Some writers have multiple books in process at a time, but not New York Times Bestselling author Phillip Margolin. He said, “When I’m working on a book, I won’t work on another. But, I do have an idea file because it usually takes me a few years between the time I get an idea for a book and the time I actually finish a novel. When I’m ready to start a new book, I take out the idea file and go through the articles, news stories, and notes looking for something that stimulates a plot idea. Once I have that idea, it may take me a year to a year and a half to write the final draft.”
For Margolin, everything begins with his idea file and finding ways to entertain readers. He said, “I take my writing very seriously. I try to write the best book I can, but I don’t take the books themselves seriously. It’s like working on a Chinese box puzzle. I spend a lot of time thinking about the plot. I may think about a book for a year before I start writing. I’m very conscientious and want to entertain readers. My main objective when I write is to get you from Portland, OR to New York without having you realize you got on a plane. I do inject some moral dilemmas into my novels to make things more interesting, but my goal is to write for entertainment.”
One thing Margolin did with this book is to change his normal writing style. He said, “With my books, you usually don’t know who the killer is until the end. In this one you find out right away that it’s the criminal defense lawyer because the killing is in the beginning of the book.”
The criminal defense lawyer in “Sleight of Hand” is also an amateur illusionist and professional hit man. The book begins with him performing his greatest sleight of hand yet: framing a millionaire for the murder of his much younger wife, then tricking the millionaire into hiring him as his lawyer. It’s up to private investigator Dana Cutler to take down the cunning psychopath before he pulls off the perfect crime.
How did Margolin come up with the plot for “Sleight of Hand?” Margolin said, “I had three motivations. Dana is one of several stars in my Washington trilogy, which includes “Executive Privilege,” “Supreme Justice” and “Capitol Murder,” and I wanted to give Dana her own book. I also always had an idea about a scene at 2:00 a.m. when a drunk comes staggering out of seedy bar and a guy in 3-piece suit meets him in a dark alley. The guy in the suit says he’s a lawyer representing a defendant in a case in which the drunk is the main witness. The lawyer then kills the drunk. Third, I’ve always loved the ‘Maltese Falcon,’ so I brought that in.”
For twenty-five years, Margolin was a criminal defense attorney who handled thirty homicides and argued at the United States Supreme Court. The choice to change careers has worked out well for this New York Times Bestselling author, but it wasn’t necessarily an easy switch. “My career has been very bizarre,” said Margolin. “It took me two years to wind down my law career after I decided I wanted to see what it was like to be a full-time writer. I kept my law practice for five novels. My wife and I were in practice together. We would come to work together. We were together 24 hours a day. When I stopped practicing law, I kept coming into the office. I have an office at home, but here I’m in downtown Portland and get to see people.”
What’s the best thing about making the career change from lawyer to writer? Margolin said, “I feel like a retired person. I would like to write until I drop dead. I don’t feel like I have a job. I loved being a criminal defense lawyer for 25 years. Now, I consider myself lucky to make a living lying.”
Learn more about Phillip Margolin on his website at phillipmargolin.com.