AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Tim Capps, Illinois novelist and recognized death penalty defense expert
Hope & Life Press is proud to present to you our interview with Timothy Capps, Esq., our latest author whose 5* crime novel Judging Angels has just been released and made it to the top 10 in Amazon’s Hot New Releases in Christian Fantasy section. Judging Angels, Book 1 of the fictional series The Rubricatae Chronicles, is available in both paperback and ebook editions from Amazon, directly from the publishers, and from major booksellers worldwide. Specially autographed copies are also available — contact us for more details.
And now, for our interview with Tim Capps, who — if we might say so — has an unparalleled sense of humor:
Q: When did you first start writing?
I have been writing since I have known how to write. I sold my first short story when I was in seventh grade. My mom was a writer. I can still hear her electric typewriter, the kind with the ball that had the letters on it, clattering in her office. She layered carbon paper and kept copies on yellow, pulpy paper. She sent stories out and got a lot of rejection slips back. I do not remember if they bothered her or not. I know she kept writing and sold a huge number of stories, humorous domestic essays, and two books.
I did not have much time for writing while pursuing a legal career and raising a family. Judging Angels was a very different project when I started around 2000. I revised over and over, and taught myself how to write in the process. In 2009, I was separated from my family due to my death penalty work for the State of Illinois. I started writing more to fill the time.
Adapt joined Judging Angels among my projects and they were compatible enough to provide material for the Judging Angels series — The Rubricatae Chronicles. I also wrote a novelette called The Dream Thief that I self-published under a different name. The discipline of working on shorter fiction was very helpful. I am an obsessive rewriter and editor. My apparent lack of production does not reflect the many hours I put into teaching myself how to write!
I also started an experimental work called Adversary System, which has the brother of a murdered woman writing a journal during her trial. The writing shifts from his efforts to stay focused on recording the proceedings for his own unstated purposes and memories that raise troubling questions about manipulating the adversary proceeding of the murder trial, if not something darker. I was surprised to find it on an old external drive and was pleased that it seems to have aged well enough to finish as a short adult novel.
Q: What is the story behind your newest book Judging Angels?
It is a nightmare that someone who spent much of his life knee-deep in murder and other crime as a criminal defense lawyer might have. Parts of it are strictly realistic — more so than CSI. But the focus is on the inside of how criminal lawyers think, and the crazy schemes and escalating violence that ordinary people at the extreme end of temptation might fall into.
There are elements from specific cases, but the realism comes from things like the introduction to the main character. He is thinking about death (for good reason) and recalling the oddly disinterested expression on the faces of murder victims. There is a special aspect of horror like that, which is not explicit, but is authentic, original and haunting. It is probably the rare criminal defense lawyer who is not constantly told two things: (1) “I do not know how you can represent people like that,” and (2) “You ought to write a book.” I wrote the book and somewhere among beautiful redheads, guns and lawyers with ninja legal skills on a crime spree, I answered how I represented all those people.
I also thought people might be curious about how the system really works. I give insider snippets about fingerprints, DNA, the uneasy professional interlacing among police, prosecutors and defense lawyers; the problems with current interrogation methods, and, if you remember back to the first comment I often heard, what effect that has psychologically on the lawyer. But, as the characters in the book are continually reminded, the big story is nothing compared to the thousand little ways they are losing their souls. I wanted to tell the same thing to the reader and the sly wink is probably obvious.
The headlines in Heaven are not about big things. “Joe Bogagi turned down seconds on mashed potatoes” might warrant D-Day sized headlines. Each character is in a different place, morally. Most of them are Catholic, most of them lapsed. One theme is that the Church today is as laughably unprepared for a supernatural intrusion as the criminal justice system. There is implicit criticism, but also some sympathy for priests who may find themselves in an unspoken, demoralizing war.
My characters are ordinary people who realize they are fighting behind enemy lines they once imagined to be their home and that no one is coming to help. The decisions they make are driven by their efforts to rescue a family member from a grotesquely evil man. That forces them into an attitude that anything is justified. I was particularly interested in the character of Brian, the 15-year-old boy who grows up fast, fertilized by the toxic attitudes of his parents. Chapter by chapter, choices narrow their options and deform their characters until, by the end, it is a real question whether the rescue attempt was worth it all. In another novel, you might expect a ragtag group of family and friends on a mission to rescue a little girl to be heroes, and the action to be the subject matter of the novel. In Judging Angels you learn fast that all the signposts have been removed and you do not know where you are, or what is over the next rise — or in the next chapter.
No one is safe. Anything can happen. I wanted the reader to say of the author, “No, he did NOT just do that!” My bet is I succeed in that, at least!
I describe Judging Angels as C.S. Lewis meets Raymond Chandler, not to claim any kind of equality with those authors, but to best describe a police procedural/crime novel put to the service of moral education — in particular, on the subject of temptation. Enter Red: temptation personified. Our main character, George, has a thousand reasons for keeping the ultimate Other Woman just at arm’s length. And that, in a nutshell, is as good a description as any of the soul of this novel.
No one’s arms are that long. The Chandleresque element comes from the mordant sense of humor and occasional fun with language that keeps the novel from descending into the horror genre.
Q: What motivated you to become an author?
My mom was a big inspiration. I love the idea of creating a world, characters, discovering their motivations and letting them drive the action. I do not think I ever let the secret out, but I loved being a criminal defense lawyer so much that I would have done it for nothing. I feel the same way about writing. The truth is (without any self-commentary on my abilities) I am an author. Publishing Judging Angels just made it official. That is about the best answer I can give.
