Marcia Clark has a full-throated laugh that comes easily these days. The hard-charging prosecutor, who in 1995 tried and failed to convict O.J. Simpson of murdering his wife and her friend, has changed. After the O.J. case, she left the district attorney's office in search of new challenges. Her fame catapulted Clark into the media as a commentator, TV host and speaker. Her nonfiction book about the O.J. trial, Without a Doubt, became a bestseller. Like any good prosecutor, she's still quick to ask a question, even in an interview, but is less reactive and more reflective.
Now Clark has written her first novel, Guilt by Association. It's a murder mystery, but the story bears no resemblance to the facts in the O.J. case. "Been there, done that," Clark says about the "trial of the century" — while suggesting a view of her own life.
Now 57, Clark is mastering reinvention. In an interview with the AARP Bulletin, she offered reflections on her varied career and advice for others who want to try a new path in life. She also left the clear impression that she is open to new challenges, or as she put it, "never say 'never.' "
Q. When do you first remember thinking of being a writer?
A. I loved writing when I was a kid, and thought about being a writer then. But I didn't have the confidence or belief that I could earn a living that way, so I never took myself seriously. I chose law because writing was involved. I didn't realize how boring legal writing was, but I even learned to love that. Now I'm doing criminal appeals, which is all writing, so it is weirdly full circle for me.
Q. Are you glad you spent so much of your career as a lawyer?
A. I felt very fulfilled in law. I was taking on a mission that was important to me. It made me feel good about my place in the world.
Q. You started as a criminal defense attorney. What made you switch to the prosecution?
A. I found that my sympathies lay with the victim. I wasn't unsympathetic as a defense attorney, but my strong feelings for the victims were getting in my way. I identified too much with the victim. I felt I wasn't being as fair and competent for my criminal clients as the job demanded. You either do the job well or don't do it.
Q. What was it like working in the elite special trials' unit?
A. When I joined the unit I was the only woman. There were four men. We handled only the most high-profile, complex cases. It was a great job if you liked a marathon and the hard work of cases that went on for one to two years. I loved it. I could work a case from the ground up. I could work with the cops, be out in the field and discuss the evidence. I got to do the whole investigatory side that prosecutors don't usually get to do. It makes for a unique experience as a prosecutor.
Q. How did that influence your novel?
A. I can write dramas that are about inside and outside the courtroom. This book takes place outside, but in the future I'm sure I'll write a courtroom-based novel.
Q. You're a mom, with two sons now in college. How did you balance home and work?
A. I had to do various things at various stages. I had children to raise, so I worked in the prosecutor's office, which was a steady career. But I was always running from one spot to another, and it was hard. I had been in the prosecutor's office for 15 years when I started the Simpson case. I looked at it as my last big case. The kids were little, and yet old enough to need Mommy around more than those big trials allowed. When the Simpson trial ended, I thought, "It's time to do something different."
Q. Has it been hard to move into different roles in the last 15 years?
A. We live long enough now that we can live in different worlds. We live in a certain world in our 20s, another in our 30s and our 40s. Many people don't want to do the same thing their whole life, and we have time to make these changes and do different things.
Q. You've said you didn't have the guts to write a novel. Why not?
A. There are guts for all kinds of things. Guts for all seasons. When it comes to standing up on stage or trying a case in a courtroom, that doesn't bother me. But putting my heart and soul on the page for everyone to read and kick around did bother me. I wasn't sure I was good enough.
Q. What got you over your fear?
A. The lucky break of writing for a scripted series on Lifetime television called For the People. It was about the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. Writing scripts was fun and thrilling. I was addicted immediately, and consider myself incredibly lucky to have gotten to do that. I realized I liked writing dialogue, and I prefer to move story with dialogue. So I thought, why not take a crack at a novel? What could I do? Fail worse than anybody else has ever failed?
Q. What's your advice for people reinventing themselves?
A. Don't be afraid to do it. Think about what you really want to do; what you love to do. Take aim and do it. Even the effort of doing it makes you feel better than not trying at all.
Q. Describe your writing process.
A. I have a more flexible schedule these days since I'm doing criminal appeals. I can determine my own hours. I write a first draft nonstop and don't give myself a break. Then I take a break for as long as I can before going back and editing.
Q. Do you find writing isolating?
A. Writing is very isolationist. It is a solitary job. You have to get out in the world and have life experiences, because that's what inspires the writing. I get out as much as I can, not vacationing, just doing errands. Leisurely grocery shopping, where I'm not running through the aisles, is an excursion.
Q. Your first book was nonfiction, about the O.J. trial. Guilt by Association is a murder mystery. Why did you pick that genre?
A. I wanted to write a book that I wanted to read. When I lay down in bed at the end of the day, I wanted a book that was fun to read. I don't want to suffer through complex dense material, because my life is full of that. I think a lot of people feel that life is stressful; they want to escape in a book.
Q. You were raped as a teenager. Did that experience influence the story, which involves a teenage rape?
A. Sure, it did. Also, I dealt with rape victims as a prosecutor. Although we have made strides in that rape victims are not blamed anymore, we're not all the way there yet. I'd like to see more people understand that rape victims cannot invite a rape by the way they dress, or talk or wear makeup. Consent is consent, and anything short of that is not consent. There's only one "yes" in the world.
Q. Is there a reason that this book has three female lead characters?
A. I wanted to show women supporting each other and getting along together. They are being the important kind of family for each other that I see in my life, as opposed to being competitive and stabbing each other in the back. I don't think women do that any more than men do.
Q. How have you changed, from the competitive, hard-charging woman of your 40s?
A. On the inside, I feel the same. On the outside, I can see things have changed. I've always been the same kind of competitive. I don't care what anyone else is doing or what they have. I'm competitive with myself. I ask myself, am I doing better today than yesterday?
Q. Are you mellower?
A. My desire to get in the courtroom and do battle has changed. I don't need to do that toe-to-toe confrontational fighting. The appellate work I do is more the pure practice of law. There's no face-off. It is a mellower choice to do books and appeals than to be a trial lawyer.
Q. Looking back, what's your best wisdom to offer?
A. To always follow your heart in terms of what you believe in and what you really love to do. Find what that is and put all your energy in it, because a life that's doing as much of what you believe in is a fulfilled life.
Robin Gerber is a lawyer and the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.