me, as far as I am concerned,
the best book reviewer in the United States among the people
who do this [applause] on a regular basis.
[Applause] And my respect
for his reviews continues notwithstanding the fact
that I'm not sure that it's invariably praise
with what you've graded my novels but I remember picking a book
out of a remainder bin in Arlington, Massachusetts in 1976 while I was
in my first year of law school.
And it turned out to be Anne Tyler's The Clock Winder
and I remember reading it because even by then and I think--
Jonathan, you were writing for a paper in South Carolina?
>> The Miami Herald.
>> You were at the Miami Herald.
And even by then I recognized his name and knew that I regarded this
as a person whose opinions about fiction I regarded
as trustworthy and sound.
And of course I was pretty snotty young guy at that point having,
you know, just arrived from the Stanford Writing Programs.
So, it is truly an honor to be introduced
by Jonathan Yardley, America's best.
When I first encountered Jonathan this morning, I was in a suit
and tie and 'cause the-- we were at a breakfast
where the attire wear was described as business attire and Jonathan was
in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and I realized if Yardley can appear
in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, there's no reason I can't so.
And after several hours in my suit I went back and changed
but it brought back to mind the fact that I lived in Washington
for a summer in 1970 and at that point, I had just finished college.
I had always wanted to be a writer of fiction and I had started
to publish some short fiction and I sent at his invitation a collection
of my stories to an editor at the Viking Press.
And I actually went in to meet him and of course for somebody
who long dreamed of being a published author,
this was a very auspicious occasion and this was in the days
of the 3 martini launches and it was clear to me once I got
into this man's office that he definitely had the 3 martinis.
And-- but he asked me what were you gonna do for the summer?
And I told him, "Well, I'm going to move to Washington and I worked
as it happens in the General Services Administration,
in the press office there," and he looked at me and went,
"Washington, city on a swamp."
And of course once I got down here and found that, you know,
it was hot but, you know, not quite as unbearable as he thought.
I realized this was the, you know, inevitable--
inevitable propensity of New Yorkers to always believe
that life is worse elsewhere.
In point of fact, there's probably no place
in the world hotter than Manhattan.
Once those buildings and streets, all that concrete and, you know,
and brick and steel heats up, you know, it's like--
it's really like walking around in a [inaudible] but anyway.
Innocent, the book I am here to talk about which was published
in May is the book that I said I would never write and, you know,
Presumed Innocent was like a lightning strike for me.
It-- I had spent many years as I recount.
In 1970, I was somebody who wanted to be a published author of fiction
and by the time 1986 rolled around,
I still never published a novel despite many, many attempts
and then all of the sudden, you know, this book came
out of it was bought by the movies, a number of publishers
as it happened that chased after the manuscript and the book, you know,
seemed to justify everybody's faith and it performed wonderfully both
in the United States and around the world and at that point,
the clamor began for a sequel to Presumed Innocent.
And I swore in response to that that, you know,
I was never gonna do that.
I would never write a sequel to Presumed Innocent and I had a couple
of reasons for saying that at that point.
One was that I really did not want to try to compete with myself.
In its own small way, in its own small place and time,
Presumed Innocent was kind of a path breaking book in the sense
that it wrote about-- it talked about lawyers
in a slightly different fashion than they've been talked
about in fiction before and, you know, you can't step
in the same stream twice and whatever was inventive
about that book couldn't be invented a second time.
So I knew that the inevitable comparisons would damn whatever
came next.
And more important to me was that I really did not want to box myself
in as an author and I know that-- I knew that if I wrote another novel
about Rusty Sabich and Rusty Sabich's voice that, you know,
I would be a sort of tieing myself to that for all eternity and that
if I was going to try to do other things as a writer and as a novelist
that I had to start doing them then.
And so, you know, I've written a number of novels now.
All of them sat in the milieu of the law but, you know, otherwise,
you know, different in their approach.
