In this week's Jen's Jewels column, James Grippando unveils the creative process behind his latest Jack Swyteck novel, GOODBYE GIRL. The seasoned author and former criminal defense lawyer shares the inspirations that shaped this captivating story, blending elements of real-life courtroom drama and strategic moves in the music industry. Discover the complex dynamics between Jack Swyteck and pop icon Imani Nichols in a tale of piracy, legal battles, and a mysterious murder trial. Goodbye Girl is now available wherever books are sold.
Jennifer Vido: Let’s start by learning more about the genesis of GOODBYE GIRL. What sparked your interest in crafting a narrative rooted in the present-day music business, and how did observing certain aspects of that world inspire the tale you wanted to tell?
James Grippando: The idea behind Goodbye Girl percolated in my head for more than a decade. In 2010, I was one of the lawyers involved in an epic courtroom battle for ownership of EMI Records. EMI and its iconic labels have been home to countless recording stars, from Frank Sinatra and the Beatles to Bob Dylan and Mariah Carey. In 2007 EMI was acquired in a deal worth 5.9 billion, and the buyer sued, feeling cheated. A big part of EMI’s financial trouble was music piracy. It was killing the entire recording industry. Our legal team lost the trial, but with an inside look at the ravages of piracy, I came away thinking, “there has to be a novel here.”
Piracy and popstars seemed like fertile ground, but I write legal thrillers, and I needed a place for Jack Swyteck in my story. Then came the real-life battle between Taylor Swift and Scooter Braun. Braun and his companies controlled the rights to Taylor Swift’s master recordings, which meant that he was in a better position than anyone to profit from her original catalogue. Swift then re-recorded her first six albums and told her millions of fans to buy “Taylor’s Version.” Brilliant.
With that, a story came to me. Jack Swyteck represents “Imani,” a fictional pop icon whose professional nemesis is her ex-husband. Imani would rather thieves profit from her music than let her ex-husband pocket the royalties. She doesn’t re-record her albums. Instead, she tells her fans to “Go Pirate!” A contentious legal battle ensues, and someone ends up dead. Imani has more legal problems than she can handle, and her lawyer, Jack, is at the center of the storm.
Was it the percolator (piracy) or the bolt of lightning (Taylor Swift’s brilliant business move) that inspired Goodbye Girl? Maybe a little bit of both.
Jen: As a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Jack Swyteck becomes entangled in the legal case of famous musician Imani Nichols. How did this star singer facing controversy first come into Jack's orbit, and what struck him initially about her megawatt persona and character beyond the limelight?
James: Jack’s a sole practitioner who does mostly criminal defense law in Miami, so a popstar like the fictional Imani is not his typical client. But Jack’s best friend, Theo Knight, owns a jazz bar and is well connected to the Miami music scene, where Imani got her start before she hit the big time. Jack likes defending the little guy, and although Imani is now a huge star, her legal problem is the same problem that all emerging musicians have: the record labels have too much control over the artist’s music, and the artist is financially exploited. Jack is also bothered by the record label’s efforts to silence Imani, and he’s happy to defend her First Amendment right to call out her manager as a “thief” and to tell her millions of fans to “Go Pirate!” Soon enough, the “business” dispute becomes a murder trial, where Jack is completely in his comfort zone.
Jen: In what unexpected way does this case take a tragic turn, and how does Jack grapple emotionally with the distressing news?
James: In the opening scene, FBI Agent Andie Henning discovers a man’s body in Biscayne Bay, chained to a piling with what appears to be the words “goodbye girl” impressed on his chest. That murder was never solved, and the story picks up twelve years later, when Jack and Andie are married. It doesn’t spoil anything to tell you that Imani and her ex-husband may have had something to do with that man’s murder. The connection between Jack’s defense of his client and Andie’s search for the “Goodbye Girl” killer creates serious problems for Jack and Andie. I think readers will be very involved in the conflict between Jack and Andie—as husband and wife, as well as criminal defense lawyer and law enforcement officer.
Jen: How might Jack's legal case have broader implications for the future landscape of the music industry?
James: Piracy costs the movie and music industry an estimated $250 billion each year and is responsible for the loss of over 750,000 jobs. For the last two decades, the entertainment industries have tried to educate consumers that piracy rips off artists, not just the big corporations behind them. So, when Jack’s client tells her fans to “Go Pirate,” she is exercising the proverbial “nuclear option.” It might help her win her personal battle against her ex-husband and her oppressive record label, but she makes enough enemies in the process to create a host of intriguing suspects in a story that is, at bottom, a murder mystery.
Jen: Of the characters in your latest story, who did you find most compelling to write about, and why did you connect with them?
James: Goodbye Girl is the eighteenth novel in the Jack Swyteck series, so obviously Jack is at the center of the story. When I’m writing in the series, it’s less a question of which character I will connect with and more about which relationship will be the focus of the story. An important part of the series is Jack’s marriage to FBI agent Andie Henning. Some tension between a criminal defense lawyer and law enforcement officer is to be expected, but Goodbye Girl takes that tension to a new level. Jack’s client is charged with a murder that happened twelve years ago, and Andie was part of the investigative team that never solved that murder. It forces Jack and Andie to confront their differences head on.
