The Saturday Writing Quote — on creativity

02_ClearwaterValley_Pastel_WEB“But what’s creativity if not dreaming? Playing it safe and asking our imaginations to stick to socially-accepted norms means cutting off a source of fathomless inspiration. With all the talk out there about taking risks as writers, isn’t it time we gave ourselves permission to take this risk, too, off the page?”

Sharon Bially, novelist and book publicist, on Writer Unboxed

(Painting “In the Clearwater,” pastel on suedeboard, by Leslie)

Googling the Truth

BCC coverIn Books, Crooks & Counselors, I give some tips for research, including ways to check the reliability of websites.

So when I saw this article by Angela Hill of the San Jose Mercury News, Truth Isn’t All It Used to be Online, I read closely. It’s a smart piece. Hill looks at our growing tendency to check facts quickly — fine, as far as it goes, but we don’t always go far enough, often stopping when we see a confirming source, without checking its reliability. (An example, I think, of what psychologists call “confirmation bias.”) The result can be greater certainty in incredible theories — increasing fragmentation in an already divided society.

Technology is changing the classroom, too, with teachers now recognizing that they need to give students tools to sort the glut of information available and figure out what can and can’t be relied on.

Where does Wikipedia come in? Not surprisingly, its directors contend that the entries are as reliable as encyclopedias ever were — truth not always being so easy to quantify. (“The victors write the history books,” after all.)

And so, as much or more than ever, we need to dig deep. Or as Hill quotes “Quiz Princess” Hailey Field, who hosts a trivia night in an Oakland brewpub. “Use your brain, not your technology.”


Character & Fitness — the case of Stephen Glass

In Books, Crooks & Counselors, I wrote about the “Character and Fitness” review required of every applicant for admission to the state bar. NPR reports on the case of disgraced journalist Stephen Glass — the subject of the movie “Shattered Glass,” he admits fabricating all or part of more than 40 articles for The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Harpers, and other magazines. Glass is now seeking admission to the California bar. (New York turned him down several years ago.)

“The question is not whether he was a liar 15 years ago. We know he was. The question is, is he a liar today? And the record demonstrates as well as any record could ever demonstrate that he is not a liar today,” NPR quotes Glass’s lawyer, Jon Eisenberg, telling the California Supreme Court.

Rehabbed, repentant, or unreformed reprobate? I expect that the California Supreme Court — the final decision-maker on all issues involving admission to the bar, and on lawyer discipline — will conclude that its obligation to protect the public outweighs the evidence of rehabilitation, and turn Glass down. It’s hard enough to police the profession; why let someone in with this history, someone you know you’ll have to watch?

Fiction writers, how can you use with a character like that?

Character Opportunity: a lawyer who didn’t attend law school

spokane county courthouseA sidebar in Books, Crooks & Counselors asks if it’s still possible to “read” for the bar exam like Lincoln did. Short answer: no — modern law schools did not become the norm until late in the 19th century. But several states, including Washington, allow those who pass rigorous apprenticeship programs to sit for the bar. This blog post from a graduate of Washington’s Law Clerk program explains the process in more detail.

It’s a different path — and as readers and writers, we like characters who choose different paths.What would prompt a person to follow this route instead of traditional law school? What career choices might he or she make later? How will those character and personality traits help — or hinder — him or her in practice — and on the pages of your stories?

Shown: Spokane County (Washington) courthouse. Photo from Spokane County website.


Drug Court: the graduates talk to the judge

I’ve written here and in Books, Crooks & Counselors about drug courts, citing the tremendous results in Yellowstone County (Billings), Montana. The District Court judge who led the county’s family drug court for 12 years, Judge Susan Watters, is awaiting Senate confirmation to the U.S. District Court. The Billings Gazette reports that this past week, the graduates gave the judge their own thank you ceremony. I think it’s quite moving, and that if you are writing about the court system, options like drug and mental health court, or addictions issues, you’ll find something useful in the story.

And take a look while you’re there at this article on Enhanced Treatment Court, formerly called Mental Health Court, a court that focuses special attention on those who have committed minor crimes but struggle with a variety of issues, including mental illness, to help them get back on track. It’s good work.

The Saturday Writing Quote — Natalie Goldberg on listening

“Writing is ninety percent listening. … you listen so deeply to the space around you that it fills you, and when you write, it pours out of you. If you can capture that reality around you, your writing needs nothing else. You don’t only listen to the person speaking to you across the table but simultaneously try to listen to the air, the chair, and the door.”

– Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones


The Saturday Writing Quote — Brene Brown on creativity

“Vulnerability is . . . the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that [vulnerability is] also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

— Brene Brown, American writer, researcher in social work, in a recent TED talk

Dressing Your Female Lawyer for Courtroom Scenes

Over the years, I’ve wanted to write about dressing the woman lawyers on your pages. Yeah, yeah, everyone who knows me, stop laughing now. I may be a jeans and boots fiend now, but in my city lawyer days, I had a Nordstrom’s card and I knew how to use it. But I am too far removed from daily urban practice — and Nordy’s — to give sound, up-to-date advice.

So now, Michael Heatherly, editor of NW Lawyer, the journal of the Washington State Bar Association, has stepped into that void. More accurately, he wrote a piece for men on dressing professionally in the June issue, and invited readers to submit an article for women. Seattle lawyer Lisa DuFour took the challenge. Here’s her piece.

A few comments: Remember that the articles advise on courtroom attire, not office wear. The editor titled it “Fashion Tips for Gals,” no doubt to parallel the original piece, “Fashion Tips for Guys.” The word “gal” is more accepted out west than in other parts of the country, but still, in that context, I would not have used it in a headline — although as a novelist, I may occasionally use it in dialogue.

Regional differences apply to fashion as well as language. While Seattle certainly has its urban and high-fashion streaks, it’s also a laid-back city under the influence of REI, Eddie Bauer, North Face, and other outdoor performance wear manufacturers. Hence some of the comments about shoes — the black strapped sandals with the open toes in the “don’t” picture might well be acceptable in other cities. Similarly, bare legs with suits or professional dresses are acceptable in the west, but not elsewhere. (One of the criticisms leveled at Sarah Palin’s campaign wardrobe, one that fashion advisers across the country recognized as a regional difference rather than a lapse of judgment.)

Finally, I thought it hilarious that the very next issue showcased the new state bar president, a man in his mid 40s, in a cobalt blue suit that probably violates all Heatherly’s advice for “guys” — but that’s the difference between magazine cover and courtroom protocol!