Nick Santora graduated from Columbia Law School in 1996 and practiced law full-time in New York City until 2001, when his first screenplay won ‘Best Screenplay of the Competition’ at the New York International Independent Film Festival.
Since then, he has written for several television series including The Sopranos, Law & Order and The Guardian. From 2005 to 2009, he was writer/co-executive producer of the hit drama Prison Break, and is currently working on the second series of Breakout Kings. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.
Circalit: So what prompted you to write a novel? Or is it something you’d always wanted to do?
Nick: I always wanted to write novels. I became a professional writer writing for TV – and then did film writing as well – but I had always thought growing up that a “real” writer wrote novels. I now know that is wrong: some of the best writing in the world is done in TV and film – just watch Boardwalk Empire. But I still had the desire to write a novel – something that was completely my own as opposed to a TV show, which is the wonderful end-product of collaboration of many. I’m glad I wrote my novels. It’s just another way to tell a story.
Circalit: You’re publishing two novels about lawyers, Fifteen Digits and Slip & Fall, at the same time. Which is your favorite and why?
Nick: Actually, SLIP FALL was published in the U.S. in 2007 and was a national bestseller but it was never released in paperback, which is what is happening now in April. Which is exciting because this release exposes the book to a whole new audience. FIFTEEN DIGITS, my second novel, is being released on April 24th though it can be pre-ordered right now online. But to pick a favorite is kind of impossible. SLIP & FALL, like most first novels, is more autobiographical than FIFTEEN DIGITS. But that doesn’t make it my favorite. I guess my answer is: Buy both and then email me and tell me which one is YOUR favorite!
Circalit: Both books are about legal and financial corruption, where did the interest come from? Did you have to do any research prior to writing?
Nick: I was a litigator for several years in New York before I began my writing career. Some of that time was spent practicing law in the Wall Street area specifically. It’s a world full of interesting characters – the honest and ethical work with, and walk amongst, the corruptible and immoral every day. The legal and financial worlds are wonderful places to set stories – there are stories on every corner – you don’t even have to look hard. And yes, I do some research, but I don’t need to do a ton when writing about New York or the law because I grew up in New York and the legal scene was such a huge part of my life for such a long time.
Circalit: Obviously there have been a lot of stories about insider trading, but in Fifteen Digits you focus on the blue collar workers instead. How did you come up with the idea of basing the book around the print room?
Nick: At a lot of these big law firms, there are lots of precautions taken with respect to insider training. You take insider trading seminars, required legal ethics courses, you learn about “Chinese Walls” which prevent lawyers working on certain possibly conflicting matters to even talk to each other, some cases are given secret code names, etc. All of this is done in the name of security and protection against certain information getting out into the wrong hands. And then, when all the work on these cases is done, it’s sent down to a printing office in the bowels of the fancy firm somewhere where a group of guys who barely graduated High School, if at all, copy and collate the documents for the lawyers. These guys have some of Wall Street’s most valuable data in their hands every day – they are some of the most powerful people in the financial industry and they don’t even know it!
Circalit: Have you thought about turning either of them into a screenplay?
Nick: I've had offers on SLIP & FALL but I turned them down because I want to make it myself and direct it. It’s too personal a story to have a studio ruin it. My agents have been getting many incoming calls on FIFTEEN DIGITS but it’s still the early stages. But I’d only do it if I’m writing the screenplay and producing the film as well. That one I wouldn’t need to direct.
Circalit: What advice would you give to aspiring writers about the difference between writing a novel and a screenplay? Is building a plot line fundamentally different for novels and screenplays?
Nick: I’d say the plot lines are essentially the same and the golden rule is the same - Tell An Interesting Story.
Circalit: Did you learn anything about the craft of writing after working on a novel that you never really realized as a screenwriter?
Nick: It takes longer and when you’re done your neck hurts a heck of a lot more. (I have horrible posture when I write – I hunch over the keyboard like it owes me money and I pound on the keys like a gorilla).
Circalit: What are you working on at the moment?
Nick Trying to lose some weight … oh, you mean writing! I’m working on a feature film about a man on Death Row and something amazing that happens to him. It’s called KILLING YOUR NUMBER. I also am going to be writing a comedy feature film that I just sold with the great American comedian Adam Carolla – that’ll be fun.