Writers have long debated the sociopolitical usefulness of fiction, but few may be as qualified to weigh in on the issue as Gabriel Urza, the author of All That Followed (Holt, Aug.). Before receiving his M.F.A. from Ohio State University, Urza, 36, studied law at the University of Notre Dame and served as a public defender in Reno, Nev., where he grew up, for five years. So why did he trade the courtroom for the creative writing workshop?
“Being a public defender was really emotionally taxing,” he says. “I needed an outlet.”
That’s not to suggest Urza abandoned his interest in law and politics when he took up fiction writing. All That Followed, which he started working on while at Ohio State, describes the fallout of the 2004 murder of a local politician in Muriga, a fictional town in the Basque region of Spain. Urza, whose family is Basque, was inspired by a real-life case, involving a Basque political party with alleged links to terrorists, that he studied while doing legal research in San Sebastián, on a grant from the Kellogg Institute that he received while at Notre Dame.
Urza says the ability to address Basque politics through fiction was “essential.” “When you fictionalize something, it gives you a lot more leeway... to deal with characters as characters, rather than [as] historical or political figures that you owe a debt of verisimilitude to,” he says.
The Basque region is not a setting commonly encountered in Anglophone literature, but Urza had at least one model to draw on. His grandfather, Robert Laxalt, wrote several books about the region, including the memoir Sweet Promised Land (1957).
Still, Katherine Fausset, Urza’s agent, says the book intrigued her in part because she’d “never read anything... set in the Basque region.” Sarah Bowlin, Urza’s editor at Holt, adds that she’s “interested in books that have a feeling of place. What I loved immediately about [the novel] was the attention and atmosphere that Gabriel is able to infuse into every scene,” she says.
Though Urza will begin teaching creative writing at Ithaca College this fall, he hasn’t abandoned law altogether. He recently assisted on two murder cases in Reno. “I was very excited,” he says. “We got not-guilty verdicts on both of them.”