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Q & A with Sheldon Siegel

I go on tour and speak at conferences where I get to visit many bookstores and meet a lot of nice people. I’ve put together a list of some of the more frequently asked questions. Think of it as a virtual book tour. If you’d like to arrange an appearance, please contact us at Sheldon@sheldonsiegel.com. If you have other questions, drop me a note at sheldon@sheldonsiegel.com and I’ll answer it. Please note that our highly efficient fulfillment department (me) answers all of the e-mails personally, so please be patient if it takes me a couple of days to respond.

What motivated you to be a writer?

I’d wanted to write novels since I was in high school, although quite honestly, I can’t explain why. I started writing my first book, Special Circumstances, with the modest goal of finding out whether I had any aptitude for writing fiction. Once I got started, I decided I wanted to finish the first draft by my fortieth birthday in July of 1998. I beat my deadline by three days. Once I started, I couldn’t seem to stop. You should never underestimate the motivational value of a good midlife crisis.

Tell us about your training as a writer.

I have very little formal training as a writer. My undergraduate degree (from the University of Illinois at Champaign) was in accounting. I graduated from UC-Berkeley’s Boalt Law School and I’ve been a corporate and securities lawyer since 1983. I work for a big corporate law firm called Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP. Special Circumstances was my first attempt at writing fiction since I was in high school. I took a 10-week creative writing class taught by two excellent authors, Katherine Forrest and Michael Nava. It helped me figure out structure and plotting. I wouldn’t have finished Special Circumstances if I hadn’t taken the class. I still meet with some of the other students from the class from time to time. We still read and critique each other’s work. Priscilla Royal has published an excellent series of medieval mysteries, and Anne Maczulak has published several nonfiction books. It’s a pretty amazing track record for a small group. I try to read and write as much as I can.

Many people write books but can never get published. What’s your secret?

It sounds terribly obvious, but the first thing you have to do is write the book. It is almost impossible to get a work of fiction published unless you have a completed manuscript. Agents and publishers are very busy. If they like your first three chapters, they’ll ask to see the rest of the story right away to make sure you can sustain the quality of your work for an entire book. It REALLY helps if you can send them the rest of the book right away. Once you’ve written the story (and assuming it’s good, of course), it helps if you can find an agent. Personal connections, bookstore owners and other authors are helpful, but not absolutely necessary. You should also check out publications such as the Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents. Your objective is to get your book to the top of the agent’s pile. It helps if the first few pages are VERY good, because most agents and editors don’t have the time to read more than a few pages or chapters. Serendipity, good luck and timing also play a huge role (if somebody tells you this isn’t the case, they’re lying). If you find an agent who gets excited about your book, you’re 90% of the way to getting published. I got very lucky. My agent, Margret McBride, rides bikes with an attorney in my firm’s San Diego office. She agreed to look at my manuscript as a favor to my colleague. That’s how I made it to the top of her pile. She liked what she saw and sent it out to the publishing houses. I signed up a deal for my first two books a couple of weeks later. Things have changed a lot in the past five years. When I first started writing, you needed to find a publisher. Nowadays, there are many self-publishing options, too, although it’s difficult to find an audience if you self-publish.

Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline?

I start with an idea. For example, the "big picture" idea in Special Circumstances was a book about a murder in a big law firm. Then I think about the protagonist, with particular attention to the sound of the narrator’s voice. I spent a long time working on the voice of Mike Daley as I was developing the story in Special Circumstances. Mike returns in Incriminating Evidence, and in my subsequent series books, so I already knew a lot about my protagonist in those books before I started writing. The Terrorist Next Door took a long time to write because David Gold is a new character and I’m working in a new setting. It takes a long time to create a new fictional world. After I have a pretty good idea of the big picture, I give a lot of thought to how Mike and Rosie or Gold will change over the course of the story. It’s very important for your characters to face challenges and evolve. If they don’t change and grow, your story is stagnant. Next, I try to figure out the basics of the plot. In the early stages, I try to identify who did it, how and why. Then I put together a list of characters, including a few descriptive sentences about each of them. The character dossiers become more detailed as I write the book.

