Bottled Lightning, L.M. Weeks' debut novel, begins at a breakneck pace and only gets better from there! The lethal narrative of what happens when a passionate global technology lawyer gets close to his gorgeous client, whose innovative invention could combat climate change, keeps readers intrigued until the final page.
This intense and provocative thriller is chock-full of tension, culture, and delightfully flawed characters that would make for a riveting start to a series. It gets two thumbs up from A Good Book To End The Day! To learn more about the story behind the story, read our interview with the author below.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was in what Americans call grammar or grade school, I won two creative writing contests and was a runner-up in a third. I also “produced,” directed, and acted in two plays based on the novels Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 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 percolating in my head. Finally, in 2017, I decided it was now or never if I was ever going to pen a novel. So, I committed to myself that I would write a complete manuscript by no later than the end of 2018. I gave myself two years because I was still practicing law full time and had no idea how long it would take to get to “THE END.”
What inspired the idea for Bottled Lightning?
Which part? There was the initial inspiration for the novel followed by numerous other inspirations for different parts of the novel, including the technology. Let me explain the initial inspiration for the book and the lead character as well as the lightning technology.
My experience practicing as an international lawyer in New York and Japan triggered my initial desire to write a novel. Later, my son, who is biracial (his mother is Japanese) and perfectly bicultural and bilingual became my inspiration for the lead character, Torn Sagara. 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. When he’s in New York, you’d 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 children are also biracial. They have been an inspiration to me as well.
As for the technology, the initial inspiration came from practicing at a global technology law firm that represents clients in connection with the development and financing of their cutting-edge technology. But I didn’t know what technology to fictionalize or even the industry. It turned out that I was surrounded by people in an industry that is ripe for disruption because our law firm does a lot of both conventional (read, oil and gas) and clean energy (read, renewables) work. So even though I’m not an energy lawyer, I have worked on deals in the energy space and have had a fair amount of exposure to it. One day, while discussing an offshore floating wind farm project in Japan with a colleague, I thought renewable energy might be interesting to write about because of its potential for ameliorating the climate change problem. And since we do a lot of technology start-up work, writing about a tech lawyer working with an inventor of a bleeding-edge energy invention seemed an easy way to go, but I didn’t know what specific technology to focus on since all of the interesting energy ideas already seemed to be in the public domain. The only thing I knew was that whatever idea I came up with had to be revolutionary. Then, one day while cowering on the bottom of a flats skiff in shark-infested waters contemplating the end of my life as thunderous lightning bolts dropped all around us, it hit me (pardon the pun) that it would be very cool if we could generate lightning at will.
After surviving that terrifying experience and doing a lot of research on how lightning is generated and how its energy could be stored, I decided to go with lightning because it’s dynamic, can generate up to five times more heat than the sun, and scientists aren’t 100% sure exactly how lightning is formed, which provided me with a gap in human knowledge in which to create lighting on demand. Saya, the inventor of Bottled Lightning, solved the problems of not only how exactly lightning is generated but also how to replicate that process at any time and how to store the energy. As an added bonus, Raijin, a Japanese deity in Shinto’s panoply of gods, is the god of lightning, thunder, and storms, which is why I named Saya’s company Raijin Clean.
Several people have asked me if the technology is real, which always makes me smile. It’s great that people reading my description of Saya’s invention might actually think it works! But then the issue was, OK, now that you have the technology idea, so what? Well, we represent a lot of clients in connection with trade secret misappropriation and patent infringement claims…so, I thought what if someone wanted to steal or bury Saya’s lightning-on-demand invention? And voila! Conflict!
Torn, your main character shares many similarities with yourself. Is it therapeutic in any way to create a character based on yourself?
Yes, absolutely. One of the axioms of writing is to write what you know. Consequently, many novels, particularly debut novels, and short stories are at least somewhat autobiographical. Examples include most of Hemingway’s works. (laughing) But when turning that kernel of an idea into a separate living and breathing (hopefully the reader thinks of the character that way!) character, it forces the writer to examine the character’s and therefore the writer’s motivations for thinking, saying, and doing things. What drove the character to behave that way? Was it an attempt to make up for some perceived shortcoming? Was it an attempt to curry favor or garner approval? Was it an attempt to avoid disapproval? Or was the character acting out of frustration because of a feeling of inferiority or because he or she could not obtain the desired approval or avoid disapproval? These are questions that require questioning your own motivations. The results can be quite cathartic and liberating!
