On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author LM Weeks talks about his new book, Bottled Lightning, and what inspired him to write it.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed LM Weeks about his life and career, what inspired him to start writing, and the creative writing process that went into his new book, Bottled Lightning.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I was born in Alaska, USA , where my father was stationed in the US Army as a JAG (Judge Advocate General – the legal department for the US Army) officer. When I was one, my family returned to Idaho, a sparsely populated state in the US Pacific Northwest, where my father started practicing as a small town lawyer. When I was 13 or 14, I saw him defend an elderly man with a tracheotomy in a murder trial. He won and after watching that exciting jury trial, I was determined to become a lawyer.
Around the same time we had a young college exchange student from India stay with us for several months. She was quite beautiful, and I thought she walked on water. She suggested that I go on an exchange program overseas to “broaden my horizons.” So I applied and went through the interview process to become an International Rotary Club high school exchange student.
After accepting my application, they asked me where I wanted to go. I hadn’t really thought about it much other than that I thought it would be nice to live in Australia and scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef—I was a huge Jacques Cousteau fan at the time. Upon further reflection, I decided to go to a place that was the most different from the US. At the time—this was in 1978—China was still closed to the US. So I decided to go to Japan, about which I knew little. I had this silly image of Japan as a country where samurai warriors wearing kimono and armed with katana stood on an assembly line making Toyota cars.
While in Japan, my first host father went to Tokyo for meetings. After returning, he told me about meeting a Japanese “international lawyer” who spoke Japanese and English fluently and who understood US and Japanese law. This lawyer evidently assisted companies with cross-border transactions between Japan and the US. I had very little idea what actually was involved in such a career, but it sounded like the closest thing to a James Bond international man of mystery type of job that I’d ever heard of. So I became determined to become an “international lawyer,” whatever that meant.
After returning from my first stint living in Japan and graduating from high school in the US, I decided to attend college in Japan to continue my Japanese language studies. The deal with my parents was to attend university—a small liberal arts college called International Christian University (ICU), which at the time was one of only two universities in Japan where non-Japanese could study full time—in Japan for only one or two years, returning to complete my education in in the US thereafter. But my father died in a car accident at the end of my first year, so I stayed in Japan all four years because ICU gave me a scholarship and I could teach English and do translation work to make ends meet.
After graduating college with a degree in economics, I moved to New York City to attend Fordham University School of Law. After graduation, I started practicing in New York where I practiced from 1988 to 2004, with a brief hiatus at a Japanese law firm during 1991-92. I became a partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP in 1997 and later joined Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in 2001 in their New York office. In 2004, I relocated to Orrick’s Tokyo office where I became the Managing Partner of the office, a role I stayed in for more than ten years. My practice involves representing both Japanese and non-Japanese clients in their cross-border mergers and acquisitions and technology transfer transactions and related intellectual property and other disputes.
I am fluent at reading, writing, and speaking Japanese.
In addition to writing, my passions are motorcycle riding and saltwater fly fishing.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I won two creative writing contests and was a runner up in a third and “produced” two plays based on the novels Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde between the ages of nine and twelve. Ever since then I have wanted to write a novel, but I got sidetracked with my career and life. However, the urge to write strengthened over the years, and I started keeping notes about a story that was percolating in my head.
Finally, in 2017, I decided it was now or never if I were ever going to write a novel. So I decided to write a complete manuscript for a novel with the goal of completing it by no later than the end of 2019.
When did you take a step to start writing?
Several years ago when I started keeping a journal with ideas for characters, dialogue, chapters and plot lines. But it wasn’t until 2017 when I decided to buckle down and finish a manuscript.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Five and a half years.
What made you want to write Bottled Lightning?
My career as an international lawyer and relationship with Japan have been fascinating on a professional and personal level. It has even included intrigue and drama. I thought that there was a unique and compelling story that I could fashion out of those experiences and my imagination.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Bottled Lightning?
