Exclusive Interview With Author "James Irving"
James V. Irving was born and raised in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia (UVA), where he majored in English. He holds a law degree from the College of William and Mary and is a member of the bars of Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Massachusetts.
After completing his undergraduate studies at UVA, Irving spent two years employed as a private detective in Northern Virginia, where he pursued wayward spouses, located skips, investigated insurance claims and handled criminal investigations. In his early years as a lawyer, he practiced criminal law, which along with his investigative experience and trial work, informs the fictional account of Joth Proctor, the protagonist in his stories.
Read on to find out more about Irving and his fascinating group of characters; and let the lead you through an adventure full of southern charm and shady business dealings in Friends Like These.
Is Friends Like These your first novel?
It is my first published novel. I have been writing consistently since college and have completed a couple of other works that I hope will see the light of day.
How would you describe the novel?
It fits in the detective fiction category, except that the protagonist is not a detective but a lawyer. Joth Proctor takes on cases that include traditional lawyer issues - resulting in several court scenes - but that also require the sort of digging and snooping usually associated with private detectives. Although Joth works often with DP Tran, a detective without a license, he is his own PI because he enjoys it and he is good at it. Shady deals, petty crimes and devious characters with mixed motives produce both challenges and risks that more professionally successful lawyers can afford to stay away from. Joth can’t, and I don’t think he’d have it any other way.
The book presents a protagonist/narrator in the noir tradition: Joth is a loner. He’s been unsuccessful in love and though professionally skilled, he has not been financially successful. He is cynical, but warm-hearted, and fights to maintain a personal code in a world with little honor
You’ve had a colorful background both as a private detective and criminal lawyer. How has that informed your writing?
Although I’m now a fairly boring business lawyer, I began my career trying cases; some of them the kind of seedy, street level disputes that can get off the tracks in a way they don’t prepare you for in law school. Just out of college, I was a private detective handling insurance fraud, domestic relations, criminal cases and locates. Although it was often grim, boring and dangerous, every day was a surprise in the PI business. In both my trial and detective work, I encountered characters and situations that I mined for story elements to be used in both Friends Like These and the novels that will follow.
Did any of your personal experiences/adventures make it into the book? If so, could you share one?
There was a time when I did considerable work for a local “gentleman’s club”. Most of this involved defending dancers accused of petty – and sometimes not so petty - crime. As Joth’s best client, Irish Dan Crowley, runs a gentleman’s club. I’ve adapted bits and pieces from my experience to develop characters and formulate plot elements in the books. Similarly, I’ve built unlicensed detective DP Tran from my knowledge of the way detective’s live and work. Principally, my experiences have allowed me to develop a sense of place and feel for the characters that inhabit Joth’s world.
Tell us about Joth Proctor, he seems to be a very driven, yet troubled character. Do you see a bit of yourself in him?
There are a number of superficial similarities between Joth and myself. We are both from Massachusetts, we both went to UVA, we both played lacrosse and we’re both lawyers, but that’s where it begins and ends. As I developed Joth as a character, I wanted to start with a familiar a framework and these basic touchstones helped me to maintain a feel for him as I thought through who he is and why. The choices he makes and the way he lives his life emanate from Joth’s personality. I don’t think I’d get myself into the predicaments Joth does, but I’m also not sure I could get myself out.
What is it about the mystery genre that inspired you to write Friends Like These?
The mystery genre provides a familiar plot template – something bad has happened, who did it and why - that can be bent and reshaped without offending the reader. It also provides a natural milieu for interesting and quirky characters. Mystery fiction is and should be fun for both the reader and the writer. I understood that when I became a private detective.
Do you have a favorite fictional sleuth?
Broadly speaking, fictional detectives can be divided between the quirky thinkers like Holmes and Poirot and the hard bitten PI’s like Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. The first set are often very entertaining but the second set come out of the real world as I’ve experienced it. That’s why I prefer them and I’d put Marlowe on top of the list.
What would you like readers to take away from reading your novel?
I hope people enjoy it as entertainment, but I’ve also tried to subtly pose some larger questions about values and choices; questions about what’s truly important in life and why. I don’t think Joth has the answers, but what’s important is raising the questions.
What are you working on now?
Book 2 in the series, Friend of a Friend, comes out in June. I’m now finishing Friend of the Court, which is currently scheduled for early winter publication. Each of the books is a stand-alone novel but together they form a single story tracking the path of Joth Proctor’s personal and professional life.
For more information, visit www.jamesvirving.com