Friends Like Jim Irving
By Carin Chea
It was Mark Twain who said "life is stranger than fiction," and Jim Irving is living proof. A successful lawyer with experience as a private investigator, Irving has no shortage of inspiration to draw upon.
Upon the dawn of his retirement, Irving decided to pursue the passion he had been born with: Writing.
His first book, Friends Like These, has been met with glowing reviews and is the starting-off point for a mystery series. It was fascinating (to say the least) to hear Irving spin yarns about writing, topless bars, and trial cases.
You have a background on criminal law and private investigation. When and why did you decide to transition into writing fiction?
I'd always been a writer. I studied creative writing in college for my English major. I was never able to translate that into a career in my younger days. But, I kept at it, and in the last couple of years, I thought it was time to make a concerted effort at it.
I developed a concept for a series of stories and some repeating characters. I would've always been a writer if I could've made a living out of it. It was something I always wanted to do. I didn't want to get to my last days and think, "I didn't do what I wanted to do."
Is Friends Like These your first book?
It's the first. Friend of a Friend is the second.
Your protagonist has a very unique name. Where does "Joth" originate from? Is he someone you know in real life?
Yes and no. I wanted a name that was unique. You want a name that when someone hears that name, they don't associate it with anyone else but that character. I'm from Massachusetts and "Joth" is a nickname you hear in some of the old Yankee families for "Jonathan."
I also had a roommate years ago named Joth. I called him and asked if I could borrow his name. I like it because it's also a short, pithy name.
Where do you draw your inspiration from as a writer?
I have always kept notebooks throughout my life. For 2 years I was a private investigator and I wrote down everything. The process reinforces the memory of it.
I'm from Massachusetts, I went to UVA [University of Virginia], I am a lawyer, and I played lacrosse. All those things are true of Joth, but I'm not Joth. If you start with the basics that are familiar to you, and then start making a fictional character, you can always come back to that solid base that will allow you to have a character who is true to himself.
When I was a young lawyer, I did a lot of trial work. I represented women from this one topless bar that were convicted of petty misdemeanors.
Joth Proctor [the protagonist in the series] is a good lawyer and a smart guy, but he's never been successful business-wise, so his clientele is a lower end clientele. Many more people show up as quirky in the lower-end cases.
When you're doing those kind of cases, you wish you were trying the bigger cases, but when you're trying the bigger cases, you miss the old days and say, "Gee I wish I were still defending those women from topless bars."
I try to put together plots that are interesting. They're not whodunits. These are stories that develop and people are put into positions where they face moral challenges. Like, money's tight, and should they do it or not. There's a moral component to these books. I don't want to come off as me writing a fable, but there is definitely moral content to it.
I'm sorry, but could we go back to that time you were representing women from a topless bar? That must've been very entertaining.
I tried this case 20 years or so - the girls in the topless bar. There was a fight one night and a topless dancer kicked the guy in the nuts and he lost a testicle.
Yes. And, she brought criminal charges against this guy and I defended her.
Wait. The woman kicked a guy in the nuts, causing him to lose a testicle, and she's suing him?
Yes. I tried this in front of a jury and it was a circus. The witnesses were biker chicks and cocaine dealers and the jurors didn't want it to end. They were curious to see who'd come in next and what they were wearing.
That case plays a small part in one of the novels because I was able twist it around a little bit and use it as a basis for a fulcrum point in the second novel. So, I do draw on experiences and make it fiction.
Who won that case?
I won. The jury came back with a "not guilty." It was a good day. A good day as a private detective is better than a good day as a lawyer, though. Lawyers are given a set of rules that get them to the end zone.
When you're a private investigator, there are no rules. The only rules are: How far do you want to take it? I'm not saying I was like that, but some of the people I worked with were.
Was your life ever in danger when you were a private investigator?
People you're following as a private investigator don't want anybody to know where they are or what they're doing. They probably don't want to cause a scene for the most part. People in those positions can't afford to be found out.
You have a second book coming out. How long will this book series be?
I think it'll be as long as people will let me write them. I have no shortage of ideas. I've got the same five to seven characters. I usually introduce someone new in each book. When you have an environment and people in their roles, and you roll out circumstances, these characters develop a life of their own and you're just recording.
Yes, I have to direct the plot every 20 pages or so, but it's almost self-generating. I believe you have to have a series with repeating characters to really know them.
The third book is pretty much done and it's supposed to come out in November or December. I'm retiring from the practice of law at the end of this year.
Who would you cast as Joth Proctor if Friends Like These were made into a movie?
My daughter and wife talk about that all the time. There's this guy they like. He's a good-looking guy, has curly hair.
Tell me what movies he's been in. I'm pretty good at that kind of thing.
He was in American Hustle.
That's Bradley Cooper.
Yes, that's him. I think he is accessible, vulnerable, and tough. Joth has a strong moral code in an environment that makes that difficult. That's what makes him so likeable.
For more information, please visit www.JamesVIrving.com.
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