Even though they're all set in, you know, my fictional Kindle County
in the books and the whole orient part and the last of those books
which was basically historical novel called Ordinary Heroes set during
World War II came out in 2005.
And this was a book that drew itself from stories of my father.
Some of them true, some of them untrue.
But it had ended up being an immensely personal book
and when I finished it, I found myself somewhat stuck and I began
in that mood for reasons
that I couldn't really understand thinking more
and more often about Rusty Sabich.
>> While I was on book tour for Ordinary Heroes,
I wrote down a story idea and I do this from time to time.
I have a file on my computer which is, you know,
very ceremoniously titled story ideas and I-- but I had this--
just this one-liner that came to me and--
then the one-liner was a man is sitting on a bed
in which the dead body of a woman lies.
And I don't exactly know where this image came from it was sort
of a dream, a dreamscape of some kind.
There is a painting by Edward Hopper called an Education in Philosophy
where a man is indeed sitting on a bed
with a somewhat bereft expression and behind him is the figure
of a sleeping woman and there's certainly
in whatever way the painting suggest that this is post coital
and so she's clearly not dead.
But somehow my imagination transformed it in that way.
So I wrote down this one-liner on a Post-it note and I went off
on my book tour for Ordinary Heroes.
I came back and as I said I was kind of stuck
about what I was gonna do next and Rusty Sabich
for whatever reason impart probably
because I'd always made him forbidden fruit in a way
and that was the one thing I was never gonna do.
I began to think about him again.
And at that point, I was contacted by the New York Times
and The Times then and for several years
to follow had begun publishing serialized fiction
in the Sunday Magazine.
It ultimately proved I guess to be an unsuccessful experiment
which was unfortunate because it was the revival of a practice
that it certainly worked well in other centuries and even today
in other parts of the world.
But they wanted me to write one of these serialized novellas
and I had always had an idea about a judge who could not make up his mind
about a case and oddly that sort of fired my thoughts about Rusty Sabich
when I told The Times, "Well, I think I've got an idea for something
that will fit your parameters."
And because I have always kept track of my characters, as I said,
the novels are interrelated.
They're all set in Kindle County.
Characters tend to move from the background to the foreground
and although there are mountains of material
that hit the cutting room floor, you know,
I tend to develop the back stories not only of characters
in the book I'm writing but sometimes in the character on the--
of the characters who have appeared before.
And for example, Rusty Sabich had appeared
in the first draft of the Burden of Proof.
Sandy's-- Burden of Proof is about Rusty's defense lawyer
and Presumed Innocent's Sandy Stern.
And Sandy Stern has lost his wife at the beginning of the novel
and remarries at the end and the judge
who performed the wedding ceremony at the end of the Burden of Proof
in the first draft turns out to be Judge Rusty Sabich who has gone
on the bench after his time as the acting prosecutor in Kindle County.
And my editor and my then publisher Raj Strauss [phonetic]
who ironically I just bumped into on the street in front
of a hotel in which I'm staying.
Raj looked at me and says, this is too Jane Austen.
You can't do that.
And so it was cut but I knew Rusty Sabich was on the bench and then
in the course of writing Personal Injuries,
many years later there was discussion and wonder
about the Appellate Court.
I knew that Rusty Sabich was the Chief Judge of the Appellate Court.
And I called up my agent, Gail Hochman, and I was just
in the early stages of noodling around about this novella and I said
to Gail, I said, "You know, I'm not committed to this."
I said, "But what would you think-- what would you think if this judge
who can't decide a case is Rusty Sabich?"
There was this long silence at the end of the phone and she said,
"You've been telling me for 20 years you're not gonna write a novel
about Rusty Sabich again and now you're gonna do this
in a novella that's gonna be published, you know,
serially in the New York Times?"
And, you know, and she was-- she's never been the kind of agent
who would tell me what to do but I said,
"I take it you don't think that's a good idea."