With this being your debut novel, what was the most surprising thing you discovered while writing this story?
How different creative writing is from legal writing!
One of the biggest challenges for me as a neophyte fiction writer was unlearning everything I had learned to become good at legal writing. The goals of good legal writing are just the opposite of writing fiction. For example, in legal writing, you want to give the conclusions up front. A good legal memorandum contains the issue or issues and conclusion at the top, followed by a recitation of the facts, and then the analysis when 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. (laughing) Having said that, 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. That is similar to the issue or issues stated at the beginning of a legal memo but the conclusion in a novel is saved for the end.
Another difference is that in legal writing you want to be crystal clear when describing the relevant facts, the law, how the law applies to the facts, and your advice. 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. Their ability to do this is often why readers think the book was better than the movie because the movie is not the same as the story the reader’s imagination is playing for them.
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 TV shows. (The exception to this is when advocating. For example, when writing a legal brief to convince a judge to rule in the 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, and ennui of actually living it. A really good novel might teach a broader moral or life lesson in a subtle way, but putting Christian fiction aside, they’re not generally meant to be biblical stories, at least in my humble opinion.
A fourth difference is that accuracy, precision and conciseness are three of the highest valued attributes of good legal writing. Another is analytical skills, but we’ll set that aside for the purposes of this discussion. Good lawyers don’t like to guess or write anything that is not supported by a source or established fact. No lawyer worth their salt wants to be accused of not knowing what they’re talking about. And for the sake of precision, a lawyer will use words with very specific meanings lest their statements be misinterpreted. For example, a lawyer may use the word corporation instead of company when they wish to differentiate a corporation from a limited liability company and/or a partnership even though laypeople colloquially use company interchangeably to describe all three entities. And lawyers often define words and/or use the same word over and over to prevent confusion. Since accuracy, precision and conciseness are three of the highest values in legal writing, lawyers rarely consider the poetic or lyrical nature or “sound” of their writing. This can lead to stilted, mechanical, and mind-numbingly boring prose—if you can even call it that—although it may be brilliant legal writing. (Again, the exception is when writing to advocate a position.)
As a fiction writer, I had to consider the rhythm and cadence of my words and the length of my sentences, all of which can affect the reader’s enjoyment of your writing. I also had to learn the importance of assonance and alliteration. These aesthetically important aspects of fiction writing were completely foreign to me. I had to develop these aesthetic muscles over time.
On the other hand, if you’re good at writing fiction, I think that can make you a better legal writer because of your sensitivity to words and their usage. For example, I know a Japanese lawyer who is both a famous poet and a famous lawyer. His legal writing, in both Japanese and English, is exquisite. He just has that sixth sense that enables him to write in a way that reads naturally and is never stilted or awkward, even when describing complicated legal concepts.
What do you hope readers take away from Bottled Lightning?
Most of all, I want them to enjoy it and the characters like I have.
In addition, I want people to understand that you can be imperfect and still accomplish great things. History is replete with such imperfect humans succeeding despite their foibles. And NO ONE is perfect. Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone. Consider what you can do to achieve greatness despite your situation and failings. Get up immediately after you fall down, and you will fall down, and keep moving forward. Sail with the wind you’ve got. One of the best examples is baseball. Even the best hitters strike out most of the time, but they keep working at it and over time their successes add up to greatness.
My favorite question to ask authors is what literary success looks like to you?
One major success is that 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 (fingers to keyboard);
- Finishing “one true sentence;”
- 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.
Do you have any other projects in the works? If so, can you share a tiny bit about your plans?
Getting Bottled Lightning launched is an ongoing new project! (laughing) Choosing the cover, deciding on the interior design, requesting endorsement blurbs from other authors and subject matter experts, sending out advance reader copies to get reviews, building a website, working with my publicist, spreading the word on social media, learning about Amazon, etc. I find the business of marketing books fascinating.
As it turns out, the ending in Bottled Lighting has teed it up perfectly for a sequel. But I didn’t plan it that way. At this point in my life, I want to write about what interests me the most even though writing a series may make more sense from a business standpoint. So right now, I’m working on a contemporary novel about tournament fly fishing. I have fly fished in (and won several-had to work that in!) several tarpon fly fishing tournaments in the Florida Keys and some fishing tournaments in Japan and chased several world records. The amateur fl- fishing tournament world is full of some fascinating characters and more drama, both on and off the water, than you would believe!
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