The Ambulance Chaser: A ThrillerInterview with author Brian Cuban
By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky
In 2016, a landmark study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association revealed widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession. As a film buff, I couldn’t help but think of Paul Newman’s character in “The Verdict.” Brian Cuban, younger brother of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, once traveled a road littered with alcohol and drugs, and it led him to lose his successful legal career and more than one marriage. To his credit, Brian battled back against his demons and comprehensively outlined his struggles in his 2017 memoir “The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow, and Redemption.” Now he’s taking quite a different path. He has written a suspenseful page-turner, “The Ambulance Chaser: A Thriller,” published last month.
I was fortunate to speak with Brian in December about his latest venture, which is quite a departure from the law and motivational speaking. He was charming and very open about his past.
Susan Kandell Wilkofsky: Mazel tov! I noticed that your book was just released on Amazon. You must be over the moon about that!
Brian Cuban: It’s been very exciting. The launch period is always fun and the book’s done very well in pre-order — probably up around 3,000 in sales.
SKW: That’s a strong pre-order.
BC: That was good, especially for a first-time fiction author. I don’t have a reputation. So yeah, I’m excited about that.
SKW: If I had to describe the book in one word, I would say spellbinding. Last week, I was on a flight from New York back to Dallas. My flight was delayed two hours after we had already boarded the plane. I was the only one not moaning and groaning when the delay was announced. I was thrilled to have the extra time to finish reading.
SKW: It’s an easy read. You just can’t wait to get to turn each page. And like I said, everybody else was moaning and groaning. And I was thinking, “Oh, this delay is perfect!”
BC: Well, I will take that as a high compliment.
SKW: The book is peppered with legal terms, medical jargon and Yiddish, all translated for the layperson. Please share your thinking on that.
BC: I try to do my best to make sure wherever I used phrases, that they were explained. What I didn’t want to do is draw people out of the book where they have to go look something up.
SKW: And you didn’t need to be a lawyer to be caught up in what was going on. You were quite adept at making explanations for legalese. And, of course, if the reader is Jewish, you have a little extra leg up on readers who are not. Do you speak Yiddish?
BC: I do not, but for my grandparents, it was their first language. So, I knew a few words but I had to rely on some people who had better knowledge of Yiddish than I did, like Zvi Drizin of Chabad. You know the scene with the grandmother on the street? Growing up in Pittsburgh, those old Jewish grandmothers from Poland or Lithuania were real people. I tried to recreate what I had seen as a child in the predominantly Jewish area of Squirrel Hill with my grandmother.
SKW: The authenticity comes through loud and clear. As a writer, everyone knows the axiom, you write what you know. Obviously, your prior books were nonfiction and included your real-life experiences being a poster child for bad behavior. And now you’ve changed gears, channeling your background and misconduct into an entirely new genre. I just find it so interesting that you were able to accomplish that so seamlessly. How did you conceive of this story?
BC: Well, it actually has a kind of a dark genesis. I have a reoccurring dream. I used to have this reoccurring dream, dark and graphic, growing up in Pittsburgh, being a child or a teenager with my best friend.
SKW: These sound like dreams you talk over with your therapist.
BC: Right, right. <laugh> And I have! But I was out for a run one day and this particular dream would leave me unsettled for maybe a half hour to an hour. I’m thinking about the dream and it just suddenly occurred to me that there are a couple of characters, there’s a plot and there are skeletons in the closets coming to light. I thought I could write a novel around it. And that is the genesis of “The Ambulance Chaser.”
SKW: So your dreams, although they were haunting, actually paid off in the end?
BC: Yeah. Yeah. I’m still working it out, what they actually mean <laugh>. And I promise I have never killed anyone.
SKW: Good to know! I just loved how you wove together all the details, but it’s very hard to know where the reality stops and the fiction begins.
SKW: Where did you even start? For instance, how did you name your characters?
BC: You want to know that? Here’s how I got the names. The protagonist’s last name is my mother’s maiden name.
BC: And the rest of it was…I opened my high school yearbook. I went to the senior photos. I closed my eyes and I started pointing to photos, mixing and matching names.
SKW: How clever! That really ties in your high school buddies. And I can plainly see that family is important to you. I adored the sweet dedication to your father at the beginning of the book.
BC: Well, thank you. As you might guess, my father did struggle with dementia. It was very difficult, very difficult. So I wanted to make that an aspect of the book. And as you may or may not know, I struggled with drugs and drug and alcohol addiction. So there’s a bit of Jason in me. I’m going on 15 years in recovery.
SKW: That’s quite an accomplishment. Are you practicing law now?
BC: I have not practiced in a decade. And I never really wanted to be a lawyer. I struggled with alcohol in college and then in law school. And then drugs when I moved to Dallas. My story is all out there. I eventually lost my law practice. I was a personal injury lawyer. For me it was, you write what you know. There’s a lot of me in Jason.
SKW: That’s what I assumed. I just didn’t know how much of the real you was incorporated into Jason, but I have to say, even prior to writing this book, the word that popped into my mind most often when I read your bio was “brave.” And the fact that you didn’t just write your first book to bare your soul, you did it to help others. Tikkun olam.
BC: There’s a reason why that’s worked into the book. Changing the world with acts of kindness.
SKW: I hope readers recognize what you’re doing. That would be really a nice result from reading your book.
So, let’s switch gears….as a film critic, I want to know who’s going to play to Jason in the film.
BC: That’s a great question! He’s probably too old, but if this was 10 years ago, I’d say Nick Cage, because I used to get that comparison. I know who I’d like to see play Jason today…Zachary Quinto. I’d love to see Zachary Quinto play Jason. And you know why? Because he’s from Pittsburgh.
SKW: Yes! I can see that. He’s very intense, a really fine actor. Well, thank you so much for your time today. Shabbat shalom.
If you’re yearning to take a trip, but are sidelined due to COVID-19, you may want to take a journey to Pittsburgh via “The Ambulance Chaser.” Just be prepared for a tumultuous adventure and don’t forget to buckle up. There are some white-knuckle moments ahead of you. You don’t even have to wear a mask!
Title: “The Ambulance Chaser:
Author: Brian Cuban
Publisher: Post Hill Press
Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2021
Price/Format: $17.00 Paperback