A successful career as an entertainment lawyer wasn’t enough for Kevin Morris. He wanted to be a writer. And write he did, producing a collection of short stories titled White Man’s Problem’s, a title he chose after receiving notes and a rejection from an editor. Morris read from his debut story collection at The Strand on Wednesday. He was joined in conversation by Ophira Eisenberg.
“I’m an east coast guy,” Morris begins. He lives in Los Angeles but keeps an apartment in the city and grew up in Philadelphia. “My habits have changed a bit,” since his time at NYU. He describes drinking at Kettle of Fish, a West Village bar since closed.
Morris left New York for California decades ago when he decided that he preferred the more laid back atmosphere over the high pressure New York legal scene. There, he built a successful entertainment law firm by targeting clients that were his peers and breaking what he describes as a monopoly of old guard talent representation.
“At heart I’ve always felt like a writer,” he says, adding that today it feels like its much more acceptable to choose to a career that follows self-expression. “Maybe I didn’t have the courage,” he suggests.
Although plenty of lawyers-turned-writers like lawyering, the same isn’t true for Morris. “I hated being a lawyer,” he says.
“I’ve always written in one way or another,” he says, “writing was an outlet.” In college, Morris loaded up on writing courses. Later he wrote essays or the occasional op-ed, but as his legal career accelerated, he found himself writing less and less.
Finally, at fifty, he really committed to the act. He acquired a separate office for himself that was dedicated to writing. He spent three days a week there, even if that meant just staring at a blank screen.
“I think its pretty hard to write without writing what you know,” Morris says.
For a while he was afraid he would end up engaging in mimicry. He admires writers like Updike, but worried about seeming to copy them too much.
His collection aims to span socio-economic issues, though his characters tend to be white men as the title suggests. Still, while the phrase may connote frivolity, he hopes the stories present an opportunity for the reader to judge.
Morris believes its possible to recognize the difference between a short story and a novel early on it creation. He wrote four stories from the collection, but the fifth just continued on for too long. Eventually that fifth story spiraled into a novel-like creation loosely based on his youth. It was quickly rejected. He returned to writing stories.
From the beginning, Morris knew he wanted to keep his writing separate from his legal career. He didn’t want to simply take shortcuts by calling in favors with the celebrity client roster. He rounded out the collection and tried shopping it around. He eventually decided to self-publish it simply because he wanted to see a physical copy of the book.
There was a lot more work involved with self-publishing than he expected. But eventually the book was finished. During one of the launch parties he hosted, a publisher approached him about releasing the book through a traditional press. He jokes, “It was not a long negotiation.” He did receive a two book deal and is currently working on a novel.