Like John Grisham before him, Gabriel Boutros started his career as a defense attorney, where he met plenty of honest, ethical lawyers who worked hard to guarantee that anyone accused of a crime got a fair trial.
But, occasionally, Gabriel came across lawyers who would gladly cross the ethical line, as long as they, and their client, came out winners. And, sometimes, in the heat of battle, and under the pressures that a major trial can create, even some honest lawyers made decisions they later came to regret.
The Guilty tells the tale of Robert Bratt, a top-notch criminal lawyer – someone who is essentially a good person, but whose need to win has led him to forget his inherent honesty, and driven him to do things that he wished he hadn’t.
After twenty years of doing whatever was needed in the defense of the most hardened criminals, Robert has conflicted feelings about himself and his profession. At the same time he is hired to defend a young gang member accused of a double-murder.
Take a journey into the inner workings of a murder trial and see how far one lawyer will go to defend The Guilty.
Tell us a little bit about you and how you came to be a writer.
Although I spent twenty four years as a defense attorney in Montreal, my educational background before that was in Creative Writing and in Journalism. So I guess telling stories has always been in my blood. (Some people have said that I made up my best stories as a lawyer, but they’re just cynical.) Even while practicing law I wrote from time to time, mostly for my own enjoyment and usually short stories: I was very happy to have actually sold two short stories, but I obviously never quit my day job.
Is this your first book or have you written others?
The Guilty is my first full-length book, although I also have a novella available on Kindle; it’s called If I Should Die Before I Wake, and it is much more of a “gangster” type story.
If you have written others, which is your favorite book?
I’m presently working on another novel, called A Crooked Little Man. Once again, it will be about a criminal lawyer, but a very different creature from the characters in The Guilty. This time my protagonist is a much less successful and much less competent attorney, just struggling to get by. I tend to like main characters that aren’t particularly shiny and clean, or heroic.
Tell us about your current book.
In The Guilty my protagonist, Robert Bratt, is a top-notch criminal lawyer. Although he is essentially a good person, his need to win his cases has led him to forget his inherent honesty, and driven him to do things on behalf of his clients that he wished he hadn’t. After twenty years of doing whatever was needed in the defense of his clients, most of whom he knew to be guilty, Bratt begins having conflicted feelings about himself and his profession. When he is hired to defend a street gang member accused of a double-murder, a young man whom Bratt neither likes nor believes, his need to win collides with his newfound conscience.
Why should people buy it? What makes it different from other books on the market?
I think The Guilty is different from most trial dramas or legal thrillers for two reasons: First of all, after a quarter-century as a trial lawyer I think I can bring the readers behind the scenes, and show them certain details about a murder trial that they might not get from other writers. Secondly, while the outcome of the trial is certainly important to the story, I also shine a light on the inner conflicts the lawyer is dealing with, and with the decisions he has to make in defense of his client.
What genre is it and who is the target audience?
I would call it a trial drama. It is targeted at readers who like stories about the law and murder trials, but who enjoy shades of grey in their protagonist, and want to know about his inner struggles as he tries to do his job.
Do you write in one genre or mix it up a bit and write in a few?
Since the novel I’m working on is also about a less than exemplary attorney, I guess shady lawyers are my little niche. However, my short stories run the gamut from fantasy to horror to human drama.
Tell us how you settled on the title.
I chose The Guilty because it could refer to the man accused of murder, or to the lawyer hired to defend him. It’s up to the readers to choose to whom they think it applies.
Describe your favorite scene in the book.
There are several scenes touching on a recurring theme in the book, in which characters discuss the legal and moral ethics of the defense lawyer. It would be hard to get into more detail without giving away too many plot details.
If you had to choose one favorite character, who would it be and why?
My characters are like my children. How could I choose a favorite from among my children? They each have particular issues, and I love each one in a different way.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you want to play the main characters?
Hmmm. Clooney or Pitt? Hard to choose.
If you had to give your book a censor rating, what would it be? (ie, G rated, PG, M, R, X)
I suppose it would be R-rated. There is one not very explicit sex scene, however the language can be quite vulgar, as is fitting for the characters and situations found in the book.
Where do you draw your inspiration? Is there anything in your book based on real life experiences, or is it all fiction?
There was a multiple murder that occurred in Montreal in the 1990s, which I use as the basis for the trial in The Guilty, although the ethically-conflicted lawyer is a pure invention. During my legal career I was also able to observe some excellent, honest and hard-working lawyers, as well as some of the shiftiest, most untrustworthy lawyers. I tried to use this lifetime of observation to flesh out my characters and hopefully make them both realistic and interesting.
Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
I guess I’m trying to say that in the real world few people are all good or all bad. People can have hidden motivations, which may lead them to do things we don’t like, but they can also have hidden reserves of character which come to the forefront in times of crisis.
Where can people purchase your book?
The Guilty is available in book and Kindle format from Amazon.com, and is also being sold through Barnes and Noble as well as a multitude of other on-line book-sellers.
