Official Interview: Thad G. Long

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Official Interview: Thad G. Long

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Today's Chat with Sarah features Thad G. Long author of The Impossible Mock Orange Trial, an upcoming book of the month.

Official Review 1

Official Review 2

Purchase Kindle edition (free on Kindle Unlimited)

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1. What made you start writing?

I have always wanted to be a writer, from early childhood. I completed my first novel when I was 14 years old (I thankfully never tried to publish it). At that point I had subscribed to and had faithfully been reading The Writer’s Digest and everything else I could get my hands on, in that non-digital age, relating to writing. I was Editor-in-Chief of my high school newspaper for two years, which won the state Sweepstakes Award as the best high school newspaper in the state, and I took a high school class in journalism. Later, in law school, I was the Comments and Projects Editor of the Virginia Law Review and was inducted into the honorary journalism fraternity Pi Delta Epsilon (now the Society for Collegiate Journalists). I both edited and wrote original published material for the Virginia Law Review. As an attorney, I wrote a number of articles for legal journals, including the American Bar Association Journal, and I taught courses at the University of Alabama Law School on Legal Research and Writing (for which my students unexpectedly presented me with a plaque of appreciation). I was for some ten years a member of the editorial board of The International Trademark Association’s The Trademark Reporter, to which I also was a contributing writer. As a lawyer, I was recognized by my peers as a very good draftsperson of legal briefs and of legislative drafts presented to the Legislature for enactment into law. I was elected to and became a life member of the American Law Institute, as well as a member of the Alabama Law Institute.

Despite my strong interest in writing, my college, law school, professional and family demands left me with little time to write serious novels during those years, although I did write a family history and other non-fiction works. Then, upon my semi-retirement from the active practice of law, I began writing my memoirs. When I worked my way through the early years of my life in the memoirs and came to the point where I would logically recount my professional legal career, I realized that I had experienced extraordinary challenges as a lawyer that could not feasibly be covered in my memoirs because: (1) a truncated version could not convey the drama and character development necessary to reflect the essence of the stories; and (2) a full exposition would overwhelm the memoirs like the proverbial tail wagging the dog. I concluded that I could tell my extraordinary lawyer experiences only by writing separate books about them. To do it properly, I needed to use a fiction form so that I could change the names of characters, the locales of the action, and fill out the stories by imagining certain conversations to which I had not literally privy but which I could surmise happened.

I decided that my first novel in this series would be THE IMPOSSIBLE MOCK ORANGE TRIAL because it was a gripping story that in real life consumed and indelibly put its imprint on my mind and memory and had been recognized by the National Law Journal as one of the most remarkable cases in the nation at that time. It also went beyond being a courtroom drama; it had real substance for raising issues about the nature and fragility of justice. While it is a captivating story, it is also a realistic one, because the unbelievable drama reflects what actually happened in a real courtroom environment, not merely a fanciful tale.

2. Describe your writing environment to us.

As to my writing environment, I have done most of my writing in a study that I added onto my home, where I am surrounded by computers, a printer, internet access, telephone, legal reference materials, and copies of parts of files relating to the cases that have inspired my writing. My wife and I live on a relatively quiet street with few outside distractions. I also have a second home in New Hampshire where I spend some time, and I wrote a good bit while there. I try to claim as much uninterrupted time as I can, after dealing with business matters, civic and religious organizations, and all else that is involved with domestic and family life. We have no children presently living with us, but we do stay in close contact with our extended family and friends.

3. Let's discuss your book The Impossible Mock Orange Trial. Can you give us a synopsis?

The setting is in rural Phoenix County, South Carolina, a fictitious county of about 12,000 inhabitants, a large majority of which are African-American. A mother who is without a car of her own borrows a van from her uncle, the African-American sheriff of the county, to drive to a dental appointment in Columbia, taking an adult friend and three children with her. On their return from the Columbia trip, a tire on the van blew out and the van swerved across the road and crashed into a Mock Orange tree, resulting in one child’s death, another child’s brain injury and various serious injuries to other occupants of the car. The sheriff's uncle received notice of the accident while on his official rounds and drove to the scene of the accident, to find that it was his own lent van that crashed whose occupants were relatives and friends. At first he was angry, and then he realized the extent of death and injuries and was distraught. Mock Orange trees evoked a negative feeling among many African Americans because of their association with antebellum plantation culture, which might factor into any ensuing litigation.

