Liz Meredith interviews Lee Goodman on his upcoming release: Indefensible

Lee Goodman

author Lee Goodman’s book Indefensible
will be published by Emily Bestler Books at Simon and Schuster in early 2014.

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.
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
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.

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

Who were some of your favorite characters in Indefensible? What inspired their
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

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.

Goodman’s work has appeared in places such as
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.
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