And she really-- her main objection was if you're gonna write
about Rusty Sabich again, it's got to be on a less restricted venue
so that you can write about him with sort of equal dignity
to what you've written before.
And I recognized that that was a good point and I put down the phone
and I looked at the Post-it note.
And I realized that it was Rusty Sabich who was the man
who was sitting on the bed.
And if that was the case,
then of course the most important decision was well then
who is the woman?
And it did not take me long to conclude
that the woman would be Rusty's wife from Presumed Innocent, Barbara,
and for those of you who have read Presumed Innocent or seen the movie,
I think you would sort of understand that I regarded it as sort
of just beginning that Barbara would begin the next book dead.
But the question then of course is well, how did she die?
And even more significantly, what in the world are they doing
in a bed together 'cause I knew it was gonna be
in real time, 22 years later.
And you know, and I first thought it was some kind of amorous reunion
and then I went back and re-read the end of Presumed Innocent
and at the end of Presumed Innocent, Rusty Sabich says that he
and Barbara "a sort of half-assed way" have become reconciled
that they had already begun resuming their marriage and so I said
to myself, "God, is it really possible that they stay married?"
And suddenly I loved the idea.
I knew exactly what I was gonna be writing about which
in a few words is how some people keep making the same mistakes
in their lives and, you know,
and why they that happens at a deeper level.
So I think what I'll do is I'm going to show you briefly
by reading what became of my little Post-it note and then I will stop
and let the rest of the time be occupied by your questions.
So give me one second to grab the book.
[ Pause ]
>> This is the prologue to Innocent as the sequel is named,
and it is told in the voice of Rusty and Barbara's son, Nathaniel,
called of course in older age Nat.
A man is sitting on a bed.
He is my father.
The body of a woman is beneath the covers.
She was my mother.
This is not really where the story starts or how it ends
but it is the moment my mind returns to the way I always see them.
According to what my father will soon tell me, he's been there
in that room for nearly 23 hours, except for bathroom breaks.
Yesterday, he awoke, as he does most weekdays, at half past six
and could see the mortal change as soon as he glanced back
at my mother, just as his feet had found his sleepers.
He rocked her shoulder, touched her lips.
He pumped the heel of his palm against her sternum a few times,
but her skin was cool as clay.
Her limbs were already moving in a piece, like a mannequin's.
He will tell me he sat then, in a chair across from her.
He never cried.
He thought, he will say.
He does not know how long, except that the sun had moved all the way
across the room when he finally stood again
and began to tidy obsessively.
He will say he put the three
or four books she was always reading back on the shelf.
He hung up the clothes she had a habit of piling on the chaise
in front of her dressing mirror then made the bed around her,
pulling the sheets tight, folding the spread down evenly,
before laying her hands out like a doll's
on the satin binding of the blanket.
He threw out two of the flowers that had wilted in the vase
on her night table and straightened the papers
and magazines on her desk.
>> He will tell me he called no one, not even the paramedics
because he was certain she was dead, and he sent only a one-line e-mail
to his assistant to say he would not be at work.
He did not answer the phone, although it rang several times.
Almost an entire day would have passed before he realizes he must
contact me.
But how can she be dead?
I will ask.
She was fine two nights ago when we were together.
After a freighted second, I will tell my father,
"She didn't kill herself."
No, he will agree at once.
She wasn't in that kind of mood.
It was her heart, he will say then.
And it had to be her heart and her blood pressure.
Your grandfather died the same way.
Are you going to call the police?
I will ask.
The police?
He will say after a time.
Why would I call the police?
Well, Christ, Dad.
You're a judge.
Isn't that what you do when someone dies suddenly?
I was crying by now.
I didn't know when I had started.
I was going to phone the funeral home, he will tell me,
but I realized you might want to see her before I did that.
Well, shit, well, yes, I want to see her.
As it happens, the funeral home will tell us to call our family doctor,
and he in turn will summon the coroner, who will send the police.
It will become a long morning, and then a longer afternoon with dozens
of people moving in and out of the house.