Plaintiff lawyers began to vie for the right to represent the van occupants in what they anticipated would be a very lucrative lawsuit against the tire manufacturer and the van manufacturer. One set of lawyers finally won out and filed a lawsuit. When the tire manufacturer got notice of the lawsuit, its in-house legal counsel contacted Ted Born to represent them in defense of the lawsuit, and the van manufacturer got its own legal counsel as well. To Ted Born, it initially appeared that the case was a sure loser for his tire manufacturer client because the blown-out tire was his client’s product, and the trial venue was assumed to be highly unfavorable to defendants. Research showed that corporate defendants had, without exception, sustained enormous jury verdicts in cases brought on behalf of local residents in Phoenix County. Ted enlisted the aid of Dave Thompson, a young African-American attorney recently employed at his Firm, but as yet untested and inexperienced, to work with him on the case. Thompson was hesitant to do so, especially after seeing a photograph of the deceased young child in a coffin, but he agreed to work on the case because he had elected earlier to devote himself to the defense side of personal injury litigation. He was also reluctant because, as a new arrival at the firm, he had not yet gotten to know Ted Born and didn’t know Ted’s feelings on racial issues.

After a good deal of delay, Ted and Dave finally got access to the blown-out tire that the plaintiff lawyers had acquired and had early forwarded to their own expert witness to examine. When Ted and Dave saw the tire, they recognized it had been poorly maintained and was an “accident waiting to happen.” They got even more encouragement when their own expert witness examined the tire and found that the tire was so badly worn it was illegal to be driven on the state highways. Indeed, there was a nail, still in the tire, that had not been removed or repaired; the tire was leaking air, contributing to use in an underinflated condition – one of the worst abuses a tire can receive. Further research showed that the tire was six years old and had registered some 60,000 miles of use. It seemed the tire had been well made and had given good service for considerably longer than its warranty, but it had been abused and poorly maintained – therefore the accident was arguably not attributable to any negligence on the part of the manufacturer client. Although this was a potentially good defense, Ted doubted that it would be enough to sway a jury naturally sympathetic to the injured “hometown” parties.

After Ted Born’s unsuccessful efforts to get the trial moved to a more neutral venue, the time for trial at the Phoenix County Courthouse finally arrived. Ted and Dave approached the trial very carefully, using questionnaires distributed to the potential jurors with questions designed to help with the selection of the most nearly impartial jury obtainable. The jury selected comprised eleven African Americans and one Caucasian. The trial proceeded and is described in detail in the book. With trepidation, the parties waited for the jury verdict. At the end of the first day of deliberations, the jury asked to be excused for the evening, to return the next morning for more deliberations, a request which the Judge allowed. Unknown to Ted and Dave, some things would happen that night that would impact the lawsuit seriously.

After some further deliberations the following morning, the jury announced it had reached a verdict. The jury had found in favor of the tire manufacturer and the van manufacturer! Ted had thought the evidence merited that result but had realistically expected the worst. He and Dave (who by this time had aligned himself firmly with the defendant tire manufacturer’s cause) could scarcely believe the positive news of the verdict. Then the plaintiffs asked that the jury be polled to confirm that this was indeed the verdict of each member of the jury. The first several jurors did so confirm, as expected. Then the next juror announced, “Well, it was my verdict, but now I have second thoughts.” The hearts of Ted and Dave fell into their stomachs, as they feared defeat was about to be grasped from the jaws of victory. The Judge, noting that the verdict had to be unanimous, sent the jury back to the jury room to deliberate further. While the jury was out, Ted and Dave frantically sought to research whether jurors could legally change their minds once the verdict had been announced, but the research indicated that the jury could change its verdict at any time before the jury was discharged.

So, the parties had to wait to see what the jury’s verdict would finally be. The jury in due course returned to the courtroom, and this time the prior verdict was confirmed: a verdict in favor of the defendants, as previously announced, and when the jury was polled this time, all jurors agreed. It turned out that the one juror who had expressed “second thoughts” never had any doubt about the exoneration of the tire manufacturer; his concern had been with the van manufacturer and whether it should have had a better stabilizer bar designed into the van. Ted wished he had known that fact while sweating out the last few hours, but at least he and Dave could return to Greenville with the verdict they had hoped for.

