LA Lawyer's Debut Novel: “The Cottoncrest Curse”

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Lawyer, adjunct law professor, nationally known legal ethicist, humorist, musician, and now novelist are just a few of the ways to describe Michael Rubin.

         The managing partner at McGlinchey Stafford and his wife, Ayan Rubin, have been traveling the country to promote "The Cottoncrest Curse," published by LSU Press. But family is at the heart of what the 64-year-old from Baton Rouge considers his most important descriptions: husband, father and grandfather.

         The Rubins hashed out details of the novel together and Ayan Rubin came up with the title for the book, which explores whether we can we ever know everything of significance about our family history and, if we did, whether it would change how we think about our family.

         "Do we have an obligation to tell the unvarnished truth if it hurts some and helps others?" asks Michael Rubin. "Then translate that into a page-turner."

         The novel is about the deaths in 1893 of Augustine and Rebecca Chastain; of itinerant peddler Jake Gold, who becomes the sheriff's prime suspect; and about their families during the Civil Rights era and in modern times. Gold is loosely based on Rubin's great-grandfather, a Russian immigrant who left home at age 12 and began his life in America as a traveling peddler.

         It "takes readers on an epic journey from czarist Russia to post-Reconstruction South to Cajun territory in the swamps of Louisiana and the streets of New York City and New Orleans," Donna Meredith wrote in a review on the Southern Literary Review's website.

         On their daily 4:30 a.m. walk, the Rubins discussed plot lines, character development and more. The name had to evoke plantation life in the Deep South; an aristocratic family, most of whom had family crests, and the plantation's site at a high point on the river.

         "The minute she asked, 'Why not call it Cottoncrest Curse?' we both instantly knew that was the perfect title," Rubin recalls.

         Married for 44 years, the couple met when Michael Rubin was a freshman at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Ayan was a student at nearby Smith College.

         "We met the first week of classes and got married the week after graduation," he says. "She's my best friend, my best editor and my best critic."

         While at Amherst, Michael Rubin played four nights a week in a jazz band at a hotel on campus.

         The girl who warmed up the audience for them was Natalie Cole. All the band members went on to law school, but Rubin is the only one who's kept up with music.

         He grew up in Baton Rouge, son of Janice and federal Judge Alvin Rubin, and returned to Louisiana to attend law school at LSU. Because of the long shadow cast by his late father, he had no intention of staying here to practice law. "Yet, here I am," he says with a chuckle.

         He graduated from law school in 1975 and worked his way up to partner in the firm of Sanders Downing Kean & Cazedessus before founding his own firm, Rubin Curry Colvin & Joseph, in 1983. That firm merged with McGlinchey Stafford in 1993, and today Michael Rubin serves as a member of the firm's managing policy committee and heads its appellate practice.

         For the past 31 years, he's been an adjunct professor at LSU, Tulane and Southern law schools teaching real estate, finance and ethics law. He typically gives 20 to 30 lectures a year around the U.S., Canada and England, with ethics a frequent topic. He likes to incorporate a quick song or few moments at the keyboard into his presentations.

         More often than not he plays his own compositions — he's copyrighted about 40 tunes. He wrote the music for his own wedding and those of daughters Bethany and Gillian.

         "I composed for a string quartet because the groom's brother was a professional cellist and he was playing," explains Michael Rubin. "For Gilllian's, I composed for a 16-piece orchestra, and I played and recorded all the parts.

         "I have no memory of not reading music," he continues. He began taking music lessons when he was 4 and, at age 12, "decided classical music wasn't for me."

         A lesson with jazz pianist Harry Evans, brother of the jazz great Bill Evans, hooked him on jazz.

         He started playing professionally at age 16.

         "I always loved music, and I always played by ear and was able to compose," he adds.

         His love of writing also came naturally.

         "My father wrote wonderfully, and lots of articles have been written about his writings," he says. "My mother was a fiction writer and poet, and was published in Ladies Home Journal. She'd write Haiku for me in my birthday card."

         He got started writing Pocket Parts, which updated the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedures Formulary.

         "It's a three-volume set lawyers used to draft briefs," Michael Rubin explains. "I did that for years. It's not something you want to read late at night unless you want to go to sleep immediately."

         The Rubins are now fleshing out details for book No. 2 during early morning walks.

         "It's called 'Cashed Out,' about a failed lawyer who's divorced," says Michael Rubin. "He has no money and no clients except for the dead one who just left him $5 million for safe keeping. When he refuses to defend his ex-wife even more things happen."

         – by AP/ Reporter Pam Bordelon with The Advocate

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