In my new novel, The Gods of Guilt, the Lincoln lawyer Mickey Haller likens the practice of law to juggling chain saws: It can be dangerous, especially if you catch it by the wrong end. I think writing a novel is the same way. There are many pitfalls. You have to be careful and steady with your juggling. Still, every book is a challenge in its own way, and those challenges are set by the juggler himself. So there is no use complaining about it. If you want to take the easy route, then juggle marshmallows.
When I wrote The Gods of Guilt, I think I went with chainsaws. I gave myself a challenge that probably nobody would notice but myself. I just wanted to see if I could pull it off.
First of all, I wanted the book to function as an entertaining legal thriller with lots of intrigue, courtroom drama, and subterfuge. I wanted a few surprises too, including the death of a secondary character that the reader wouldn’t see coming. None of that was really secret in terms of the structure of the book. They were needed ingredients and difficult enough to juggle and keep in the air. The secret agenda I added was with regard to two of the main characters. While functioning as a fast-moving thriller, the book’s true center revolves around the relationship between Mickey Haller and his 16-year-old daughter, Hayley. I wanted that strained relationship to be the engine that drives Mickey’s choices and desires through the book. The book is, after all, called The Gods of Guilt. I wanted Mickey to be operating from a standpoint of seeking redemption in his daughter’s eyes, and if he succeeded, then he would save the relationship that means so much to him and ease the guilt that weighs him down as the story begins.
But here’s the catch—or, I should say, the challenge. I did not want Mickey and Hayley to have a single exchange of dialogue in the book, let alone meet face-to-face. I thought this was necessary, at least in the first half of the book, to underscore how deep the rift was between this father and daughter and how difficult it would be to bridge the gap. I wanted Mickey’s efforts to reach out and to explain his actions to be unrequited. I wanted his phone calls to go unanswered, his texts unreturned. When the centerpiece trial got underway, I wanted Mickey to turn from the defense table to look for his daughter in the public gallery, only to see she was not there.
I hope you pay attention to this as you read my novel. I know there is one scene where Mickey watches his daughter from afar, and another off the page where Hayley visits without Mickey really knowing it—you’ll understand what that means if you read the book. You’ll then be able to decide if the challenge was successfully met, and if it was the right choice. Can the father-daughter relationship be the true center of the book if the two principles never talk to one another on the page? You be the judge.
— Michael Connelly