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Stories to tell

Jenny Montgomery
February 15, 2012
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Lawyers are familiar with how to construct contracts, estate plans, briefs – the necessary but often uninspiring writing that’s part of the job. Sometimes lawyers seek a more creative outlet, the opportunity to put pen to paper in a more fulfilling way.

Alyce Miller, professor of creative writing and literature at Indiana University, has noticed that in classes and workshops she leads for the public, many of her students are doctors and lawyers. Miller is also a lawyer, and she said that while legal writing and creative writing require different ways of thinking, she sees a strong connection between those two abilities.

“The law itself is all about narrative,” she said.

With planning, peer input and exemplary time management, some attorneys have used their knack for narration to write the kind of books you won’t find in a law library.

The process

Solo attorney Stephen Terrell has worked as a journalist and editor and has written extensively for magazines and legal publications. Recently, he finished his first legal thriller, “Stars Fall,” and published it online.

“The story’s been in my head in various forms for more than 10 years, probably. And at one point in time, I wrote about the first 60 or 70 pages and circulated it to some friends … and got some comments back that were saying things that I knew, which was, it was way overwritten,” he said. “And so, I let it sit for a while and really went back to it I guess a couple of years ago and spent a good part of the summer writing it.”

Terrell knew that if he was going to finish his book, he’d have to make time to write.

For the six to eight months that he was working on all the details, outline, plot and characters, Terrell would visit Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts up to four times a week to get coffee and devote a couple of hours to work on his book. And on the weekends, whenever he had an hour or two to spare, he wrote.

“That’s a really hard thing to do, and maybe that’s why it took me so long to get this done. But I just decided at my age, I wanted to do this, and by God, I was going to do this at least once.”

Marti Starkey, like Terrell, had been pondering an idea for a book for years. But fiction wasn’t her calling. She wanted to write about the role spirituality played in her life.

“I just knew that I needed to do it, but it didn’t ever really seem like the right time,” she said. “And certainly, my life was so full, just being a lawyer and being a mother – it’s a very full life.”

In 2010, Starkey’s father died, and almost immediately after his death, she felt a renewed focus on writing her story. But she told only the people closest to her about her plans, one of whom was her law partner, Lisa Adler.

Adler told Starkey, “Marti, you take two weeks, and you just write.” Starkey didn’t know if it would be possible to put her book together in two weeks or how Adler would be able to juggle the additional work during that time. She quickly figured out that she was most productive in the morning, so she would write each moAuthorChart.jpgrning, working half days in the afternoon.

She hired a driver to take her to a business meeting in Chicago so she could edit her work on the way there and back. And one day, after taking her husband to a doctor’s appointment, she waited for him in the car, working on her book.

“I just made every minute count,” she said.

Motivation

Laurie Gray was a deputy prosecuting attorney for the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office in Fort Wayne for 10 years. During that time, she worked with young people who had been victims of sexual violence and with young perpetrators, too. As a former high school teacher, she understood how to relate to young people, and she sees writing as a way to have a positive influence on the lives of teens.

“Really, literature is such a great way to meet kids where they are … and to just really have a dialog with kids,” she said.

Her book, “Summer Sanctuary,” about a boy who befriends a homeless girl won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Gold Medal award in 2010 in the Young Adult Fiction – Religion/Spirituality category. And her forthcoming book, “Maybe I Will,” is about a teen attempting to overcome a sexual assault.

“You read the whole book from the first-person perspective not knowing whether Sandy is female or male,” Gray said. “The whole point is Sandy is both. Sandy is actually human, and you can read the whole book one way or the other.”

Gray said she doesn’t care if her books make money and that she does plan to continue writing. And Terrell said his goal is simply for people to read his work.

Starkey said she won’t profit from sales of her book; all proceeds are earmarked for overseas missionary organizations. And she’s not sure if she’ll write another book.

“I do not feel compelled to write another book; I’m not saying that I wouldn’t write another book, but this is the only book I’ve felt compelled to write,” Starkey said. “It’s actually been one of the most amazing journeys I’ve ever had. The joy and peace I felt on that Thursday when it was completed, it was just beyond my understanding.”

Learning

Miller said that while age and experience are helpful for aspiring writers, all lawyers are not necessarily outstanding creative writers.

“Legal writing is very different from creative writing, and there are extremely beautiful legal writers, but not all legal writers are beautiful writers,” she said. “I don’t think it’s specific to lawyers, but when you write you have to be a really broad and deep reader.”

Both Miller and Terrell believe workshops may be helpful for lawyers who want to become authors because they offer writers the chance to talk to each other and share ideas.

“I would encourage somebody who’s a closet writer to take the time to go to some writers’ conferences, particularly the Midwest Writers Workshop at Ball State – it’s really close, and it’s not expensive, and it gives you the ability to network with people who share your same interest, Terrell said. “It’s more than just about writing classes, it’s learning – talking to people at lunch about how they find time to write, how do you find an agent, how do you find your story ideas, how do you find the inspiration for it – I think that’s really important, to get out and be among people who write.”•
 

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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