Finally, I do a light outline of the story. I try to sketch out the big plot twists (there are usually about ten of them) and I lay out the beginning and the ending. Then I start writing. I usually outline in detail about fifty pages (5 chapters or so) ahead of where I am in the story. Then I write to the end of the outline and do another detailed outline of the next fifty pages. In my first two books, I started by writing the first 100 pages and then the last 100 pages, in that order. Then I wrote the middle (which is often the most difficult part of the book because it’s hard to judge pacing). In my later books, I’ve written from beginning to end. Everybody does it a little differently. Some authors outline in far greater detail than I do. Some authors don’t outline at all. There aren’t any rules, and there are no prizes for writing a great outline. You do whatever works for you. In addition, I keep a detailed synopsis of completed chapters after I finish them. I have a chart of every scene in the book, in which I note the date, the time, where the scene takes place, who’s there and what happens. It’s a useful tool that ends up about 25 pages long, single spaced in very small type. It allows me to see the entire story in a few minutes. My manuscripts run about 400 pages double spaced (about 100,000 words). This translates to about 360 pages in hardcover.

Once I start writing, I try to keep moving the story forward until I complete a first draft (although I do more editing than I should along the way). From time to time, I go back and reread everything I’ve written, although I try very hard not to do too many detailed edits as I go. After the first draft is completed, I let the book sit for a few weeks. Then I go back and do a hard edit. After the hard edit is done, I go back and do a faster edit for flow and continuity. Then I show it to my wife, my writers’ group, my agent, and ultimately, my publisher. We usually go through a couple of rounds of edits with my editor.

By the way, I type every word myself and I do all of my writing and editing on a computer. I get very frustrated if I don’t have my computer. We lawyers tend to do a lot of composing at the keyboard. As a result, it sounds a bit odd, but my hands and my brain now work at about the same speed. I type very fast.

How do you come up with story ideas?

The conventional wisdom is that you should write about what you know. I’ve worked in big law firms for almost 30 years. As a result, Special Circumstances was about a big law firm. I’m also very interested in local politics (in San Francisco, politics is a spectator sport). Incriminating Evidence is the story of what happens when a local politician gets in trouble. A lot of the story takes place in San Francisco’s Mission District, which is a very interesting and historic neighborhood that gets a lot of attention in the local press. My wife works in the movie business, so I decided to set Criminal Intent in the movie business. Final Verdict is set on San Francisco’s Sixth Street skid row. The Confession is a story about a priest in the Mission District. The idea for Judgment Day arose when I saw a note in our local paper about the death (by natural causes) of the oldest man on California’s Death Row. I got the idea for Perfect Alibi when I read about a judge who was killed in the Midwest. I got the big-picture idea for The Terrorist Next Door when a guy tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square a few years ago. I get most of my ideas from things I read about in the paper. From time to time, I hear something at work that gives me an idea.

How do you get your material?

I walk around the office and people tell me things (just kidding). I read the local papers and the legal papers every day. The local news section of the San Francisco Chronicle frequently provides ideas. For The Terrorist Next Door, I read the Chicago Tribune online every day. I get material everywhere I go. I keep a small notebook with me and I write things down.

You’re not a criminal defense lawyer or a homicide detective. You must do a lot of research.

