There’s an old adage that says you should write what you know in order to make any headway as a scribe. For Mark Torres, numerous facets of his life went into what became A Stirring in the North Fork, his debut novel. Like main character Savoy Graves, Torres is a lawyer who went down this career path in his late 30s after spending a number of years as a dues-paying union member. Unlike Graves, Torres didn’t wind up pursuing a decades-long cold case homicide that is at the heart of this fast-paced legal thriller. But the fact that most of the book’s setting takes place out east in the North Fork of Long Island has to do with a deep love of the area that the Elmhurst native and his wife Migdalia Ortiz-Torres has for it.
“We’ve been going for 10 to 12 years. First with my wife and now with the kids. We go in the fall but mostly in the summer. It’s so different from the South Fork, not that’s its bad, it’s just ritzy,” he explained. “It took me three months to write the book and we were out at Greenport towards the tail end of this, which is where we vacation every year. I remember fine-tuning it and going to locations in Orient where I envisioned where the murder in this book would happen and I have that exact spot in my head. We always joke around that if it gets popular and then we wind up with a walking tour. Another concern we had was to make sure we get it right, because the last thing I wanted to do was paint a negative light on this wonderful area.”
While Torres was able to turn his book around pretty quickly, the road to becoming the current general counsel for Teamsters Local 810 was a long and arduous climb. It started with him getting a job first as a helper and then a mechanic working on the heating/ventilation/air conditioning system at New York University. Bored from working the mind-numbing 3 to 11 p.m. shift, Torres began reading again and before long, he took advantage of NYU’s tuition remission and got his associates degree. Revitalized and inspired, he applied for a bachelor’s degree through the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and accelerated through the program. Still working full time at his old job, Torres became a shop steward for the members of his local union chapter, which became the catalyst of his wanting to go to law school while still working and raising a family. It was not an easy road to go down and one he couldn’t have done without the support system his wife provided.
“We had two children in the last three years of law school that came 13 months apart. I look back and certainly, the first year and a half of law school when work was absolutely brutal, I would not recommend it. It was literally two full-time gigs at once but somehow I got through it. God bless my wife because she held the fort down and helped raise the kids,” he admitted. “I worked, showered, ate dinner and went off to school at Fordham Lincoln Center and took classes four nights a week. I was off Sundays and Mondays, so those were strictly for studying, reading and catching up with everything. After awhile, it took its toll but I was very strict with my scheduling. I went through and before you know it, I was in the last year.”
Like his fictional counterpart Graves, Torres did a law internship and got wined and dined by a white shoe law firm, where he worked for several months before getting laid off. And while he felt as if the rug had been ripped out from under him given the fact that he had a family to provide for, the NYU alum landed on his feet at his current job. All these trials and tribulations also gave him a yen to take a crack at writing a book. With his wife serving as his editor and sounding board, he wove together a story that ties in elements of race, class and a hard look at the inner workings of the legal justice system. While the story jumps between the present and past events, Torres masterfully keeps the reader engaged. Even more so given the brutal murder that kicks off the book that he was advised to tone down by a number of editors and publishers. It was a point the author held his ground on.
“I shot right for the big emotion. I wanted to give [the reader] something to latch onto and then redirect [them]. I got that from some modern authors like John Sandford. He’s another guy who starts off with a murder scene, not unlike shows like Law & Order. You want to start with the worst of the worst and then work your way from that. That scenario is not only bad, but why did it happen? I wanted the reader to see that,” he explained. “This stuff unfortunately happens and I wasn’t going to shy away from that and I wanted to shock the reader into the story.”
In the end, it’s those personal touches from Torres’ life story that are infused into the plot that help make A Stirring in the North Fork such a realistic and compelling read. The devil is in the richness of detail, whether it’s the attention to legal particulars or certain environments.
“I can remember where I was when I was writing a lot of this book and all the locations are something that I’ve known in my life as well,” Torres recalled. “Even when John Conte moved upstate and lived by that quarry where he held Savoy over the edge, it’s all intimate to me but to the reader it’s just a different place, and that’s kind of neat.”