There were many, including the basics of what tense to write in, whether to write in first or third person and learning about the perceived horrors of head hopping.
But perhaps the biggest challenge was unlearning everything I had learned to become good at legal writing. The goals of good legal writing are just the opposite of writing good fiction. In legal writing, you want to give the conclusions upfront. A good legal memorandum contains the conclusion or conclusions at the top, followed by a recitation of the facts and then the analysis applying the law to the facts. Many clients read only the conclusion without reading the rest of the memo. Fiction is just the reverse; you want to hide the ball until the end to keep the reader turning the page. Having said that, in fiction, you do need something up front, a hook in the first sentence, paragraph, and/or chapter, that grabs the reader to keep them from putting the book down.
Another difference is that in legal writing you want to be crystal clear when describing the relevant facts, the law and how the law applies to the facts. You don’t want to be vague or leave anything to the client’s imagination. Again, writing fiction is just the opposite. You want to incite the reader’s imagination to conjure up the world you’re writing about. You want to give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is relevant to the story and fill in the blank spaces, somewhat automatically or at least effortlessly, with their imaginations.
A third difference is that in legal writing, you don’t want to trigger an emotional response. “Just the facts, Ma’am,” like in the old Dragnet shows. (The exception to this is when advocating. For example, when writing a legal brief the lawyer is using emotion to convince a judge to rule in his or her client’s favor.) When writing fiction, however, you want to be triggering emotional responses all the way through the book! If you’re not, what’s the point? It’s fiction. The reader is not reading your novel to obtain valuable information. They’re reading it to relax and escape to a far away, and perhaps dangerous and/or confusing and thought-provoking, place to experience all of the emotion actually being there would cause but without the danger, hard work, sweat, noise, smelliness, dirtiness, ennui, etc. of actually living it.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Originally me. But then my son, who is biracial (his mother is Japanese) and perfectly bicultural and bilingual. One day he’ll be navigating his work day in Tokyo like any other Japanese professional. The next he’ll arrive in Manhattan and, like a shape shifter, seamlessly transition into a New Yorker. The metamorphosis is uncanny and fascinating to watch. You would never know that he lived in Tokyo and not New York, although he did spend much of his time growing up there. My girlfriend’s clients are also biracial. They have been an inspiration to me as well.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Sort of an amalgamation of a difficult client and the evil significant other of a close relative.
What is the inciting incident of Bottled Lightning?
A motorcycle chase. That’s when the lawyer, Torn, and his client, Saya, realize they may have issues much bigger than how best to protect her revolutionary lightning-on-demand technology from intellectual property theft.
What is the main conflict of Bottled Lightning?
Saya has developed bleeding edge lightning-on-demand generation and energy storage inventions that will make all other forms of energy production, whether fossil fuels, nuclear, or renewables such as wind and solar, obsolete. Her invention is scalable, meaning it can be used in the home or at the utility level. Someone or some organization that is threatened by the prospect of Saya’s technology replacing all other electricity generation technologies wants to stop it from being commercialized.
Did you plot Bottled Lightning in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I definitely pantsed it. I tried doing some outlines but basically had an idea only for the protagonist and his girlfriend. The technology, the antagonist, ancillary characters, the sidekick, the ending, etc. all arose out of the fog of the writing process. (I wouldn’t have developed those ideas without spending significant time in the trenches of the writing process.)
For example, I had a general idea of using some form of cutting edge technology as a hook but didn’t know what or even the industry. But our firm does a lot of both conventional and clean energy work and one day while cowering on the bottom of a boat in the jungle contemplating the end of my life while thunderous lightning bolts dropped all around us it hit me that it would be very interesting if lightning could be generated at will.
After surviving that terrifying experience and doing some research on how lightning is generated, I decided to use that because scientists aren’t sure exactly how lightning is generated, which gave me an area of the unknown with which to work. Saya, the inventor, solved the problems of not only how exactly lightning is generated but also how to replicate that process.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Bottled Lightning need?