I do. And I get a lot of help. I do a lot of research on criminal procedure. In addition, I have friends who are criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors and police. They have been very generous with their time, and I couldn’t write my stories without them. I’m very pleased that I have received complimentary letters from police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges. It’s reassuring to know that I’m getting it right most of the time. It’s also a reflection of the fact that my friends who work in the criminal justice system really know their stuff. For The Terrorist Next Door, I got a lot of help from a very generous man named Rod Sellers, who is a retired high school teacher from South Chicago. Rod is also the head of the Southeast Side Historical Society and he’s written two excellent books about the history of South Chicago. I also got a lot of help from a retired South Chicago homicide detective named Mike Rowan, whose family lived on the Southeast Side for almost a century. Rowan Park (across the street from Washington High School) is named after Mike’s grandfather.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read as much as you can and write as much as you can. Try to write a little bit every day. If you can, try to write at the same time every day. If your schedule permits, try to write when you’re wide awake and in a reasonably good mood. I wrote most of Special Circumstances on a laptop while I was commuting to and from work on the Larkspur ferry and late at night. I wrote most of Incriminating Evidence while I was on sabbatical from my lawyer job. It was a lot easier to write Incriminating Evidence because I was able to focus on the story every day. I don’t work full time as a lawyer anymore, so it’s a lot easier to find time to write (although life is pretty busy). It’s very difficult to keep continuity in your story if you can’t write regularly. You have to learn to deal with the fact that you’re going to have good days and bad days. It comes with the territory. Even if you’re tired and cranky, you should try to do your pages. A good day for most writers is five double-spaced pages of new material. A great day is ten pages. Don’t be too hard on yourself. First drafts are always terrible (they range from bad to utterly unreadable), but are infinitely more useful than outlines or ideas. You will be able to fix your first drafts—I promise. You can’t fix something if you never get around to writing it in the first place. If all else fails and you can’t get anything in the computer on a given day, you should try to read some of the pages you’ve already written. At least you’ll be able to keep the story in your head. You’ll get better at writing and editing yourself as you go along. My writing teacher, Katherine Forrest, once told me that writing is like learning to play the piano. You have to practice your scales every day if you want to get good at it.

Try to write the story in a voice that you enjoy hearing and you’re comfortable writing. It will sound more authentic if you do. If you’re funny, then write funny. If you aren’t, then don’t. People tell me that I sound just like Mike Daley. Actually, he sounds just like me. Finally, I would encourage you to write the book that you want to write, without giving enormous thought to whether it will be a commercial success (well, okay, you can think about commercial success a little bit if you’d like). Your story will be better and sound more authentic if you remain true to your instincts and tell your story the way that you’d like to tell it. You shouldn’t feel compelled to add obligatory chase scenes, gratuitous sex, senseless violence or four-letter words (although you can if you’d like and it fits within the story—the movie people love it). And for God’s sake, don’t try to rewrite The Da Vinci Code, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or Fifty Shades of Gray. It’s been done to death. For the past couple of years, I’ve been joking that Mike and Rosie are going to move to Sweden and drink a lot of coffee. Then I’m going to write a book called The Lawyer with the Dragon Tattoo. Write your story and be proud of it. Once it’s written, nobody can ever take it away from you. If it’s a good story, it will find an audience. If you can’t find a conventional publisher, you can always publish it yourself.

Your books have depicted some pretty unsavory lawyers. Are those lawyers based on real people you’ve had experience with?

Many of the lawyers in my books have certain characteristics of people I’ve met over the years. No character is based on a particular individual. The characters at Simpson & Gates represent various archetypes of attorneys I’ve met over the years in large law firms and large businesses. I have friends in all the large law firms in San Francisco. They all thought Special Circumstances was about their firm. I have been asked from time to time whether I think it’s good for the profession for those of us who write legal fiction to take swipes at the hand that feeds us. I try to remind those people that Mike and Rosie are the most honest and trustworthy people I can imagine. It’s said that everybody has a list of two or three people that they would call if they got into serious trouble. Mike and Rosie would be at the top of my list. So would Detective David Gold. I think they’re heroes and I try to portray them as such.

Tell us about the creation of Mike Daley. He’s an interesting character, ex-priest, ex-public defender, ex-husband?