Q: What is the greatest joy for you in writing?
Imaging the reactions of readers to events and their understanding of the characters. I always have two questions in mind when writing: (1) How will this affect the reader? (2) Why is such-and-such a character doing what he or she is doing? I find that the better I get to know my characters, the easier the writing becomes, because — and here is the lawyer talking, I guess — once I have their motive, everything follows.
Q: Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? What was it like for you?
Of course! I was in the seventh grade and had been indoctrinated that humans would survive to the year 1995, if we were lucky. I wrote a silly story about a fed-up Eco-God about to destroy the world if someone does not pick up a candy bar wrapper blowing down the street. In the end, a puppy takes it, truly becoming man’s best friend. Why anyone thought to pay good money for it is one of the greatest mysteries of my life. And yet, there were things that would survive: the relationship between man and God, an awareness of social issues, a delight in surprises and a sense of playfulness.
Q: Where did you grow up? How did that influence your writing?
I grew up in a college town in southern Illinois. Say “Illinois” and people think Chicago or miles of billiard table, flat soybean fields. Southern Illinois was Copperhead country during the Civil War. It is south of Richmond, Virginia, and south of Louisville, Kentucky. It is a beautiful region between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers of hills, forests and lakes. But it is not very well off and the big industry of coal mining — the dangerous job that claimed my paternal grandfather when my father was just a boy and my other grandfather through black lung when I was — has largely died out. You can sum it up with a visit to Cairo, at the very tip where the blue Ohio meets the muddy Mississippi. It had everything going for it. There was talk it might make the most logical national capitol. Charles Dickens invested in it. But the Civil War reoriented trade from north-south to east-west. Race riots destroyed much of it in the sixties. Today, it looks like pictures of Berlin after World War II. It is a should-have-been that never was.
As a boy, what I remember is a lot of family time fishing and working up the Boy Scout ladder to Eagle. Geography is almost a character in Judging Angels. The action works its way down from the very top of the State, almost county-by-county, to somewhere that would be a mini-spoiler, so I will not say. I practiced law in about half the 102 counties of Illinois and got to know the State very well. I had a regional practice in the lower third of the State, then did death penalty defense all the way up to Galena. Most criminal defense lawyers have their hands full locally. My practice seemed to be a mile wide and an inch deep. If the joke is true that an expert is someone who has traveled more than 100 miles to get there, then I was an expert!
Q: How do you spend your time these days when you are not writing?
There is no time when I am not writing. That is probably something I should think about. But I used to fly, both for real and simulation, and paint miniature armies to wage tabletop battles with my kids as they grew up. I always read to my kids. I once figured that I read over 100 books. And I would do the voices. I invented Audible! I did a piece for my blog (corbiniansbear.blogspot.com) called The Day the Book Closed. Predictably, as the kids grew older, it became harder to get everyone together for our reading time. It took a while to die. I still remember the day a book closed and another was never begun. We never finished Pyrates by George MacDonald Frasier. It was a very sad day, but my kids still read. Maybe someday they will read Judging Angels to their kids — when your kids are old enough for a book for grownups!
Q: What do you like to read for pleasure?
I almost never read fiction. I love reading the Bible. But I am also fascinated with the Golden Age of Hollywood and for guilty pleasure I read about the big studios under larger-than-life characters who built the movie industry from nothing. Ruthless and histrionic Louis B. Mayer and the wacky Warner Brothers. MGM was the undisputed premium studio, but scrappy little RKO gave us just 10 Ginger Rogers dance movies that loom so large in our cultural memory. I have an autographed picture of Ginger over where I write. My wife is a very good sport about it and I put what I imagine her sentiments to be in the voice of one of my characters in Judging Angels: “You’re not her type and she slept with Howard Hughes.” Of course, the answer is she would make it look like she adored me and everyone slept with Howard Hughes.
At the moment I am reading The Feud about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, focusing on the unforgettable What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. You watch that and Bette is just so dominating as an actress, you have to think Joan Crawford was out of her weight class. By the way, this is typical. Getting off subject, boring people with Hollywood trivia. But if a culture can dream, it certainly dreams in Hollywood and I think that is worth knowing a lot about.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A lot fewer than they were 20 years ago! I mentioned some of my other writing projects. Seriously, I see myself doing as many books in The Rubricatae Chronicles as my themes, settings and characters will support. The second book is well underway, with familiar characters, some new ones, new settings and pulling the focus back to put the first story’s struggles in a much broader context. To me, reality is not complete unless you account for the supernatural of which I am a firm believer.
I handle the supernatural in a fun way, but am careful to make it align with what we have been taught about the unseen warfare that plays a much bigger role in our lives than I think we know. I may use a fleet of battleships with 24-inch guns or a loopy, irresistible redhead with a nine millimeter. But, behind the exaggeration, I do my best to express attitudes and motivations according to the West’s best tradition of angelology and demonology. If there is one thing that separates Judging Angels from the many books that deal with angels and demons — usually in a romantic way — it is that I do not make up my Urban Fantasy from whole cloth. You would think that would be limiting, but since so much of the work has been done for me, it allows me to have fun with imagining the details and working things out in a way I am not sure anyone has seen before.
As one of my characters says, “Oh, sure. Ignore the actual demon in the room and believe whatever you want.”
I try not to do that.
Copyright © 2017, Timothy Capps and Hope & Life Press — All rights reserved.