By Christian DuChateau, CNN
(CNN) — Marcia Clark knows her way around a courtroom. She spent years as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles. She became a household name as the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, one of the only cases she ever lost. Clark left that life behind a long time ago, but she’s still mining her past, only now as a successful crime novelist.
Clark published her first novel, “Guilt by Association,” last year to strong sales and positive reviews. It featured Rachel Knight, a strong-willed deputy district attorney in Los Angeles, with a deep sense of justice and a bit of a rebellious streak. Sound like anyone familiar?
Now Rachel Knight returns in “Guilt by Degrees,” which hits book stores May 8. This time out Rachel is looking for a homeless man’s killer. In her investigation she uncovers a connection to the brutal murder of a Los Angeles police officer. As Rachel gets closer to the truth, she becomes the target of a cunning psychopath.
Given her background, it’s no surprise that Clark’s writing crackles with authenticity. The courtroom exchanges in her latest novel are crisp and brimming with tension. The lawyers, cops and bad guys feel real. The story is fast-paced and will keep readers interested to the end.
While Clark closed the door on her career as a prosecutor, she continues to stay active with the law by working on appellate court cases. She’s also a frequent legal commentator and analyst for several TV networks, including CNN, but Clark says writing has become her real passion. She recently talked to CNN from her home in Los Angeles. The following is an edited transcript:
CNN: I understand you’re a longtime fan of crime fiction. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Clark: This has been a lifelong addiction for me. It started with Nancy Drew. She was my hero. I loved reading those stories. When I was 10 or 11 I cracked her code. I figured out the formula that every time her dad went out of town she caught a case. I was still fascinated. Then I graduated into crime fiction of the adult variety. I was so addicted that even when I was a prosecutor I was reading murder mysteries, authors like James Ellroy and watching “Law & Order,” as well as doing it for real all day long. So that’s obsessed.
CNN: It seems like you share a lot in common with your heroine, Rachel Knight. How autobiographical are your books?
Clark: I share traits in common with all the characters. I don’t know if there’s a way to avoid putting yourself into each and every character, the bad guys as well as the good ones. I’d like to try because I certainly don’t want the book to be about me, but it is about a female prosecutor so there’s going to be things in common. I was only conscious of giving her my bad traits. I think of Rachel as being so much better than me, with the exception of the places where she’s like me and then she’s not so good.
CNN: How did being a prosecutor help you in becoming a writer?
Clark: First of all, the experience of meeting the kind of people that you meet being a criminal attorney, whether its prosecutor or defense attorney, is unmatchable. There’s nothing like it. There’s no duplicating that in any other job or career. You run into worlds of people you would never ordinarily meet. That gives you a sense of the kinds of characters that are out there. As a criminal lawyer, especially as a prosecutor, you have to be able to tell a story and put that story together as cogently as possible and then try to present it as cogently as possible. You do set up a case with the idea in mind that you’re going to be telling a story as effectively, as comprehensively, and as dramatically as you can. Now judges can get in the way of that, every time an objection gets sustained and every time you get a bad ruling things can go awry. You can’t control it all, but you try.
CNN: What kind of feedback have you had from other lawyers?
Clark: From what I’ve heard so far they agree that it feels spot on. What I was trying to do was capture more than the technical and procedural details, because sometimes I had to bend those rules, shorten time frames and things like that. If I have to start talking about the backlog at the crime lab or how long it takes to get a rape kit tested — snore! I need to tighten that up and make it sound like we can get our results as fast as we wish we could. Other than that, I wanted to share the feeling of camaraderie among prosecutors and police officers, the kind of humor they share, their dialogue, the way they’re always needling each other, messing with each other, that kind of sense of sharing a world together, I wanted to convey that feeling. The people who have read the books who are in the business tell me it feels very real.
CNN: Do you miss your days in court?
Clark: I get as much as I want from doing appellate work. I handle criminal appeals. That’s something you can do from home. You review transcripts for technical errors and you write briefs, so it’s all written. It keeps me up to speed with how cases are being tried today, as opposed to back when I was in court. It keeps me up to speed with the technology they’re using in courtrooms, the kinds of crimes that are being prosecuted, the kinds of criminals that are coming through. So it keeps me fresh that way. I really don’t miss the trials and courtroom appearances.
CNN: As a legal analyst, I expect you’re following the Trayvon Martin case. What’s your take?
Clark: I would expect now what’s going to happen is this is going to go away for quite some time. If I’m a defense attorney what I want is for everybody to calm down, go away and forget about the case and let tempers cool. Because right now it’s still very hot, there’s a lot of hard feelings and emotion in the air. That’s the last thing the defense wants if you go to trial under these circumstances. So, I would expect the defense to do everything they can to delay the trial and it wouldn’t surprise me if it took at least a year to get into court.
CNN: Is this a case you would have wanted to prosecute?
Clark: I can’t say there’s any case I look at and say, “Gee, I wish I was the prosecutor.” I’m really done. I’ve really closed that door.
CNN: What’s next for you?
Clark: I’m sticking with the books. I’m wrapping up book three right now and then jumping into book four. I just want to continue the Rachel Knight series and focus on that because I’m really loving it. I just know if I had to stop writing Rachel, I’d miss her!