When I'm on a book tour I always take questions after giving a talk about some aspect of writing. One question I am asked frequently is "What authors influenced you?" I write legal thrillers. There is always a lawyer and a murder in my books. My books often feature murder trials and conferences between lawyer and client in a jail, penitentiary or law office. I owe my choice of career to Erle Stanley Gardner.
I started reading voraciously in elementary school and murder mysteries were my favorite books. I devoured Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novels. Perry made me decide at an early age that defending innocent people accused of murder was the most exciting way to earn a living. For twenty-five years I was a criminal defense attorney and I handled 30 homicide cases and argued at the United States Supreme Court, among other things. Unlike Perry's clients, who were always innocent, most of my clients committed the crimes with which they were charged. However, on two different occasions, I did save an innocent man from prison after he had been sentenced to life for a crime he did not commit. While handling the appeals of these men I discovered that they should never have been convicted of murder because neither man had anything to do with the killing. The most satisfying moments in my career as a criminal defense attorney came when I was able to clear these men and take them out of the state penitentiary where they each served four years for crimes they had not committed. My experiences as a lawyer in these and other cases have helped me make my novels realistic and I owe both of my legal and writing careers to Mr. Gardener.
Ellery Queen was also a favorite because he was one of the few writers of detective fiction who included clues in his mysteries that enabled an astute reader to figure out the identity of the killer. Hardly anyone does this and I loved the puzzle aspects of Queen's books. When I write my legal thrillers I always try to have surprise endings and I work hard to include hard-to-find clues that permit the reader to figure out whodunit. If you like reading mysteries that can be solved and which have fair clues I direct you to Ross McDonald and Harlen Coben's Myron Bolitar series.
I was lucky to become addicted to reading at an early age and I guess you could say that every author I read influenced me because they all encouraged my love of books, but Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner had the greatest impact on my career.
Has a fictional character ever informed or influenced your life?
Editor's Note: Phillip Margolin practiced law for over 25 years and is the New York Times bestselling author of 14 novels.