Tim O'Neill, author

T.B. O'Neill

I admit I spent three decades practicing law.

But I would have rather been a writer. Trial work did allow me to fight the old battles of my youth (primarily against authority of any kind), and it provided a treasure trove of material that writers search for tirelessly. Courtroom work, if you do it right, is essentially story telling. Not just any story. It must ring true because In court emotions are tense, senses are acute. The result can be comic in its absurdity, or sad enough to make you weep. The stories juries hear can be full of hubris and defensive pride, or fearful, shy and pleading. Either way, they all churn your gut. And your adversaries at the bar can be insidiously cunning, though skilled in the art of deception. As often as not, the truth is hard to find. But these were my peers, my fellow lawyers, and sometimes me, who later came to populate my fiction.

So, it is not surprising that I use the law as a backdrop for my novels, and lawyers as characters to explore story lines where justice and the moral consequences of its execution are major themes. The protagonists in The Wealth of a Nation and Slugger are lawyers, and I require them to make hard choices. Whether in life or in fiction, one must be careful not to align oneself with the wrong faction.

I began this second career as a writer by accident, although in earnest, when my brother asked that I chronicle our family history. The result was a two-volume saga: A Mile Beyond, and Dangle Him Purposely. Each is a tale about my family. The first volume explores a family wracked by violence, alcoholism, ignorance, and chronic poverty. The second volume, taking place in the ’60s, concentrates on my generation’s loss of innocence during the Vietnam era, and my memory of the war. Both memoirs are essentially stories of well-earned guilt and redemption.

Now that gray is the predominant color of my hair and skin, and I’ve been able to see more clearly the follies of my past, I hope to impart the lessons of my youth. One upside is that reliving your past will scrub your soul clean, although it will never shine like it did in your youth.

For those who are curious: I love this avocation . . . writing. Getting up before dawn and discovering what is revealed on the blank page. I live with my wife, Beth, and my three-legged dog, Joe, in a Northern California walnut orchard with a view of the mountains. And I dream that someday my grandchildren will read the history of their family in my memoirs, and be strengthened by the mettle and resilience of their ancestors.

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