Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest one of the nation's most prominent lawyers and highly regarded commentator, Lis Wiehl. Lis is the author of The 51% Minority, which won the 2008 award for Books for a Better Life in the motivational category, and Winning Every Time. Her recent novel, The Newsmakers which she co-authored with Sebastian Stuart has just been launched.
Lis is currently the legal analyst and reporter on the Fox News Channel and Bill O'Reilly's sparring partner in the weekly“Is It Legal?” segment on The O’Reilly Factor. Lis is also a Professor of Law at New York Law School and her column “Lis on Law” appears weekly on FoxNews.com.
Prior to joining Fox News Channel in New York City, Wiehl served as a legal analyst and reporter for NBC News and NPR’s All Things Considered. Lis has also served as a Federal Prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s office.
Lis earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School and her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland.
Norm: Good day Lis and thanks for participating in our interview. How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going? As a follow up, what did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
Lis: I'm delighted to be chatting with you, Norm. I've been a book lover since I was a little girl curled up in bed devouring Dr. Seuss. I began to write as a lawyer and I think it was good training – legal briefs have to be precise, build an argument, and ultimately tell a story.
About twelve years ago I decided to try my hand at writing a book. I loved the process and I really haven't stopped since.
The Newsmakers is my fifteenth book and twelfth novel. I think just sticking with it and turning out the pages no matter what mood I'm in, has been the secret to my productivity.
As for least useful, I'd have to stay censoring myself, stifling my instincts and imagination. We all have a little doubter sitting on our shoulder. I've gotten pretty good at telling her to shut up!
Norm: Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
Lis: When you're writing a mystery or thriller, you have to apply logic. The story has to be plausible, it has to exist within the realm of possibility. So there's a foundation of logic. Once I have that, I like to trust my instincts. I get inside the head and heart of my characters and let them take the lead. Which is very liberating.
Norm: There is a feeling among many that some journalists today find news stories they believe would be interesting and then misrepresent the facts either by omission, or deliberate truth bending to tell the story they want the reader to hear. What are your thoughts on this topic?
Lis: I do think there is some of that, and I think it's dangerous. Our culture and politics are so Balkanized these days, it's possible to live in our own self-selected echo chamber, where we're never exposed to differing opinions.
I think ideological journalism -- well, first of all that's an oxymoron, journalism is about the search for truth, which is wholly objective. But there is too much slanted journalism these days.
Erica Sparks, the star of The Newsmakers, is obsessed with finding the truth. It's what drives her. Although she's had a tough life and works in an often-cynical business, she retains a core idealism.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for The Newsmakers?
Lis: Well, you pretty much nailed it with your last question. I'm fascinated and disturbed by the manipulation of the news. I asked myself: What if an overly ambitious reporter took it one step further and actually created the news to further his career? That was the germ of The Newsmakers.
Then one day I was having lunch with novelist Steve Berry, in an Italian restaurant that looked out at FOX headquarters on Sixth Avenue in New York. I was in the middle of telling him my idea, when I looked across at the towering skyscraper and it hit me: What if the manipulation of the news was coming not from a single reporter, but from the very top? It was a revelatory moment and it led directly to my writing The Newsmakers.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in The Newsmakers and how well do you feel you achieved them? As a follow up, did you write the story to express something you believe or was it just for entertainment?
Lis: My goal is always to entertain readers. I want them to get lost in the world I create, to care about the characters, to feel suspense and fear, and to keep turning the pages. I hope I've achieved those goals.
As for the book being more than entertainment, I think it's an insider look at the high-pressure news business. I take readers behind the scenes and show them the mechanics and the combustible mix of journalism, money, fame, glamour, hard work, romance, sex and raw ambition. And on some level The Newsmakers is a cautionary tale about the manipulation of the news and the abuse of power that drives that manipulation.
Norm: How did you divide the writing of The Newsmakers with Sebastian Stuart?
Lis: Seb and I had a blast working together. We had freewheeling brainstorming sessions 2 or 3 times a week, and then we would pass pages back and forth, discuss them, polish them, make sure our foundation was solid, and then just keep moving forward.
Norm: Is there much of you in The Newsmakers?
Lis: Well, I like to think that I share Erica's commitment to uncovering the truth, to justice, and to fighting for what you want and believe in. I also share her commitment to solitaire (with real cards) as a stress reliever, and to the ease of clip-on earrings. And we're both mothers who adore our children.
I've worked in television for fifteen years now, and the book reflects my take on the news business. And I hope, even after all these years, that like Erica I still have some of my idealism left. But catch me on a bad day and you might not think so.
Norm: What was your main focus when you created Erica Sparks?
Lis: Erica is a driven woman. Her ambition transcends the personal. She fights -- sometimes literally using Tae Kwon Do -- for what she believes in. Erica had an abusive childhood and she is a recovering alcohol who has made some terrible mistakes in her life and is haunted by them.
I wanted to create a fascinating woman who has struggled, continues to struggle, and sometimes prevails. Who is doing her best every day. Who cares, who fights, who falls in love, and most of all is someone you want to spend time with.
Norm: Are the characters in your book based on people you know or have encountered or are they strictly fictional?
Lis: Well, discretion is the better part of gossip on that one, Norm. Let's just say readers may enjoy trying to figure out who's who.
Norm: Do you agree that to have good drama there must be an emotional charge that usually comes from the individual squaring off against antagonists either out in the world or within himself or herself? If so, please elaborate and how does it fit into you novel?
Lis: I completely agree! Erica faces both internal emotional demons, and external life-threatening ones. This bifurcated struggle creates depth, conflict and suspense.
I read an interview with Lee Childs in which he said he puts Jack Reacher into the most dangerous situation he can envision -- and then lets him get out of it on his own. I've tried to do that with Erica.
Norm: Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us? (We would love to hear all about them!)
Lis: Seb and I have almost finished The Candidate: A Newsmakers Novel. It's book two in the Erica Sparks series and it will be out in September 2016. It's set during a presidential election campaign, and it goes to some dark places. I'm very excited about it.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and The Newsmakers?
Lis: I've got a website liswiehlbooks.com. I'm also on Facebook and Twitter. There's nothing I love more than hearing from my readers. So, please, be in touch!
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Lis: There are quite a few deaths in The Newsmakers. I wish someone would ask me if I like killing off my characters. My answer would be: “Yes, I just pretend they’re all a certain ex-boyfriend.”