Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Author Spotlight: James Grippando Returns

This is a great time to be New York Times bestselling suspense author James Grippando. Today marks the release of his twentieth novel, Blood Money. Blood Money is Grippando’s tenth book in the highly acclaimed series featuring Miami criminal defense attorney Jack Swyteck. You can catch Grippando talking about Blood Money very soon on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" program. You don’t want to miss that, and after reading Grippando’s interview here, you certainly won’t want to miss reading Blood Money.

This interview marks another career milestone for Grippando. Grippando’s appearance with us today makes him the first our august alumni to appear twice on the Gazalapalooza Author Spotlight. We’ll begrudgingly admit that perhaps Grippando’s return to our Spotlight’s glare doesn’t have quite the cachet of writing 20 successful novels, or hobnobbing with Joe and Mika on MSNBC’s morning show, but we still think it’s pretty cool. We’re confident you’ll think so too, once you indulge yourself with this edition of the Author Spotlight.

Having been here before, Grippando knows his way around. See how he’s already seated on our hard wooden chair, looking unflappable despite the unrelenting blaze of our klieg light array. We’ll see if he’s so serene come the interview’s end, come which Kardashian may to read his innermost thoughts. Intrigued? We don’t blame you. So without further ado, let’s get this Spotlight underway.

Gazala:    What is the most surprising occupational hazard to being a novelist?

Grippando:    Personal safety. I used to think you had to be a megastar like Salman Rushdie or Steven King to worry about such things, but that’s na├»ve. I want to be accessible to my readers, but there is risk in putting yourself “out there.” The good news is that each time I’ve had a bad experience, I’ve worked it into a book.  My scare with a heckler at a bookstore became a scene in Lying with Strangers. When my identity was stolen (in part because so much info about me is publicly available), I used that experience in Money to Burn. And my most recent book, Blood Money, also grew out of one of these, shall we say, “inconveniences.” In the summer of 2010 I was wondering which way to go with my next work, and my agent called. 

“I want you to talk to Jose Baez,” he said.

There was a hint of excitement in Richard’s voice, and I could tell that he wanted me to be just as excited. I disappointed him. “I feel like I’m supposed to know the name,” I said, “but I don’t.”

“Yes, you do,” said Richard. “He’s Casey Anthony’s lawyer.”

For several years I had considered writing a work of nonfiction. Jeffrey Toobin’s much acclaimed book about the O.J. Simpson trial had, in my mind, set the standard for the flood of books about the most watched trial in the history of American television. Public interest in Casey Anthony rivaled that of Simpson, and I wondered if there was a place on the bookshelves for a Toobin-like work on the Anthony trial. I had several telephone conversations with Mr. Baez over the summer of 2011. It turned out that he was a fan of my work, having read my first Jack Swyteck novel, The Pardon, while he was still in law school. He had yet to watch the Anthony trial from start to finish, and he suggested that we sit down together and watch it, so that he could explain to me what was going on behind the scenes. That meeting never happened. Our discussions ended abruptly with another telephone call from my agent.

“We’re out,” Richard told me.

A New York Post report (July 25, 2011) that Jose Baez had “met with” my agent went viral over the Internet. The backlash was overwhelming. Bloggers posted the agency’s contact information, urging readers to clog phone lines and e-mail boxes with a simple message: “NO WAY JOSE.” Simon & Schuster's Facebook page was hacked based purely on rumors (untrue) that the publisher was to sign a book deal with Anthony. In Oklahoma—twelve hundred miles from the Orlando courthouse—twenty-six year old Sammay Blackwell was run off the road and almost killed by a woman who thought Ms. Blackwell was Casey Anthony. I quickly realized that the book I wanted to write wasn’t a nonfiction account of a trial that was already overexposed. The story—my novel—was in the phenomenon that turns certain law-abiding citizens into vigilantes who will accept nothing but their own sense of “justice.” 

Gazala:    Your latest book is an excellent and gripping thriller titled Blood Money. I know it's a special novel for you in terms of milestones -- your 20th overall, and the 10th in your acclaimed "Jack Swyteck" series. I've read Blood Money, enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about Blood Money, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

Grippando:    My goal with each book is to make the new one more entertaining than the last one. By novel number 20 the bar is pretty high, but I think I cleared it with Blood Money. 

Jack represents an attention-hungry cocktail waitress and party girl named Sydney Bennett, who is accused of killing her two-year-old child—a fictional Casey Anthony. She is convicted in the minds of millions of viewers who are riveted to the nonstop television coverage of the trial—but the jury finds her not guilty. In what seems to be a spontaneous act of vigilantism, a college student is attacked and left in a coma. Her only crime is that she looks like the wrong woman, and she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or is there more to it than that? To Jack’s surprise, the victim’s parents beg him to get justice for their daughter, to discover what really happened and why. Jack’s investigation twists and turns in startling ways, ultimately uncovering an evil more threatening than mob violence, and that is lurking just beyond the glare of the media spotlight.

Blood Money is not just a “ripped from the headlines” retelling of the Casey Anthony trial. My story picks up where the “trial of the century” left off, and the real focus is on the dangers of “TV justice” administered by certain sensationalists in the media. As overblown as the hype and hoopla were in the Casey Anthony trial, my inspiration came from the young Oklahoma mother I mentioned earlier, who was run off the road because she looked like Casey Anthony. Sammay Blackwell was able to save herself by pretending to be dead when her attacker got out of her car and came to Sammay’s overturned truck—not to help Sammay, but to finish her off. That blind fixation—a nationwide fascination that, for some, escalates to the point of dangerous or even deadly obsession—is the inspiration for my twentieth novel. 

Gazala:    Have you ever killed off one of your characters only to greatly regret the death later? If so, whose death do you regret, and why?

Grippando:    Sadly, yes. Jack Swyteck first appeared in The Pardon in 1994 as a young and idealistic lawyer who defended death row inmates for a legal aid clinic called “The Freedom Institute.” Neil Goderich, a pony-tailed relic of the hippy generation, was Jack’s mentor. I didn’t write The Pardon with the intent to create a series, but I went back to Jack in 2002 with Beyond Suspicion. Neil was of course part of the cast, and he was an important part of Jack’s life…until Afraid of the Dark (2011). Readers immediately reacted and said I would regret it. Now I feel like James Caan in "Misery," tormented by Kathy Bates and trying to figure out a way to resurrect a character I should never have killed off.  

Gazala:    If you could take credit for writing any one book not your own, which would it be, and why?

Grippando:    Well, since you didn’t exclude the Bible, that’s an obvious choice. Three hundred years at the top of the best seller list with translations into more than a thousand languages would even put me ahead of J.K. Rowling. 

Gazala:    If you had to empower one person unrelated to you by blood or marriage to read your thoughts for a day, who would you choose, and why?

Grippando:    It would have to be someone who is totally self-absorbed, too wrapped up in his or her own thoughts to bother with mine. Pick any Kardashian.

Any Kardashian? Wow. Even though Grippando’s been here before, we did not see that coming. We can’t decide whether that’s a good call, but it’s certainly a gutsy one. Unsurprising, though, since Blood Money is a gutsy book in times like these. Find out for yourself by ordering your copy of Blood Money from Amazon. All you have to do is click here, and soon enough you’ll be enjoying a gripping read. Have fun.

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