The coroner will not arrive for nearly six hours.
He will be alone with my mom's body
for only a minute before asking my dad's permission to make an index
of all the medications she took.
An hour later, I will pass my parents' bathroom
and see a cop standing slack-jawed before the open medicine cabinet,
a pen and pad in hand.
Jesus, he will declare.
Bipolar disorder, I will tell him when he finally notices me.
She had to take a lot of pills.
In time, he will simply sweep the shelves clean and go off
with a garbage bag containing all the bottles.
In the meanwhile, every so often another police officer will arrive
and ask my father about what happened.
He tells the story again and again, always the same way.
What was there to think about all that time?
One cop will say.
My dad can have a hard way with his blue eyes.
Something he probably learned from his own father, a man he despised.
Officer, are you married?
I am, Judge.
Then you know what there was to think about.
Life, he will answer.
Marriage. Her.
The police will make him go through his account three
or four more times-- how he sat there and why.
His response will never vary.
He will answer every question in his usual contained manner,
the stolid man of law who looks out on life as an endless sea.
He will tell them how he moved each item.
He will tell them where he spent each hour.
But he will not tell anybody about the girl.
Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> Yes, ma'am.
>> Hi.
>> Hi.
>> I ask this question not because of what happened recently
in the news but when I read the book-- or I listened to the book.
It seemed like there was only one line or one phrase
that mentioned capital punishment and I copied that down and had it
on a Post-it note for months and months and months and of course,
now I can't find it and quote it back to you.
Would you comment on capital punishment
as an attorney, as an author?
>> Well, you know, I have commented extensively
on capital punishment before.
My friend, David Remnick, is here speaking now or soon to speak
and years ago, I did an article for David in the New Yorker
about my evolving feelings about capital punishment
and I basically went from a prosecutor who was willing to live
with it to a defense lawyer and then a member
of the Death Penalty Commission in Illinois
who just simply couldn't make any sense of it and who felt
that the death penalty basically rests on a faulty premise
that we can kind of create moral order out of something that is bound
to function so haphazardly.
And ultimately, I turned that essay or lengthened it and turned it
into a book called Ultimate Punishment but in a few short words,
I thought that my own mistake about capital punishment
and the reason I was long ambivalent about it was
that I realized every now and then that there were cases
like mass murders such as John Wayne Gacy in Illinois who--
for whom what I regarded
as a coherent argument could be made for execution.
And in time, as I worked inside the Capital Punishment System
as a lawyer and eventually on this Reformed Commission,
I realized that was the wrong question.
The question we should be asking is can we ever device a capital
punishment system that reaches those supposedly right cases
without also sweeping in the wrong cases?
Cases of people who are innocent and I believe it's inevitable.
Cases of people whose crimes while awful do not reach the same level
of moral gravity as others who get death sentenced
and these other people get death sentenced as well.
And after years of thinking about this,
I conclude that the answer to that question is no.
The law just simply cannot sift that fine.
And if we have a death penalty then we have to be content to say
that every now and then the innocent will be sentenced
to death far more often that that we will sentence people
to death whose punishment
in no relative sentence has any equality to it.
And for that reason, I became an opponent of capital punishment
and I remain an opponent of capital punishment.
Nothing has changed my mind.
[ Applause ]
>> Sir?
>> Your first book One L, you write about your experience
with the Harvard Law School generally finding it very
anxiety-ridden, competitive, and not much fun.
After 33 years, have you done any rethinking of it to help me
after 51 years maybe to reformulate my thoughts?
[ Laughter ]
>> Well, it's-- it's a timely question for me because One L is
about to be re-issued by its original paperback publisher
after a long happy life in the Hatchet family.
It's now going back to _____ 0:27:25 Penguin
and I've done a new afterwork for the book.
And I confess there that legal education at least to my eye based
in small part on the experience of my own daughter who was--
who went through law school at Michigan
and didn't have a severe a time as I did, but mostly based
on frequent visits back to Harvard Law School.
