An intriguing bilaterality of artist and attorney, most know Mark Lindquist as either a critically acclaimed author or a well-respected prosecutor. Although, some only know of him as one of People Magazine’s “100 Most Eligible Bachelors.” (Image here.)
The converse of a Bitter Lawyer, Mark Lindquist’s early life as a writer in Los Angeles propelled him into practicing law in the Northwest. After several years in Hollywood launching his literary career, Lindquist headed to Seattle for law school and began working as a prosecuting attorney in 1995—a stark contrast to his life as a trendsetting new author. Lindquist had been riding a wave of success with the release of his first two books, 1987’s bestselling Sad Movies and 1990′s Carnival Desires, which placed him in an elite club of his contemporaries.
Once a member of the so-called “literary Brat Pack,” Lingquist was romantically linked to celebrities of the era, such as Molly Ringwald. When first coined, the term applied to a new wave of young, erudite talent that captured the zeitgeist of the 1980s in stark, often minimalist, prose. As a copywriter for Hollywood Studios and a movie scribe, Lindquist joined the ranks of the Pack, whose founding members included Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City), Tama Janowitz (Slaves of New York) and Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero and American Psycho).
Lindquist began working on his third novel, Never Mind Nirvana, while in law school, which intertwined the life of a thirtysomething lawyer (whom many say resembled Lindquist) with the then-prominent Seattle grunge scene. And his fourth book, The King of Methlehem, draws heavily on Lindquist’s experience as a prosecutor fighting a growing methamphetamine epidemic.
Two months ago, Lindquist was unanimously appointed Pierce County Prosecutor in Washington State, further piquing our interest. So Bitter Lawyer recently caught up with him to find out more about how he went from writer to lawyer, how a background in fiction has made him a better prosecutor and what he’s working on next.
Where did you go to law school?
It was the University of Puget Sound School of Law when I started in 1992 and Seattle University School of Law when I graduated in 1995. Who knew you could sell a law school like a used car?
What kind of law do you practice?
My entire legal career has been as a prosecutor in the criminal division, eventually becoming Chief Criminal Deputy. But now I’m in charge of the office, and we have both a civil division and a family support division. There are about 240 employees in total, about half of whom are lawyers.
A lot of lawyers quit practice to become writers. You went in the other direction. What made you decide to go to law school after breaking through with two novels?
I intended to go to law school after college, but other opportunities arose.
I started undergrad at the University of Washington, then transferred to the University of Southern California where I graduated. I wanted to live in Los Angeles for a spell, and I wanted to write. So I stayed in L.A. after graduation and wrote, and I found I could make a living writing, which seemed pretty cool. [But] after ten years in Los Angles, two novels, over a dozen screenplays for studios, and countless article and book reviews for magazines and papers, I was burned out and decided it was now or never for law school.
I had a good life [in Los Angeles]—most of those ten years were spent living in an oceanfront apartment in Venice. But I wanted a change. I moved to downtown Seattle just as the word “grunge” entered the national lexicon. While I was in law school, I started writing Never Mind Nirvana.
In an LA Weekly blurb about Never Mind Nirvana, Molly Ringwald is identified as one of your love interests. Two questions: Is this accurate? And is she, indeed, pretty in pink?
Yes, and yes.
You began your career as a movie industry copywriter (and your first book, Sad Movies comes from that experience). How did you actually “break in” as a novelist?
My agent sent my first novel to Gary Fisketjon, the editor of Jay McInerney’s bestselling Bright Lights, Big City, and to Morgan Entrekin, who discovered Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero for Simon & Schuster. They both liked it, and when they left their respective publishing houses to take over Atlantic Monthly Press, they bought Sad Movies, which was one of their first novels.
Do you think your background as a writer has made you a better lawyer? If so, how?
Absolutely. Trial work is about telling a story. Movie studio executives have a reputation as crass philistines, but the reality is that they well understand the mechanics of storytelling, of engaging and moving an audience, and I learned a lot doing script doctor work. Reading good novels, even plot-less ones, has also helped me as a storyteller.
What’s a typical day like for you now?
Busy. Right now it’s a seven-day-a-week, twelve-hour-a-day job. I’m dealing with restructuring the office, budget issues, imperious judges, and prepping for a four-defendant aggravated murder I’m trying next year.
How do you find time to write?
Lately, I haven’t been. I’m in the gathering stage. I scribble down observations, good lines and thoughts, and I store them in a file cabinet. When I have time to start the actual writing at some point, I’ll have something to work with. My job provides a bounty of material. I’ll probably start my next book after running for election in fall of 2010.
During your career, you’ve been associated a lot with the “literary Brat Pack,” whose most famous member is probably Bret Easton Ellis. Does the idea of a literary “Brat Pack” really mean anything, or is it just a shorthand marketing convention? That is, do you and those other writers actually talk, read each other’s work and identify as a group, or is that just some rather good hype?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Selling literary fiction requires wizardry, and the “Brat Pack” branding seemed to work. Jay, Bret, and I did know each other, we did read each other’s work, we did talk and drink together, but more so Jay and Bret, who both lived in New York City. I was in L.A. through most of the 80s. We had similar tastes in literature, music and movies, but mostly we hung out when we could because there aren’t that many people who care about books, and we did.
What’s the difference between commercial fiction and literature? Is it a question of quality, or is literature just a catchall these days for work that isn’t commercially viable?
I used to think my novels were literature because they were in The New York Times Book Review. But I now realize a novel is literature if some 20-year-old employee at a bookstore puts it in that section.
What’s been your worst moment as a lawyer?
I love the job so much I can’t think of anything that would qualify as a worst moment.
What’s been your best moment as a lawyer?
Many moments come to mind. Mostly courtroom snapshots, a closing argument that resonates, a cross examination that works, the truth emerging from a child victim who finds her voice, but also the camaraderie of my colleagues and being appointed Pierce County Prosecutor.
In The King of Methlehem you write about a prosecutor in Washington state fighting the meth epidemic. How much of the book is autobiographical?
Less than people suspect, but more than I will say.
To find out more about Mark Lindquist, check out his website.