Craig Parshall is a highly successful lawyer from the Washington, D.C., area who specializes in cases involving civil liberties and religious freedom. He is also the frequent spokesperson for conservative values in mainstream and Christian media. Now, in the CHAMBERS OF JUSTICE series, he shows himself to be a gifted novelist.
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FaithfulReader.com's Maggie Harding interviewed Craig Parshall, author of the CHAMBERS OF JUSTICE Series. Parshall talks about his inspiration for the series as well as how he conducts his research and his plans for future work.
FR: When did you first decide to write the CHAMBERS OF JUSTICE series? What made you decide to write a series instead of a stand-alone novel, or did this evolve? Have you mapped out the entire series? If so, how many books are planned?
CP: I was approaching 50 and felt that the Lord was leading me to get into fiction. I had published nonfiction with my wife Janet, but my desire to be a fiction writer goes all the way back to my college days. I actually had the idea of the series (only in general format of course) in mind when I was pretty well into the first novel, THE RESURRECTION FILE. I knew that I had way too much for just one book. And I felt my protagonist, Will Chambers, had some living to do beyond just the first book ... particularly regarding his chief antagonist, Warren Mulburn, and his love interest, Fiona MacCameron.
I actually wrote the first novel "on spec" without fielding it to our publisher first. I felt passionate about what I wanted to write, and didn't want publication realities to get in the way at that point. When Harvest House Publishers told me they were excited about the first manuscript and then went on to say they wanted to publish a series, I was terrifically excited. Since the first novel I have published three more (Custody of the State, THE ACCUSED, and most recently MISSING WITNESS, which was just released this month - March of 04'). I am in the process of finishing novel # 5, and it will be the last in the series. It will be called FINAL JUDGMENT.
FR: The first three books have very different settings and plotlines. How do you do your research? Do you write and research simultaneously?
CP: My process is usually this: I have a general concept in mind, just a broad impression, perhaps with some (but not all) characters in mind, and some (but not most) of the plot lines. Then I start my research. Because these are "legal thrillers" it usually involves legal research, but very often also technical, geographical and plot-related research as well. I find that the research, coupled with my own personal experience, "informs" both my plot and my characters and "keeps them honest" and relatively in touch with reality. Then I map out the specifics of plot, character, and general chapter summaries. I then start writing, but keep revising my "mapping" as I go, and I also find that I need to keep researching as my book develops.
FR: When writing a series character, an author needs to focus on where the future stories will go from the first book --- and set them up. When you first started writing Will Chambers in The Resurrection File, did you know where you were going to take him? Are you pleased with the way he is developing? Is there anything about him that you wish you had done differently?
CP: As I said, I did have the end of the series in mind from the beginning. But I found that Will's development, not only as a character, but in his spiritual decision-making, made me confront some of my own transformations over the years. Given the constraints of the genre I was dealing with, I'm very satisfied with how he turned out. In fact, in the latest, MISSING WITNESS, I did a "right turn" from the others in the series, and really tried to do some in-depth "mystery/love story-storytelling," albeit in the same action genre of a legal thriller. The result, I think worked pretty well. CBN.com describes MISSING WITNESS as "a legal thriller wrapped inside a very poignant love story ... not just about Will's love for Fiona but a metaphor for a love story that took place 300 years in the past ..."
FR: The intensity of the courtroom scenes in The Accused left me breathless. When writing a chapter like that, do you usually write all in one sitting? How much time do you spend on revisions?
CP: I spend a lot of 'prep' time on the courtroom scenes. In fact, I set up the case, the issues, the arguments, and the direct and cross examination questioning much as I do in my own trial preparation (taking creative license of course!) before I actually do the writing. I look at the logic and realism of my main goal in the courtroom scene, and then I "have at it," usually writing a courtroom chapter at a sitting. But that gets me to the subject revisions. As a great writer once said, "Writing is actually the art of rewriting." I do two kinds of revisions. One in ongoing. I read, reread, and re-re-read my chapters and make constant revisions as I go along. The second is my process of major revision which starts about half way through and continues to the end, where I challenge myself, having done my best in style and content, to still look at some bold changes before turning in the final product.
FR: The flying scene in Custody of the State was heart-stoppingly realistic. Do you fly? Have you had any similar close calls?
