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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author T.C. Morrison talks about what inspired him to write his new legal farce novel, Send In The Tort Lawyers.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed T.C. Morrison about his life and career, what inspired him to start writing, and the creative work that went into his new novel, Send In The Tort Lawyers.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated from Otterbein College (now University), a small church-related college in Westerville, Ohio. I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to New York University Law School, which changed the trajectory of my life. After serving four years in the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps, I returned to New York and joined the law firm with which I had enjoyed a summer internship while in law school.
In 1977, I moved to the New York firm Patterson Belknap Webb and Tyler where I spent the bulk of my professional career. I tried cases and argued appeals throughout the country and helped the firm pioneer the field of false advertising litigation, whereby companies can sue their competitors for advertising that is false or misleading.
When did you first want to write a book?
Ever since college I have loved novels and have always wanted to write one. When I was in the Air Force, I had lots of free time on my hands so I decided to write a “spy novel”. Fortunately, the three publishers I sent it to all declined to publish it.
When did you take a step to start writing?
During my 49th and final year of practice, I began thinking that retirement would be a good time to resurrect my desire to write a novel. I immediately realized that I should make it about something I knew about. As I had been trying cases and arguing appeals throughout my career, I realized that modern American litigation should be my subject. As I had no desire to write a legal thriller, and as I believed there is much humor in American litigation, I quickly decided that the book should satirize modern American litigation.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to the release?
My first book was Tort$ ‘R’ Us, A Legal Farce. Including the time I spent collecting materials to use in the book and the time it took me to input the book into my computer (which because of my endless typing errors, far exceeds the time it takes to hand write the first draft), it took about 12 to 15 months. It then took about two years to get it published, most of which time was spent in a fruitless effort to find an agent willing to take it on.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to the release?
I spent about a month collecting and reviewing materials to use in the latest book, Send In The Tort Lawyer$. It then took me only about 3 months to write the book from start to finish, with about a third of that time devoted to inputting (and endlessly correcting) the manuscript on my computer. My publisher was then able to get it published within about 4 months.
Focusing on your latest release, what made you want to write Send In The Tort Lawyers?
When I wrote the first book I had no idea of doing a series, I was happy to just have a published novel. But numerous friends and colleagues loved the book and suggested I write a sequel. The sequel was Please Pass The Tort$. Some people, myself included, liked that book better than the first. And once again many readers said they were looking forward to the further exploits of the characters in the book. So doing the current one was an easy decision.
What were your biggest challenges in writing Send In The Tort Lawyers?
All of the books unfold in a similar manner, which is roughly a year in the life of the New York City class action law firm, Peters and Peters. Each book features 4 or 5 bizarre class action lawsuits brought by the firm on behalf of wacky clients against sometimes unscrupulous defendants represented by amusing (and occasionally shady) lawyers and tried before a series of bemused and exasperated judges. As all the cases in all three books are takeoffs on actual court cases, the main challenge is always finding cases that lend themselves to satire and farce.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
The protagonists in all three books are Patrick A. Peters (“Pap”) and his twin brother Prescott U. Peters (“Pup”). I thought I could have a lot of fun with the brothers being twins, a situation which is exploited for comical effect in all three books. To add a veneer of realism to the brothers, I used the first part of the initial book to explore their respective careers, with both enjoying successful and lucrative careers with traditional big city law firms. The real fun begins when Pap, the more adventurous of the two, convinces Pup that they should abandon their careers and start up a plaintiffs’ class action firm.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The Antagonists are the lawyers who represent the companies the brothers sue. Those lawyers range from straight-forward to wacky to unscrupulous. I frequently try to invent amusing names for their firms that are riffs on real life law firms, such as Oliver and Cromwell or Arnold and Hammer. Other firm names are made up for comic effect, such as Warren Peace and Holly Woods, or Mason and Dickson, or Fine and Dandy. My favorite defense firm, which appears in two of the books, is Jeckel and Hyde. Whenever a judge accuses the firm of doing something unethical, Hyde blames it on his partner Jeckel who, he claims, is always doing things behind his back.
