Tell us a little about your book.
Indefensible is a contemporary legal mystery. The main character, Nick Davis, is an Assistant U.S. Attorney. The story opens with the discovery of a body in the woods. Nick is romantically attracted to the female bird-watcher who found the body, and then it turns out that Nick also had met the victim shortly before the murder. Thus Nick becomes overly involved in the case, but the prosecution keeps imploding. One murder becomes two, becomes three, and the FBI can’t make anything stick against the prime suspect. As Nick finds himself and his daughter in danger, and as the borders between the players—between investigators, lawyers, family-members, victims and perps—begin to fade, Nick’s loyalty to the rule of law begins to crumble.
Beyond the suspense and mystery of the plot, the story is about how several criminal lawyers—both prosecutors and defense lawyers—succumb to the unresolvable conflicts between their professional obligations, their private lives, and their personal morals.
When did you begin this book? What inspired it?
I began the book about six or seven years ago, but I took long periods away from it, and then it took over a year to get an agent, and a couple more years to get a publisher. I had written a previous novel that was an attempt at more literary fiction. When it didn’t sell I decided I’d take a shot at something with greater commercial potential. As a lawyer I always loved Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent which I believe brings strong literary quality to the legal mystery genre. So with Presumed Innocent as my beacon, I decided to take a shot at writing a character-driven legal mystery.
Do you work with an outline, or do you just write?
I didn’t write an outline for Indefensible. I had the major plot points in mind and they roughly guided me through the first draft. But I may need an outline for the sequel that I’m trying to write because I haven’t been able to construct the plot skeleton in my mind.
Whether writing from an outline or not, I believe most novelists work more or less the same way: We always have an event, or a critical scene we are writing towards at any given point, and the job is about laying all the foundation necessary to give that moment its greatest impact. The challenge is in staying flexible enough to add characters as they occur to us, to take side trips that emerge organically from the narrative, but to still be focused enough that everything continues to serve the overall intent.
How did you manage rejections you received from literary agents?
Rejection is the name of the game. How did I “manage” rejections? I don’t know. I guess the same way you manage any disappointment. You grieve, you re-evaluate, then you either make the necessary adjustments or you give up. I’ve done both. I got a lot of rejections by agents for this manuscript, and when I finally got an agent we then racked up many rejections from publishers. And maybe I finally had given up. I’d invested years and years in the idea of writing, and around this same period of time that I was looking for agents and publishers, I suffered some traumatizing events in my family. I was worn out and in desperate need of a success. So I’m not sure, but I think maybe I’d decided that if this book didn’t sell I’d hang up my cleats.
Once, when my first novel was requested by an editor at one of the major publishers—I think it was Scribner—I sent the manuscript to her and then waited and waited for her response. In those days it was all snail mail. When I finally got the rejection back in the mail I ran a hot bath and got in. “How you doing?” my then-wife asked. “Everything hurts,” I answered. So I guess that’s how I dealt with that rejection. I got into the tub.
Who were some of your favorite characters in Indefensible? What inspired their development?
This is a great question. I believe strongly in character as the driving force in fiction. I have three favorite characters. One from this novel, one from my previous novel, and one from a short story I wrote.
I have a brother who is developmentally disabled. In my previous novel I patterned a character, Todd, on my brother. So though the events were all fiction, in writing Todd’s character I was borrowing from my relationship with my brother. That character was my love letter to my brother.
In my current novel the protagonist’s daughter is a snarky and very intelligent girl of about fourteen. Lizzy. In real life I have a thirteen year-old daughter. Also snarky. I loved writing Lizzy because she was so clear to me, though this is strange because my daughter was a lot younger when I started this novel, and I also don’t feel as though I know my daughter all that well. But I knew Lizzy so perfectly it felt like the character was kind of a bridge to my daughter.
And the character from my short story: A Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was a few years too young to be drafted into Vietnam, but the specter of that war was always with me in my youth. I wrote about this vet building a cabin someplace down on the Yukon River. I’m interested in PTSD and mental illness, both as social and legal issues. In my short story this vet is treading the edge of sanity as he constructs a little cabin on the edge of a vast wilderness. It’s all metaphorical of course. But again, this man was crystal clear to me. Nothing about him felt made-up.
What project are you working on now? A sequel to Indefensible.
Lee Goodman’s work has appeared in places such as Orion Magazine and the Iowa Review, where he was nominated for the Pushcart Price in fiction. He also works as a screenwriter. Goodman has taught writing at two universities and currently works in Alaska as an attorney and as a commercial fisherman. He received his MFA from Bennington College.