By on January 22, 2014 at 1:33 PM,
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Within the first 50 pages of Huntsville
author Robert Bailey's debut novel "The Professor," there is death, blackmail,
betrayal and a cameo from legendary University of Alabama football coach Paul "Bear"
Bailey, 40, penned the 406-page legal thriller over the course of eight years. A full-time civil defense attorney raising three children, he'd wake up at 4 a.m. to work on "The Professor." And it's highly likely fans of authors such as John Grisham and Michael Connelly will say up till 4 a.m. reading Bailey's book.
"The Professor" tells the story of Tom McMurtrie, a former attorney who accepts a job teaching law at the University of Alabama (where Bailey went to law school) at the behest of Bryant, his mentor. Forced into retirement four decades later, McMurtrie finds himself as part of an unlikely legal team with Rick Drake, a brash former student whose past altercation with McMurtrie was captured on video and posted on YouTube, working together on a case involving a child killed in a fiery 18-wheeler crash.
The initial draft of "The Professor" was an unwieldy 800
"When I was first starting out writing, I probably had a lot
of scenes where characters were thinking and not doing much," says Bailey, who
did three rewrites. "And basically I went back into the story and was like, 'How
can I get to the good parts faster without losing any of the character?'"
While working towards being a novelist, Bailey studied other
authors' debuts, including Michael Sears' "Black Fridays," "just to see what the magic was in that book that made it get published."
"Some type of emotional pull there at the beginning," Bailey, a Huntsville High grad, says. "Not just excitement, but something that kind of pulls you in and makes you like the character or like the situation, so you want to find out what happens to that character."
On a recent January morning, Bailey is in his office at the law firm Lanier Ford Shaver & Payne when called for this phone interview.
Robert, since "The Professor" has the makings of a page-turner, what are some books that have kept you up late at night reading?
"A Time to Kill" was like that for me, (John) Grisham's first book, was one I had trouble putting down. And "The Quiet Game" by Greg Iles was another one.
For Paul Bryant's dialog in your book, did you research old interviews with him on YouTube or something like that, or, as a lifelong Alabama fan, was that something that was just engrained? That seems like something you'd really want to get the right tone for.
It was probably just engrained. Growing up in Alabama, from the time I was probably capable of watching TV, you see Coach Bryant so much. And just hearing stories about him, and hearing his voice. I remember watching the (Bryant all-time win number) 315 game when Alabama beat Auburn, and I remember the interviews. The gravelly voice. And the old BellSouth Mother's Day commercial about 'calling mama.' Loved that. I can still hear his voice in my mind sometimes. It's funny, the prologue (in "The Professor") with Coach Bryant and Tom has always been the same and sort of the backdrop of the book, but I did change a lot of the stuff in the middle to make it flow better and to create more conflict.
As a practicing attorney, did you draw from any real-life people for any of 'The Professor" characters?
Rick Drake is based a lot on me when I was in law school. I wouldn't say he's identical to me, but I was on the trial team and I was a bit of a bull in a china shop when I first started trying cases in the courtroom. The professor, Tom McMurtrie is ... a lot of people I've been around in my life. It starts probably with my dad, the way my dad is and that
generation, and the men who played for Coach Bryant. I kind of pictured (McMurtrie)
as a strong, stoic and maybe even a little stubborn character that's very principled and the kind of man that you want to be your lawyer. My dad is not an attorney. He's a builder. He's just a very principled man. He's my hero.