Interview with Mark Shaiken

Published 2020-05-24.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Queens New York, then Long Island and then New Haven, Connecticut. All of my experiences seemed to have steered me to a life as an attorney, and then, eventually, out of that life. My writing has always been influenced by my environment, which included both my childhood, my professional life, and my personal life.
Did you always want to be an attorney?
Heavens no.
How did you become an attorney?
Like so many things in my life, it just sort of happened. One day I drove a forklift, and the next day I found myself in law school and the next day I passed the bar exam and began life as an attorney at law. Just like that. Well, maybe not quite the very next day but after thirty-eight years of practicing bankruptcy law, time and space can sometimes get a little distorted and the continuum of the dimensions can warp.
Did you like your life as an attorney?
Not always. Sometimes I hated it, and the world of the law firm; sometimes I tolerated it, and sometimes I may have even liked it. But mostly, as is true for so many attorneys, “like” was not typically the first word that crossed my mind when I pondered each day of my life as an attorney. I liked my life as an attorney more when I learned to accept the parts of the practice of law that drove me crazy and that I could not change. For that, I can thank the life as an attorney for helping me learn that I cannot control everything, and, at times, I can control nothing. At times, I was frustrated by the practice of law at a big law firm, and just as often, I was energized by it. Oftentimes, I made the people close to me miserable, and I believe I can attribute that unfortunate truth to the practice of law, rather than myself, although I can see how that is debatable. I sometimes frustrated my partners in the law firm; I believe they may have occasionally enjoyed having me around, just a little... but they don’t have to admit it. I did not always – perhaps even not often – really hate the practice of law. But, on balance, “like” was and still is a hard word for me to use in close proximity to the phrase “practice of law.”
What kind of book is "And . . . Just Like That?"
This is a just-the-way-I-see-it book. It is partly a memoir, so you know something about how I came to be an attorney and perhaps why I reacted the way I did to the practice of law; and it is a book of observations, each in a standalone essay that covers my view of the pertinent parts of the whole attorney- and-law-firm-thing. I am a believer in the notion that if you face the things you have lived through, it can help you get beyond them. This book faces up to some of those things and is my couch session – with you – to help me get beyond these things.
Whos is the audience for "And . . . Just Like That?"
I found myself at a Denver cocktail party, and the conversation turned to how I filled my days since retirement. I mentioned this book. My conversation partner asked, “Who is the book’s audience?” A great question, and, since then, I have given this quite a bit of thought: who is the audience for this book? Who would ever want to read about the life and times of a respectable, midwestern attorney, not widely known throughout the country? I have friends and some family. I am not sure I can count on them to read this book since they have largely lived through my life as an attorney, and have heard many of my views over the years. Who is the audience? The most obvious answer, it seems, is attorneys, and those who hang around attorneys. After all, who but an attorney would relate to a book of essays about life before, during and after the practice of law? So, I did a bit of research, and I learned that as of 2014, there were more than 1.22 million attorneys in the United States. Wow. That is a whole lot of attorneys. And, I thought, the book might be of interest to law students as well as attorneys. Law students are desperate to know what is in store for them in the wacky world of law firms. In 2012, there were approximately 149,000 law students in the United States. So 149,000 further potential readers, for a total of more than 1.3 million. Then I thought, the audience could also include anyone who has an attorney friend. I figured even attorneys must have some friends (although not many), and attorneys always complain to their friends about being an attorney. The math suggests that even if every attorney and law student has an average of just one and a half friends, that would be a total of about 2,053,500 more readers, for a grand total of over 3.4 million readers. Then I thought, the audience should also include spouses and significant others of the attorneys and law students. The latest census tells me that fifty-one percent of the United States adult population marries. That yields another 698,190 attorney spouses, taking my total readership over 4.1 million. Then I thought, attorneys tend to drink more than the general population (and, sadly, all too often, have a drinking problem). Statistics collected by bar associations (the organizations that regulate attorneys) suggest that somewhere between eighteen and twenty-five percent of attorneys have a drinking problem. Even if we use the lower range of the scale, that means at any given time, 219,600 attorneys have struggles that lead them to alcohol abuse and to sit at bars – the drinking kind, not the legal profession regulatory kind (isn’t it interesting, however, that attorney associations and liquor dispensaries have the same name?). If each of these attorneys drinking at a bar complains to two folks at the bar (I figure the bartender and the person on the next stool over), some portion of the bartenders and the poor person sitting next to the complaining attorney might want to read a thoughtful book of essays about the travails of attorneys. The math suggests that this could yield another 439,200 folks, for a staggering total potential audience of over 4.3 million readers. Finally, I figure there are maybe five or ten others who could find the book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and read the book because it sounds interesting. Indeed, maybe those are the only ones who will read the book at all. So, I have concluded that a fair range of potential readership is between five people and 4,340,300 people.
Why is the book called "And . . . Just Like That?"
The phrase, “Just Like That,” connotes something that happens all of a sudden, and unexpectedly. I did not chase becoming an attorney; I did not plan for it; and, in all truthfulness, I did not even see it coming. It just happened. Indeed, much of my life happened, just like that, when one life plan or another fizzled out. If you read the book, you will understand!
What are you working on next?
I am currently beginning my next book, a bankruptcy novel entitled "Fresh Start."
Who are your favorite authors?
Michael Connelly, Dashiell Hammett, Earnest Hemingway, and William Faulker are my favorites.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I enjoy living so getting out of bed each morning is something I look forward to. Now that I am no longer an attorney, I get to do many good things in the world and feel good about whatever little change for the better I can create. I can finally measure my life by what I give. I volunteer my time on several boards: delivering arts education to inner city kids; helping to house families in need of housing; and teaching photography to veterans struggling to reintegrate into society. Each makes me feel good every day.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I play guitar and love the music part of my life. I also like old black and white westerns. I enjoy spending my days with my wife Loren and our wonderful dog, Emily, and I relish cheering on our son Zac.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I surf websites for recommendations.
What is your writing process?
I outline extensively and then I book time with myself on my calendar. I make regular appointments with myself to write. Some days the words flow effortlessly and some days, not so much. But, no matter how much or how little I produce, I write by regular appointment and that method seems to work well for me.
How do you approach cover design?
I use Design For Writers, a husband and wife team in Great Britain who are incredibly creative and talented and wonderful people to work with. I highly recommend DFW to indie authors.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I am a Kindle person.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
In these COVID times, I am marketing almost exclusively in social media and by emails to potential readers. No visits to indie bookstore, book clubs or libraries. I have done one podcast interview and I am focused on doing more of them.
Describe your desk
I have a reasonably neat desk. Simple but neat.
When did you first start writing?
When I was four or five.
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