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A practiced eye: Scott Turow's line to success
CHICAGO (Reuters) -- Author Scott Turow says the best advice he can give aspiring writers echoes the adage about how to get to Carnegie Hall: Practice, practice, practice.
Turow, a lawyer and novelist, has sold more than 20 million of his legal thrillers worldwide. His most recent book, "Personal Injuries," has met with much critical acclaim.
As a much-quoted story goes, he wrote his first published book, "Presumed Innocent," on a commuter train between Chicago and his suburban home. It quickly became a bestseller and a movie starring Harrison Ford and Brian Dennehy 10 years ago.
Since then, "Burden of Proof," "Pleading Guilty," "Laws of our Fathers" and the Harvard law school portrait "One L" have all been bestsellers. But Turow, 51, was not the overnight success he appeared to be.
The compact, genial Turow said he had known he wanted to be a novelist since he was a child. He published his first short fiction as a college student at Amherst and went to study and teach creative writing at Stanford University in California.
There he would meet several of contemporary literature's best-known names, including now-deceased Raymond Carver, Alice Hoffman and his instructor Wallace Stegner. The group, which also included people who never made it big in the literary world, pursued Ernest Hemingway's approach to their art.
'We did not all write like Hemingway'
"We did not all write like Hemingway but we surely drank like Hemingway," Turow said.
Several of his comrades such as Carver ultimately destroyed themselves in the process, he said in a recent speech to mark the 101st anniversary of Chicago native Hemingway's birth.
"I wrote obsessively for the five years I was in California, trying desperately to haul a great novel out of myself," Turow said. Ultimately, out of fear of failure, he was forced to reject Hemingway's notion that one must write for eternity.
Instead, he simply wrote, and wrote and wrote some more.
Hemingway's persona and writing loomed large in the minds of the Stanford group. Turow said Hemingway's adage that "All of my life, I've looked at words as if I've seen them for the first time" were words he has lived by.
Hemingway's practice of writing every day, standing up at his desk, beginning at 6:30 a.m., became a crucial instruction about how one would succeed as a writer -- only by doing it.
Stegner, an author known for his stark realism, also taught the virtue of practice and demanded of himself two pages of writing every single day of the year, Turow said. That way, out of several hundred pages, something decent was likely to emerge.
A father of three and husband of artist Annette Turow, he still lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago and writes on the train to work. He is a partner in the law firm of Sonnenschein, Nash and Rosenthal but practices law only part-time. Clients have to realize, he said, that sometimes he is not available. He said he devotes mornings to writing at home and has even stopped to scribble a few lines before entering the revolving doors at the Sears Tower, where his law firm is located. But he never writes at his law office, calling it taboo.
Turow said he disappointed his Stanford colleagues in the mid '70s by deciding to go to law school. He graduated from Harvard law school in 1978 and worked in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois until 1982.
The desire to have a place in the world beyond the nebulous world of creative writing prompted his career change, he said.
His experiences as a lawyer provided background for many of the scenes in his novels. The latest, "Personal Injuries," draws directly on experience prosecuting corrupt judges in Chicago's famed Operation Greylord, which sent many jurists to prison.
The lead character in the book is Robbie Feaver, a corrupt lawyer who bribes judges and then cooperates with the government to bring down others around him.
The blockbuster "Presumed Innocent" also drew on his experiences as an attorney.
Turow is currently at work on his next novel.
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Prose and cons: A profile of Scott Turow
Scott Turow Home Page
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