Q & A: Randy Singer
Randy Singer splits his time between being a critically acclaimed author, veteran trial lawyer, and ministry leader—and regularly calls upon all three facets for his fiction. His latest legal thriller is Fatal Convictions (Tyndale House).
Q: What inspired you to write FATAL CONVICTIONS?
My idea for the book came when I asked this question: What makes To Kill A Mockingbird the best legal thriller of all time? My answer: Because Atticus Finch performed the highest duty of a lawyer, representing a man he believed was innocent, a man nobody else would defend. Then I asked a related question: What would that look like today? My answer was Fatal Convictions—a Christian lawyer defending a Muslim imam accused of honor killings.
Q: How much of yourself do you put in these characters?
When a lawyer/pastor writes a story about a lawyer/pastor, such as in Fatal Convictions, readers probably assume that many aspects of the main character track my life. That assumption would be incorrect. Other than our occupations, Alex Madison and I have little in common. Among other things, I’m not as theatrical and gimmick-driven as he is. I certainly don’t engage in the same shameless solicitation of clients—I’d prefer to keep my law license.
However, there are often details about my life and cases that show up in my books. For example, I recently represented the victim’s daughters in a case where their stepmother had poisoned their father with liquid morphine and other narcotics (the stepmother was a hospice nurse). Some of the things I learned about forensic toxicology in that representation showed up in The Justice Game. Also, my stories typically take place in Virginia Beach (where I live) so the “slice of life” scenes tend to be based on the patterns of my life.
Q: You are a novelist AND a pastor AND a lawyer–aside from making for a crowded business card, to what extent do these three facets of your professional life complement each other, and how often do they get tangled up?
Actually, though they seem very different, these three occupations work together quite well. I love being a lawyer and a pastor and there is a lot more similarity in skill set than it seems on the surface. For example, both involve advocacy (we call it preaching in church) and counseling. Also, our church believes in a concept called the priesthood of believers. There is no spiritual hierarchy with pastors at the top and lawyers at the bottom. When I go to work on Monday (like my parishioners do), it helps symbolize that our workplace is ministry. My law practice is just as much a ministry as being a pastor.
As for the writing side of my life, good trial lawyers are good storytellers. You also meet a lot of interesting people as clients. And, since the life of a trial lawyer is a life of constant conflict, incorporating tension into my stories seems pretty natural for me. The main difficulty comes in trying to find balance. Seems like there is always a crisis brewing someplace. And then there’s the tendency to feel guilty. When I’m at the law office, I think I should be at the church and vice versa. And, of course, I don’t get a lot of sleep. I can do that when I’m dead.
Q: When starting a story, which of those three facets tends to start the process ﬁrst? (At what point of the process do the other two facets join in?)
Interesting question. Sometimes the process starts with my involvement in or my exposure to an interesting legal case and I build the story from there. Sometimes, the story starts because I’m intrigued with a certain spiritual concept and I build the legal framework around that.
For example, Fatal Convictions began with the question of how best to illustrate a lawyer ’s duty to advocate for an unpopular client even if that costs the lawyer his reputation, career and prestige.
On the other hand, in By Reason of Insanity, I began with the question of whether God still speaks to people through visions and dreams. I thought the best way to approach this was through a legal thriller dealing with somebody who proclaimed to be a recipient of visions from God about serial murders. The defense attorney—not a believer—had to wrestle with the question of whether they were truly visions from God or just the delusional rantings of a woman with a Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Q: From the get-go, FATAL CONVICTIONS probably presses a lot of buttons for readers. When you write your ﬁction is your ﬁrst goal to minister to your readers, to entertain them, or to make them think?
It’s a blend of all three. My ultimate hope is to entertain readers while confronting them with biblical truths on controversial issues. However, I know that writing an entertaining book is the price of admission. If the book doesn’t entertain, nobody will read it and the other goals will never materialize.
Q: What do you most hope readers take away after reading your book?
One, a better understanding of the Islamic faith. Two, a better understanding of why a lawyer might represent a person that the public has already condemned as guilty. Three, the differences between Islam and Christianity. And fourth, for Christian readers, a thankfulness that Christ became our advocate even though we were guilty under the law.
Q: What’s the best thing anyone said about one of your books?
For Fatal Convictions, I love two comments from reviewers. One said that it helped him understand the Christian ideas of love and grace. Another said that it made her search her heart for any prejudices towards persons of other faiths.
Q: What’s the worst thing anyone said about one of your books?
Since authors always like to think of themselves as being creative, this review hurt a little bit: “Same old routine format with a bit of idiocy thrown in.” But since I’m a glass-half-full type of guy, I comforted myself by noting that I didn’t only give readers the “same old routine format.” I was at least creative enough to throw in a bit of idiocy as well. FF