Joni Evans chats with the ex-O.J. Simpson prosecutor about her latest project: her novel, Guilt by Association
JONI: I couldn’t be more excited — here with us today is the “prosecutor extraordinaire” turned “author extraordinaire.” Welcome, Marcia, it’s great to have you on wowOwow.
MARCIA: It’s so great to be here, Joni. Thank you so much.
JONI: I just want our readership to know that back in the days when she was prosecuting O.J. Simpson’s “trial of the century,” I had the privilege of working with Marcia in a very special way as her literary agent. She authored a book called Without A Doubt, which chronicled the trial itself and was a huge bestseller. It stayed on the bestseller list for months, as I remember. And I also remember, Marcia, what you were going through then. You were in the middle of a divorce; a custody battle; and suffering your own rage — along with the much of the world’s — over O.J. Simpson’s acquittal. Now, a decade later, you are reborn as a novelist with Guilt by Association, a murder mystery which has just been published. How did this begin?
MARCIA: Well I always wanted to write fiction from the time I was just a little kid. But I just didn’t have the confidence back then to take the leap and try and make a living at it. So I didn’t. And then things happened in my life that made it happen. After I left the office I did a bunch of hosting, and TV shows, radio shows, stuff like that. And then I wound up being a consultant on a legal drama called For the People that was on the Lifetime network. And then I wound up writing scripts. After the experience of learning how to write scripts, I started to have more confidence about the possibility of writing fiction. A couple of years after that, having written pilots with the creator of that show – and now, by the way, we’re writing another pilot for Lifetime – I thought, I want to take a crack at writing a novel. I’ve always wanted to do this. So I did.
JONI: When did you start writing?
MARCIA: I started writing in 2006. I started making my first efforts at it, and the first few that I wrote were just not right. I tried different voices, third person and all that kind of thing, until I finally found the voice that was mine. And it’s funny because when you find the voice that is yours it all gets so much easier. I think it was in 2009 when I finally found the iteration that you see in front of you, and wrote it.
JONI: You have blurbs from the top mystery writers such as James Elroy and David Baldacci and already all kinds of rave reviews. So, it’s the story of an LA deputy DA, and I believe her name is Rachel Knight. And I think I remember that your middle name is Rachel.
MARCIA: Right. Exactly. That’s exactly, I can’t believe you know that. Laughter.
JONI: This book is also such a visual property, and now, knowing that you’ve been writing scripts, this is an obvious candidate for a movie series or a TV series. I read somewhere that you’re already working on a sequel?
MARCIA: Actually, I think I’m close to finishing the next one. As you know really well, the publisher has the final say, and I’m going through my last editing pass on the second book. It should be out this time next year, and it’s tentatively titled Guilt by Degree. But it features the same characters as you see in book one, in Guilt by Association.
JONI: That’s great. You know, you wrote your first book, Without a Doubt, with a co-author.
MARCIA: Yes, I collaborated with Teresa Carpenter.
JONI: Right. What was the process like working alone? Was it a very different experience?
MARCIA: It’s very different because I make my own decisions, I decide what I like and I decide what I don’t like. Of course, I take notes and listen to what others have to say, but at the end of the day it’s my call. I really like it.
JONI: You draw upon so many elements of your experience as a prosecutor and it’s so vividly real. And I don’t know anyone else who else who has done this that authentically.
MARCIA: You know, as far as lawyers go I don’t know, because the other lawyers that I’ve read have different experiences. John Grisham, for example, delivers a very suspenseful, interesting story in every one, but he’s a civil lawyer. Linda Fairstein is a prosecutor, but she didn’t work in the same kind of unit. The Special Trials Unit is unique, because it picks up the case when the cops find the body. So we go out and do a lot of investigation the way prosecutors usually don’t.
JONI: I read somewhere that you fired, or you were fired by your old agent. What was the process of finding an agent and publisher this time around?
MARCIA: Well I came at it backwards. It was very funny. The first book that I really had an agent representing me for never saw the light of day. We worked together for about a year and then they said, “We’re not getting it there, and maybe you want to work with a freelance editor.” And so that’s when I threw that book away – literally, threw it away, and went to work on this book, which became Guilt by Association, which I did on my own. Then I talked to a friend of mine. I said, “Now what do I do? I don’t have an agent, what am I going to do with this thing?” And she introduced me to Katharine Weber, who recently wrote “True Confections” and a few books of literary fiction. She said, “I have a feeling that you could sell this book to a friend of mine. I suggest you go straight to the publisher.” She introduced me to John Glusman at Random House. He initially wanted to buy the book, but he said, “You need an agent.”
JONI: That’s totally the reverse of how the process usually works.
MARCIA: Exactly, this is not representative. So I went out to New York, met a bunch of agents, and then met Dan Conaway at Writers House. You could just tell when it’s the right fit. Dan is now my agent, and he was the one who got me ultimately to Little Brown, with Judy Clain as my editor.
JONI: That’s a terrific, reverse home-run. Well I think you’re on to a spectacular career because I already am waiting for the next book. Marcia, you do everything with such speed and style. I’m really delighted. One last question: when you look back on the O.J. history, do you keep in touch with any of the old people? Do you know where they are? What are your thoughts about that chapter in your life?
MARCIA: It was a chapter in my life– but I don’t forget any of my cases, in all honesty. I carry all of them around with me — not just Simpson — because they were incredibly, searingly painful, tragic circumstances for everyone involved. And I guess that’s why they say you can’t endlessly stay in a place like Special Trials, because the cases are so difficult to deal with. But I have moved onto a new chapter in my life of being able to fulfill a childhood dream in writing novels — and will hopefully have a series that will go on forever and ever.
Marcia Clark is the author of Guilt by Association, just out from Mullholland Books. A former Los Angeles deputy district attorney who was the lead prosecutor on the O. J. Simpson murder case, she cowrote a bestselling nonfiction book about the trial, Without a Doubt, and is a frequent media commentator and columnist on legal issues. She lives in Los Angeles.