Somebody once asked me where I come up with my ideas for crimes and political scandals in my books. I told him I just open my eyes every day.
I’m kidding. Sort of. I’m a Chicago lawyer, and I work in the political arena, so I tend to see a lot of interesting things. As the lawyer for the Speaker of the Illinois House, I spent two years basically trying to prevent Governor Rod Blagojevich from doing all the goofy and corrupt things he wanted to do. Then I served as the House Prosecutor who tried and convicted him before the Illinois Senate during our historic impeachment trial.
So getting fodder for my plots isn’t the hard part. The hard part is topping reality. My best example concerns our dearly departed governor, Blago. In December of 2008, I was putting the finishing touches on a novel about a governor who becomes corrupt. It had some of your basic pay-to-play scandals, and I thought it would be an interesting character study as well. It wasn’t exactly about Blagojevich, but it’s fair to say that Blago inspired me.
And then he did more than inspire me—he trumped me. Along came December 9, 2008, and “Blagojevich” became a household name with the news of his arrest. Compared to the sensational allegations that followed, my manuscript seemed completely tame. Truth, it so happened, had become far, far stranger than my fiction.
What to do? Well, I had to go back to the drawing board. Even though the manuscript (now my upcoming novel, BREACH OF TRUST) wasn’t precisely about Blagojevich, I knew that everybody would have certain expectations about a novel of political corruption written by Blago’s impeachment prosecutor. So I had to dial up the volume on everything I was doing and spice up the scandals. I had to make my fiction stranger to keep up with reality.
Voting early and often. Buying and selling a U.S. Senate seat. Putting your cronies on the payroll. Shaking down government contractors for campaign contributions. Two consecutive governors with felony convictions. The challenge for a Chicago lawyer isn’t coming up with ideas for crimes and scandal—it’s trying to come up with ones that haven’t already appeared in the headlines!
David Ellis is a graduate of Northwestern Law School and Chief Legal Council to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. He is also the author of seven novels the most recent of which, “Breach of Trust,” will be published by Putnam Books in February of 2011. His first novel, “Line of Vision,” won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. More information about Ellis can be found on his website or his Facebook page.
Note: I am also hosting a giveaway for Ellis’ most recent two books.