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The beginning of "Jury of One"

An essential element of the plot of Jury of One is Judge Dan Borders’s innovative and controversial proposal to allow convicted felons, sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, to make their own life-or-death decision in a special chamber set up in the prison. They thereby become a “jury of one.” I can’t remember what inspired this idea I had in the mid-1990s, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So one day I did what writers do–I started a novel.

I lived in Middlesex County, Virginia, at the time. The pace there is slow, so perfect for writing. Its nearness to the Chesapeake Bay reminded me daily how beautiful Virginia is, and how majestic sailboats look as they glide silently along under full sail.

After writing four or five chapters which, on rereading, weren’t bad, I got distracted. Distractions are to writers what ants are to picnics. Unwelcome. In my own defense, I’ll note that at the time I was practicing law full time in Richmond (an hour away), writing another book, and trying to learn to play the tuba. Okay, that last one isn’t true. Just wanted to make sure you are paying attention.

Those four or five draft chapters sat there for, oh, let’s see . . . maybe seven years. As my old buddy and college classmate Pat Conroy used to tell me, “John, you can’t rush art.” That was his explanation to his publisher as to why his manuscript was three years overdue. No one could accuse me of rushing art.

In 2005, we left Virginia for Beaufort, South Carolina, where I live now. I carried those neglected four or five chapters with me on a thumb drive. In my next blog, I’ll tell you how they resurrected themselves into a book.


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