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.


by Moderator dhaupt on ‎11-05-2009 09:33 AM

Hi Phillip, Thanks for the article. The answer for me is a definite yes, like you all the authors I read embolden my love of reading and I love many many genres. My authors also teach me that they are human just like the rest of us and it always amazes me when they take the time out of their busy schedule to let us know how much they appreciate them. During the past several years I have become friends with many authors through reviewing their books to just corresponding with them and am in awe of myself when I tell people "I know him/her". So to make a novel into a short story the authors I know, read and love keep me reading not only because of their unique ability of storytelling but of their efforts to be their for their public as well.


by wilderbeest on ‎11-07-2009 02:17 PM

"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..."


This statement resonates with me. I remember walking with my older brother a mile or more to a local Target store when I was 10-12 years old and us buying the latest Stephen King novels in paperback with money we earned from mowing lawns. There was a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation for beginning the story that was contained in the pages we held bound in our hands. The books would knock a dent in our long summer days, as we spent them leisurely reading together, my brother on his bed, me on the floor next to his bed, each with our own novel. Hours went by. We had to be reminded about eating. I owe my love of reading at an early age to Stephen King, even if I was perhaps a bit too young to be reading his work.


That love of reading and compulsion to read the next story I happen to find that sparks my interest for whatever reason has not diminished to this day 20 years later. Stephen King remains a must-read. But so do so many, many others whose work I follow over the years (such as yours, Mr Margolin), and so many that I discover as I go, either by word of mouth, author endorsements, intriguing and eye-catching book cover art, my phase of life and interest level at the time. As you say, "every author I ever read influenced me because they all encouraged my love of books." So much so, that it is really hard for me to answer the sometimes inevitable questions that come from people who are coming to understand that you are an avid reader (and perhaps a bit curious or baffled as to why you always have a book, and perhaps they even are interested in getting into some books themselves): "What's your favorite author? Book?" I think I just found my new answer in your statement. It will now be something like this: "all of them," along with whatever standouts I remember reading most recently, or what author/genre phase I am in at the time. All the books and authors expand my mind just that much more, or else even if it isn't my real interest, there is an appreciation on my part for the writer's craft, for the magic that comes from putting words on page to form a story that others consume, something that even sticks with a person and shapes their outlook on the world, or at the least entertains them and provides them with enjoyment for a while. It's very cool.


Thanks for your post. Seeing your post/name on here reminded me to get back to reading some more of your novels. I've read 6 or 7 of yours, for a couple of months there, about 4 in a row, but I'll have to catch up on your latest 4 novels. 


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