From Lawyer to Liar
February 28, 2007
A conversation (and apologies for the above headline, which I couldn’t resist) with bestselling author Robert Dugoni:
Although he’s been a lawyer for nearly twenty years, Robert Dugoni has been writing his entire life. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University with a degree in journalism and clerked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times before obtaining his doctorate of jurisprudence from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.
Dugoni has practiced as a civil litigator in San Francisco and Seattle. He partnered with EPA Special Agent Joseph Hilldorfer to write the groundbreaking nonfiction work, The Cyanide Canary, which exposed one corporation’s crimes against an employee and the environment. The harrowing story of an Idaho mining company’s questionable safety practices, and the ensuing landmark court battle, prompted one reviewer to warn, “Caution: This book will make you angry.”
Not only that, The Cyanide Canary won the award for Idaho Book of the Year, an honor bestowed by the Idaho Librarians Association. Dugoni says, “It was a thrill to receive this award because librarians are so well read and exposed to so many good books.”
The author is also a two-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. He has written two bestselling legal thrillers, The Jury Master and Damage Control, which have been compared to the works of Scott Turow and Stephen L. Carter. Just published by Warner Books, Damage Control features a female protagonist. Dana Hill is in a bad marriage and a bad job when her brother is viciously beaten to death in his Greenlake home. The police are telling her he died during the commission of a robbery, but she doesn’t believe it. The more she pushes for answers, the more some powerful people push back and everyone involved in her brother’s murder is turning up dead.
Dugoni, who is married and the father of two, says, “I’ve always been surrounded by mentally strong women. My mother raised her kids and went back to school at forty to become a CPA. She’s run her own business for thirty years. My three older sisters basically raised me. All are professionals. And working in the law, you’re surrounded by strong willed, competent women. I wanted Dana, my protagonist to have those same qualities and yet, she doesn’t even know how to take the safety off a gun. She’s a different kind of protagonist – relentless and determined to find justice for her brother.”
The book has been praised by critics, some of whom “are surprised a male writer could pull off [a book written in a female’s point of view].” Perhaps the most humanizing element of the book is when Dana is diagnosed with a lump in her breast. “My mother is a breast cancer survivor,” Dugoni explains, “as is a dear friend. My cousin’s wife, Lynn Dugoni, however, died of the disease, leaving behind two middle-school aged sons. It was tragic and her struggle touched everyone in my family. It’s a disease that is far too prevalent and I hope that the book will raise further awareness. It’s a disease that has, and will, unfortunately touch all of our lives on one level or another.”
Dugoni’s works appeal to readers who like suspense novels of all types. Although the main character is a lawyer, and she spends a lot of her time at the law firm, Damage Control is more of a political suspense novel, and one woman’s struggle to find justice for her brother, than a legal thriller. “Each of my books,” the author explains, “The Cyanide Canary, Damage Control, and now The Jury Master touch upon one person’s pursuit of justice as a theme. I guess it comes from being a lawyer for nearly twenty years and seeing how difficult that pursuit can be at times. People who like David vs. Goliath stories and stories in which the outcome remains unknown until the very end will like this novel. It’s also a very personal story of one woman’s battle when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Female readers in particular will relate to Dana’s struggle to be a mother, wife and professional under very trying circumstances.”
Readers who enjoy a local setting will not be disappointed in Damage Control. “This is actually the first book I’ve written in a city in which I was currently living. The Jury Master took place in San Francisco, where I spent fifteen years of my life, but I wrote it after I left, as well as Washington D.C., which required a lot of research. This book takes place in Seattle and Hawaii, and I was in both places as I wrote it. It gave me a chance to really focus on the details and settings.”
Dugoni’s reading preferences and voracious appetite for books of all kinds was fed by his mother, and by his local library. “As a kid, being one of ten kids, my mother often took us to the library to pick out books to read or to do our term papers. I think it was a respite for her and gave us the chance to fall in love with books, as she did. My mother has a night stand constantly filled with books. When I go home to visit its like being in a library and I’ll ask her, ‘What good books have you read lately?’
“Now, as a writer, I rely on the library and librarians constantly to research my novels. I do a lot of research on any number of topics and usually first approach an librarian to get direction. It’s a fun project. Recently I’ve spent a lot of time finding and reading first hand accounts of soldiers who served in Iraq for a new novel on which I’m working. I think I’ve worn out a path in the biography section at the King County Library in downtown Seattle.”
Author Robert Dugoni is also beating a path to Bainbridge Island, Washington courtesy of the Field’s End Conference, “Writing in the Garden of the Gods,” on April 28. He will be presenting two workshops and signing his books at the say-long event. For more information, please see www.fieldsend.org and visit the author on the web at www.robertdugoni.com.
Author Robert Dugoni’s Five Favorite Novels:
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Green Mile by Steven King
Hot Springs, by Stephen Hunter
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee