During his 55-year-long career as a trial lawyer, V. Frank Asaro would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, his mind racing as he fretted about his current case – would a witness show up, had he dotted all the “i’s” and crossed the “t’s?”
At those times, he would pick up a pen and write stories. “It took my mind off the worries and then I could go back to sleep,” said Asaro. “The next thing I knew, I had a drawer full of things I’d written.”
Some of his writings have since made it into print – Asaro, 81, of Carmel Valley, began publishing books as his legal career wound down. He has now written four books, two nonfiction and two novels. His most recent novel, a legal thriller-ghost story-romance called “Althea Haunting,” came out in October. (The book was published by Del Mar-based Bettie Youngs Books and is available on Amazon.com.)
Although he’s now retired from the legal profession, Asaro has no plans to put down his pen and sit with his feet propped on the proverbial porch railing. “I can’t take it easy. Life becomes too boring,” he said. Besides, he said, “I find it very calming to craft phrases and sentences. I enjoy writing.”
“Althea Haunting” draws from Asaro’s courtroom experience, a sensational but true 1890s legal case and Asaro’s imagination. Part of the book is set in the present, and part of it in the past. It centers around an attorney, representing a client in a palimony case, who delves into the archives of past court cases to find legal precedent to bolster his arguments.
The historic case – which Asaro first came across decades ago when he was working as a law clerk – concerns a young woman who marries an older, wealthy man who was also an influential politician. When the relationship ends and she seeks financial compensation, the politician prevails and ends up having the woman committed to an insane asylum, where she later dies.
The book includes duels, apparitions and intrigue. “It was a lot of fun” to write, said Asaro.
In one key passage, the modern-day attorney, Brent Wiles, is in the stacks of a law library late on a rainy night, reading about Althea’s case, when something catches his attention outside the third-story window.
“Two sets of thumbs and two sets of four fingers clearly showed through the glass. The fingers extended into the hands of a woman who stood just outside the window, her hands held at waist level. Her rain-soaked dark hair was plastered to her face. Her lips moved, half-smiling, seeming to plead for something; he couldn’t make it out,” Asaro wrote. “... He vigorously rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and immediately re-opened them. She was gone.”
While Asaro enjoys spinning yarns through his fiction, he also has written two nonfiction works, both concerning his theory of “co-opetition,” or a fusion of competition and cooperation that he contends can lead to superior outcomes in a range of fields, from music to science to politics.
The second edition of his book, “A Primal Wisdom,” was named as a finalist in the categories of nonfiction and philosophy in the 2015 USA Best Book awards. Asaro has also discussed his theory – he said he coined the phrase “co-opetition” in the 1980s – on the Fox Network’s “Fox and Friends” show with host Tucker Carlson.
Essentially, Asaro’s theory calls for the aggressive debate of ideas within the confines of civility and good-faith discourse.
“It’s about how to avoid polarization without giving up your principles,” he said. “This is something that is missing in our public debate.”
Examples he gave are the NFL, where teams share television revenue but compete fiercely on the field, and two car companies that share an engine design, while using those engines in competing vehicle models. War, he said, is a competition, while the Geneva conventions represent cooperation.
Hoping to have a positive influence on debate during the current presidential campaign, Asaro sent copies of his non-fiction book to candidates on both sides of the political spectrum during the primaries, but didn’t hear back.