No one in Ted’s firm had thought there was any realistic chance of winning. Ted and Dave were met with great praise and fanfare on arrival back at their office, and they hoped they could now turn their attention to other legal matters. But, although gratified by the result, they could not forget the tragedy of the accident and felt sorrow for the injuries of the van occupants.

Then, a strange thing happened. About thirty days after the end of the trial, Ted got in the mail a motion for a new trial, stating that it had come out in jury deliberations that there had been bribery, and that the discussion of bribery had so poisoned the deliberative process that some jurors who had intended to vote for the plaintiffs ended up voting for the defendants. The plaintiffs’ attorneys alleged the bribery issue had deprived the plaintiffs of a fair trial, so they wanted a new trial! The motion was accompanied by affidavits of three jurors who swore that they had intended to vote for the plaintiffs, but when they heard about the bribery attempt, they changed their minds and voted for the defendants. Ted of course knew there had been no bribery attempt by anyone on the defense side of the case. It turned out that one of the adult plaintiffs had called and tried to bribe a juror during the night when the jurors had taken a break from their deliberations and had gone home for the evening. The upshot was that the plaintiffs were trying to use their own wrongdoing – the bribery attempt – to benefit themselves by getting a new trial!

It would seem ridiculous that anyone’s own crime – attempted burglary – could be used to obtain the benefit of a new trial. However, Ted had to take the plaintiff’s motion seriously because minors – who incurred the worst of the injuries, and a death – very possibly would not be held responsible for the wrongdoing of an adult parent. It was altogether conceivable that the Judge would grant the new trial motion for the children, carving out the adult wrongdoer. This would be essentially a huge victory for the plaintiffs’ side since the most serious claimants were children. Ted and Dave were glum, thinking that this case might have to go to trial another time when their improbable victory was unlikely to be repeated.

Ted and Dave decided to do their own interviewing of the jury, starting with the nine jurors who had not signed any affidavits. They began to get consistent information that the jury had already voted 11-1 in favor of the defendants before bribery was ever mentioned in the jury room. It was thus impossible that three of the 12 jurors had intended to vote for the plaintiffs but changed their minds on hearing of the bribery attempt. Faced with this information, the three affidavit-signing jurors admitted their affidavits were incorrect and that they had been pressured into signing them. Based on the disclaimers of the original affidavit and evidence that the bribery discussion had not influenced the verdict, the Judge denied the motion for a new trial.

The plaintiffs appealed, but dropped the tire manufacturer out of the appeal, finalizing Ted and Dave’s win, but continuing against the van manufacturer.

In the Epilogue, while the appeal against the van manufacturer was still pending, Ted and Dave decided they wanted to pay respects to the little girl who died in the accident and to make a personal contribution to the families of those who had suffered. On the anniversary of the little girl’s death, Ted and Dave drove to the Mock Orange tree where the deadly collision occurred, placed a wreath at the site, and then accidentally encountered the parents of the little girl, who had come with flowers for the same purpose. And, finally, the sheriff himself arrived. Frank and emotional conversations occurred among the five tribute bearers, resulting in some closure for all. Finally, Ted and Dave drive on into the town where the plaintiffs lived, and where the trial had taken place, and they left a monetary gift to be handled by a minister for the children. They muse upon all that had happened and the hopeful prospects for justice to prevail in that venue in the future, recognizing the integrity of the Judge and the jury foreperson who had declared there was not enough money in the world to buy her vote.

Throughout the book, there are serious discussions of race relations and the meaning of justice in the context of a plaintiff sympathetic situation where there is great injury and death, without any negligence on the part of the defendants but also where the plaintiffs (who had borrowed the car and had not been responsible for the maintenance of the tires) really were not very negligent either. It is a gripping story that raises serious questions.

4. The reviewer mentions realistic characters. With so many characters, this must have been a feat. How did you do it?

There are two ways to make characters come to life, become realistic. One way is for the narrator (author) to describe them from some vantage point separated from the characters themselves, and to a certain extent this is always necessary. The author tries to use unforgettable word images to describe the people, their homes, the rural roads, the courthouse (in bad need of repair), and other key aspects of the setting.

