Monday, July 27, 2009

Randy Singer Blog Tour: The Justice Game

I'm happy to be a part of this blog tour. I've enjoyed Randy's books for many years, and this is one of his best. I'll be posting again later this week, but for now, here's what the author and book look like:

The Justice Game is unlike any novel I've read, and I've read my share of legal thrillers. Randy decided to write about a huge case with gun control being the main issue. But instead of controlling the verdict himself, as any author would, he polled his readers to see what they thought. Then he let the majority rule (how democratic of him!) and wrote in their verdict (which, I'm proud to say, I was part of).

Here are two videos: one of Randy talking about the book, and the other kind of like a book trailer, only not--it's like fake news footage of the inciting incident of the book--very realistic.


News Footage

And lastly for today, here is a great Q & A, in case you're curious, like me:

1. Randy, you bring a unique perspective to your writing because you are also an attorney and a pastor. How do you juggle these three things and still have a life?

It helps that I love doing all three. It also helps that, while they’re all very different, they draw on common skill sets. For example, principles of powerful story-telling are important for a pastor, lawyer and (obviously) writer. I’m a little ADHD and like being able to go from one thing to another. I tell people it’s like crop rotation—keeps things fresh. And, to be honest, writing is more like relaxation for me than a job. It gives me a break from the pressures of the other “real life” jobs and lets me go into a world where I get to control things! (Can we say “God complex” here?)

But none of that really answers your question. Three things help me juggle. One, I try to stay focused on the big stuff. It’s not that I do the little stuff second, I try not to do the little stuff at all. Second, I stay focused on what I can do well and let others worry about the stuff that is out of my control. In other words, I’m a master at delegation (think Tom Sawyer and the white picket fence). And third, I’ve learned to get comfortable with the fact that I will always have stuff in each of these areas that does not get done. As long as the ball is moving forward, I’ve got to be satisfied with that.

As for the part about having a life—I would have to object to that question on the grounds that it assumes facts not in evidence. :)

But seriously--I thank God that, in His grace, He allows me to do three separate things that I love doing so much. My prayer is that I might bring glory to Him in three different ways as I minister in each of these areas. (And yes, being a lawyer is a ministry.)

2. In all your novels, you often address a particular topic. How did you decide to address gun control in The Justice Game?

I like to write about moral issues that have no easy answer. On the issue of gun control, there are some pretty strong emotions on both sides. And people have typically trenched in—spouting off rehearsed arguments rather than trying to understand each other. But when you frame the issue in the context of a story, you can sometimes by-pass the automatic intellectual defenses and speak straight to the heart. I tried to create compelling characters on both sides of the story to help readers sort through the types of honest arguments that people of good faith make and then decide for themselves.

But on a larger scale, the issue of gun control is not really the focus of The Justice Game. The more important issues raised are these: (1) In America, can you “game” the criminal justice system? I have proposed a hypothetical system in The Justice Game that could do just that. (2) Can the main characters in the novel escape their past sins (and secrets) or will they let themselves remain captive to them? I once heard Rick Warren say that courage comes when you have nothing left to hide. That’s a concept I explore in The Justice Game.

3. As an attorney, you served as lead counsel in a school shooting case in Virginia. What happened and what impact did the case have?

This is from the author’s note at the beginning of the book:

On December 16, 1988, a fifteen-year-old student named Nicholas Elliot took a Cobray semiautomatic handgun to Atlantic Shores Christian School and opened fire. He shot and killed a teacher named Karen Farley and wounded an assistant principal, then burst into a trailer where a Bible class was meeting. When he attempted to open fire on the students huddled in the back corner of the trailer, the gun jammed. The Bible teacher, Hutch Matteson, tackled Elliot and prevented the kind of tragedy that hit Columbine High School in Colorado several years later.

Atlantic Shores was the school where my wife taught. It was the school my kids attended (though they were not there that day).

And when I learned that Elliot had purchased the gun illegally from a gun store in Isle of Wight County through a transaction referred to as a “straw purchase transaction,” I represented the family of Karen Farley in an unprecedented lawsuit against the gun store.

