Power Lawyer Kevin Morris Opens Up About New Novel: "I Left a Lot of Blood and Sweat on the Ground"

"All Joe Knight" Book Party - Publicity - H 2016
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On the book jacket for his new novel, All Joe Knight, a picture of Kevin Morris' pensive face looks in the direction of his author bio. The blurb lists his other published work, the "acclaimed short story collection" White Man's Problems, as well as writing credits for such publications as The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Filmmaker magazine. 

What it doesn't list is his Hollywood claim to fame: Morris is a respected attorney and founding partner at the successful firm of Morris Yorn Barnes Levine Krintzman Rubenstein Kohner & Gellman, where his clients include Matthew McConaughey and South Park masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Another omission from the bio is that Morris may be a power lawyer but he's a passionate literary head who has wanted to be a writer since he was 12 years old. That's what he told The Hollywood Reporter during a brief and recent sit-down inside Chateau Marmont's Bungalow 1, host of the book's industry-heavy launch party. 

Joining the 53-year-old Morris at his party were his agent wife, Gaby Morgerman and their children, his firm colleagues, including Kevin Yorn, Ailleen Gorospe, David Krintzman, Gregg Gellman, Jeff Endlich, Miles Metcoff, Ryan Goodell, Stephen Barnes and Todd Rubenstein, along with guests including Tish Cyrus, Illumination's Chris Meledandri, Viacom's Doug Herzog, WME's Elyse Scherz and Blaine Lourd

Morris read a few short passages from the Grove Press novel, which is set in Philadelphia and tells the coming-of-age story of its title character on a journey from being an orphaned kid to a driven yet troubled adult. Birthing this new book didn't come easy for Morris, who says it took seven years to complete. "I really left a lot of blood and sweat on the ground and everywhere else," he explains. But it wasn't too taxing that he would ever dream of quitting now. "I plan to write serious literary fiction for the rest of my life." 

And that is something that Yorn, his partner at the firm, supports. "I'm just really happy for Kev. It's been a journey for him and I'm really proud of him," Yorn says. "It's hard for him to do because he puts his soul into everything that he does in general, but he really puts his soul into writing. In this case, the pain that he went through in doing it and the beauty that he found — I can see that in him and it's now reverberating in his life. He's grown a lot in writing this book."

THR asked Morris about that pain, how his clients have responded to his work and just how many more books he has left in him.

Your book, All Joe Knight, is done. How does it feel?

You know, it's a lot of mixed emotions. I'm kind of mourning all of the emotions that drove me to tell this story and I'm putting them in the past. I had done that to a certain extent by writing the novel in the first place and recreating that world — or really a new version of the world — in which I grew up. And so, I'm left with the question of the new emotions that I have.

What is it about the place you grew up — Philadelphia in the 1970s — that compelled you to set the novel there?

There's a lot about that time which serves dramatization very well. It's full of pain and sadness, despite sort of what this nostalgia-lized culture tells us with its sort of sunny and funny mini-documentaries about that time. It was a dark, hard time.

For you personally?

For me, yeah, and for a lot of people that I grew up with.

You've mentioned darkness and the difficulties of your past several times tonight. Can you elaborate on that at all?

It's more of a situation where all kids were facing some economic hardship and the economic hardship led to decisions that were really brutal on kids as they grew up. Like, having to change houses or not having the money to fix a house, or not being able to eat at night, sometimes. Having to use food stamps was a big one when I grew up. You know, those things were … it caused all kinds of problems. This book is about being a kid and growing older.

Would you qualify your personal story as a rags-to-riches story, for lack of a better cliche?

No. It's more like I got a lot of help from the government at a lot of points [in my life]. I don't feel rags-to-riches is sort of ever fair.

Let's talk about this then: This book is the culmination of seven years of hard work. It is a bit unfair to ask an author who is on the verge of releasing a brand-new book this question, but how many more books do you have in you?

I'd like to keep writing novels the rest of my life. That's what I want to do. You just pray for the ability to do that.

You said tonight that writing books is not something you can do on the sidelines — if you're a writer, you're a writer and that's a full-time thing. But you're also a partner at a prestigious, respected firm. Where do you find the time to write novels?

I've got a place to write in Santa Monica outside of the office, which I went to a couple days a week for a period of time. It's an apartment/office, and I still have it. I started going there and I have all different kinds of strategies for where I write. I had the advantages for being able to do that and have a flexible schedule at my firm. I am not going to not [be] doing anything … I didn't build that firm to not do it. There are lawyers writing every day. There are screenwriters who are lawyers. Every TV comedy writing room has lawyers in it. People are doing it. 

How have your clients responded?

My clients are mostly my old friends, and they know me and they know what I'm like and how much this is my deepest hope. I made sure that everything was kept in check. I don't think any of them were surprised that I was writing.