The other way to make characters come alive is through the conversations they have with each other, their reactions to what is said and done, and how their conversations (or their internal thinking processes) connect with what happens in the plot or story. The idea is to create a “you are there” feeling on the part of the reader where he or she feels like a participant or at least an invited close observer into the character, motivations, valuations, and thinking processes of the characters. At its best, such an approach leads the reader to feel that he or she “understands” the characters and has a certain sympathy or identification with them, even while not necessarily admiring or agreeing with what they are saying or doing. I try very hard to lay bare the inner souls of the characters, the good and the bad. For example, Bess, who attempts the bribery, struggles with whether to attempt the bribery, rationalizing that the jurors get paid vey little and are being asked to render big verdicts, and her offer to share some of the proceeds of the verdict is really just a token of appreciation for what she hopes the jury will do for her and the other plaintiffs. In the context of the injuries and suffering of the plaintiff occupants of the van, this kind of rationalization will be somewhat understandable and even elicit some sympathy from readers, even while intellectually knowing that tampering with a jury by offering money is wrong as well as illegal.

I was of course aided by the fact that I experienced essentially these events in a real case and knew something of the actual persons that inspired the characters in the book.

5. What character was your favorite to write? Which was your least favorite?

I would say that my favorite character to write about was really a duo – Ted Born and Dave Thompson. Ted was an older and experience Caucasian lawyer and Dave was a young (right out of law school) African-American lawyer, neither of whom knew the other well in the beginning and Dave was even hesitant to get involved. Even when he did get involved, Dave did not want to sign a motion prepared by Ted to move the trial to another venue because of the difficulty of obtaining a fair trial in Phoenix County, because Dave felt it could be interpreted as asserting that defendants could not get a fair trial in Phoenix County because of the likely predominant African-American composition of the jury; actually, Ted knew the motion would not be granted but thought it might be useful to send a signal to the Judge that Ted was aware of exorbitant verdicts in that county in the past. But as the case went on, Ted and Dave bonded to the extent that Dave was hoping to get one Caucasian on the jury. Dave also came to appreciate the merits of the tire manufacturer’s case when he was able to get access to the tire and saw its condition. Ted had developed such confidence in Dave as to ask Dave to make the opening statement to the jury, and Ted wrestled with whether he should allow Dave to take all or a part of the closing argument. It was a genuine and believable bonding experience which makes this duo my favorite characters in the book.

My least favorite characters were the plaintiff lawyers who had no genuine compassion for their clients, but simply saw the accident as an opportunity to get big bucks. Two plaintiff law firms literally fought with each other to handle the case, and the “winner” actually took the case away from another law firm that had already filed suit. During the trial, the plaintiff's lawyers tried to get juror sympathy by having an adult lead one of the children to the restroom each time, even though it was known that the child was in school and was perfectly able to go to the bathroom without adult help. One of the plaintiff's lawyers feigned tears in arguments to the jury, tears that were patently faked. Finally, the book hints that the plaintiff lawyers at least indirectly encouraged the bribery attempt that took place, and then sent out “runners” with pre-prepared false affidavits to get jurors to sign, in an effort to get a new trial. They were an unsavory bunch who did not well serve their clients and had no interest in them except for anticipated fees.

6. How much research went into the book, especially the technical parts, i.e., the legal jargon?

Virtually no extra research was necessary to write the book. As a part of my representation of my tire company client in the real case that inspired the book, I had to become very, very familiar with tire-making technology, which I learned from my client tire manufacturer, from the independent expert witness we employed, and from a metallurgist we consulted. Therefore, the research on tire-making technology was a subject on which I was very knowledgeable and needed no additional research. Incidentally, almost everyone who reads the book expresses amazement at the details of tire-making technology that went into the book. As to the “legal jargon,” I needed no research to deal with that, as I am a very experienced trial attorney, listed for more than 30 years in “Best Lawyers in America,” a member of the very selective American Law Institute, and I have served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at two different law schools. I was also very familiar with all the legal issues in the book because I encountered them in the real-life case that inspired the book.

