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Author and Attorney James S. Bostwick: “Let’s start a movement to elect government leaders that care more about how to improve a lot of people that are struggling than they care about themselves or their party”

…I would start a movement to elect government leaders that care more about how to improve a lot of people that are struggling than they care about themselves or their party. The gap between the people who work hard but still can’t manage to have a reasonable existence and those who have more money than they could ever manage to spend in their lifetime is growing every day.

We could start with Public Defenders and Legal Aid organizations. These everyday heroes are underfunded and underpaid. One relies on local government budgets that are inconsistent and woefully inadequate and the other on scarce and insufficient private contributions. This is as important as healthcare and higher education. There should be a modest tax on the super-wealthy — both on those that earn over $10,000,000 a year and those with assets greater than $500,000,000. Corporations also — let’s change a couple of the loopholes and fund health, higher education and justice for all.

I had the pleasure of interviewing top tier civil trial attorney James S. Bostwick about his debut book of fiction ‘Acts of Omission’ (Post Hill Press/Simon & Schuster).

Nationally recognized Bostwick is a leading medical malpractice/PI trial attorney based in San Francisco, who is also licensed to practice in several states, specializes in complex medical malpractice, birth injury, catastrophic or wrongful death claims — and achieved the largest-ever personal injury malpractice verdict in the United States. As a voracious reader of legal fiction, he always loved stories about criminal trials but was struck by how seldom anyone wrote about the other cases that fill the courtrooms of America. This story was inspired by a real San Francisco trial. In 1984, Bostwick was pushed to the brink of economic disaster when he sued the most famous trial lawyer in America for legal malpractice. He ultimately obtained a record verdict for the time, on which his book ‘Acts of Omission’ is based.

Thank you for joining us James! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

My primary career path has always been as a civil plaintiff’s trial lawyer. My author-side road started when my wife got tired of hearing me complain about the legal thrillers I loved to read. My complaints were that they were usually only about criminal cases and the depictions of courtroom interactions were far from realistic. She challenged me to write my own novel about a civil case and to see if I could make it both interesting and authentic. I was forced to take up the challenge when she signed us up for a class entitled “How to write your first novel after the age of forty.”

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

In my career as a trial lawyer, it was when I undertook the representation of a teenager that became paralyzed from the neck down while being treated for thyroid cancer. She had received radiation therapy and it had burned her spinal cord. She had been treated at UCSF which has always been one of the top medical institutions in the world. Radiation treatment for cancer was a new specialty and there were only about 120 such specialists in the entire world. In the course of trying to find an expert witness and determine what happened to her, I talked to most of them. I finally found an expert who was willing to come to San Francisco and testify — he was from London, retired and well into his 80s. This hard-fought case ultimately was tried for nine weeks and resulted in the largest medical malpractice award in U.S. history.

On my side road as an author something disastrous happened during that journey. I started writing the novel when my first daughter was born. I would write at night after she went to bed. When our second daughter was born, everything came to a halt. She wouldn’t go to bed as easily and we were way too busy for me to continue the book. I had written about 300 pages on an old, early model computer. I backed it up on a disc when I stopped writing. Years later when the computer died, I found the book was gone. No one could retrieve it from the guts of the dead hard drive. I looked where I had stored the disc, but it was missing! Somehow when we had moved my office it had been lost. I was frantic because I was about 2/3 through the story and wanted to finish it but didn’t think I could find the energy to start over. Several months later I was contacted by a friend. He wanted to give me his thoughts on the partially completed manuscript I had forgotten I sent him on a floppy disc…