Like many good things, Mike happened by accident. When I started writing Special Circumstances, Joel was the narrator in the first hundred pages of the first draft of the book. That’s when I realized it’s very difficult to have an accused murderer as your narrator because he spends a lot of time in jail. The book would have been pretty boring if it consisted four hundred pages of jail visits. So I decided I needed a new narrator. Mike was present in those first hundred pages, but he had a much smaller part in the story. After a couple of false starts, I rewrote the first hundred pages with Mike as the narrator (and I changed the point of view from first person, past tense, to first person, present tense). I knew it was right as soon as I read it. So I grafted the voice onto Mike. Mike evolved into a more rounded character as I worked through the first draft of Special Circumstances. I decided he needed some baggage. The idea for Mike being an ex-priest came from some personal experience. I’ve known two ex-priests over the years (one married a law school classmate of mine and the other worked at my old law firm). They’re both wonderful people, and neither of them resembles Mike in any meaningful way (other than the fact that they’re both ex-priests). It seemed like an interesting hook with a lot of room for development. I made Mike an ex-public defender because I wanted to give him some credible background as a criminal defense attorney. He’s hopelessly out of place at a large law firm at the beginning of Special Circumstances. I wanted him to have some conflict and room for growth in his personal life as well, so I thought he should be divorced. I thought about making him a recovering alcoholic, but decided that was a little too much. Mike is a very smart, honest, hardworking guy from the neighborhood who tries to do the right thing. He’s a very good lawyer, but a very bad businessman. He’s charming and funny, but hopeless around women. He has a lot going on, but not so much that he can’t function. Over the course of seven books, he’s developed a personality of his own. Sometimes, he surprises me. There’s enough baggage to last for a few more books.

Mike certainly has an interesting relationship with his ex-wife, Rosie. Can you elaborate on their chemistry?

Mike and Rosie are soul mates who are, in some respects, mirror images of each other. They’re both bright, passionate, compassionate, opinionated, funny, stubborn, honest and caring. They’re also fundamentally incompatible. Something magic seems to happen whenever they’re on stage together. I love writing the scenes when they’re talking to each other. They’re the easiest scenes for me to write, and they seem very natural to me. I can’t explain why. People who know me well have noticed that Mike sounds a lot like me and Rosie sounds a lot like my wife (although Linda and I get along a lot better than Mike and Rosie do). People have also pointed out that Rosie has very good instincts and usually gets it right (so does Linda). Maybe this explains it.

It’s all particularly odd because I created Rosie by accident, too. When you write in the first person, your narrator is on stage for the entire book. As a result, your story doesn’t move forward unless your narrator is talking to someone or chasing someone (or being chased or whacked on the head, I suppose). In any event, I needed someone for Mike to talk to, so I invented Rosie. I chose a female character because I wanted to add a strong female lead. I decided that Mike and Rosie should be divorced because I wanted to create some natural tension between them. They’re great at working together, but they have serious trouble living together. They have an undeniable bond (as well as a daughter). I’ve also played around a bit with stereotypical male-female roles. Rosie is the glue that holds their firm and their family together while Mike is busy taking on idealistic causes. Rosie is the primary caregiver for Grace and Tommy and the primary caregiver for their law firm. I was very concerned at first that readers wouldn’t buy into a relationship where ex-spouses were working and sleeping together. I’ve gotten a lot of mail from people who have told me they have a similar relationship with their ex-spouses. In some situations, it seems that once you take away the day-to-day pressures of living together, paying mortgages, etc., people get along a little better.

Criminal Intent is fundamentally a love story. It deals with Mike and Rosie coming to terms with their relationship (imperfect as it is). I think it’s the most personal story that I’ve written because it deals with some very basic emotions. It’s also a story where Mike and Rosie finally resolve (or at least came to a reasonable accommodation about) their relationship. Final Verdict is a story about Mike and Rosie coming to grips with the case that caused them to get divorced. The Confession is a story about the reasons Mike left the priesthood. Judgment Day is about Mike coming to terms with his deceased father. Perfect Alibi is about Mike and Rosie dealing with a teenage daughter.

Will they ever get remarried?

That’s doubtful, although they will remain together as a permanent couple for the foreseeable future. I’ve always said that the series would end if Mike and Rosie got remarried. I wouldn’t rule it out entirely. I made a decision that they would age in real time. People tend to change as they get older.

What’s next for Mike & Rosie?

I’m in the process of writing Mike and Rosie 8. The title is The Felony Murder Rule. Mike and Rosie are called upon to defend a young man who is accused of murder in connection with a botched armed robbery of a liquor store in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Mike will also finally get some answers about his older brother, Tommy, who died under mysterious circumstances in Vietnam. You can read a preview at the end of The Terrorist Next Door.

