Name Rick Cornell (not a pen name, either!)
Age Age: 64, almost 65.
Where are you from Reno, Nevada. I moved here in 1978 with my wife and baby boy to be the first law clerk to a famous federal judge, Harry Claiborne, one year out of law school. Now I have three kids, ages 33, 36 and almost 39, and 5 grandkids. (My wife and I are permanently separated, effective April of 2015)
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I switch back and forth in my artistic endeavors between writing and singing. Singing-wise, I sang for 17 years in the Nevada Opera as a bass-baritone. I sang in the chorus, but sang a number of “comprimario” roles in operas and light operas. In 2014 the opera chorus realized that Nevada Opera was dying and keeping the death from us. So, we split off and formed our own artistic organization. We are now P’Opera! (the dba of Sierra Music Society), and I am the President of the 501(c)(3) organization that runs it. P’Opera! primarily puts on dinner shows based on a theme, and I have sung a solo in every one of them. We are about to do individual concerts, and I will do one this year based on the songs of Frank Sinatra. Writing-wise, I wrote my first novel in 2014, “I Am That Fool,” and won a finalist award from the Next Generation Indie Book Award contest for best first novel (under 80,000 words). I released my second novel, “2051,” in late 2015. Currently I’m working on novel #3, “La Raza Para Justicia,” which I hope to release next year.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
As a prominent appellate lawyer in Nevada, I have been writing for many years, so it seemed like a natural to turn to novel writing. I was encouraged to do so by the cover artist and former friend. I’ve discovered, however, that the writing skillset of novels is very different than the skillset in writing appellate briefs!
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I used to be on the Amazon.com discussion board with some truly wonderful and amazing people, a few of whom were writers, between 2004 and ~2012. I told them anecdotes of some of my true tales (aka “Defending the Damned”), and had quite a few people there encourage me to take my story-telling abilities further.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
A case that I handled that drove me nuts for the sheer injustice of it was the case of an honor medical student who was convicted of felony DUI after being drugged with Gh.B. and the trial judge refused to allow that fact into evidence (and the Nevada Supreme Court upheld that result!). She went to prison, her career ruined by the ego of the prosecutor. I decided to create a fictitious story inspired by that case, in order to show the arbitrary nature of the criminal justice system.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
It is evolving, as I go from “telling the story” to “showing the story.” But my novels tend to be short because organically I want each scene to drive to the main point of the novel. I also tend to have a pretty wry sense of humor, and I try to display that (as well as musical knowledge) in stories that have very serious themes.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My working title for novel #1 was “The Foolish Client,” but my oldest son (who is my best beta reader and sharpest constructive critic) suggested I change it. As I spoke with my artist friend about it, we came up with “I Am That Fool,” which has a double meaning. As Lincoln once said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client”; but the protagonist – a very smart man who has done a very foolish thing – decides under his circumstances that he has no choice but “to be that fool.” But the cover suggests a second meaning; We all are fools, struggling to find our way out of the prisons we’ve managed to build for ourselves. As for novel #2, naturally I borrowed the idea from Orwell’s “1984,” written in 1948. But whereas Orwell was talking about a geopolitical dystopia caused by totalitarianism 36 years into the future, my novel is talking about an American legal dystopia, based on current very disturbing elements of society, pushed to the extreme by the greatest domestic terrorist attack on American soil in our country’s history. Novel #3 will also be a double meaning title. “La Raza Para Justicia” literally means “the race for justice.” But “Justicia Para La Raza” means “justice for the Mexican people.” The novel will be about the institutionalized racism that young Hispanic males face from the American criminal justice system.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. The criminal justice system makes for great stories (witness Mr. Grisham , Mr. Connelly and Mr Patterson, to name but three!). But the reason why is that the system is at its most memorable and its most outrageous when it is out of balance. And with human beings running the system, there are multiple ways in which the system can get out of balance. In novel #1, the prosecutor and the so-called victim are out of balance. In novel #2, the judge is out of balance, but more than he, the law is out of balance. In novel #3 it will be the (spoiler alert: first) defense lawyer out of balance, but more than that, society as represented by the jury (spoiler alert: juries) that will be out of balance.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Novels #1 and #3 borrow heavily from real cases I have experienced, though each is much more than a scene-for-scene retelling of a case. Novel #2 was the most difficult to write, because it is based on a case that has never happened and a law that I hope to God we the people will never see!
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Hard to say. I try to make them unique and not a ripoff of something famous. Before writing “I Am That Fool” I re-read “Bonfires of the Vanities,” to make sure I wasn’t ripping off that novel. Before writing “2051,” I re-read “1984” for the same reason. (I’m satisfied that I did not rip off either!) I think it’s helpful to read King, Grisham and Connelly to see how they keep “the pages turning,” and also to re-read Donald Maass’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” before writing each novel.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I wish I had more time to read them. I don’t really have one. I enjoy reading Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and Don DeLillo, but they are hardly “new”!