What did require a modest amount of research was to be sure that there were areas in South Carolina (the setting of the book) where the demographics matched or were closely similar to those in the book. I also had to do some checking to determine whether South Carolina laws were consistent with the legal environment for the case described in the book. Otherwise, little, if any, research was done specifically in order to be able to write the book.

7. Was it difficult to make these parts understandable for the average person?

Perhaps there might be persons who would have difficulty with the tire technology in the book. However, I have considered that the major problem involving the book’s descriptions of tire making is not in comprehension, but in avoiding boring readers who are not terribly interested in all the details. I have had readers tell me that they found the tire-making content to be somewhat tedious and that, once they got past the tire-making parts, they were so engaged with the book that they could hardly put it down. I struggled with how to deal with the technology issues, and I finally concluded that tire-making technology had to be covered in some considerable detail in order to understand the core question for the jury. I did not think I could just conclusively declare that the tire had not been defectively manufactured in the face of the plaintiffs’ contrary contentions. I felt like the readers needed to have the fundamental facts explained to them so they could get a level of comfort in evaluating the merits of the case. After all, the whole case depended on whether the tire manufacturer was liable because it negligently made a defective tire, or whether the blow-out was caused by something else (a tensile fracture occurring in a worn-out tire, due probably to hitting some object or pothole in the road). I think I explained the legal aspects of the case clearly enough that no average reader should have a problem understanding them. At least no one has ever suggested that the legal points were hard to understand.

8. It looks like this is a part of a series. What’s next?

This book is the first of a series of courtroom drama books, of which two other books have already been published. The Vow: Ted Born’s Last Trial is a sequel to The Impossible Mock Orange Trial and involves what has become an increasingly serious problem - people live longer and experience dementia – insuring that a testator’s true intentions are carried out in his or her estate plans. A testator becomes inflicted with dementia, and family members persuade him or her to give them a power of attorney which they intend to use to undo the testator’s carefully made estate plans. Ted Born, as the testator’s attorney for a quarter century, is faced with whether to accept the power of attorney newly procured by family members or to fight it as he believes the testator would want if he or she were of sound mind and judgment. The procurers of the power of attorney accuse Born of contesting the power of attorney only in order to get more legal fees, and they sue him for large sums of money and threaten to ruin his professional reputation. Born puts it all on the line in order to see that the testator’s true intentions are carried out. This book was published in 2021, is available from Amazon and has good reviews.

The third book, published in 2022, The Jury Has a Verdict, is a prequel to the other two and features the relationship of lawyers and judges to each other and highlights one particular case where Ted Born finds himself on the wrong side of a Federal Judge, who keeps dismissing or neglecting to rule on one of Born’s cases where the client is struggling to survive. It illustrates the fragility of justice and how the attitudes and opinions of judges, even the best of judges, can influence decisions, and how attorneys who feel the justice of their case can respond to judges who do not seem at times to recognize the merits of a case. The book also deals with a Justice Department criminal case where the Department had not done adequate homework to verify the merits of the case and Born had to try the case before a judge who has always been tough on defendants in white crime cases.

A fourth book is now in progress in this series, Death on Helicon Heights, which deals with the death of a socialite who aspires to achieve great things but who encounters problems which get increasingly serious. A former friend and business partner who claims to have clairvoyant powers has foretold the death of the socialite. I will not set out further details of this book now, as it is still a work in progress.

I also have my memoirs in a nearly finished form but am holding completion until I can see how some other events, including my novels, turn out.

9. What author has been most influential in your writing?

It might seem strange to mention a 19th-century author as the one who has been most influential in my fiction writing, but it is in fact Fyodor Dostoevsky. What impresses me, especially in Crime and Punishment, is how Dostoevsky grips you emotionally and explores the innermost musings of his characters with their consciences, good and bad. It makes one wonder, what is the intrinsic makeup of a person who thinks like, say, Raskolnikov? In a somewhat related way, in The Impossible Mock Orange Trial, the book raises the question, what is the intrinsic makeup of a person who thinks like attempted briber Bess Johnson or conscientious juror Estrata McNemar? I want my books to make the reader wonder about the mental and emotional makeup of the characters in the book, with questions that linger long after the book has been read and closed.

