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Longtime attorney writes his own path

Foley & Lardner partner has published 16 novels

Attorney Michael Bowen stands at his writing desk at Foley & Lardner LLP in Milwaukee. Bowen writes fiction books in his free time. (Photo by Kevin Harnack)

Michael Bowen is an attorney first and author second, but he is not slacking at either job.

A partner at Foley & Lardner LLP, Milwaukee, with a decades-long career, Bowen also is the author of 16 novels.

He said he sees many parallels between his two passions.

“Fiction is truth liberated from the tyranny of fact,” Bowen said. “Law, especially litigation, you could argue, is fact pursued without a lot of preoccupation with the truth.

“I think that’s inaccurate, but it’s probably the stereotype people have. And so they’re complementary.”

Bowen wrote his first novel, “Can’t Miss” in the late 1970s. He was working as a litigation associate with Foley & Lardner, concentrating in distribution and franchise law, as well as appeals. He and his wife, attorney Sara Armbruster Bowen, also were juggling parenthood.

“It took me a good six or seven years to get the book written and published,” Bowen said.

He writes mostly mystery crime fiction, including three series and two standalone books.

“If I had known when I sat down to start writing ‘Can’t Miss’ that it would take as long as it did and would involve as much frustration and heartbreak as it did,” Bowen said, “I probably would not have had the guts to start. I would’ve shied away. But ignorance is a blessing.”

Once he has the idea for a story, he said, he feels a compulsion to write it.

“It would be as hard for me not to write it as it would be for someone who’s been doing a pack a day to go cold turkey,” Bowen said. “If I had it to do over, and knowing also what I got out of the writing process, which you do not know upfront, I would do it.”

Working as an attorney and an author goes hand-in-hand, he said.

“It’s basically a controversy between people — a lawsuit is a story and it’s in some ultimate sense a true story, but each side has a different version,” Bowen said. “And one of the jobs you have as a lawyer is to make the story coherent and understandable, within the bounds of what the facts actually are, to people who will actually have to do something about it.”

Bowen started writing as a 13-year-old, he said, when he would write sports stories.

“I wanted to make happen on the page what would not happen for me on the field,” he said.

He continued writing well into adulthood. But it took getting his legal career established before he finally pursued the dream of getting published.

Ideas for novels come to him anytime, anywhere, he said.

Several years ago, for example, while going through security at an airport, when Bowen and his laptop were reunited, he suddenly realized in that momentary absence while he was passing through the metal detector, someone could have switched his computer or duplicated its files without his knowledge. That became a key plot twist in his 2001 novel “Screenscam.”

Bowen knows the day will come when he retires from practicing law, he said, but he plans to keep writing novels long after that.

“I can’t imagine not writing,” he said. “I’m hardwired to do it.”

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