CP: I had to chuckle when you asked that one. I do fly a fair amount, and, as long as I have a little leg room and elbow room to do some work, really don't mind the process of flying (it's everything that leads up to it now that drives me crazy!) In CUSTODY OF THE STATE, that plane flight was inspired when, many years ago, Janet and I took a flight from Miami to Grand Bahamas Island on a very small plane. We hit a storm on the way over ... and the turbulence was so bad even the flight attendants were getting sick!
FR: You are an attorney. Have you done similar investigation and actual legwork as Will did in The Accused?
CP: I have done a few military defense cases. The last one was a homicide case involving a Christian marine officer at the Marine Base at Quantico, Virginia. Much of the prosecution revolved around a weapon issue. I just knew that fellow was innocent, and God was very good to us and we were blessed to have the charges dismissed in that case. In the 30 years of my trial practice I have handled a lot of criminal cases ... and earlier in my career, tragically, many of those involved crimes of violence. The facts of some of them still haunt me a bit. I've used many investigators and experts in those, and other cases I've handled.
FR: Your writing style is spare and your dialogue is crisp. Did anything in particular shape your style? Did you ever formally study writing?
CP: One of my majors in college was English, and I took a number of writing classes. I also was the Editor-in-Chief of our college newspaper, and did some freelance writing for a local city newspaper. I had some thought to going into journalism, but decided on law school. Back then, my style was overly expansive, abstract, and undisciplined. I liked poetry writing (I still try manage to hammer out a few every year) and had one or two published in obscure poetry reviews. I discovered that, like prose, poetry is deceptive ... because concision (not enlargement) and sparing use of adjectives, focusing instead on the central essence of the thing (rather than overburdened descriptions) actually is a better way to communicate.
The other influences are (1) my appreciation for the style of Ernest Hemingway (2) the experience of law school and trying lawsuits where facts have to be communicated most effectively ... and that usually means a style that is spare and direct, but with enough originality to make someone (judge or jury) take notice and remember it. As for dialogue, I was, leading up to my college days, and through college and for some time later, involved in a lot of theater and had some plans of graduating in fine arts and then looking for work as an actor in a regional theater somewhere. I was intrigued by dialogue. I gave some thought to doing playwriting. Then, during the last three decades of trying lawsuits, I found myself listening to, and studying, how people talk. In trial preparation you read deposition after deposition, and you see the way people really talk, when the pressure is on.
FR: While there is clearly a Christian message in the series, you are very light-handed. Have you done that intentionally to appeal to a wider audience or is that your style?
CP: I have two intended audiences, both the churched and the unchurched. The latter target probably directs that result.
FR: You show a deep understanding of the Grace of God. What contemporary Christians have been influential in shaping your beliefs?
CP: I appreciate Chuck Swindoll's approach to that issue, and Max Lucado's as well. Its noteworthy that old John Bunyan (PILGRIM'S PROGRESS) just could not make sense of the Christian life until he got ahold of the concept of God's Grace (or should I say ... it got ahold of him!).
FR: Your novels present a strong case for the rational Conservative approach to politics, as opposed to the right-wing-fanatic-fundamentalist view that is commonly portrayed in the media. Do you grow weary of trying to make your voice heard? Do you feel that your novels have made a difference in helping people understand what real conservatism is about?
CP: Boy, is that a 500 level question! But, in fact, that question, in part, is what motivated me to turn to fiction writing. I really feel that followers of Jesus need to try to be as creative as He was in finding new avenues to communicate, in a new and fresh way, timeless truths about Who He is. But its always an Olympian kind of feat, because the world, the flesh and (of course) the devil, are always there to compete against us! C.S. Lewis and others in the mid-20th Century made the case for a faith that was credible. In the beginning of the last quarter of the 20th Century Francis Schaeffer urged us toward a polemical and a practical apologetic. We need a rekindled commitment to that in the wild and wacky 21st Century.
FR: What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?
CP: FINAL JUDGMENT, the 5th (and last) in the CHAMBERS OF JUSTICE series is being completed now. It will be released in the late summer/fall of 2004. Then I will turn to completing, with my wife Janet, a three-book historical fiction series published by Harvest House. It starts in the Scottish reformation, and follows a family and their offspring, during the restoration in England and eventually to colonial America as it prepares for the American Revolution. Those will come out in 2005-2007. Also, I am under contract to write two "stand alone" legal thrillers over the next two years as well.
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