After four successful decades as a lawyer, jury consultant, professor, and currently, WGN-TV’s political analyst, Paul Lisnek, ’80 LAS, MA ’80 LAS, JD ’83, PHD ’86 LAS, decided to give fiction a whirl. In 2018, he published Assume Guilt: A Matt Barlow Mystery, in which Barlow, an ace jury consultant, dramatically uncovers more than a few secrets. Lisnek’s second Barlow book, Assume Treason: A Matt Barlow Novel, was published in January.
What made you decide to write novels?
After writing 13 books of nonfiction, I thought this would be a new experience. When I started the first book, I knew the beginning and the end—the middle was a process of discovery. For Assume Treason, the publisher [Written Dreams Publishing] encouraged me to use the backdrop of a presidential campaign. It was fun to imagine scenarios and push them to their extremes.
Who inspired your protagonist, Matt Barlow?
Matt is basically me. When Matt walks his dog in Lincoln Park or eats at Granny’s and Ann Sather, that’s me doing those things.
Was it challenging to write about a campaign as it happened?
Yes and no. When I began writing, I thought of the 2016 election and developed a diabolical scheme involving Russian and Chinese hackers. I became concerned that I was getting too far out over my skis. In Assume Guilt, I established a sense of authenticity. I didn’t want people now to say, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
How did you resolve the problem?
I can’t predict the future, but I know how to follow the pulse of the news. Ever since Charlottesville, the threat of anti-government white supremacists has never been far out of the headlines. In Assume Treason, Barlow unravels a white supremacist plot to disrupt the campaign with violence and re-elect the incumbent. I worked to keep the book from drifting into ridiculousness, but I never dreamed how close to reality I would get. The official publication date was January 5. The following day, white supremacists attempted to disrupt the election with violence.