Paula Priamos was born and raised in Southern California, where she lives with her husband, James Brown, author of the acclaimed memoirs The Los Angeles Diaries and This River. After her parents divorced and her mother and siblings moved to the South, Priamos decided to stay with her larger-than-life Greek defense attorney father.
Her father's mysterious death propelled Priamos into an investigation of the shady deals and characters that led to his disbarment, which ultimately led her to write her debut memoir The Shyster's Daughter. It's a searing detective noir memoir that paints a vivid portrait of a Greek American family caught up in the scandal-obsessed, drug-addicted culture of California in the closing decades of the twentieth century.
So, without further ado, here are 10 questions for Paula Priamos.
1. What would you like readers to know about The Shyster’s Daughter?
I wrote The Shyster’s Daughter because I was haunted by the phone call my father placed to me the night before he died. It was as if he knew something bad was going to happen to him. The book investigates those last few hours of his life and it also became an investigation into his career as a criminal defense attorney.
I structured the book to read like a novel because I think memoirs get a bad rap for being bloated, expository and self-important. That’s not the type of book I wanted to write. I wanted my book to be entertaining, and I used fictional techniques like plot, setting and dialogue to make my story move.
2. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I was in the second grade when I decided to become a writer. My teacher assigned us to keep a journal about day-to-day events and I asked permission if I could write a story about an orphaned girl who inherited her own 7-UP factory. She had a ton of adventures in her factory like fighting off thieves trying to steal her secret formulas. At the end of the year, my teacher ran off copies and gave them to the rest of the class for summer reading.
3. Who are some writers that have affected your storytelling sensibilities?
Hemingway has influenced me with his conciseness and rhythm. Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle was inspirational because it’s not a victim’s story. And, of course, my husband James Brown has always encouraged me to tell a story of consequence.
4. With regards to your own writing, what are the pros and cons of having a husband who is also an accomplished author?
A big pro to having an accomplished author for a spouse is that he understands the solitary struggles of a writer. He gives me room to rant, to write and he also is a great reader of my work. We are straight with each other about our writing in its rawest stages even if it isn’t something either of us wants to hear.
The con about having a writer for a husband is that I lived in his shadow for quite a while. I’m younger, his former student, and it was hard getting people we both knew in the writing world to take me seriously. Eventually, though, a lot of them were left with very little choice. I wasn’t going away. I have my own stories to tell and I was going to be a writer whether I was married or single. Once I started publishing in places like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times Magazine the stigma of being an older author’s younger second wife wore off.
5. Writing a book is such a complex exercise that I imagine no two authors do it exactly the same. Can you summarize your process for me?
My process is hand writing first, starting off old school with a notebook and a pencil before coming to the computer. I love to wake up early and write when the house is quiet and before the stresses and chaos of everyday living interrupt me. But I write just about anywhere so I carry around a notebook with me at all times.
6. What drove you to write The Shyster’s Daughter?
The mysterious way my father died and the need to find out what happened to him are what initially drove me to write The Shyster’s Daughter. But it is also my story – what it was like growing up being raised by a successful Greek criminal defense attorney who had a conflicting set of morals. There is also a lot of Greek culture and Greek curse words. My father had a temper. He was tough like the time I write in the book when he took on two burglars we caught coming out of our home one night. He took a swing at one of them and chased both of them, who were half his age, into some bushes down the street where they hid like cowards. But he was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. I wanted to capture his character and how it’s shaped mine.
7. What methods and strategies have you employed in order to promote both yourself as an author, as well The Shyster’s Daughter?
I’m teaming up with a couple of different writers for reading events. I have a publicist who is active in getting the word out about my book and I myself do what I can to help spread the word using Facebook, my own website, as well as my own big mouth.
8. Where do you see your writing career five years from now?
I see myself as both a memoirist and novelist.
9. What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a literary thriller about crimes of passion.
10 . What advice would you give to an aspiring author who hopes to see their work published one day?
Be open to revision. Don’t become one of those writers who can’t take suggestions on improving your work. Be confident in your writing. Know when a work is finished. It’s an exciting time in publishing where the Internet has opened the market for writers to either publish in New York or with independent literary presses who tend to take more risks, taking on less politically correct writing, and there is also self-publishing. Nothing is black and white anymore.
And there you have it. I’d like to thank Paula Priamos for taking some time to hang out on Inside Martin. If you’d like to learn more about Priamos and her writing, you can visit her official website Paula Priamos: Opinionated Writer....