I think Elena Kagan who I hope and expect to become a great justice
of the Supreme Court but she also instituted a lot of reforms
at Harvard Law School and I made it a much more reasonable
and humane place.
So I don't think I'd have exactly the same experiences
but that being said most of--
One L is basically the diary of an abashed neurotic [laughter]
and it has-- I think part of its long life is that it has served
as an enduring assurance to law students everywhere
that at least one person went through the first year
of law school feeling crazier than they do and so and it--
I suppose it will always, you know, stand for that.
>> I would say it was a dead heap.
The dean at the orientation session the first thing he said is there are
no glee clubs here.
That would have been a great title maybe, better than One L.
[ Laughter ]
>> Thank you.
Yes, ma'am.
>> Two quick questions.
How did you come up with the idea of the timeline in front
of the chapters because I wish every book that moved back
and forth had that, it just made it so much easier to pick to follow
and secondly, will there be a sequel, sequel to Innocent
because I don't think Nat's relationship
with I'll say the girl can remain that way
with the secret hanging over their heads?
>> Well as to the second question,
I really have learned never to say never.
Oddly, it's more Rusty than Nat and Anna
that interest me right now but who knows.
The timeline was my idea and my editor
at Grand Central, Deb Futter, hated it.
And she kept striking it out as I submitted different drafts
of the manuscript.
For those of you who that haven't read the novel,
it does indeed go back and forth in time.
It starts as it does with Barbara's death
and then goes backwards to the year before that.
And I just thought, you know, let's help the reader our here
to understand where this novel is going.
And Deb didn't like it and I get e-mails every week from readers
who say what a wonderful idea and I, of course, since, you know,
since I'm a snotty little guy, I forward all of them to Deb.
Yes, sir.
>> Hi. Can you talk a little bit about how you write as far as,
you know, do you use an outline.
You know, when do you have a draft complete?
How much rewriting do you do and just any other approaches
that you found that served you well?
>> I really resumed my career as a writer of fiction after I got
out of law school by writing on the morning commuter train and at
that point in time, I had only like 20-30 minutes a day to write
and I found that you don't have any time to warm
up when it's 20 or 30 minutes.
So I just wrote whatever had come to mind the prior day as something
that I thought might be good in the novel.
And it didn't matter where it was in the story line.
I just wrote it down whether it's a snatch of dialogue,
a character description, a piece of character history.
It didn't matter.
And the fact is I still write that way.
For about a year, I let myself kind of wander
around in a book allowing the characters to sort of, you know,
create slowly overtime, their situations, to spell themselves out,
like just talking about Innocent.
If Rusty and Barbara were still married then one of the stuff,
the kinds of things I would write originally would be, you know,
well what are the terms of this marriage trying to imagine it
and you know, that's where the conclusion came.
Well she had to have been--
she had to have been diagnosed
with a diagnosable mental disorder that's part
of the reason that he stayed with her.
And that's the kind of thing I mean about feeling my way along and--
but there's no particular order and then after a year, I write a draft
and I show that to agents and family and editor.
And, you know, I go from there.
There are usually about four to five drafts so.
That's the-- that's the long way I process.
I'd never outlined.
I could probably write much more quickly
if I force myself to outline.
The one exception is Limitations that little novella I did
for the Times and as much as I like things in Limitations,
I would have loved to have had more time
and a little more chaos in my own head.
So I went right back to my standard way
of operating after I finished it.
Thank you.
How are we doing on time?
I have a little time left, I'm told.
>> Yeah, I like the timeline a lot.
I didn't read Presumed Innocent.
By the way, I came to your novels by a lawyer friend of mine,
who is very literary who said you're much better
than John Grisham, so [laughter].
This may be too sillly--
>> You may want to pick that microphone up a little bit
so that you're speaking-- You may wanna repeat your prior remark.
