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Willmar, Minn., native rolls out second book in series; third book in the works

Willmar native son Lachlan Smith rolled out his second book, “Lion Plays Rough,” last month and he is in the process of writing the third novel in his Leo Maxwell series, “Fox is Framed,” set to be released in February of 2015. 1 / 2
Lachlan Smith discusses his latest mystery novel “Lion Plays Rough” Dec. 28 at the Willmar Public Library. Smith, a Willmar native, had his first book in his mystery series chosen as Best Mystery and Crime of 2013 by Kirkus Review. Besides reading from his novel at the December event Smith answered questions about publishing and his writing process, and signed copies of his book. (Tribune file photo by Ron Adams)2 / 2

After getting good reviews and winning accolades last year on his debut novel, “Bear is Broken,” Willmar native son Lachlan Smith rolled out his second book, “Lion Plays Rough,” last month and he is in the process of writing the third novel in his Leo Maxwell series, “Fox is Framed,” set to be released in February of 2015.

The books, which may eventually be pitched as a TV series, featuring a young lawyer named Leo Maxwell and his lawyer-brother Teddy.

Smith, a 1996 Willmar high school graduate who practices law in Alabama, was in Willmar earlier this winter and gave a public reading from his novels, which are published by Otto Penzler, with Mysterious Press based in New York.

He said it was the best reading he’d ever given and he enjoyed connecting with old friends and neighbors.

Smith, who is known locally and in his law practice by his middle name, Will, is obviously connecting with readers in his mystery/murder series.

The new book has received very positive reviews on Goodreads, a website that features book recommendations.

When asked if he’s considered marketing his books as a TV series Smith said that his agent “will be pitching the book at some point to the TV market.”

Smith had no opinions about what actors he’d like to see cast for his characters.

“Fun as it is to mirror-gaze and imagine one’s work on the small screen, I have a tough time picturing actors in these roles, probably because I see Leo and Teddy almost as real people, and actors bring something of themselves to a role,” said Smith.

The main character of the series is Leo Maxwell, an impulsive man who seems to dig himself into deeper trouble with each chapter.

“People who never make mistakes have never been interesting to me,” said Smith. “His mistakes also allow for plot developments that would not be possible with a more cautious character.”

Fortunately, Maxwell’s brash behaviors and questionable judgment aren’t a reflection of Smith’s work in the legal field.

“I’ve been lucky to be mentored by lawyers of great skill and integrity, and to have several lawyers in my family (Smith’s mother is former Kandiyohi County District Court Judge Kathryn Smith) who’ve always provided an excellent example of the right way to behave,” said Smith, who admits Leo is “not a very good lawyer” in the early books of the series.

“In fact, sometimes I wonder if he might end up being disbarred, but I’m trying to let him keep his law license,” said Smith, who doesn’t practice criminal law but uses some of his own courtroom experience to set the scene in his novels.

Smith promises that in the fourth or fifth book in the series he intends to let Leo Maxwell “hit his stride as his judgment matures.”

The lessons he learned launching his first book helped him with the next book.

“Having the insight of a talented editor allowed me to look at ‘Lion’ with a more objective eye as I was writing it,” he said.

He felt more in control of a complicated plot while writing the second book and was able to bring it to a “satisfying” ending.

“’Bear’ was born out of inspiration, but ‘Lion’ was the product of deliberation and revision, and it is in many ways a more mature thriller than my first book,” said Smith.

Writing a series of books where the main characters are already established makes part of the process easier, but Smith said the challenge is to “start fresh with a new story” when it may be difficult to get the previous novel “out of my head.”

He confesses that the writing process hasn’t gotten easier and it may take months before he’s “writing material that isn’t destined for the recycle bin.”

The experience of being a published author, however, has taught him not to “panic or want to give up” when progress is slow.

That frustration is simply part of the process and he’s now “more confident in my ability to shape a story from the ugly scraps I start with.”

Considering he has a full-time job as a lawyer, wife (Sarah Moody, another Willmar high school graduate) and two young children, most days Smith has just scraps of time to write.

But he’s OK with that.

“The pressure of limited time has a way of focusing my attention and focusing my passion,” said Smith.

“I also believe that the books have their own pace, and that it’s futile to try and rush things — in other words, having more time wouldn’t necessarily mean more pages or better novels.”

At this point, Smith said he’s sticking with his job as an attorney and will continue to write in the evening hours after the kids go to bed.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750