Today, we welcome author Joey Hartstone to Behind The Words. Joey is not only the author of THE LOCAL, a legal thriller, but is also an accomplished screenwriter. His screen writing credits include the movie LBJ, Shock and Awe, The Good Fight and Your Honor.
Let’s start by learning a bit about you. Where you are from, where you live all the fun stuff?
I was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona. I went to college at Brandeis, in Massachusetts. After graduation, I moved to L.A. and have been here almost the rest of my adult life. I met my wife, Abby, in 2006. We got married eleven years later (it’s a long story). We spent the first five years of our marriage in Santa Monica, New York, and a brief stint in Paris before settling back into L.A. life. We have a one-year-old son named Teddy, and having him is without question the best decision we ever made.
How long have you been writing and it is your full time job?
Late during my senior year of college, I decided I wanted to try my hand at screenwriting. So I moved to L.A. in 2005 in pursuit of that dream. One short decade later, I finally became a professional writer when my first movie, LBJ, was made. I’ve written two films, and I’ve worked on two television shows: The Good Fight and Your Honor. I’ve been very fortunate to be a working writer for the past seven years.
What does your typical writing day look like?
At the moment, I wake up between 3 and 4am every day. I write until my son wakes up around 6am and then my wife and I spend our morning with him. I work for a bit again until the writers room for Your Honor starts at 10am. We break stories for the show for five hours. After the room ends, I usually have meetings, calls, and rewriting to do until 5pm when I try to drop everything so that I can spend a couple hours with my family. If I need to, I may do another hour or two of work before bed.
Writing The Local was much different because that was the only thing I was working on at the time, and we didn’t have a baby. I woke up around 6am and wrote until about noon. Then I tried to figure out how to fill up the other 18 hours of my day while being quarantined with no job. I can’t even remember what it feels like to have that much free time!
So…..tell us about your latest release – THE LOCAL.
The Local comes out June 14, 2022. (TODAY!) It’s a legal thriller about a patent lawyer in a small Texas town who takes his first murder case when a friend of his is killed and a corporate client is accused of the crime.
What inspired the idea for this book?
I have a friend named Nathan Speed who is an intellectual property lawyer. He’s based out of Boston but told me that he travels to Marshall, Texas, a lot for his work. I asked why East Texas is a busy place for patent infringement lawsuits and that’s when he told me about this small federal court that became a magnet for patent cases about 20 years ago. In part by design, in part by accident, the Eastern District of Texas became THE place to sue for patent infringement. Nathan also explained to me that these lawsuits involve huge corporations that are represented by big city law firms, but each one hires a local counsel to help them connect to these Texas juries. I immediately became obsessed with this town, and this profession. I spent a couple of years crafting the story, believing that I would ultimately pitch it as a TV series. But for a variety of reasons, in 2022 I found myself with a lot of free time and only one story I wanted to write. I decided to write it as a book so that I could tell the story exactly how I’d envisioned it in my head.
Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why?
I relate to the main character, James Euchre. He’s got some attributes that I don’t have, but particularly when it comes to his flaws, I wanted them to feel authentic and complex, and the easiest way to achieve that was to borrow from myself. He’s a guy who carries a lot of insecurities with him. He tries not to reveal his fears to other people, but they inform everything that he does and doesn’t do. He has aspirations but the fear of not living up to his idea of himself, or what he thinks others expect of him, is often a stifling presence in his life. And frankly, he’s willing to quit when things get too hard. So we meet him at a time when he’s fairly closed off from the rest of the world, isolating himself for his own protection. But that doesn’t work; we can’t shut off our feelings to prevent pain.
Would you and your main character be friends?
We would be friends. Our similarities would allow us to safely interact with one another on a superficial level at first, and then slowly build a deeper connection. Plus, I love talking to lawyers since I wish I was one. So I’d be taken by him immediately.
What part of the book was the hardest to write?
The first chapter was the hardest part to write. Openings are so important, and there are so many competing goals to balance: How much do you reveal? What much do you withhold? What needs to happen to engage the reader? What do you have to establish right off the bat to understand the story that’s going to unfold? My first chapter introduces the main character, the town of Marshall, Texas, and the federal courthouse that serves as the epicenter for patent law in this country. It was a lot to establish in one chapter, but I needed to do it, and try to do it in an engaging way so that I could turn to the story of the book after that.
Did you model a character after someone you know?
I didn’t model James after anyone in particular. There was enough of myself in him that I felt I had a pretty good handle on him. I do like to model characters off of people I know, or famous people. I find it’s a good shorthand to help make them feel real and fully developed. Lisa “The Leg” Morgan is my investigator character. She’s a short, small woman who played collegiate soccer. She’s a total badass. So I pictured her as Megan Rapinoe as a private eye. James’s mentor, Judge Gerald Gardner, was inspired by my favorite professor at UCLA, a legendary man named Gary Gardner whom I was privileged to know for many years before he passed. And Layla, James’s fellow attorney and love interest is a compilation of three or four people I know.