What is the inciting event in Send In The Tort Lawyers?
Each book contains a series of 4 or 5 bizarre class action cases that unfold from inception to courtroom finish. I give pretty much equal weight – typically 4 or 5 chapters – to each those cases.
The first book, Tort$ ‘R’ Us, does have sort of a main case which begins in the first chapter: Pap’s eccentric neighbor, Mona Lott, who has been arrested at the behest of her neighbor for shooting at a pair of geese on her pond with an “assault rifle”, which was actually a BB gun.
The second book, Please Pass The Tort$, features one of my favorite cases, a class action against the Russian government on behalf of a Democrat Congressman and various politicians and businessmen caught up in a Russian Honey Trap.
And the current book, Send In the Tort Lawyer$, has what is certainly the most newsworthy case in all the books, a riff on the rise and fall of cryptocurrency firm FTX (“FUX” in the book), who’s founder is at this very moment on trial in New York federal court for criminal fraud.
What is the main conflict in Send In The Tort Lawyers?
Each of the cases featured in the book generates a conflict. There is always the conflict with the company (and its attorneys) that is being sued by Peters and Peters. Frequently there is a conflict with the judge who is skeptical of the case, such as Judge Lee Way who doesn’t understand how the brothers can possibly prove that the cows on the farms used by Jen and Barrys for the milk and cream in their ice cream are not “happy cows”, as the advertising claims. Sometimes there is even a conflict with their client, such as Pap’s neighbor Mona Lott, who refuses to take any advice from Pap and Pup as to how to behave or respond in the courtroom.
Did you plot Send In The Tort Lawyers in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
What I plot is the various cases that will be in the book and the sequence in which they will occur. I also try to plot several amusing non-courtroom episodes in each book, such as a dinner party at Pap’s home or a couple of weekly meetings of the lawyers in the Peters’ firm, or the next installment in the love life of the firm’s associate Chip, the former college quarterback who manages to bed every woman he meets, including more than one firm client. Once I have the general idea for the cases and episodes, and their sequence, I write freely, with only a handful of notes as to what I want to include. That is the fun part; once I start writing a scene – whether in the courtroom or out – the words and jokes seem to come easily.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Send In The Tort Lawyers need?
I have no external editing help. But my own editing is extensive, a habit I gained from 45 years of writing legal briefs. My first draft is written by hand, using #2 pencils and about 25 or 30 legal pads. I edit each handwritten chapter as it is put down on paper before I input it into the computer. I then input 2 or 3 chapters at a time and immediately edit them on my computer. After the entire book is on the computer, I then go through it at least 2 or 3 times before sending it off to my publisher.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Write about something you know about. My “spy novel” that has thankfully never seen the light of day was inspired only be what I knew about spies from books and movies. My three Tort$ books are based on something I know a lot about, modern American litigation. That knowledge and experience gives me the ability to create depositions and courtroom testimony and dialogue that seems “real”, even if it is totally farcical.
Can you give me a hint abut any further books you’re planning to write?
At this point I think I’m a one-trick pony. So my next book will be the fourth book in the series. At the urging of my computer expert, who has helped me on all three books, I will be working in AI. There have already been some amusing AI developments in the legal field, including an AI Bot who made the list of the nation’s top 100 lawyers.
And finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes to both. I set out to write a single novel and now I have written three. The feedback I have received from friends and former legal colleagues has been extremely rewarding. Their in-person comments and their reviews on Amazon are rewarding beyond description. More than one person has told me they can’t wait to get the latest book, one friend saying he rushed out to meet the mailman every day to see if the new book had arrived.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
The easiest is to go to my website: tortsrusbook.com. It features all the books, all of the reviews, podcasts and interviews for the books, and of course has a link to my Amazon pages where the books can be purchased.
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