Closest to the Fire: A Writer’s Guide to Law and Lawyers is my first nonfiction book, published after five novels. I sought to bring together my profession (attorney) and my avocation (writing fiction), and to give back (or pay forward? I have a mediocre sense of direction) to other authors of fiction.
This hefty reference work has two purposes:
–to help writers avoid some of the more common mistakes one finds in books and movies about courtrooms, legal issues, and lawyers;
–perhaps more important, to inspire writers to venture into this area by showing them the many story possibilities that can arise from legal problems and disputes. Toward that end, I’ve included many suggested ideas for story or story elements for the book’s readers to use in their own fiction.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m a Connecticut Yankee who’s lived on both coasts, but landed in the Midwest. I’ve lived in Indiana since 1989.
My childhood ambition: to be a precocious famous novelist. The first part of that dream to die involved the precocity, when I discovered at age ten that some British upstart had had a novel published at age nine. I wrote what I then considered a novel — 100 two-page chapters with a fairly bizarre, though partly autobiographical, plot and characters — at around that same time. For the next ten years or so, I struggled to find the medium in which to work and something to say in it. I gave up during my junior year in college, considered my options as an English major, and headed to law school, which would allow me to use words for a living while (I reasoned) exploring the overlap of logic and psychology.
While pregnant with my elder daughter, I started writing picture book manuscripts. That lasted throughout my girls’ childhoods. Then, Elder Daughter inspired me again by taking part in National Novel Writing Month during her junior year of high school. I joined her the following year, and am still an eager participant in (and apostle for) that activity.
What inspired you to write this book?
I don’t remember just how it came about, but I wrote a series of three guest posts for the blog Indies Unlimited called “Writing Convincing Legal Fiction.” That idea gradually metamorphosed into a writer’s guide over 217,000 words long.
How did you choose the title?
My first thought was to call the book Order in the Court (with the same subtitle as it now has). Researching that title, I found another book with that title on the same basic subject, now out of print. Scratching around for new ideas, I came upon an anecdote told about at least two historical figures, one of them Ulysses S. Grant. Here’s how I relate the anecdote and explain its significance in Chapter 1 of the book (though without the book’s formatting):
General Grant, so the story goes, came to an inn on a stormy winter’s night. Rarely elegant in appearance, Grant looked particularly disheveled and weather-beaten on this occasion. A number of lawyers were in town for a court session, and had clustered around the fireplace. One looked up as Grant approached and commented that the stranger looked as if he had “traveled through hell itself to get here.”
General Grant allowed as how he had done just that.
“And how did you find things down there?”
“Just like here,” replied Grant, “lawyers all closest to the fire.”
I borrow this punch line not only to acknowledge the popular view of lawyers as scoundrels, but for another meaning the phrase can bear. Where there’s a passionate dispute, whether between friends or strangers, lawyers are likely to be in the thick of it.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
By the time I finished the rough draft of this book, I’d already self-published five novels. I felt fairly confident in my ability to handle that task. Ha! I had no idea how steep a learning curve remained, given the length and complexity of the book. I had to learn how to deal with internal bookmarks and hyperlinks, tables of contents, indexing, formatting of lists, etc. I also had many a struggle and setback due to the unfortunate combination of a format-rich interior template I purchased and a partially corrupted Word 2003 program. I’ve just kept plugging away, purchasing services I couldn’t manage on my own.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
I’m fond of several British novelists from the 18th and 19th centuries, including Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and George Meredith (whose The Egoist is a little-known but frequently hilarious dissection of a specimen of that breed). I also enjoy historical fiction, including historical mysteries, although I focus on the setting and characters more than the plot.
I’m also an avid reader of science fiction, and have been since my teens. Favorite SF authors include David Brin, Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin, Elizabeth Moon, Frederick Pohl, Spider Robinson, John Scalzi, and the duo Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (especially their Footfall and The Mote in God’s Eye). My favorite SF novel, however, and perhaps my favorite novel in any genre or period, is by an author who turned from SF to historical fiction after her first two books: Mary Doria Russell, to whom I will be forever grateful for The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
My sixth novel has been languishing in line, partly revised, while I finished Closest to the Fire and prepared it for publication. It’s the still-untitled Book 3 in my Twin-Bred series. I can’t say much about it without spoilers as to Books 1 and 2, but here’s the tag line for the first book, Twin-Bred: “Can interspecies diplomacy begin in the womb?” The series, like all my novels, explores themes of family, communication, unintended consequences, and the persistence of unfinished business.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
First, don’t take anyone’s advice as gospel, no matter their publishing credits or academic titles! One person’s fruitful process is another person’s prescription for writer’s block. Different paths to publication work better for some than for others, based on innumerable factors (not the least of which is luck).
Second: seriously consider self-publishing your work. This is a wonderful era in which to write, now that gatekeepers are an optional service rather than a next-to-immovable obstacle. There are many blogs one can find and follow that give invaluable advice (with the caveat I already mentioned) on how to self-publish. The stigma associated with self-published work is fading fast. And traditional publishing has become a somewhat treacherous landscape, full of traps for the new or unwary author.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
I initially wrote the book for authors and would-be authors of fiction who’d like to set their stories in the world of law. In the process of editing, publishing, and promoting the book, I’ve received feedback indicating that it could interest a somewhat broader audience, including law and prelaw students, international students, and others who wish to better understand the American legal system. I’ve even heard from attorneys who find the book entertaining and useful.
I have, however, tried to emphasize that no law student should assume that any rule I discuss is (a) correct and (b) identical to what a given professor believes to be correct.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
The book has its own website at http//www.cttf.karenawyle.net. It includes links to the Table of Contents and to the paperback edition’s Index, and to my professional and fiction websites. It also has Online Extras including deleted passages (more like rants, in some cases). The website should have purchase links for the paperback (on Amazon and Barnes & Noble) and the Amazon Kindle edition.
Readers can get a feel for the fiction I write via my Amazon Author page at http://www.amazon.com/Karen-A.-Wyle/e/B005WK7D26.
I also have an author page on Facebook, at http://www.facebook.com/KarenAWyle, where I post articles about writing and publishing, about favorite books, and about my own work.
Thanks for this chance to introduce myself to your readers!