The verdict shocked everyone.

In terms of the impact this real case had on my writing—it made the writing of the book both harder and easier. Harder because we lost a friend in the Atlantic Shores shooting and it was difficult to relive the emotions of the shooting and subsequent case. Easier because authors should write what they know best. I didn’t have to imagine what the feelings of the attorneys would be as they tried this case of national importance on an issue with such raw emotions. I had walked in those shoes. From that perspective, this book might be the most realistic book I’ve written.

4. You had your readers determine the verdict in the court case at the center of the book. Why did you decide to go this route?

Two reasons. First, I thought it would be fun to create an interactive experience for readers. We put together a fake newscast with snippets of the closing arguments—just enough to inform readers about the case and let them vote. Second, I was trying to be balanced on this issue of gun control. What better way to demonstrate balance than to let the readers decide the verdict? Oh yeah, and third (if it’s not too late to add a third), the book ends up being about much more than just the verdict in the gun case. I knew that the ending would work out fine whichever way the verdict came out.

5. This spring marked ten years since the shooting at Columbine. How do you think that tragedy impacted today’s gun laws?

I think Columbine had a greater impact on school security than it did on our nation’s gun laws. I can’t trace a single national change in gun laws to the tragedy at Columbine. Even here in Virginia following the shootings at Virginia Tech, there was little that resulted from that tragedy in terms of additional gun control. In each case, the argument can be made that no matter what gun laws you have in place, the criminals will still be able to get their hands on guns. Restrictive laws only make it harder for law abiding citizens.

6. This is an issue that people feel very strongly about, one way or the other. Why do you think it is such an emotional issue for people?

Guns are powerful symbols of individual freedom and the right to protect oneself. Gun enthusiasts tend to be distrustful of government (for good reason) and see the right to bear arms as a bastion (pardon the pun) against governmental intrusions on individual rights. They also believe that it is ultimately up to them, not the government, to keep themselves secure in their own home. Take away their guns, and you’ve taken away their ability to defend themselves. On the other side, many people who believe in gun control have seen or been a part of needless tragedies where easy access to guns has proven deadly. Years ago, high school students might get in a fist fight and one or the other would end up with a bloody nose. Now, gangs use guns to settle scores—resulting in pointless homicides. Gun control advocates would argue that a gun should be at least as hard to get as a driver’s license.

Protecting your home, self-defense, the slaughter of young men in the inner city—these are emotional issues, all centered around the gun control debate.

7. How has the church typically viewed the issue of gun control versus gun rights?

Which church? White evangelical churches tend to be pro-gun. They typically emphasize the individual rights of citizens to protect themselves and safeguard themselves from a tyrannical government. African-American churches, especially those in the inner city, are typically in favor of more restrictions on firearms. This is because their families feel the brunt of gun violence.

8. What do you see happening in the national gun debate going forward?

Not much movement on either side. President Obama has been the best thing for gun store owners since the invention of the revolver. Fear that Obama might push for greater restrictions on gun usage has generated record sales in most stores. But the fact of the matter is that President Obama hasn’t shown much stomach for a fight on this issue. On the judicial side, the Supreme Court recently recognized that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms for individuals, not just militias as some gun control advocates had previously claimed. (There is some dispute over whether this just applies to the federal government or also the states). But the Court also said that the right was subject to reasonable regulation and control. You could hear the “Hallelujahs!” from attorneys everywhere since this virtually guaranteed a case-by-case fight over what regulations might be reasonable. So in summary, I think we’ve reached a stalemate on the gun control debate with the exception of these legal skirmishes over the details of attempts by cities and states to regulate the right to bear arms.

9. Since we’ve been discussing a heavy topic, we need something lighthearted to close out this interview. What’s your best lawyer joke?

It’s not actually my best, but it’s pretty quick.

They’ve started using lawyers instead of rats in laboratory experiments for three reasons: (1) there are more of them; (2) the scientists would sometimes get attached to the rats; and (3) there were some things the lab rats just wouldn’t do.

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