How do you market your book?
Most of my marketing right now has been on-line. I have my own website, http://storiesbygabrielboutros.weebly.com There is a Facebook page for The Guilty; I also have web pages on a number of writing sites, such as Author’s Den, where I’ve been writing a blog on the experiences of a struggling, first-time independent author.
What has been your most successful marketing tactic to date?
I guess it’s still too early to say; the book has been out a bit over a month, and I’m just trying to get potential readers to know it’s out there. Whether they will eventually buy it or not remains to be seen. If this interview turns out to be a successful marketing tool, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Who designs the covers of your books?
I designed the book cover myself. I spent quite a bit of time searching the internet for a photo I liked, and then chose a color scheme that I hoped would make the book cover jump out at the reader. Honestly, though, I think the background color is a bit too “pretty” for a book that aspires to the dramatic. But that’s just my opinion.
Are you Indie published (self-published) or Trade published?
Indie published, using CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s print on demand format.
Describe the publishing process you went through? Did you engage an editor, beta reader, formatter, designer, publicist or any other professional to help in the process?
My book has been edited by a professional copy editor, and also reviewed by a published writer who was kind enough to take the time to give me her advice. As for the putting the book together, I was able to format and design the interior and exterior of the book on my own through the CreateSpace site (although I also asked their reps questions on a number of occasions). Now I’m going through the learning process for marketing and publicity on my own.
Do you have an agent or are you looking to get one in the future?
I’d only hire an agent if I suddenly had to choose between competing million-dollar offers from different publishing houses. In other words, not just yet, thanks.
Where do you get your ideas?
For The Guilty I spent years answering questions such as how I could represent someone who I knew to be guilty, or whether lawyers lie for their clients. I thought these could be interesting discussions to have if they were told in the context of a murder trial, which is inherently dramatic and suspenseful.
How important is planning to you? Do you plan the whole book or just start writing?
Because I had very specific things I wanted to say in The Guilty, I planned the story out chapter by chapter, so that it built toward the conclusion I was after. Of course, the story changed several times, and the ending is not at all what I had originally foreseen. For the book I’m presently working on, A Crooked Little Man, I’ve tried to write it with very little planning, and I’m finding it much harder to do.
Which do you consider more important? Character or plot, and why?
Right now, with the little experience I have, I’d say character is more important. I think the readers want to know who the people are that things are happening to, otherwise they won’t care what happens. I also think that a realistic plot will flow from the characters, since the worse thing is to have people act in a way that is inconsistent with who they are and how they would normally act.
What project are you working on now?
My other novel is stalled for now, as often happens, I’m afraid. So I’m finishing up another gangster-themed short story. I don’t know why, but I like tough guys and the way they talk, but I don’t think I could pull it off for a full-length book yet. Anyway, short stories are great for more immediate satisfaction.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author and what did you learn from that criticism?
I’ve been told I write long and rambling sentences. Unfortunately it’s true, so I’ve worked at writing shorter, crisper sentences. Fortunately I’ve had good people helping me get there.
What has been the best compliment?
When my sister read The Guilty and told me that as she got into it, she forgot it was her brother who wrote it.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
The only advice I could give is the best advice I’ve ever heard: Read a lot and write a lot. Neither what you read nor what you write has to be any good, as long as you learn from it.
Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I write what I enjoy, but it would be a waste of time if nobody else enjoyed it. So feedback from readers is always appreciated.
Favorite place in the world to be?
Seats in the red section at the Bell Center for a Bruins-Habs game. Oh, did I not mention I live in Montreal?
What is your favourite thing about being a writer?
It’s a chance to imagine the world in a different way from how it really is. And I love getting my characters to say or do things that I might not be able to say or do myself.
What is your least favourite thing about being a writer?
You have to spend a lot of time alone. Writing is not a social activity,
Favourite book to reread.
I honestly have none. I’ve read all sorts of styles and genres over the years, and found something to love in so much of them. Over the years I have loved Raymond Chandler and Joseph Conrad and Margaret Atwood and Stephen King and Charles Dickens and James Herbert and so many more. I would gladly reread much of what they wrote, and I have.
Favourite TV show or movie?
Strangely enough, this one I can answer. Favourite TV show is a tie between The Wire and Deadwood. Favourite movie is Casablanca (although I do enjoy a loud summer blockbuster as much as the next guy.)
Give your author platform links (website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads etc)
My website is http://storiesbygabrielboutros.weebly.com/
The Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/the.guilty.gabriel.boutros.
I also have some of my writing posted on Author’s Den, Goodreads and Booksie, and Amazon
Where do you find readers?
Through these various sites, a little word of mouth, and a lot of begging and pleading
Describe your writing process? Do you write in an office, at the table, outside? Do you type on a computer or write in longhand first?
I write on my computer in my little home office, usually late at night when everyone is asleep and the house is quiet. I rarely write five or six words without changing things around, so my computer is indispensable for me. If I wrote longhand my pages would be ninety percent scribbled out.