When Pamela Samuels-Young ’90 asked a couple of law school friends to read the manuscript of her first novel, she did not get the reaction she anticipated.
“They either avoided me or changed the subject,” Samuels-Young says with a laugh. “In retrospect, that was a blessing. It forced me to face the reality that the book wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was. That’s when I went back to the drawing board and began to really study the writing craft.”
Harlequin Books rewarded that effort by signing on to publish her legal thrillers. “Every Reasonable Doubt” was a “USA Book News” Best Books of 2006 finalist in the mystery, suspense, thriller category, and an excerpt won the Black Expressions Book Club’s Annual Fiction Writing Contest. “In Firm Pursuit” (2007) was recently nominated for Best African-American Novel of 2007 by “Romantic Times Book Reviews” and was named one of the “Best of the Best” for 2007 by “Urban Reviews.” Her third novel, “Murder on the Down Low,” comes out this summer.
A longtime fan of legal fiction, Samuels-Young grew increasingly disappointed by a glaring omission in the genre. “I didn’t see any characters who looked like me,” she says. “Female and African-American lawyers were essentially non-existent. I wanted to change that.”
Meet Vernetta Henderson and Neddy McClain. In “Every Reasonable Doubt,” the strong-willed, African-American female attorneys butt heads but cast aside their differences to defend a high-profile murder case. “In Firm Pursuit” features Henderson immersed in a volatile sexual harassment case that jeopardizes her marriage and her career.
Samuels-Young wrote her first novel while working full time at O’Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles, and her second while an in-house attorney at Raytheon Corporation in El Segundo, California. She is now a Managing Counsel for Labor and Employment Law at Toyota in Torrance, California. No stranger to multi-tasking, her list of endeavors is downright dizzying: author, lawyer, adjunct professor of ethics and business law at the University of Redlands Business School, legal columnist for “Global Woman,” board member of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and motivational speaker.
“And I have two step-children at home, which means someone still has to cook dinner,” she says. “It’s hard to balance everything with working, writing and promoting my books. I haven’t had a weekend off in months, but my family is very supportive of my decision to pursue this dream.”
Samuels-Young, who earned a master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern, uses a concise, snappy narrative style tinged with pointed dialogue. “My experiences in law and television both come into play,” she says. “As a television writer, tight deadlines make it imperative to write efficiently while still engaging the viewer. As a lawyer, you need to tell the jury a compelling story to win support for your client.”
As for those friends from Boalt, some of whom still review drafts of her manuscript before they go to her agent? “Fortunately, their reviews have improved along with my writing.”
— By Andrew Cohen