In the weeks following the release of his seventh novel – The Handler – Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with novelist and attorney Jeffrey S. Stephens to discuss the intersection of his two careers and to take a closer look at his writing process, his books and his inspiration.
Stephens went from working at a small firm in Manhattan to running his own firm in Fairfield County, Connecticut. “Starting off, I was very much on my own without political or family connections and only two clients. I knew this was my path. It was an adventure, meeting people and building a practice, but I was very fortunate in the opportunities that came my way.”
He has represented celebrities, restauranteurs, real estate magnates, underworld figures and a host of other interesting people. Along the way, he has kept his writing passion alive.
AALM: After completing your degree in creative writing, why did you decide to attend law school?
JS: Growing up poor, I was the first person in my extended family to attend college. As much as I wanted to pursue a career as a novelist, my father convinced me that the likelihood of making a decent living as a writer was remote, and that I should follow my second choice, which was to become an attorney. As he correctly predicted, I never gave up writing.
AALM: How have you balanced your writing career with your legal career?
JS: As I built my law practice, and my family, for the first 20 years or so, I had to leave writing on the back burner. Since then, I have increased the time spent on my novels and currently split the two careers.
AALM: How has your legal practice inspired your writing?
The practice of law involves writing, so it helps to develop those skills. As far as inspiration, there are few endeavors in life that teach us more about human nature than representing clients in all sorts of contentious situations.
AALM: Looking back on your professional career to date, is there anything you’d change if you could?
JS: I am proud of all the people I have helped, especially in those smaller, less glamorous cases where the assistance I gave could be life changing. I have not been perfect, and there are a couple of clients I wish I had never met, but I would not change a thing.
AALM: Tell us a bit about your writing process.
JS: I prefer to write in the morning, the earlier the better, hopefully for around three hours. I work from an outline, so the basic plot points are established before I begin a novel. Even though I regularly make large changes and detours along the journey, I always have an idea of where I am going, so I never have to deal with the mythical “writer’s block.” I should also mention something I believe Hemingway and others have said—writing is all about rewriting. Get that first draft done without judging or obsessing or engaging in some form of perfectionism. You can edit later.
AALM: Any interesting stories behind the scenes of the books – inspiration for plot or characters, a research project that went awry, etc.?
JS: My first published novel, TARGETS OF DECEPTION, was based on a friend who I accidentally discovered worked for the CIA. I never intended to write thrillers, but the way he led his life was too fascinating to pass up, and he was the inspiration for my first four published books.
AALM: Of your published books, which is your favorite? Which was the easiest to write? The hardest to write?
JS: My favorite book is FOOL’S ERRAND. I love the story, the characters and the deep dive into the relationship between the father and son. All books are difficult to complete on some levels—that is the wonderful dichotomy of writing. I enjoy the creative process as well as the inevitable difficulties.
AALM: Which of your characters do you most identify with? Which of your villains is your favorite?
JS: I relate to all my protagonists, each of whom has some elements of my personality in there someplace. My favorite villain is Walid Khoury, from my latest novel, THE HANDLER. He is evil, but he is also complex, as readers discover.
AALM: Do you have any projects in the works you can tell us a bit about?
JS: I am working on the sequel to THE HANDLER. It is a complicated story, and I am very excited about all the twists and turns.
AALM: What are some of your favorite books to read? And some of your favorite authors?
JS: In no particular order: THE GREAT GATSBY, Fitzgerald. THE RAZOR’S EDGE, Maugham. CATCHER IN THE RYE, Salinger. THE SUN ALSO RISES, Hemingway.
These, and other classics, convinced me I wanted to be a novelist.
On the contemporary side, I enjoy Towle, Grisham, Vince Flynn and Ken Follett.
AALM: What is more challenging – sitting before a blank page (or screen) or delving into a legal case?
JS: Either can be challenging, but I love writing so I rarely see it as facing a blank page.
AALM: Is there anything you would like to add?
JS: Anyone who loves to write should write. Don’t worry about the results, or the audience, or whether it will become a best seller. Write for the joy of the experience, even if it is only a daily journal. I have been blessed to have seven novels published, with more to come, and I am endlessly proud of those works and grateful to those who assisted and encouraged me on this wonderful journey.