A very different writer, Thomas Wolfe, affects me in a similar way in exploring the longings and sometimes pathos of the human spirit. He often it with a type of prose which approaches poetry in Look Homeward, Angel, and I don’t do that, but I am still trying in my own way to lay bare the inner character of the figures in my books.

A major objective of my writing is to reach down and explore a broad range of human emotions and motivations as they attempt to cope, with the hope that readers will identify with or admit that they might be capable of thinking the same way. And I hope my novels also provoke readers to reflect on what would be the consequences if we did not rein in some of the extreme thoughts of which we are capable.

10. What would your ideal day be like?

My ideal day, when not traveling, would be about 30 hours long, and would include time for a reunion gathering of family and friends to reminisce and share our aspirations, with time to do all the mundane things that must be done, deal with financial matters and pay bills, have delicious meals with family or friends, give attention to civic and community obligations, and still have about 5 hours remaining in which I can write and read whatever I like without interruption – then 6 or 7 hours of sleep!

11. What is your most prized possession?

I am glad the question did not specify physical possessions because I would have a really impossible task in valuing my physical possessions, except to say that my criterion would not be monetary value but rather the mental and emotional meaningfulness of those possessions.

Of possessions that are not physical or material, I would designate a triumvirate of sanity, peace of mind, and family (if it can be said that family is a possession in a sense; at least it is something I hold very dear).

12. What makes you laugh?

The state of society is such that laughs are fairly hard to come by. I am not a good joke teller, but I do enjoy a good joke told well, and I laugh at the good ones. Good repartee in plays and art and in some TV programs makes me laugh. Whatever is funny and not insane or over-the-top can make me laugh.
A book is a dream you hold in your hands.
—Neil Gaiman
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Post by farag hassan »

good idea
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Post by Shahzaib4321 »

A really good interview of the author. I personally think that this interview had the questions which gave us the the opportunity to understand the author.
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Post by Excel Chisom »

Interviews with amazing author are always like the best thing.
I laughed while reading this interview felt like I was talking to him one on one
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Post by Crisna Esther Abong »

this is a really interesting interview of the author
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Post by This+3 »

As the first author interview I have read on OBC, I am impressed. Not convinced about who, the author or the author's interviewer, was more in control of the read I thoroughly enjoyed.
The interviewer's questions, in my opinion, were well thought out and varied enough to keep my active mind interested in the information being given. Even though Courtroom Drama is not a genre that I pick up to read for my own benefit, this author's interview has piqued my interest; I am persuaded to believe that his Courtroom Drama novels he pens would have the same impact on me. I continued reading, even though I generally do not find the subject matter of interest.
Towards the end of the interview, there were questions about the author's personal life and his thoughts about life. I found myself sharing the conflicted feelings on wether one's family is a possession or not. I journal frequently, and the same quesiton has come up a few times in groups of prompts that I take part in. I am glad to see that I am not the only one that encounters this dilemma.
Thank you for the engrossing interview, kandscreeley and OnlineBookClub. I will be reading more of these in the future.
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Post by aliseevans »

I love the author story and him getting in depth with details love this article and I’ll read it all over again!
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Post by Kenneth Onyenwe »

Well, if there is anything I learned in this interview as an aspiring writer is how to make characters come alive either by describing the characters from some vantage point separated from the characters themselves or through the conversations they have with each other. Great interview!
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Post by Kat_Renshaw »

This author interview felt like I was the one talking to the author. Getting to know the author can make a read more intriguing than before. The more I know about the author makes me more and more curious to how the books relate to their life.
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Post by Valery Malay »

I really like this interview
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Post by Kenn Nyet »

I learned a lot from this interview, especially on what motivated this lawyer-turned-author to write the great books. Thanks for the interview.
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Post by Joanna Olson »

What a great interview! My family is also my most prized possession. I look forward to reading your book!
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Post by Joy Israel 2 »

I love the author’s writings and I look forward to reading your book
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Post by Oumurrayfamily »

This is an in depth interview of the author. It captures my interest, and draws me into the book with just a few words. I cannot wait to read this book.
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Post by Shaik Shahid »

This is a really interesting interview the author was really a good novelist, and he starts writing from 14Y child. the author was expressing the way was so good. thanks for the interview. that was great.
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