James S. Bostwick is the author of the novel Acts of Omission. He is a medical malpractice and personal injury lawyer, and he is based in San Francisco.
Q: Acts of Omission was inspired by a case you were involved in--why did you decide to write a novel about that particular case?
A: While there have been many interesting cases over the years, I choose this case to write about because it had a combination of elements that were both unique and unusually compelling.
I was still a relatively young attorney and the person I was considering suing was one of the most famous trial attorneys in the country. He essentially owned the media and the local courts. Both the local bar and the Bay Area public loved him – everyone’s favorite San Francisco columnist in those days was Herb Caen – this attorney was in his column almost every day.
Most of the advice from colleagues was to turn the case down because it was difficult, expensive and he could do a lot of damage to my career. It was the little guy against a big celebrity – David and Goliath.
In addition, the family at the center of the case was very engaging and the young man had a devastating injury. I quickly became emotionally involved with their plight – abandoned by the father/husband, caring but worn out mom and a brother that had indefinitely put his life on hold to help out.
I also felt that this case was an authentic portrayal of the risks, anguish and euphoria of everyday life for lawyers that represent victims of negligence. A legal malpractice case involves preparing and trying two cases – the legal liability issues and then the underlying case, i.e. if the lawyer had not been negligent, would the case he was handling have been successful?
Q: What did you see as the right blend between the facts and your fictional version as you wrote the novel?
A: The real case, both medical and legal aspects, had some fascinating facts and circumstances. Leaving in major elements of the real litigation, characters and occurrences gave the novel meaningful substance.
Reality started the process out with the bones of a wonderful story, which I then fleshed out with flights of pure imagination. The fact and fiction ratio consisted mostly of actual facts and about one-third pure novel. I also interwove real legal vignettes from other cases I have tried and created characters that were amalgams of interesting people.
Q: The book is set in San Francisco. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is extraordinarily important to me. The most interesting story can be diluted by tepid surroundings.
I was lucky to spend most of my professional life in one of the most beautiful and diverse areas of the world, San Francisco. I was eager to showcase what the area has to offer: a gorgeous bay with dramatic vistas, weather that varies by the hour, ocean to one side and mountains a few hours away, wild rivers and a city that takes your breath away.
Having the opportunity to weave all that into a fun and compelling story was a real gift.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: Books about criminal law are common, but engaging stories about civil law are few and far between. Unfortunately, when civil cases are the subject, the stories often reinforce a common stereotype of “ambulance chasing” injury lawyers.
In addition, most novels, movies, and TV series about the law are extremely unrealistic.
My goal with Acts of Omission was to create a compelling story about what lawyers that represent injured people really do. What cases do they take and why, what are the risks and dilemmas they face while preparing and presenting a case, what goes into the analysis, preparation and trial of a difficult and complex case.
I wanted people to understand what we do, why we do it and get a sense of the anguish and euphoria that is experienced along the way. I wanted the reader to experience an authentic trial the way it happens in real life. At the same time, it was important to me that it was a page turner with romance, adventure, betrayal, danger and other things that make a novel hard to put down.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am developing the sequel to Acts of Omission. However, rather than having lots of time on my hands to write while “sheltering in place” during this crisis, as an active trial lawyer, I find myself busier than ever processing my cases!
Everything seems more difficult working from home, people are harder to reach, the courts have essentially gone into a “black hole” and my home office is nowhere near as efficient as my real office.
Also, I’ve recently been asked to write articles on the impact of COVID-19 on the civil justice system in America, so I find myself spending a lot of time helping the community and media understand how the pandemic will change the future of justice.
If this goes on for a few more months (as I’m afraid it is likely to do) I suspect I will be able to get back to writing the sequel soon.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: We are on Facebook @actsofomisison so anyone can stay up to date on developments, including upcoming virtual author chats. We’re also on Instagram @actsofomisison. Here are a few things I am really excited about:
Acts of Omission was just nominated for the 2020 Harper Lee Legal Fiction Award – we have our fingers crossed!
The hardbound first edition has just sold out – a wonderful milestone.
The paperback edition is set for rollout on June 9 and we are certainly anticipating that thrilling new chapter.
The Audible book has taken off like a rocket – Roger Wayne, the narrator did a fabulous job of bringing the characters to life and it is getting a huge, mostly 5-star response.
The novel has captured the attention of a well-known screenwriter and movie producer and they will be bringing the story to life on the big screen - stay tuned!
Finally, we have been able to see our community here in the Bay Area come together beautifully, by closely following the guidance of our local and state leaders we have “flattened” that curve and things are looking better.
It is so gratifying to see all over this state, here in the Western states and in most parts of the country how people have pulled together to be safe, follow the advice of the experts and support those who are on the front line. We are seeing the depth and dimension of the American Soul as it evolves in response to this crisis.
Yes, we have to have thoughtful dialogue and challenge conventional thinking – yes we have to do everything we can, within the bounds of safety, to keep our economy functioning – but in that process we are also seeing people pull together to help the most vulnerable, the homeless, the unemployed, the elderly.
People are supporting their local businesses and remembering to check in with those that are lonely. In the end, this will once again teach us that we are a great, caring, and resilient nation.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb