Scott Turow, considered by many to be the father of the legal thriller, opened the 18th annual Novello Festival of Reading on Thursday with a promise to keep his talk short.
He knew many in his audience were hoping to get home in time to catch some of the vice presidential debate on TV. And Turow, a Chicago native and lifelong Cubs fan, was hoping he wouldn't miss the rare chance to see his team in the playoffs – although, with a Cubs fan's stoicism, he noted that both they and the White Sox are “already circling the drain.”
In spite of competition from those weighty events, Novello's choice for a kickoff speaker brought a near-capacity crowd to the 570-seat McColl Family Theatre at ImaginOn.
After opening with a story about one of his favorite perks of success (throwing out the first ball at a Cubs game), Turow (pronounced tour-OH) spent about an hour describing his journey toward best-sellerdom, beginning with the day in 1966 when he disappointed his parents by deciding not to go to medical school. Instead he went to Amherst College, “back east,” to learn the novelist's trade.
Turow, 59, said people are usually surprised to find that the author of seven best-selling thrillers was not a lawyer-turned-novelist, but a novelist-turned-lawyer. He taught writing at Stanford and had several stacks of rejection letters for novels and an offer of a tenure-track spot at a major university when he felt the call of his second profession. While writing a novel that turned on an obscure point of real estate law, he discovered he had an interest in the law.
He turned his first-year Harvard Law School experiences into his first published book, “One L,” a nonfiction book with “the names changed to protect the guilty.” He graduated from law school in 1978.
He vowed that “I was going to be a practicing lawyer and a novelist, ” so during his years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, he wrote on the morning commuter train.
In 1986, during “the case of my career,” his stress level was so high his wife begged him to quit the job and write his novel, so he took a summer off and produced “Presumed Innocent,” the reader's introduction to his fictional Kindle County – which bears a marked resemblance to Chicago – and his first best-seller. (Turow cheerfully revealed its original working title, “Trespass With Force and Arms” – to which the universal response was a “really good book, really bad title.”)
Turow's latest novel, “Limitations,” was published in 2006.