How are Mike and Rosie doing?

Everybody’s fine. At the start of The Felony Murder Rule, they have returned to work at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. Grace is a freshman in college. Tommy is in sixth grade. Sylvia is fine. So is Pete. Then they get the case of the century—you know how it goes.

You’ve developed a memorable supporting cast for Mike and Rosie. Who are your favorite characters to write?

The family members are the most fun. Pete is great because he doesn’t say much. Sylvia is wonderful—she always speaks her mind. And Nick the Dick is great fun because he’s the last of the consummate San Francisco characters.

Will Nick the Dick be back?

Indeed he will. He’s going to live to 110.

Let’s talk about The Terrorist Next Door. Why’d you decide to write a book about Chicago?

As more fully explained in the information about The Making of The Terrorist Next Door, when I decided to take a little break from writing about Mike and Rosie, I wanted to write a story set in my hometown. In addition, I promised my mom that I would finally write a story set in Chicago. She’s very pleased. . .

By the way, is Mike Daley named after Mayor Daley?

Yes.

Tell us about Detective David Gold.

He embodies the values of the South Side of Chicago. He’s smart, tenacious, and tough. He tries to do the right thing. He doesn’t accept bribes. He’s a graduate of the University of Illinois. He attended law school at the University of Chicago for one year, then he decided to become a cop. His father taught at Bowen High School in South Chicago. His mother was the librarian at the South Chicago Library. His wife and unborn daughter were killed in an auto accident, so Gold moved in with his widowed father after his mother died. I hope my readers will think of him as a very authentic Chicago character. He’s also a White Sox fan.

Are you David Gold?

Nope. I grew up in Gold’s neighborhood and he’s a lot like me. My temperament is a lot like Gold. In real life, I sound just like Mike Daley.

Are you really from the South Side of Chicago?

Yes. I was born at what was then known as Michael Reese Hospital, and what is now known as the empty lot that almost became the 2016 Olympic Village before the IOC decided to hold the Olympics in Rio. I like to tell people that I grew up in the neighborhood where President Obama got his start as a community organizer.

Does that mean you’re a White Sox fan?

Of course. To this day, I think the 2005 baseball season was the greatest in the history of our national pastime. To this day, my brother, a Cubs fan, has never acknowledged that the 2005 World Series ever took place. And I respect him for this. . .

Did you really live around the corner from Michelle Obama?

Yes. For a very short time. We moved to Wilmette in 1970.

Did you really go to high school with Mayor Rahm Emanuel?

Yes. I graduated from New Trier West High School in 1976. Rahm graduated in 1977.

Will we be hearing more from David Gold and A.C. Battle?

Yes. A second Gold/Battle story is already in the works.

What’s it like in South Chicago these days?

Not so great. Unemployment has been very high since the steel mills closed. There’s a lot of gang activity and drug dealing. The schools are poor. The residential areas look okay, but the business districts look pretty tired. The good news is that the South Works site has been cleaned up and they are starting some small scale development projects there. Eventually, it is supposed to become a mixed-use development. It’s about 600 acres of prime lakefront property, so I’m pretty optimistic. Then again, it will probably take several decades (and an uptick in the economy) before anything substantial is built there.

How long did it take to write The Terrorist Next Door?

About three years. Although I grew up in Chicago, I haven’t lived there since 1980, so I had to spend a lot of time there to get things right. My mom still lives in Glenview and my brother is in Arlington Heights, so we tend to visit at least a couple of times a year. I’ve spent more time on the South Side in the past couple of years than any time since 1970.

Why did it take so long?

After seven series books, I had to create a new character and a new setting from scratch. This was harder than I had anticipated. In addition, after writing seven books in first person, I decided to write a story in third person with multiple points of view. I’d never done this before, and it was learning how to write all over again. It’s much harder to keep track of everybody when you’re working with multiple point-of-view characters. It was also liberating—it was the first time I’ve ever been able to "get over the shoulder" of the bad guy. It’s easier to put your protagonist into legitimate jeopardy when you write in third person with multiple points of view. My readers know that I’m not going to kill Mike Daley in Chapter 4 because the books are written in first person and there would be nobody left to tell the story.

