Monday, July 14, 2014

Featured Author: Phil Margolin

Phil Margolin graduated from The American University in 1965 and New York University School of Law in 1970.  From 1965 to 1967, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, West Africa.  From 1972 until 1996, he practiced criminal defense at the trial and appellate levels, appearing before the United States Supreme Court and representing 30 people charged with homicide, including several who faced the death penalty.

Since 1996, Phil has been writing full-time.  All of his novels have been bestsellers.  He has been nominated for an Edgar, two of his books have been made into movies, two have been nominated for an Oregon Book Award and two of his short stories have been included in “The Best American Mystery Stories” Anthology.  Executive Privilege was awarded the Spotted Owl Award for the Best Northwest Mystery novel of 2009.  Willamette Writers awarded Phil the 2009 Distinguished Northwest Writers Award.

Phil was a co-founder of Chess for Success, a non-profit charity that uses chess to teach elementary and middle school children in Title I schools study skills.  From 1996 to 2009 Phil was the Chairman of the Board of Chess for Success.  He still serves on the Board. 

What I would like readers to take away from my book: 

“Worthy Brown’s Daughter” has all the action and surprises of my contemporary legal thrillers, including a surprise ending in the middle of a murder trial, but it also deals with the terrible impact of slavery. We tend to think about the deep South when we discuss slavery but there were slaves in the West too. This book is a fictional account of the impact of being a slave on two human beings.

Roxanne Brown, a young girl, has been told that she is subhuman because of the color of her skin and Worthy who has his daughter ripped from him and can only free her with the help of a white man.

What character did you have the most fun writing about?:

My enjoyment did not come from creating a particular character but from recreating a period in history about which I knew nothing. It was exciting learning what day-to-day life and the practice of law was like in 1860, a time when there were no cell phones, automobiles, computers or bottled water.

What was your greatest roadblock and how did you overcome it?:

Once I decided to set my book in 1860 Oregon I had to overcome my total lack of knowledge about the time period. I did this by spending years researching life and the law in the 1800s in the library at the Oregon Historical Society and the Multnomah County Public Library.

Here is a do and a don’t for aspiring writers: DON’T talk about your book. DO sit on your butt and write it. And here’s an extra DO – To be a good writer you have to have no ego involvement in your work whatsoever. Always listen to advice on how to make your book better unemotionally and with an open mind.

What is one thing about writing you wish non-writers would understand?:

Writing is like any other learned skill like playing the piano or tennis. Most published writers don’t turn out great masterpieces the first time they pick up a pen. Most early efforts are terrible, but your skills develop with hard work and discipline. I start writing at 7:30 every week day and I don’t leave my word processor until 4:00 in the afternoon. Some days I produce nothing but I still keep at it.
What was the last book to keep you up at night reading?:

“The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson won the Pulitzer and deserved it.

What do you do to make time for yourself?:

I read several books a week, work out, play golf and watch bad and good action and sci-fi movies.

How can readers get in touch with you?:

I have an interactive website – – where readers can ask questions that I respond to as soon as possible.

“Worthy Brown’s Daughter” is fiction but it was inspired by an 1853 Oregon case dealing with slavery. Caleb Barbour, a powerful lawyer, brings his slaves, Worthy Brown and fifteen year old Roxanne Brown, from Georgia to Oregon. Slavery is not permitted in Oregon but there is a lot of prejudice against blacks. Barbour frees Worthy but refuses to free Roxanne. Matthew Penny, a young, white lawyer, agrees to sue Barbour. Matthew is still grieving over the death of his wife who drowned while crossing a river on the Oregon Trail. He feels guilty because he could not save her and he is motivated to save the person Worthy loves most in the world. Then Worthy is charged with Murder and Matthew faces a terrible moral dilemma that must end with Matthew or Worthy facing the gallows.

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