I recently got a chance to interview Maria Granovsky, the author of Poison Pill. Maria is a patent litigator here in New York City. Like every area of the law, intellectual property (patents, trademarks, and copyrights) very much affects the food and agriculture industry. This book gives an inside look at patent litigation, from a big firm perspective.
Maria uses her background as a cancer biologist and lawyer, and her international travels, to craft this fast-paced, intricately plotted capers, where the protagonists relay on their wits rather than their brawn, and the body count rises only as much as is necessary. Even though Mara currently resides in New York City, she has lived in many other places ranging from Williamsburg, Delaware to Jerusalem. While it’s difficult to be the new kid on the block repeatedly, this nomatic existence- in terms of geography and career- continues to yield a rich vein of thriller plots.
1. Maria, I understand you are a patent litigator. What inspired you to write a fiction novel?
I always thought of myself as a writer. I just didn’t write. When I worked for big law firms, it was easy to hide behind the excuse that I was too busy and didn’t have time to write. But the truth is that I was too scared to sit down and find out whether I was any good. In 2010, after I left my BigLaw firm, I had no excuses. I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org). It’s a wonderful exercise in madness, during which you commit to writing the first draft — 50,000 words — of a novel in a month. Poison Pill is the result of that month — plus eighteen months of editing.
2. I’m so intrigued with the whole book writing process. What was your favorite part of writing Poison Pill?
Different people have different methods of writing. Some outline their books and know for certain how it’s going to go. I’m not one of those lucky people. I generally know the theme of my story, and perhaps the ending, but the rest of the plot is a great mystery. What I do know well are my characters — I know how they think, who they are, what their parents did for a living. I know them as well as I know my best friends. In order to write my stories, I need to be in my characters’ shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, figuring out how to get from point A to point B with the resources they have available to them at that moment. For me, the favorite and almost magical part of writing is when characters seem to be doing things on their own and I merely report on what they’re up to. That’s when my writing is at its best.
3. Tell me a little about the book. It just arrived in the mail and is next on my list once I finish Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. It’s been a while since I’ve read a legal drama and looking forward to it.
POISON PILL is a legal thriller in which a chance meeting on a business trip to Istanbul sparks a desperate plan to stop the approval of a diet drug that Wall Street is counting on to be a billion-dollar blockbuster. It’s got star-crossed lovers, foreign locations, ruthless venture capitalists, bulldog litigators, a crotchety scientist, and of course, a few guns.
4. What is your favorite part of the book?
Now, you’re asking an impossible question! But, truth be told, the banter between the two main characters is what makes the book for me. It showcases their personalities, and it allows the injection of humor even when they are discussing serious topics.
5. As a patent lawyer yourself, do you think the book accurately portrays litigation?
Some liberty has been taken with the length of time certain things take. Otherwise, it’s an accurate portrayal of modern American litigation. I tried to give a realistic account of what it’s like to be a lawyer on one of these big, prestigious cases, including the overwhelming amount of grunt work and drudgery involved.
6. As a fellow New Yorker, I’m curious what you love most about living in New York?
It’s a fantastic city in so many respects – the arts scene is second to none, as are the restaurants, and Central Park is stunning no matter what season it is. But what makes it truly special for me are the people I’ve met here who have become my good friends. Despite its reputation, I find that New York is a remarkably friendly and welcoming place. You just have to say hi!
7. You mentioned that the novel takes place in several foreign locations. Have you been to all these places?
Yes, I have. I’m not very good at describing places that I only know from books or the Internet. No matter how good the virtual experience is, it doesn’t capture the essence of a place. Unless I’ve been there, I can’t “work” with it and my words sound like they come from a guidebook (which is where they WOULD come from).
8. Will there be any other intellectual property (“IP”) litigation novels in the future?
Right now, none are planned. But I am working on a sequel to POISON PILL and another unrelated novel, and both have legal aspects to them.
9. I admittedly love legal dramas. What are some of your favorite legal books or movies?
The old black-and-white Perry Mason series (and Earle Stanley Gardner’s novels) were the reason I became a lawyer. That’s the absolute truth. Up with these is Absence of Malice (the movie with Paul Newman). I also really enjoy Brian Haig’s writing, and his books featuring a snarky JAG lawyer, Sean Drummond, are laugh-out-loud funny in addition to being real thrill rides.
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