A lot! Yes, the manuscript went through three major rounds of developmental editing, I received feedback from about 30 beta readers, I had the manuscript line edited and it has been professionally proofread three times. Notwithstanding all of that, my author friends all tell me that the final book likely will still have a typo or two or three, which I find terrifying, sad, and disappointing.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Don’t self-edit when writing the first draft. Just write. Once it’s all on paper, it’s much easier to cut than create. Put everything in that comes to mind, no matter how outrageous, inappropriate, mean, nasty, angry, petty, or silly you may think. You are your own worst critic, but don’t get in the way of your first draft. The first draft is for the writer. Editing is for the readers. Writing is actually rewriting. Moreover, it’s difficult to forecast what will work at the end of the day. The first chapter I ever wrote ended up on the cutting room floor. On the other hand, a character that was almost an afterthought became central to my story.
If I could add another piece of advice, it would be not to overwhelm yourself or guilt yourself into paralysis, which means not setting unachievable goals that you will abandon and then feel remorse about later. The biggest impediment is the initial inertia. One of the most effective ways I learned for getting over inertia is to set small obtainable goals. So instead of telling yourself I’m going to write for an hour before or after work—it is a sad reality that most beginning writers have to hold down a day job—and four hours on weekend days or something like that, start with something very easy. Say ten minutes.
No matter how tired or unmotivated you are, you will find that you can devote all of your attention to writing for at least ten minutes, and that time almost always will turn into an hour, two hours, etc. Because once you’ve broken the inertia barrier, momentum kicks in and your ideas and writing will flow from there. So start with ten minutes a day and I guarantee you the time you spend writing will balloon quickly.
A corollary to this is don’t let research, which can be very important, depending on what you’re writing, be an excuse not to write. Writing needs to be the priority.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
The stories on my list are all based somewhat on my actual experiences. The one I am working on now arose out of my experience participating in saltwater fly fishing tournaments. Believe it or not, there are lots of egos and drama in fly fishing!
Another story I’ve been working on arose out of the untimely death of my father in a car accident on a deserted mountain road. That incident lends itself to much conjecture and intrigue.
Also, I didn’t write Bottled Lightning with a sequel in mind, but fortuitously it ended in a way that perfectly lends itself to at least one more book, if not a series. Thus, if there is an interest, I would consider writing at least a second volume.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Absolutely. First, it got the monkey off my back. If I hadn’t written it, I would’ve regretted it for the rest of my life. Second, it has given me the confidence and desire to write more.
I note, also, that there are many small milestones to celebrate along the way to publishing your first novel. Before writing Bottled Lightning, I used to think success meant (1) critical acclaim and/or (2) commercial success. But now I cherish each of the following achievements:
– Being disciplined enough to regularly put pen to paper;
– Finishing a chapter;
– Finishing a first draft of the manuscript (MS);
– Feeling goosebumps when rereading parts of my MS after “resting” it for several days;
– Receiving my first critique sandwich 🥪 from my developmental editor;
– Receiving and charting comments from my beta readers to help me determine which ones to address;
– Each rewrite of the MS;
– Receiving my line editor’s comments;
– Receiving my proofreader’s comments;
– Developing a following on social media;
– Each query letter I sent out;
– Each rejection I received with feedback;
– Connecting with other authors;
– Connecting with readers;
– Working on my author website;
– Learning about the publishing industry, including indie publishing;
– Polishing the MS to ready it for self-publishing in case my book didn’t get picked up by an agent; and
– Convincing other authors to provide endorsements;
Having gotten this far, I will not stop writing even if (1) and/or (2) above never happen. I love the process. I’m working on my second novel and doubt that I will ever stop writing as long as I can get up in the morning.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Facebook author page: facebook.com/L-Mark-Weeks-101721425807377
Facebook personal page: facebook.com/lmark.weeks
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