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I have to give a nod to my author friend, Rebecca McFarland Kyle. She was one of the ones I met on the Amazon.com discussion board.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I see it as a second career, after the day I retire. I have no idea when that will be, however – and not in June, when I turn 65!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Would I rewrite my novels (in some way)? Yes. I plan someday to write a second edition of “I Am That Fool,” adding at least one scene and rewriting the last chapter. As for “2051,” I feel frustration in that I can’t seem to get enough people to read it, yet I think I would change only Chapter 1 so as to make clearer the act of terrorism that causes the law to become unbalanced.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Can I trace back when my interest in writing really started? I can remember writing a short story in seventh grade that my classmates really dug. It was a short story that was a cross between an “everykid” and Bela Lugosi.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
One of my favorite characters in “2051” is Ana Katich. She is a native Serbian, emigrated and naturalized in the US. She is drop-dead gorgeous and whip smart. When the trial of the protagonist starts, the Clerk asks the venire to raise their right hands and swear that they will answer the questions truthfully. Ana refuses to take the oath. When the judge asks why, Ana responds:
“Your Honor: Your question assumes that I am a liar by nature, but if I put my right hand on some book of yours, that somehow I am magically turned into one who can only tell the truth. i don’t believe that. I believe in God. But I also believe that I was born and raised by my family to tell the truth always. I don’t need to pretend to believe in God in order to tell you the truth. If I tell you something outside of this courtroom, it’s the truth. If I tell you something inside of this courtroom, it’s the truth. Nothing changes. Raising my right hand doesn’t change a lie into the truth. And raising my left hand doesn’t change a lie into the truth, either.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yes. As an appellate lawyer I am used to writing pithily, because I am writing to a bunch of old judges who read the same drivel day in and day out. I strive to write pithily, because that’s what the “rules” of brief writing require. But when you write to “show the story,” you have to make the scene more interesting through character development, dialogue and description. Yet, I maintain the writer should not “show his ego” and write scenes for the sake of “showing his chops” if the scene doesn’t really advance the point of the story. So, the challenge is to find the balance.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
No. I purposely do not set a geographic location for my novels (other than “somewhere out west”), because my novels are not about a time and place in history. That’s not to say that Google and Wikipedia aren’t my good friends during the creative process, however!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
It was my former best friend and artist; but we had a major falling out in December and we do not speak. I know exactly what I want my cover of “La Raza Para Justicia” to look like, though; now I have to find an artist who can draw my vision! But I prefer covers like that to the generic photos we too often see. (The cover of “2051” shows the numbers “2” “0” “5” and “1” with machine parts appliqued into the numbers, but the “1” tipping over toward the other three numbers. I.e., in 36 years society -particularly and especially the criminal justice system – has become a machine; but change is in the air….)
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Reading the proposed edits and comments of the content editor, and realizing that I didn’t have the novel down at all like I thought I did. That said, the efforts of the content editors in both novels was invaluable! I paid attention! In particular, thanks to the ideas of Kathy Kimbriel in “2051,” my final version had 53,000 words, compared to the 43,000 of what i thought was the final version!
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Oh, yeah. I discovered in both cases that I know less than I thought I knew. Of course, the writer cannot convey that feeling to the readers. Confusing the readers is a really bad idea. But writing confidently without giving the impression that the writer has simply set up a strawman to knock down is a challenging lesson in humility and in creativity!
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
I’ve thought about that. I see Tom Hanks as Ryan Browne in “I Am That Fool.”and I see Jimmy Smits as Antonio Lopez-Browne in “2051.”
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write something that grabs your heart, but then be humble and be inquisitive about it. Remember this: You may never make a dime; but someone may read your novel 75 years from now and be knocked out by it!
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I put my e-mail address in the acknowledgements of my novels for a reason! I’d rather get a response that rips the novel than receive what I perceive to be “the big cosmic yawn.” I’d like to know that you’ve read the novel and thought about it, whether for good or not.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Grisham’s “Rogue Lawyer.” On the one hand, it reminds me an awful lot of Connelly’s “The Lincoln Lawyer.” On the other, I think Grisham’s writing has improved over time; I’m digging it.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I’m guessing it was one of the Beverly Cleary’s. I’m not sure.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
It’s a Wonderful Life,” After all these years, I still cry, from the time Jimmy Stewart says, “my mouth…my mouth’s bleedin’ Bert! Whaddya know!! Merry Christmas!!!” right to “Attaboy, Clarence!”! I think that feeling of being the middle-aged provider for the family, and the feeling that your life has been worthless until you discover in your own way that it really hasn’t been – man, I tear up even now at the thought of it! Laugh – The Simpsons; Family Guy; the Onion – all still are capable of getting belly laughs out of me!
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
I would want to meet, and why? Roger Ebert. What a tremendous observer of humanity! Actually, listening to a dialogue between Roger Ebert, Stanley Kauffman, and Anthony Lane – my three favorite movie critics – would be spell-binding!
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
“Rick Cornell: Evict toxicity, then love unconditionally.”
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
You could ask the same question re. singing!
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I try to watch “Bill Maher” on HBO when I can, not so much for him as for his guests.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
A medium ribeye steak from Ruth-Chris; sky blue; jazz. (I used to write critiques of jazz singers on Amazon.com , and had a following there, until I gave it up in order to turn to novel writing.)
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Not yet. I’m so busy with work and with P’Opera! I just haven’t had the time to develop them.