Most of Paul Turk’s trials have occurred in a courtroom. After 30 years of courtroom drama, the West Palm Beach, Fla., attorney recently published his first novel.
Faith Beyond the Trials is an action-packed work of fiction that touches on marriage, family and loss. The story focuses on the marriage of a high-profile Palm Beach couple, a tense courtroom drama, and faith put to the test. Turk spoke to Register correspondent Patrick Novecosky about how his own personal tragedies — and the hand of God — catapulted him from the courtroom to a new career as an author.
Did you grow up in a Catholic home?
I grew up in a Catholic home in Utica, N.Y. I was the oldest of four boys and went to a Catholic grammar school with nuns as teachers. When I got into the seventh grade, I became an altar boy. That was back when Mass was in Latin. I enjoyed it so much that for a couple of years I thought I was going to be a priest. I used to come home and practice the Mass. I eventually met my wife, when I was 16, and I knew then that God was not calling me to be a priest.
What drew you to study law?
When I was about 18, somebody ran into the car I was riding in. It was a hit-and-run, and we ended up going into litigation with them. In order for me to settle that suit — because I was not yet 21 — my father had to come to court with me and sign off on the whole situation with the judge. When I went to court that day, I was really impressed with the lawyers and the way the judge conducted the proceedings. It stuck with me that this is something I might enjoy doing.
You went on to become a successful trial lawyer. How did your faith help you in your career?
It was an ongoing process throughout the years. I would never ask God to help me be the winner in a case because I felt that was an inappropriate thing to do. But I did ask him for guidance to do my absolute best job as an attorney on behalf of my clients.
I asked God for three things, which I’m putting in my sequels. I’m having the main character, John Taylor, speak to this. I asked God for clarity of vision to see the right things in the case, for clarity of speech to speak articulately, and for clarity of reaction to whatever adverse circumstances might come my way. I also asked him to let me do my best job on behalf of my client. I always went to God when I had trials.
What inspired you to write a novel?
I had wanted to do this for a number of years. Then about five and a half years ago my younger brother Gary, who was 45 at the time, died of bone cancer. We were not prepared for that. He had a wife and two teenage children.
That was a wake-up call for me in terms of how long I was going to wait to pursue my dream. Am I going to wait until I’m 65? I might not even be alive. To compound the situation, for the next three years in succession after my brother died, I lost a male cousin to various diseases and things. All three were in the prime of their life.
It gave me the awareness that I needed to go for this now, and I did. It was a little easier for me to do that because my kids were grown and self-sufficient, so it was just my wife and me. She has been very supportive in the whole process.
Words are very important in law. Were you very conscious about your choice of words as you crafted this book?
Yes. In fact, I circulated it amongst six different couples after I wrote it — some of whom were lawyers, all of whom were Christians. I wanted their feedback from both a legal perspective as well as a faith perspective because this book is intended to be a faith-based legal novel. I also had the book professionally edited by a former editor from Tyndale House.
I took great pains to explain different parts of the legal system, especially through dialogue, so those unfamiliar with the legal system could follow what’s happening. The feedback so far has been positive. Readers have told me that they understood what I was talking about in each part of the proceedings. I tried to make it easy for non-lawyers to read.
How did you go about incorporating your courtroom experience into the book?
Every day I would pray to the Lord for inspiration, for the words to come. And I felt as though that was happening. I didn’t want to leave God out of the processes because, after all, I was writing a faith-based legal novel.
There were certain circumstances during the course of my career that I put into the book. For example, there’s a juror in the book who appears recalcitrant that maybe it’s not his verdict when they’re polling the jurors. That actually happened in a real case that caused a jury interview.
The book also contains a food pantry setting where a character struggles with her faith, and Father Anderson suggests that volunteering her time at a food pantry will help get her mind off her problems. She agrees to do that. That comes from my personal experience. I’ve volunteered for a food pantry for the past three years right here in West Palm Beach. When I started, it was a real eye-opener for me because most people would never expect that we have so many needy people in Palm Beach County. The recession has made it even worse over the past three years.
Prison ministry is also part of the book. I wasn’t able to get into that ministry soon enough to have experienced it firsthand for the novel, but I got what I needed by talking to the Palm Beach County Sherriff’s Department — and I went to prison ministers to get their input and make it as realistic as I could.
But now I’m writing the sequel, and I have gotten into the Kairos prison ministry and the Catholic diocesan prison ministry. Today, in fact, I was out at Glades Correctional Institution on behalf of the diocese, ministering to the men and distributing Communion to them. I’ve been able to hear their testimonies firsthand, and I’m incorporating that into the next book. God willing, it will provide hope for a lot of people. We’ve gotten the first book into Glades, and three of the inmates have read it. They tell me how much they were moved by it, which I feel really good about.
How’s the sequel coming?
Nearly finished. John comes back to practice law, and there’s a trial — except this time it’s a civil trial with a $500-million probate contest between a brother and sister. There are other life issues that John and Ann deal with. Things turn out pretty well for them with their faith thanks to the encouragement from priests and other people.
The real message is that the trials of life are inevitable. We all have to battle these trials, and to have faith beyond the trials isn’t always easy. But with faith in Jesus Christ — and the love of our family and friends — we can overcome those trials.
Patrick Novecosky writes from Naples, Florida.