After seven books with conventional publishers, you’ve decided to publish The Terrorist Next Door on your own. Why?

We had many conversations with the conventional New York publishers, but the changes in technology and distribution have made it very attractive for certain authors to publish independently. It doesn’t make sense for everybody, but if you have a substantial audience, it could. In addition, our surveys indicate that more than 70% of our sales are now in electronic format, so we wanted to be sure that the book was available immediately on all electronic platforms. The vast majority of my readers who prefer print books like the large format trade paperbacks instead of the heavier and more expensive hardcovers, so we’ve published this book in that format. I think it’s a good idea to listen to your readers. It’s also nice to be able to control the production, cover art, and, most important, the release dates of my books. With a conventional publisher, The Terrorist Next Door wouldn’t have been released until the spring of 2014—at the earliest. I wanted to make this story available to my readers a lot sooner.

How is independent publishing working out?

So far, so good. We’re learning as we go. I’m not very tech savvy, so it’s a pretty steep learning curve. On the other hand, Linda and our kids are very tech savvy, so I have an excellent in-house IT Department.

I’m thinking about publishing a book myself. How did you do it?

For the Amazon Kindle version, we converted the book ourselves. For all other electronic formats (Nook, Apple, Kobo, etc.) we used Smashwords. For the trade paperbacks, we used Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand service and Ingram’s Lightning Source print-on-demand service (which provides for bookstore distribution). We’ve covered all of the usual distribution outlets. The experience has been very positive so far.

Is it Hard to Self-Publish?

No, it’s very easy. And if you’re smart enough to write a book, you’re smart enough to figure out how to convert it into the various formats. Most important, you need to be very patient. Linda did the formatting for the Kindle version. I did the formatting for the Smashwords versions (Nook, Apple, etc.) and the formatting for the print versions. If I can do it, you can do it!

Who Did Your Cover Art for The Terrorist Next Door?

The cover art was done by a terrific graphic artist name Kim Smith. The overall design was done by my wife, Linda Siegel.

How do you pick your titles?

My books that bear their original titles are Special Circumstances, Judgment Day, Perfect Alibi, and The Terrorist Next Door. The working title for Incriminating Evidence was Suspicious Circumstances. My publisher wanted something different (i.e., something that didn’t have the words "special" or "circumstances" in it), so I went back to the drawing board. Rather than trying to come up with something by myself, I sent an e-mail to everybody at my firm and about a hundred friends and relatives. I got about a thousand suggestions. I narrowed the possible titles down and started feeding them to my editor. The winning title, Incriminating Evidence, was submitted by my friend, Sheila Gordon, whose name appears in the acknowledgments of that book. I suspect most authors use a slightly more scientific process for choosing their titles. The titles for Criminal Intent, Final Verdict and The Confession all changed several times.

Compare your stories.

Why don’t you ask me to compare my children? Special Circumstances was a story that I had wanted to write for at least ten years. It was also my first book. As a result, it will always be very special to me. It introduces Mike and Rosie and gives my readers an inside look at what happens when you look just below the surface at a big law firm. Incriminating Evidence gives my readers an inside look at what happens when you go just below the surface of the life of a prominent politician from Pacific Heights. It also gives a lot of insight into San Francisco’s historic Mission District and Mike and Rosie’s families. Special Circumstances is a little funnier. Incriminating Evidence is a little darker. Criminal Intent deals with some very personal issues involving Mike and Rosie and their families. Final Verdict involves a case where Mike and Rosie must represent someone from their past. The Confession deals with Mike’s decision to leave the priesthood. The plot in Judgment Day is about a death penalty case, but in reality, it’s a story about Mike coming to terms with his relationship with his deceased father. The Terrorist Next Door is, of course, completely different, although at its core, it’s the story of David Gold overcoming several substantial setbacks to regain his self-confidence. It’s also a very personal story for me because it’s set in Chicago. Overall, I think the earlier books were a little funnier, and the writing in the later books is a little cleaner.

