Reading Matters

Charlotte novelist Webb Hubbell: ‘Life is complicated’

Webb Hubbell.
Webb Hubbell. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte novelist Webb Hubbell is larger than life. He’s a big man, and he makes a big, glad impression. All smiles and energy-fueled charisma.

He not only spins quite a fictional story in his just-released legal thriller, “Ginger Snaps” (Beaufort Books, $24.95), starring once again lawyer Jack Patterson, but he is quite a story. A native of Little Rock, Ark., he worked for years as a lawyer, including as the law partner of Hillary Clinton. At age 31, he was elected mayor of Little Rock, and at 36, Gov. Bill Clinton appointed Hubbell as chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Quite a heady life.

But the story goes deeper. Nearly 20 years ago, Hubbell served 21 months in prison for wire and tax fraud for over-billing his firm and clients in Little Rock. Not something he tries to hide. Something he lives with and will talk about if you ask him.

“I got to know guys from all walks of life, and I found that they’re not that different from you and me,” he says. “They made a mistake or got caught up in something they couldn’t deal with.”

Prison wasn’t Hubbell’s only trial. Five years ago, he underwent a liver transplant for a rare form of hepatitis. When he recovered, Hubbell and wife Suzy decided to leave Washington, D.C., where they’d lived since the Clinton administration. They chose Charlotte because daughter Caroline, her husband and three young daughters live here. They’ve not regretted it.

It’s from a condo on a leafy Dilworth corner that Hubbell has turned out a second thriller – a third is underway – in a year’s time. His book-lined, sun-flooded studio overlooks the street, and he works here in four-hour stretches five afternoons a week. (He’s the kind of writer who feels more comfortable “killing the mosquitoes” – paying bills, answering emails, tidying up – before he plunges into writing.)

He learned an age-old lesson writing his first Jack Patterson novel, “When Men Betray.” He sent the 780-page draft to friends “who wouldn’t sugarcoat” for critique. The feedback was consistent. “This is great, but you need to cut it in half.”

So easy to spool out all those old stories he’d been fabricating for years, letting them bog a crisp tale. So hard to cut his little darlings. But he learned “to drive the prod,” as he says, “and not get lost in great stories that don’t drive the prod.”

The result is a taut tale involving an array of interesting characters, among them: Micki Lawrence, a sharp, do-gooder lawyer in solo practice; Dr. Doug Stewart, a chemistry professor whose backyard displays 100 full-grown marijuana plants and whose wife, Liz, uses the plant to lace her ginger snaps to help ease the pain of a friend’s cancer treatment.

Or so they say.

And, of course, there’s lawyer Jack Patterson – who also happens to be 6-foot-3 – and can’t resist entangling himself in a good, complicated case.

And speaking of complication, the lack of it can make for a ho-hum read. Happy to tell you there’s not one thing ho-hum about “Ginger Snaps.” Was complication something Hubbell had to learn as a writer?

“Life is complicated,” he says. “Stories interwoven into other stories. Part of being a good lawyer and being a good person is sorting through those complications and figuring things out.”

Powell: dpowell@charlotteobserver.com

Webb speaks

Webb Hubbell will give a free public reading at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 7, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, Park Road Shopping Center, Charlotte.

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