I’m delighted to welcome attorney-turned-author Mark M. Bello as a guest contributor to my blog today. Bello’s passion for social justice shines through all of his work. Below is his essay in which he describes his transition from attorney to author.
I graduated from law school in 1977. Less than five years later, in the early 1980s, I handled what would become my defining case of my career. A priest had sexually molested two boys in a suburban Detroit parish. The Church was covering up its knowledge of and complicity in the crime. I filed suit— traveled to seven states tracking down witnesses and documents, and finally exposed the rather wide cover-up conspiracy. This was one of the earlier cases in the now widely known scandal. One such case resulted in the Academy Award winning film, Spotlight.
After I resolved the case successfully, I promised myself I would, one day, write a book about the very troubling experience I had with the Church. I would never have expected prominent members of church hierarchy to behave as they did—a candidate for the papacy (and other prominent figures) lied under oath in deposition testimony. In the early 1990s, I began to peck at a computer, writing bits and pieces of what started out as a non-fiction account. I would abandon the project for long periods of time, pick it up again, and repeat the behavior.
Fast forward almost 40 years. At age 65, I “retired” and vigorously endeavored to fulfil that “bucket list” item. After all, I no longer had a full-time practice or the need to make a living holding me back. The result was my award-winning novel, Betrayal of Faith.
I was proud of the book, the accomplishment, the positive reaction from readers, reviewers, the media, and critics. The book won multiple literacy awards and public acclaim. Still, I didn’t consider myself an “author,” rather, I was an attorney who fulfilled the bucket list item of writing a book about an unusual, life-changing experience. To be blunt, if I was, indeed, an author, I was of the “one-and-done” variety.
However, fate intervened— another historic event unfolded—the 2016 presidential election. My eyes and ears were glued to the television and radio. Could a self-professed bigot, a man who wanted to close the southern border and deport all Muslim citizens, become the president of the United States?
I sat down and wrote a fictional account of the election, Betrayal of Justice, predicting the election results. Horrified at the behavior of my fictional antagonist, President Ronald John, I struggled to create a novel in which my protagonist, Zachary Blake, his Muslim client, and the justice system could bring down an evil president. Right-leaning political pundits accused me of doing a “hit job” on the newly elected POTUS. My standard response was “I wrote a fictional account, completed before the election was decided. If you see a similarity between my fictional president and your actual one, that is on him, not on me.”
Betrayal of Justice was praised and criticized, largely based upon readers’ political ideologies or leanings. The novel was, again, embraced by the reviewer community and won several literary awards. For me, it proved I could take the news and write compelling, award-winning, ‘ripped from the headlines’ novels about important topics.
As events unfolded in real time, I wrote more Zachary Blake legal thrillers, culled from the headlines, my practice, and my experience with social justice issues in multiple settings. Betrayal in Blue continued Betrayal of Justice in examining presidential and political bigotry, white supremacy, and anti-Muslim bias. Betrayal in Black explored police shootings of innocent black men, the Black Lives Matter movement, and how the criminal and civil justice systems might play a part in fixing the problem. Betrayal High explored school shootings, bullying, the politics of money in guns, and gun control. Like its predecessor, Black, High also offered criminal and civil justice system fixes for the various cultural and political differences that plague our country on 2nd Amendment issues.
Following the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, I wrote Supreme Betrayal, about a candidate for the United States Supreme Court who had a sexual assault in his past. My fictional character, Oliver Wilkinson, was pure evil—a man willing to commit any crime, even murder, if it landed him a seat on the high court. Again, I got attacked for doing a ‘hit job’ on Brett Kavanaugh. I have always responded that the novel was ‘inspired’ by the Kavanaugh hearings, but that it was fiction and did not depict the now Associate Supreme Court Justice.
Zachary Blake’s next challenge, based upon actual events from our current political divide, was to tackle our contentious immigration situation. Betrayal at the Border tells the compelling tale of two immigrant families, one from Syria, the other from South America, where each family member has unique immigration status—all victims of our broken immigration system.
Finally, in a departure from previous novels, Blake handles a complex whodunnit in my latest novel, You Have the Right to Remain Silent. Can a murder case proceed when the client is catatonic, unable to defend herself? Can Blake prove her innocent without her assistance?
As a practicing attorney, I was a first-hand witness to injustice in both the criminal and civil justice systems, consistent with how these events are depicted in the news. The average citizen lacks the resources to effectively combat the system. Practicing law became more of a passion than a vocation for me and compelled me to challenge the system and provide a voice to the disenfranchised. That’s what I did when I took on the Church. Zachary Blake, the main protagonist in my books, is based on experiences growing up Jewish and practicing law in and around Detroit. Blake was inspired to become a lawyer and pursue justice after listening to his grandfather’s survival stories from Auschwitz, chronicled in my prequel novella, L’Dor V’Dor—From Generation to Generation. Readers from the Detroit area will see many references to their hometown and surrounding suburbs, as well as references to Jewish life in Detroit, in all my books.
A lifelong Detroiter, I grew up in a modern Orthodox household in Northwest Detroit. My earliest memories include staying at relatives’ houses near the synagogue so we could walk to shul on the High Holidays. My uncle would breeze through the entire prayer book at every Passover Seder. These are the memories I try to recover through Zachary Blake and his fictional family.
Today, at age 70, I am hoping that my legal thrillers novels will find a broader audience because these issues are important. I have also expanded my social justice and safety crusade to children, writing the first book in my children’s picture book safety/social justice series. Happy Jack Sad Jack—A Bullying Story, beautifully illustrated by Melinda T. Falgoust, tells the story of a bi-racial kindergartner who is bullied on his first day of school. How will parents, students, administration, and society tackle these issues?
My legal thrillers and children’s books highlight the social justice issues of the day. It took me 30 years between coming up with a novel idea, putting it down and working to publish it finally in 2016. I discovered that with character development and research, I was able to write about issues I did not have direct experiences with as a lawyer. There are plenty of topics in the news that inspire me as a writer, and I hope it, in turn, will inspire my readers to think more deeply about social justice issues. That would be quite satisfying.
Mark Bello is an attorney, civil justice advocate, award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series, and co-host of the “Justice Counts” podcast. One of the first to sue the Catholic Church over sexual abuse, Bello draws upon 44 years of courtroom experience and a passion for justice to write captivating novels and hard-hitting commentaries. Learn more at https://www.markmbello.com