Attorney moonlights as novelist
Attorney Jesse McCoy II writes more than just legal briefs.
The North Carolina Central University School of Law alumnus wrote his first novel, which he describes as a “teen heartthrob book,” in middle school. Though the 30-page tome, bound in a Trapper Keeper, was a hit with his classmates, McCoy regarded writing as nothing more than a hobby.
“I never imagined in a million years that I was going to do anything with my writing,” he confessed. “…But it was a skill that I always had. Writing became almost like a release for me. It’s an escape, a coping mechanism.”
And so life went on. McCoy attended college at Florida A&M University, and went on to law school at NCCU. He married (and has since had a child) and settled in Raleigh, where he spent four years in private practice as a criminal defense, personal injury, traffic and DWI attorney. Through it all, the 30 year-old says he kept writing, nursing what he refers to as his “silent passion.” He created short stories, poetry and novels, purely for the joy of the craft.
When his law practice went under a year ago, his hobby took on a different meaning in his life. Writing – and searching for work – became a part of his daily routine.
Both searches paid off. He landed a job at the Legal Aid of North Carolina office in Winston-Salem, where he tries cases involving domestic violence, mortgage foreclosures, unemployment benefits and expungements for clients who can’t afford to pay for legal services. In March, he released his first novel, “Family Saga Book 1: Sundiata,” through the self-publishing company Lulu.
“Sundiata” is the first in a seven book series that begins in the times of Greek mythology and extends all the way to the modern day. The story begins with Hephaestus, the son of Zeus, whom McCoy re-imagines for the series.
“In Greek mythology, Hephaestus had a deformity, which means that he was not a perfect god, and as a result of that, he was not allowed to remain on Mount Olympus. In my book, that ‘deformity’ is that he is black,” McCoy explained. “…His father, who is abusive, turns him out of Olympus, and when he lands, he lands in Africa.”
McCoy said a love of literature was instilled in him early. His mother, a former school guidance counselor, often brought home discarded books. He became well-versed in the writings of Malcolm X, James Weldon Johnson and Ralph Ellison. Books, he said, informed and shaped his self perception and sparked in him a sense of purpose.
“I think it developed a sense of pride in who I am,” he related. “It also developed a sense of accomplishment that, given the struggles of our forefathers, I had an ability to do stuff that a lot of people before me couldn’t, but it also came with a responsibility to help out the people behind me who don’t have that access.”
McCoy’s supervising attorney, Valene Franco, is in the midst of reading “Sundiata” herself. She says McCoy has excelled in his secondary career just as he has in his primary work.
“Jesse’s a fantastic advocate for his clients. He’s a very talented writer. My fear is that this could take him to other things, because we would miss him dearly,” she declared. “…We’re very, very proud of him.”
McCoy’s skills as a wordsmith caught the attention of the North Carolina State Bar Association earlier this month. The Association awarded him third place in its annual Fiction Writing Competition for his short story, “A Freudian Slip,” which centers around a psychologist who agrees to counsel her best friend’s fiancé, who was mandated by his mate to seek therapy after being caught in an illicit affair.
“It’s always a good feeling when you’re recognized for something that you like to do,” he stated. “It encourages me to continue writing … I’ll continue to try to put it out now that I know that people will like it.”
In addition to his Family Saga series, McCoy is working on two novels inspired by his experiences in the legal world. “Black’s Law,” the first in a three part series, centers around J. Hamilton Black, a hotshot attorney who excels at his career but falls short in his personal life, while “Jury Duty” is a legal thriller.
Like his characters, who often grapple with opposing forces that compete for their attention, McCoy says his own life has often reflected a strong duality.
“I feel like I have a very unique perspective in life because my mom was very revolutionary and my father was always in and out of prison,” said the Durham native. “…I always viewed myself as half of both sides. I guess it just primed me for a legal career in which you deal with both sides. Here, I deal with a lot of people who are low income and need legal assistance, and that’s the kind of community that I came from.”
Though he would happily accept a full time career as a writer, McCoy says success isn’t his chief goal. His most fervent wish is that his work will touch and inspire those who read it.
“The book, I want you to love it but I want you to learn something from it,” he said. “…I hope it’s 260 pages of quality material that changes your life in some way, but it’s a good read either way.”
Hardcopy and e-books of “A Family Saga Book 1: Sundiata” are available on amazon.com, lulu.com and iBooks.