Our interview today is with Michael Zarocostas author of Plummet (4.7 stars, 49 reviews). Before we get to the interview a brief book description: Working in a big law firm is murder. Want to find out for yourself? Then take the plunge… Micah Grayson is an eager rookie fresh out of law school. Raphael Bianco is a degenerate senior associate who’s never met a temptation he could resist. Gabe Weiss is a millionaire senior partner who has a dream life. All three are litigators at Sullivan & Adler, the most powerful law firm in Manhattan. Two of them share a lover. One of them will kill in cold blood. But who is his victim? A dark why-dun-it set in the backstabbing conference rooms of corporate law.
Interview with Michael Zarocostas
Tell us about working in a law firm first. We want to know about big firm life before we even talk about your legal thriller, Plummet.
I’ve worked as a litigator in New York, and one of my first jobs was at a powerhouse law firm in Manhattan. It was an interesting experience complete with a lot of bizarre personalities and fertile ground for stories. The corporate culture was not for me, but there were some funny quirks that I liked. For example, the associates at the firm used Star Wars references for the people and places we worked. The office building itself was called The Death Star.
The firm in Plummet is called Sullivan & Adler; is that a real firm? And did you intend it to be such a living and breathing thing? It almost becomes a character itself.
No, Sullivan & Adler isn’t a real firm, but there are bloodthirsty lawyers like the characters in PLUMMET who put vampires to shame. I don’t want to be pretentious English lit class guy but, yeah, the firm is definitely a metaphor for a certain way of life. There’s some symbolism if you scratch the surface.
How did you come to write Plummet?
Actually, it began with a short story. When I was in law school, I dated a girl who was taking an undergrad English course. She couldn’t think of a story to write, so I wrote one for her. I know, I helped her cheat… naughty, naughty. Anyway, the story was about a man who comes home early for once and finds his wife’s lover naked in the kitchen. My girlfriend at the time got an ‘A’ for the piece, and I think she was a little jealous of my writing. I later expanded the story when I started working at a law firm. Except I wrote it as a screenplay at first.
What happened with the screenplay?
It was a semifinalist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship, and I got some attention from other screenplay contests, but later decided to turn it into a novel.
Was it more difficult to write a novel as opposed to a screenplay?
I think a novel is more difficult, because you really have to get inside the characters’ heads and express their motivations and feelings much more. I tend to agonize over the prose and the descriptions in a novel. But a screenplay is mostly dialogue and quick slugs of action.
What were your reasons for the non-chronological order of the story and the mystery behind who the victim is in Plummet?
I thought it would be more interesting to leave the victim’s identity unknown and pull the reader through the world of a New York City law firm while also trying to decipher the murder puzzle. I think it adds to the tension and maybe in mind I was thinking of a film in flashbacks. Instead of a who-dun-it, I suppose you’d call it a who-bit-it or a why-dun-it.
Did there come a time when you knew you were on to something with the novel?
Yes, I decided to go to the Maui Writers Conference a few years back when I had only written the first few chapters, and it was a Finalist there. A couple of years later, I got an agent who repped Nelson DeMille, and now I’m lucky enough to be represented by Penn Whaling and the Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency.
If Plummet were made into a movie, who would you cast as the main characters?
I could definitely see Alec Baldwin as Gabe Weiss, and maybe Rachel Weisz as his wife, Rachel Weiss. The similar names were not intentional, by the way. Raphael Bianco would have to be played by an actor who could pull off being a degenerate, but also an amiable guy. A younger Charlie Sheen would have been perfect, like a Bud Fox in Wall Street.
How did you get your agent, Penn Whaling from the Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency?
Sweat, slush pile, and perseverance. I sent a query letter and didn’t hear back for a while. Fortunately, I followed up with an email, and she said they had just moved their offices and it had gotten lost in the shuffle. She immediately read the first few chapters of the novel I’m currently working on, DEMON DOG, which is an historical crime fiction novel set in 1903 New York. And she really liked it. Penn is the best.
Are you a disciplined writer?
Pretty much. Early on in the process, you just have to force yourself to write something, even if you know it sucks. Once you’re onto something though, and you know it sings, then the writing becomes easier. I’m most productive late at night when the whole world is sleeping. But I also don’t believe in writing every day if you’re not feeling it. Sometimes you have to let your brain absorb some things, and view your work from a distance, too.
Is there any ritual or celebration you have when you finish a novel?
Drinking a good bottle of wine.
Which authors/books are you most influenced by?
I’ve always liked the old guard: Hammett, Chandler, James Ellroy, and Crumley. The modern writers I admire are Dennis Lehane, Caleb Carr, and Cormac McCarthy. An agent once told me that my writing reminded her of Lehane, and I thought that was the greatest compliment she could have given.
Are you working on anything now?
Penn Whaling is marketing DEMON DOG now. I had intended it to be part of THE BLACK HAND TRILOGY, which revolves around Joe Petrosino, the first Italian-American detective in the NYPD and the rise of the mafia. That’s really all I can say. I’m a little superstitious about talking about a book and new ideas.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @Mzarocostas
His website: http://www.zarocostas.com/