As an assistant district attorney, William Landay was used to the ins and outs of the courtroom and the legal system.
So, when the lawyer decided about 20 years ago to try his hand at writing a novel, it was pretty good move to write from an angle that he knew — law.
“I never set out to become a novelist,” Landay wrote in an email. “I’m not sure I thought such a thing was possible. I’d never known any novelists or artists of any kind, and I assumed they must be giants. So, over the course of the ’90s, I tried to churn out a single decent novel.”
While his first attempts at a manuscript were “very bad,” he says, “slowly, over time, I learned a little about how to do this.”
“I say ‘a little’ because I don’t think you ever master novel-writing,” Landay wrote. “It is always a struggle, always a challenge. Even now, 20-plus years later, I still feel like an absolute beginner every time.”
His readers may be surprised to hear it. Landay, after all, is doing something right.
His latest novel, “Defending Jacob,” was named one of the top books for 2012. His debut novel, “Mission Flats,” won the Dagger Award for the best debut crime novel of 2003. His other book, “The Strangler,” was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award as best crime novel of 2007.
The Boston author, who is currently working on his fourth crime novel, is among the many authors, writers and poets set to visit the city at the end of the month for the Newburyport Literary Festival.
Landay will be reading from “Defending Jacob” during the April 27 events. The bestselling novel follows the story of the Barber family, who lives in suburban Massachusetts. Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney for more than two decades. When a shocking crime hits the town, it will shake the foundation of everything Andy believes.
While writing the novel over the course of two years, Landay said he spent quite a bit of time developing the idea for the plot.
“One thing readers do not — and should not — realize is how much effort goes into honing the idea before you write the first sentence,” he said in an email. “It takes a long time (to form a story line). Often they start with a real criminal case or a cluster of similar cases. Then my imagination goes to work ... In the end, the final product has almost nothing to do with the original idea.”
The eighth annual Literary Festival, which is a celebration of literature and reading, is set for April 26 and 27 with events and programs being held around the city. This year’s theme, “Imagination Soars!,” will highlight literature for young adults and children.
Festival organizers are honoring acclaimed author Matthew Quick, who recently saw his novel, “The Silver Linings Playbook,” adapted into a blockbuster movie that earned eight Oscar nominations. He is also the writer of the young adult novels, “Sorta Like a Rock Star” and “Boy 21.” His newest book for young adults will be released in August, and Dreamworks has already secured the film options for his fifth novel, “The Good Luck of Right Now.”
Sue Little, who recently marked her 40th year as the owner of Jabberwocky Bookshop in the Tannery Marketplace, will also be honored.
The festival will kick off with an opening ceremony on Friday night, April 26, at the Firehouse. Quick will discuss the writing process and life as a writer with a panel of high school students and the audience. The program will be followed by a dinner with the participating authors at Nicholson Hall in Newburyport. The dinner is a fundraiser for the festival, and tickets are $50 per person and available on the festival’s website.
Below are some of the many presentations and speaker panels at this year's Newburyport Literary Festival: FRIDAY, APRIL 26 6 p.m., Firehouse Opening ceremony honoring Matthew Quick The opening night ceremonies celebrating this year's theme, "Imagination Soars!," will honor Massachusetts author Matthew Quick, whose "Silver Linings Playbook" earned eight Oscar nominations, highlighting mental health issues and injecting them into the national dialogue. Quick will talk to Newburyport High English chairman Tom Abrams, some of his students, and the audience about the joys and challenges of the writing life. SATURDAY, APRIL 27 9 a.m., Old South Church "The Power of Family, The Power of Words" Mira Bartok and Carolyn Roy-Bornstein discuss their memoirs. Bartok will discuss growing up with a mentally ill mother as seen through the prism of her own traumatic brain injury, and Roy-Bornstein will share the story of her son's traumatic brain injury, suffered at the hands of a drunken driver and her own journey as a pediatrician-mom. 9 a.m., First Religious Society "Necessary Evils: A Conversation about the Writing Life" Mystery authors Linda Barnes and Barbara Shapiro will talk about the process of writing for this genre, their latest novels and how their friendship helps them navigate the worlds of writing and publishing. 9 a.m., Newburyport Public Library Clay Creations Sculpting Workshop For more than 20 years, Newburyport artist Ann McCrea has engaged children in Clay Works programs designed to enliven reading themes. As McCrea reads her "Sophia, the Spotted Turtle," based on MacArthur "genius" award winner David Carroll's "The Year of the Turtle" and "Swampwalker," kids will hear how Sophia emerges from hibernation, uses the sun to refuel her energy, hunts for food in a vernal pool, plays the mating game with two rival males, then provides for the next generation as she digs to bury her eggs. After a brief sculpting demonstration, kids will create terra cotta clay turtles that they can later paint at home. 10 a.m., The Book Rack John Harrison Smolen reads from his latest novel, "Quarantine." 10:30 a.m., Newburyport Library Young listeners can hear author Jane Sutton read from her picture book "Don't Call Me Sidney," about an earnest, big-hearted pig who decides to become a poet. 11 a.m., Firehouse Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz reads from his new collection of stories about love and longing. Told from the point of view of New Jersey Dominicans, "This is How You Lose Her" is steeped in the language and the rhythms of working-class Latino life. 11 a.m., Newburyport Library Christine Brodien-Jones, author of middle-grade fantasy novels, will lead readers on a fantastic trip through her imagination, illustrating how her ideas take flight and become books. 11:30 a.m., Newburyport Library Young audiences can join storyteller Irene Smalls as she presents from her books "Irene and the Big Fine Nickel," "Jonathan and His Mommy," "The Johnankus" and "Dawn and the Round To-It." 1 p.m. First Religious Society Sneak Preview: "Dirty Love" with Andre Dubus III Be among the first to hear Andre Dubus III read from his upcoming book, "Dirty Love," a collection of linked novellas due out in the fall of 2013. 1 p.m., Old South Church, Social Hall Annual Youth Poetry Slam Youth have a limited amount of time to impress judges with their performance. The young poets should bring at least two poems to sign up and compete in this open slam. Unaffiliated audience members may be invited to judge the event. -- For a complete schedule of events and speakers, visit www.newburyportliteraryfestival.org.