Jen: What is your process when beginning a new writing project? Do you typically start by outlining the overall story structure and plot points, or do you begin by conceptualizing the main characters?
James: It depends on whether I’m writing another novel in the Jack Swyteck series or outside the series. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Swyteck series, so the main characters are well-known to me before I even begin. Every so often, a character who has no place in the series may start “speaking to me,” and I’m inspired to write a stand-alone novel. Either way, I do outline the plot in some detail, but only to the point of conflict in the story. The ending works itself out in the writing.
Jen: What key insights or perspectives do you hope readers take away from the story? Are there any central themes or life lessons you aimed to convey through your characters' struggles and triumphs?
James: I generally shy away from stepping outside the story and telling my readers what themes or perspectives I hope they’ll pull from my writing. My number one goal is to entertain the reader, and if the reader perceives meaning beyond the story, that’s a bonus. That said, Jack and Andie are having difficulties in their marriage in Goodbye Girl. They deal with those problems by creating certain “rules,” which they hope will minimize conflict. I think readers may wonder about the wisdom of some of the “rules” we all choose to live by, even if those rules are created with the best of intentions.
Jen: What story are you working on now? Please describe the characters or the world you're exploring.
James: I just finished writing Book No. 19 in the Jack Swyteck series, which should be released in about a year or so. It was inspired by the human rights protests in Iran in 2022 in which hundreds of demonstrators were killed at the hands of Tehran’s “morality police.” Jack’s new client is an Iranian mother who stands accused of kidnapping her own daughter and fleeing to Miami. Her husband demands the child’s immediate return to him in Tehran. It’s new territory for Jack, and I think readers will enjoy seeing Jack in this high-stakes arena.
Jen: What’s the best way for readers to stay connected with you?
James: I answer all my emails personally that come through my website. I’m also very active on Facebook.
Jen: What upcoming books have caught your eye?
James: I see that Greg Isles has another Penn Cage novel coming later this year, and I have always admired his writing. A new novel by Gabriel García Márquez (Until August) was rediscovered after his death, which I’ll be eager to read. I’m also curious to read Salmon Rushdie’s meditations on the attack on his life in 2022 (Knife), but it will take some mental prep on my part to read a book like that.
Jen: It's been wonderful getting to talk shop with you today. Huge cheers to you as your new book comes out - readers will adore it. Wishing you only the best! I can’t wait for your next release!
James: Here’s to my next 30 years of writing!
Jack Swyteck #18
A contentious intellectual piracy case leads to an unsolved murder, and Jack Swyteck’s client—a pop music icon—is the accused killer.
Piracy costs the movie and music industry billions. No one has been able to stop it. But that won’t stop Miami criminal defense lawyer Jack Swyteck. His latest client, Imani Nichols, is a Grammy-winning popstar whose career has skyrocketed. Despite her success, she’s the most underpaid superstar on the planet because of an onerous record contract she signed as a teenager with her now ex-husband Shaky Nichols, who has made himself rich off her royalties.
Preferring to see thieves profit from her music than let her ex-husband pocket one more dime, Imani takes to social media and tells her millions of fans to “go pirate” and download her music illegally. Her hardball tactic leads to scorched-earth litigation, and now she needs Jack’s help.
The case takes a deadly turn when salacious allegations of infidelity send Imani and Shaky down a path of mutual assured destruction, each implicating the other in the unsolved murder of Imani’s extra-marital lover twelve years ago. Tyler McCormick died of asphyxiation, and his body was found in Biscayne Bay, chained to a piling with the words "goodbye girl" impressed on his chest. Despite their fierce denials, Imani and Shakey are both indicted for murder, leading to a sensational trial that exposes shocking secrets about their failed marriage, their cut-throat business partnership, and Imani’s astonishing success.
Yet as Jack discovers, uncovering the truth about the killing and the cryptic “goodbye girl” won’t just exonerate or convict his client, her ex, and their music empire. It may shape the future of the entire recording industry.
Thriller Crime | Thriller Legal [Harper, On Sale: January 9, 2024, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780063223844 / eISBN: 9780063223844]
James Grippando is a New York Times bestselling author of suspense and the winner of the Harper Lee Prize. The Big Lie is his twenty-eighth novel. He was a trial lawyer before the publication of his first novel, The Pardon, in 1994, and is now Counsel at the law firm of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP. He lives in south Florida and teaches Law & Literature at the University of Miami School of Law.
Jennifer Vido writes sweet romances set in the Lowcountry filled with southern charm and hospitality. In between chapters, she interviews authors for her bi-weekly Jen’s Jewels column on FreshFiction.com. Most mornings, she teaches an arthritis-friendly water exercise class for seniors before heading to the office to serve as the executive director of a legal non-profit. A New Jersey native, she currently lives in Maryland with her husband and two rescue dogs and is the proud parent of two sons who miss her home-cooked meals. To learn more, please visit her website.
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