By Nate Kenyon
Recently I sat down with Alan Dershowitz to talk about his new novel, The Trials of Zion.
First of all, tell us what inspired you to write it.
I desperately want to see peace in the Middle East. I can’t achieve it in reality (despite having been asked to serve as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations—an offer I had to refuse because I am a patriotic American). So I decided to bring about peace at the beginning of my novel.
The novel opens with a shocking event that seems almost literally “ripped from the headlines.” Can you tell us how that particular scene evolved for you when you wrote the book?
The opening scene grew out of a nightmare that I actually had. Tragically this nightmare has a basis in reality, since many people who have tried to bring about peace in the Middle East have been assassinated or killed by terrorists.
Trials of Zion deals with some very delicate political themes. You seem to do a good job walking an impartial line with the story, regardless of your personal opinion. Was that a difficult thing for you to do?
The greatest compliment I was paid was by a reader who asked me which side of the Israeli Palestinian conflict I tend to support. You really can’t tell from the novel because I tried very hard to make all the characters real and not stick figures.
You set up a riveting courtroom scene involving a man who literally wants to be put to death, and a lawyer who must keep him alive to save his own daughter. What this a tough scene to write?
It was tough to write because it’s hard to imagine a real situation in which the stakes are so high on all sides.
You’ve had a fabulously successful career as an attorney. What appeals the most to you about writing thrillers? Do you plan to devote more time in the future to writing fiction?
I love writing thrillers because I can create reality with my pen (literally my pen, since I don’t type or use a computer.) But fiction is much harder for me than non-fiction. I may have one more good novel left in me.
Your novels usually have to do with thorny legal and ethical situations and attorneys thrust into the spotlight, and your protagonist seems to share many similarities with your own life. Is this a pretty obvious case of “write what you know?”
The centerpiece of my novels tends to be difficult legal dilemmas. I am basically a teacher, and I use my novels to explore complex moral issues. I live in the world of such issues and I write what I know.
So many lawyers seem to end up writing thrillers. Does a legal education and experience lend itself well to writing this sort of story?
Good lawyers must excel in narrative. Telling a story is essential to all phases of legal practice and teaching. It’s not surprising that legal education and practice have produced the likes of Grisham, Turow, Richard North Patterson and Linda Fairstein.
What’s the most difficult part of writing fiction for you? What about the most fun or rewarding part?
The most difficult is creating characters who are real and who aren’t simply props for the story or the ethical dilemma. I think I’ve gotten better at this over my three novels. The most rewarding part of writing a novel is seeing it on the screen and knowing that you invented the characters. When The Advocate’s Devil was made into a TV movie of the week starring Marishka Hargitay and Ken Olin, I got a real charge.
Do you have another novel in mind yet?
I’m thinking…I’m thinking. All I know is that it will be based on something very real that I’m involved in right now.