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

There were many daunting challenges. Probably the most significant was overcoming my innate desire to make everything I wrote sound like I knew what I was doing. I wanted it to be lyrical, the prose to resonate and inspire, the dialogue to be real and the descriptions to leap off the page. What I learned was those goals are extremely difficult to accomplish — especially in a first draft. The more I tried for perfection in each paragraph, the less paragraphs got written. I quickly learned that you must spit it out. You are better off just vomiting your ideas out on to the page, if you will, rather than creating a masterpiece with every sentence. Once the juices start flowing the images will write themselves, the story will develop a life of its own. You can always go back and edit, smooth it out and improve it later.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In hindsight, it was probably my tendency to overstate emotions/feelings in the characters. For example, I would have a character who was developing strong feelings about another character and I would have them thinking things over and over every time they saw them. Later, when it was pointed out how thoroughly I had overdone it, it was definitely embarrassing! The lesson was more subtle in your development of characters, give it time, give the reader hints and let them use their imagination. It is certainly much more intriguing for the reader than hitting them over the head with it.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have been asked to write about the impact of the COVID pandemic on the American justice system. Never before in our lifetime have we been faced with a similar far-reaching crisis. Across most of the U.S. the courts and the justice system, in general, have been brought to an abrupt halt. Not even criminal cases can be prosecuted, and no one knows how long this will last or how profoundly this will change the administration of justice in America.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

The most important element of a lawsuit where you must prove medical malpractice is the ultimate testimony of the key expert witness. The entire case will likely turn on this performance. Despite months or even years of preparation, tens of thousands of dollars invested and hundreds of hours of bone-weary work, it can all come down to how one very human person does when they are on the witness stand. If they have a bad day, then all can be for naught. “For want of a nail, the war can be lost”.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

That our civil justice system can work — that David can take on Goliath and provide a future for his people

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Write concerning something you are passionate about.
  2. Everyone's writing wants to explain/tell the reader what is going on — don’t. Show them and let the reader figure it out. When the reader can use their imagination, the story comes alive. In other words, don’t tell them what your character is thinking, show it with their actions or mannerisms.
  3. Don’t use an outline or, if you do, don’t follow it too closely. Characters and storylines must have the freedom to go where the winds may blow them. When your characters start doing things you never had imagined they would do, that’s when the story begins to resonate. Your novel has then developed a life of its own.
  4. Listen to the ideas of friends and family but rely primarily on your own instincts. Writing is a creative process like art — not everyone is going to like the product of your efforts. Every good author is going to have a few one- or two-star reviews. You must give birth to what is inside you and not worry about pleasing everyone.
  5. Editing is key. When you have your 500-page masterpiece completed, remember that it probably has 100 pages of fat that don’t need to be there. When it has been pruned of chapters or vignettes you thought were fun/great at the time but upon cold-blooded reflection aren’t truly necessary, the story will move much faster, won’t have dead spots and will keep the reader more engaged.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Writing at the same time every day for the same general amount of time. You can give yourself days off and make occasional exceptions, but if you don’t have a strict schedule it is too easy to find something else to do. Writing is a lonely process and procrastination is your greatest enemy. Even if you are not inspired, write something — get it down on paper. You can then look at the most recent pages the next night — see it is not so great and spend some time editing. This will get you back in the mood, with juices flowing and then you can write some more.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

This is a difficult one. I read so much dense and technical material during my daily work as a trial lawyer I tend to use my pleasure reading as an escape. My wife would probably be blunter and say I mostly read trash. I recently have read several novels by Peter May. He certainly does NOT fall in that category. I am very impressed with his use of the language and his ability to paint a portrait of the people and landscape of the Hebrides.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would start a movement to elect government leaders that care more about how to improve a lot of people that are struggling than they care about themselves or their party. The gap between the people who work hard but still can’t manage to have a reasonable existence and those who have more money than they could ever manage to spend in their lifetime is growing every day. We could start with Public Defenders and Legal Aid organizations. These everyday heroes are underfunded and underpaid. One relies on local government budgets that are inconsistent and woefully inadequate and the other on scarce and insufficient private contributions. This is as important as healthcare and higher education. There should be a modest tax on the super-wealthy — both on those that earn over $10,000,000 a year and those with assets greater than $500,000,000. Corporations also — let’s change a couple of the loopholes and fund health, higher education and justice for all.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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