Lawyer turned novelist
Lawyer turned novelist
By Dan R. Goddard
Attorney Mark Gimenez riding high on the success of legal thrillers set in Texas
Mark Gimenez credits Texas State University with pointing him in two different yet successful career directions — law and creative writing. He attended Notre Dame Law School and became a partner at a large Dallas law firm before writing an international best-seller, The Color of Law (2006, Random House).
Now the author of 10 novels, most recently The Absence of Guilt and End of Days, he’s received critical acclaim around the world. Translated into 15 languages, his books have been best-sellers in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, India, and South Africa. He attributes his global fame at least partly to J.R. Ewing.
“The TV show ‘Dallas’ was widely popular overseas and made Texas a mythical place, at least as viewed from abroad,” Gimenez says. “The Color of Law is set in Dallas and inadvertently tapped into that audience.”
In 2008, Texas State’s College of Liberal Arts gave Gimenez its highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. Since then, he’s been practicing law, writing books, traveling the world on book tours, and raising two sons.
“I still represent two longtime clients who are more than clients to me, and there is always another story to tell,” Gimenez says. “My sons are the joys of my life, proof that you need know nothing about parenting for your children to become great human beings.”
He would not be a lawyer or a writer today if he hadn’t attended Texas State, Gimenez says. Graduating in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, the native Texan is one proud Bobcat.
“My professors in the political science department believed in me even if I did not; they encouraged me to apply to law schools,” Gimenez says. “I was accepted to Berkeley, Notre Dame, and several others. I went to Notre Dame and fell in love with the law, if not the weather.”
It was in a Texas State creative writing class where a professor first encouraged Gimenez to try writing. “Before his comments on my work, I had never entertained the idea of writing; hence, the value of stepping outside the box when choosing electives. As a poor kid from Galveston, I chose law school, but the writing bug had bitten. After a decade in a big Dallas law firm, I started scratching out stories.”
He didn’t set out to be the next John Grisham. “I actually never made a commitment to writing thrillers. I just wrote a story about a lawyer faced with a moral dilemma,” Gimenez says. “The publisher said it had to be placed somewhere in the bookstores, so they chose ‘legal thrillers.’ The Color of Law was inspired by the great American novel, in my opinion, To Kill a Mockingbird.
“My son brought the book home and asked if that could happen today, an innocent man convicted because of the color of his skin. I said it could if he were poor; that the color of law is more green than black and white. It was a light bulb moment.”
The main character in his debut novel, The Color of Law, is lawyer Scott Fenney, who is appointed to defend a drug-addicted prostitute charged with killing the black sheep son of a powerful Texas senator whose sights are set on the White House.
Gimenez says the publishing industry has changed dramatically during the 14 years he’s been writing legal thrillers. “When The Color of Law was published, there were no e-books, but many bookstores,” Gimenez noted. “Today, e-books account for about 75 percent of fiction sales in the United States and increasing numbers overseas, and bookstores are disappearing before our eyes.”
The Color of Law’s Fenney, now a federal district judge, weighs the case of a Muslim cleric conspiring to blow up the Dallas stadium during the Super Bowl in The Absence of Guilt. John Bookman, a University of Texas at Austin constitutional law professor introduced in Con Law, tries to rescue young girls from a cult compound near Waco in End of Days, which is only available as an e-book.
“I’ve lived some issues. I was a lawyer in a big law firm, and I was appointed to represent an indigent defendant in federal court (the basis for The Color of Law),” Gimenez says. “We lived three summers in Fredericksburg while writing The Perk. No substitute for being there — I read everything I can find on the subjects. I have boxes of books on Vietnam for The Abduction. My constitutional law professor, Charles Rice, now deceased, taught me con law again 25 years later for my book, Con Law. I enjoyed researching the law, so that carried over easily to researching my books.”
For his next project, he plans to write a “Casablanca”-type love story set in South Africa. “Not a legal thriller, but I’ve always maintained that my books are actually love stories: a man’s love for his two daughters, one biological, one adopted; a grandfather’s love for his granddaughter; a lawyer’s love for his ex-wife; a judge’s love for his dead wife; a governor’s love for his abducted wife; and so on,” Gimenez says.
“The way I figure it, love is really the only human condition worth writing about. What is life without love?” ✪