How long did it take you to write the books?

Special Circumstances took three years. I was working full time when I wrote it and did most of my writing on a laptop on the Larkspur ferry and late at night. That was very hard. The first draft of Incriminating Evidence took about six months. The editing process took another six months or so. My subsequent books take about eight months to write. The Terrorist Next Door took almost three years because it was very different than my earlier books.

Do you have to read your series books in order?

No. Every book stands alone and you can pick up the series midstream. However, if you like series, I would suggest that you try to go back and read them in order if you have the time. All of my books are available (although some are only available now in electronic format). The characters do age and change over time. The following is the order of the stories: Special Circumstances, Incriminating Evidence, Criminal Intent, Final Verdict, The Confession, Judgment Day and Perfect Alibi.

What do you like to do for fun?

I like to hang out with Linda and our twin sons, Alan and Stephen. I ride the exercise bike almost every day. I like to go to baseball games, travel, read mysteries and almost everything else, watch TV and go to movies. Our twins are in college now, so I don’t spend as much time coaching Little League teams and driving to water polo tournaments. I still cheer for the Chicago sports teams even though I’ve lived in the Bay Area for more than thirty years. I spend more time surfing the Internet than I should. I’m a pop culture junkie. My favorite TV shows are Mad Men, Downton Abbey, and The Big Bang Theory.

If you weren’t a lawyer or an author, what would you like to do?

When I was growing up, I wanted to be the centerfielder on the White Sox. When that didn’t work out, I wanted to be a novelist and a lawyer. I’m very lucky. I get to do what I love to do, live where I want to live and hang out with the people I want to hang out with. I have a really good deal.

What do you like to read? Which authors do you admire?

I like to read legal fiction, mysteries and thrillers. My favorite legal authors include Robert Dugoni, Steve Martini, Lisa Scottoline, Scott Turow, Richard North Patterson, John Lescroart, Robert Traver and Michael Nava. Some of my other favorite authors among the non-lawyers are John Sandford, T. Jefferson Parker, David Corbett, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Priscilla Royal and Cornelia Read.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

Everything. I like the process of writing. I don’t think I could do this (at least for any length of time) if I didn’t love it. I like putting together stories. I love to edit (it makes me feel like a mad scientist). I love writing in Mike Daley’s voice. I like to write about David Gold. I like to go looking for locations in San Francisco and Chicago. I get to write funny lines (which I can’t do at the office—you can get in a lot of trouble if you put a joke in the middle of a legal document). Book tours are fun. Fan mail is great (most lawyers don’t get fan mail from our clients-we’re lucky enough if they pay our bills). It’s a lot of fun meeting other authors.

What do you least like about being a writer?

It gets a little lonely from time to time. I spend about seven hours a day in front of the computer in my own little world. First drafts are very hard.

Has the success of your books changed your life?

Not really. It was nice to fulfill a longtime goal. On the other hand, I still have to get up and go to work every day (although nowadays, my job frequently consists of writing and promoting books). We still live in the same house, drive the same cars and hang out with the same people. I don’t think your personality should change in any meaningful way just because you happen to get your name on the cover of a book. And Linda and the boys keep me pretty well grounded. Linda worked for Industrial Light and Magic for 22 years, and now works for Digital Domain, another big special effects company. Her name is in the credits on some of the biggest grossing movies of all time. The boys think it’s nice that I write books, but they still think Mom has the cool job in the family.

Are you still a practicing attorney?

Yes, although I’m working a reduced schedule now. My colleagues at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton have been very understanding. I like being a lawyer and intend to remain with the firm. I am also very appreciative of the fact that my clients have been very supportive. Many have gone to great lengths to schedule their legal problems so that they don’t occur while I'm on deadline.

How can I get in touch with you?

Drop me an e-mail at sheldon@sheldonsiegel.com. I answer all of my own mail, so please be patient if it takes a few days.

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