Buying Time: An Interview with Pamela Samuels Young
Pamela Samuels Young is a practicing attorney and author of legal thrillers, “Murder on the Down Low”, and the Essence bestsellers, “Every Reasonable Doubt” and “In Firm Pursuit”. A desire to see female attorneys and African-American attorneys as main characters in today’s legal fiction prompted her to begin writing despite a busy legal career. Pamela is on the Board of Directors of the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and is a graduate of the University of Southern California, Northwestern University, and the University of California Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. A former journalist, Pamela is a legal columnist for Global Woman magazine and served as legal consultant to the Showtime television series, Soul Food.
Pamela is married and lives in the Los Angeles area. She is a frequent speaker on the topics of writing and self-empowerment and loves visiting book club meetings.
Visit Pamela’s website at www.pamelasamuelsyoung.com
Thank you for this interview, Pamela. Your book, Buying Time, has to be one of the most fantastic legal thrillers out there. Did you choose to write this type of book because you are a lawyer by trade?
Yes. When I finished law school several years ago, I developed a passion for reading legal thrillers. Unfortunately, I never saw women or people of color depicted as attorneys in any of the books I read. I would close the novels feeling satisfied with the story, but disappointed about the lack of diversity of the characters. One day, I decided that I was going to write the kind of characters that I wanted to see. In the process, I discovered my passion! At the time, I was an associate at a large corporate law firm in Los Angeles. Despite the demands of my law practice, I somehow managed to climb out of bed at four in the morning to squeeze in a couple of hours of writing before work. I wrote all weekend, in hotels, in airports, whenever and wherever I could find the time. I never really had a true passion until I discovered mystery writing.
Are there any aspects of your book that mirrors your own life as a lawyer?
Buying Time is my first stand-alone book and the characters are pretty much a figment of my imagination. But in my first three series books – Every Reasonable Doubt, In Firm Pursuit, and Murder on the Down Low—the main character is Vernetta Henderson, an African-American female lawyer who works in a large corporate law firm, just like I did. Vernetta is married to an electrician. I’m married to a plumber. Vernetta is pretty ambitious and sometimes conflicted about the demands of her legal career versus her family life. I’ve struggled with these issues, too. So yes, I have to admit in my Vernetta Henderson mystery series, the character’s dilemmas mirror my own life challenges in many ways.
I’m very into book covers and feel it is the reader’s first impression. Did you have any input on the design? Would you care to share what the cover is trying to tell the reader about the book?
When I was a Harlequin author, I didn’t have much say regarding the cover design, which always bothered me. And that’s generally the way it works. But since I published Buying Time myself, I had total control over what the cover would look like. I found the most talented cover designer, Keith Sanders of Marion Designs in the Atlanta area. I gave him a brief description of the book and he nailed it. What I wanted to convey was a troubled lawyer on the run. I wanted the reader to see something dark and troubling about the man depicted on the cover, such that they would be intrigued enough to pick up the book and read a few lines. Hopefully, after that, they’re hooked.
What did you find was the hardest part about writing your book?
The hardest part about writing Buying Time was creating three separate story lines and weaving them all together. There was Waverly and his unethical dealings, Erickson and his quest for power and Angela and her troubled relationship. I thought they were all compelling stories lines. Mysteries with a single story line tend to bore me. It took lots of rewriting to bring them together in a way that was seamless for the reader.
I have heard that when you start writing a book, you spend a good portion of your awake time writing it. How do you combine writing and working full time?
It’s very difficult. Despite the demands of my law practice, I somehow manage to climb out of bed as early as four or five in the morning to squeeze in a couple of hours of writing before work. I take “writing weekends” and hide away in a hotel room not far from my home. And when I have vacation time from work, I’ll go away for an entire week and spend all day writing. That’s really the only way to get it done. I never really had a true passion until I discovered mystery writing. I currently work as Managing Counsel for Labor and Employment Law at Toyota, yet I’ve still managed to publish a book a year for the last four years. I long for the day when my only job is to write legal thrillers. I’m a former television news writer who spent years writing under daily deadline pressures. So fortunately for me, the act of writing is not something I agonize over. As a result of my journalism background, I’m also a pretty fast writer.
Can you give us an example of your daily routine when you’re in the middle of writing your book?
First, I don’t write every day. My work schedule is just too unpredictable. But whenever I have free time, I write! I will spend anywhere from a few weeks to as long as three months outlining a book before I sit down to begin writing. I also mull over my story quite a bit. I’m thinking about it in the shower, while I’m standing in line at the grocery store, and during my 45-minute commute to work. Even during the outlining stage, I can almost see each chapter as if it were a scene in a movie. Only after I have a completed outline do I start writing. And when I write, I go from page one to the last page without doing much editing or rewriting along the way. For me, it’s psychologically motivating to complete that first draft, even if it’s so bad I’d never dare show it to anyone. Once I have a first draft, then the real writing starts. I revise, and revise and revise some more. That process can last six months or more. Without any major life interruptions, I can complete a book in about a year.
Finally, would you care to share an excerpt?
I’d love to! Here’s the first chapter of Buying Time.
Thank you for your interview, Pamela. We wish you much success!