If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?
I would love to continue writing this story. There are two main areas that I’d like to tackle: One is the patent industry itself, because this is very much in flux. The Supreme Court has handed down rulings that may considerably limit the number of cases venues like EDTX can hear. So this setting that I’ve found might not exist much longer in its current state. And I’d like to dive into James’s past more, particularly with his relationship to his deceased father. I want to explore how that unfolded, why it impacted him so negatively, and if he can ever make peace with it.
Could you share one detail from your current release with readers that they might not find in the book?
My first thought is that if I had a great piece of backstory and didn’t include it in the book, I’d be a fool! This is a really small thing, but it’s mentioned in the book that James played defense back in high school. His high school team lost the state championship to a rival school. A touchdown was thrown to the opposite side of the field. James never had a chance to make a game-saving play. I don’t say it in the book, but in my mind, James has always been somewhat relieved by that. Losing was tough, but being responsible for that loss would be far more difficult to bear. In the movie The Replacements, Gene Hackman’s character says, “Winners always want the ball when the game is on the line.” I don’t think James wanted the ball. I think the risk of failure was too great.
Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write?
I grew up on the works of John Grisham and Scott Turow. I dreamed of becoming a lawyer, and I’m pretty sure these books and films were the reason. But it was The Lincoln Lawyer series by Michael Connelly that truly inspired me to write The Local. I think those stories, and the character of Mickey Haller, are exceptional. I would read 50 more if he chooses to write them because the character is endlessly engaging and the cases and stories are always well-crafted and rewarding.
Any writing rituals?
Wake up and write. If I wait too long, something is bound to get in my way.
Do you have a secret talent readers would be surprised by?
I don’t know if it’s surprising, but I have my private pilot’s license. It’s expired, but I’m fairly confident I could still land a single-engine Cessna if I absolutely needed to.
Your favorite go to drink or food when the world goes crazy!
I’m a simple guy, so when feeling overwhelmed I’ll usually just spring for Chipotle.
And what is your writing Kryptonite?
Asking for criticism too early in the process.
What is the one question you never get ask at interviews, but wish you did? Ask and answer it.
Who do you most wish could read this book but never will? My father.
Thank you so much for joining us today. And happy release day!! Reader’s, follow this link to grab your copy of THE LOCAL!
In the town of Marshall sits the Federal courthouse of the Eastern District of Texas, a place revered by patent lawyers for its speedy jury trails and massive punitive payouts. Marshall is flooded with patent lawyers, all of whom find work being the local voice for the big-city legal teams that need to sway a small-town jury. One of the best is James Euchre.
Euchre’s new client is Amir Zawar, a firebrand CEO forced to defend his life’s work against a software patent infringement. Late one night, after a heated confrontation in a preliminary hearing, Judge Gardner is found murdered in the courthouse parking lot. All signs point to Zawar—he has motive, he has opportunity, and he has no alibi. Moreover, he is an outsider, a wealthy Pakistani-American businessman, the son of immigrants, who stands accused of killing a beloved hometown hero.
Zawar claims his innocence, and demands that Euchre defend him. It’s the last thing Euchre wants—Judge Gardner was his good friend and mentor—but the only way he can get definitive answers is to take the case. With the help of a former prosecutor and a local PI, Euchre must navigate the byzantine world of criminal defense law in a town where everyone knows everyone, and bad blood has a long history. The deeper he digs, the more he fears that he’ll either send an innocent man to death row or set a murderer free.
The Local is a small-town legal thriller as big in scope as Texas. It crackles with courtroom tension and high stakes gambits on every page to the final, shocking verdict.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Joey Hartstone grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona, a small town not unlike Marshall, Texas, the setting of The Local. After graduating from Brandeis University in 2005 with a major in political science, he moved to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. It took a decade of working on several reality TV shows, studying at UCLA, and writing lots of scripts that no one was reading before he wrote a screenplay about Lyndon Johnson that ultimately became the movie, LBJ, directed by Rob Reiner and staring Woody Harrelson. He also wrote the screenplay for Shock and Awe, for which he reteamed with Reiner and Harrelson. Hartstone worked with Robert and Michelle King for two seasons on the acclaimed series The Good Fight and is currently a writer and co-executive producer on Showtime’s Your Honor, starring Bryan Cranston.
Joey Hartstone lives in Los Angeles with his family. He still dreams about becoming a lawyer someday, but thinks he’ll probably just stick to writing about the law for entertainment.