If time travel tales are your thing, check out Lorenzo’s Daggers, written by Poughkeepsie lawyer Ron McGaw. The story, set in modern-day New England, trips back to the city of Florence during the time of the Renaissance – Firenze, the birthplace of a cultural movement that affected all of Western civilization – as prep-school history teacher Prester Charles John searches for a student who has disappeared inexplicably from his classroom.
Indeed, the obstinate kid, Kirk Renzo, has snatched a relic once belonging to Lorenzo de’Medici and bolted from the school on a run. Fifteenth-century Italy, famous for its giants of art, science, political theory, architecture and philosophy, becomes this writer’s playground as he recreates such characters as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, and entangles them in his plot to discover what has happened.
A graduate of San José State University with a degree in Theatre Arts, and from the University of San Francisco School of Law, McGaw worked in Manhattan as a trademark and copyright attorney and served a ten-year term as a New York State judge. Now living in Poughkeepsie with his wife and two children, he runs his own legal practice. Still lawyering full-time, McGaw admits that he always wanted to be a writer, even as a young child. “I’ve always had it in my blood somehow. This story really dates back 30 years, to the first time I was in Florence. I was standing in the Medici palace where Michelangelo had lived as a young boy. I was astounded to hear that both Michelangelo and Leonardo lived in Florence at the same time. I asked the tour guide if these two great artists knew each other and got along. It sparked an interest in me, and I always wanted to find the answer to that question.
“I did lots of research over many years, and slowly this story developed in my head. The main character’s name ‘Prester’ is a name of a mythical king who supposedly lived in Asia,” he explains. “I’ve always like words and how words are put together. I came to realize the study of law had a lot to do with the use of words and writing.”
Lorenzo’s Daggers is chock-full of accurately portrayed historical tidbits. Though it’s not categorized as YA literature, McGaw says that it’s very wholesome and could be read by curious teens, as well as adults looking for something with a factual basis. “Writing should have a purpose; it should entertain, yes. I wanted to write something that maybe even young people could see it as interesting, and read more about the real events that happened. So, as to whether Michelangelo and DaVinci had a real rivalry: yes, they did. There’s a scene in the book that I took right out of history, where they meet in the street and have an argument.”
The book took him about two years to write, he says, “But I could also say it took 32 years, because, literally, the story evolved.”
Given McGaw’s full-time work as a lawyer, when does he have time to sit down and write? “I don’t have enough time, and it’s tricky,” he says. “You get used to the short blocks of time you have. I write at night when everything settles down, when the kids go to bed and my wife is asleep. At about 11:30 I’ll sit down and write until 1 in the morning. That’s my goal: to write for about an hour-and-a-half. I’m a night person anyway.”
McGaw is currently working – in the wee hours of the morning – on another fictional piece. “Writing to me is a series of solving problems. And I realized, back when I was a kid, that I always find the answer, no matter how hard the issue is. It’s one of those things that gives you self-confidence: to know that I haven’t taken my characters down a dead-end road, and there’s nothing I can do. There is an answer; just have confidence that you’ll find it. Rarely have I had to go back and completely restructure something. I’ve had to take characters out, but if you have the confidence that the answer – ‘Should I take the right or the left?’ – will come to you, that allows you to get through.”
Does being a fiction writer inform or support his work as a lawyer? “It’s not so much the fiction. I do a lot of work in the Dutchess County Family Court where you’re part-lawyer and part-psychologist for the people I deal with: my clients and other lawyers. How do you talk to them and persuade them? How you persuade somebody through words, whether verbal or written, is a huge part of my business. You want to write in a way that makes sentences flow: the sound, the cadence of the sentence, how often do I use that word? I want it to flow in a nice pleasing way.
“When I was a kid, I stuttered very badly, and what it did was this: My kind of stuttering was that I’d wake up one day and not be able to form the ‘T’ sound. And the next day, it would be a different sound. What this did for me in a strange way is, as I would speak to people, and go to say something and realize I couldn’t say it, I’d find another way to say it. I had a teacher tell me when I was in seventh grade that I had a college vocabulary, because I’d had to find other ways of saying what I wanted to say. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but life throws these things at you, and you pull from them what you can. It’s why I love writing. Writing is a powerful thing.”
Lorenzo’s Daggers is available in print version through Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and in e-book format through those and other vendors. An audio version (read by Matt Williams) was recently released by Audible, a division of Amazon. See www.ronmcgaw.us.