[ Laughter ]
>> Anyway, I don't know.
I wouldn't describe it as a flaw but having not read Presumed Innocent,
Barbara comes out as a sympathetic character to me in most of the novel
and in the end, she just comes off as a prescription drug addict.
You know, her-- for those who didn't read it, her husband
and her son have sex-- had an affair with the same woman.
>> Well, let's not tell too much to the people here who haven't read it.
There's gonna be a question at the end of this though.
>> If my perception is right then she kind
of got what she deserves she was just [inaudible].
Or maybe do we have to read the book.
>> Well, I have to say that, you know, I never say what the ending
of Presumed Innocent was in Innocent because it turns
out there's another generation of readers who haven't--
don't have the same kind of level of familiarity with Presumed Innocent.
I've been delighted by the number who have read Innocent first
and gone back to Presumed Innocent but I thought
without elaborating too much on this that one of the things I felt best
about was that by the time I reached the end of Innocent,
I actually felt some sympathy for Barbara
and found considerable nobility in her at the end of the book.
You know, people can make up their own lines for themselves but anyway,
I appreciate the question.
Thank you.
>> Hi. Earlier, you were speaking about a judge who can't make
up his mind so I guess my question is in the lives of your characters,
you're judge, jury, bailiff, god in that way.
I'm a new fan, just finished reading Pleading Guilty and I'm wondering
without talking about the ending,
how you came to that particular ending
and did you entertain different ideas, different things--
>> The ending of Pleading Guilty, you are trying to mean?
Yeah. Yeah.
I entertained different ideas.
You know, the story of Pleading Guilty is
that after I finished the Burden of Proof,
I began the novel that's now called the Laws of Our Fathers
and I was a great reader of Norman Mailer especially his nonfiction
and one of the remarks he makes in Cannibals
and Christians is the terrible thing about being a novelist is
that you can make a drastic mistake
and not discover that for six months.
And in the course of writing my way along in the Laws of Our Fathers,
I made that kind of mistake.
I did something in terms of plot that was just never ever gonna work
and so I stopped and to amuse myself,
I decided I'd write this story about this kind of broken down former cop,
a fish out of water, in a big law firm.
And principally as a way to sort of share my ironic view
of what was going on in the practice of law and, you know,

I find Mack Malloy to be a tremendous wise guy
but as always happens with me once I get
to know the character then I decide that something serious is going on.
And obviously the end of Pleading Guilty
and we won't give it away is pretty gloomy but I thought
that I did think it fit the novel.
I thought all in all this was not a situation
that was ever intended for happy endings.
So-- We have time for one more.
We're in overtime.
Alright, last question.
Go. I'll be-- You'll be quick and I'll be quick.
>> Okay. Scott, can you tell us about how the effects of the economy
and recession have had on the legal profession, changes in compensation
from billable hours to flat rate [laughter]?
How does that change how you depict your characters
so for the 20 years you've been writing about law?
>> You know, I don't know yet because I haven't had a chance
to write about the contemporary legal environment.
There's a little bit of reference to it and in Innocent where one
of the characters is working as an associate in big law firms says
that she suddenly sees her future as being, you know,
one where she was gonna get all her litigation experience
in bankruptcy court.

Lawyers in a strata have had it very, very good in this county
for several decades and you know, it's hard at this point to believe
that it's ever gonna quite go back to what it was.
Those kinds of predictions though inevitably end up proving false
but I know a lot of people
in the profession don't quite see it coming back in the same way
but I will say to you what was said to me
when I began the practice of law.
Clients will always find a good lawyer.
It will always happen.
One of the great, great things about the practice of law is
that in its own way, it's extraordinarily meritocratic
and good lawyers who work hard and who are dedicated
to their clients tend to be rewarded in that system.
So, with that closing piece of advice, I thank everybody
who attended the book fair for being here today.
Thank you very much.
This is a wonderful event.
>> This has been a presentation of the Library of Congress.
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