Saturday Creativity Quote — Jerry Seinfeld and NaNoWriMo

Leslie’s desk

No doubt some of you are getting ready for NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month, an annual challenge beginning November 1 that aims to get writers on the page consistently, producing 50,000 new words in a short month complicated for many by holidays and holiday prep. (More about NaNoWriMo here.) The process uses simple tools — scheduling, tracking, goal-setting, and accountability. Plus, prizes. So through November, my Saturday quotes will focus on some element of process and commitment. You’re on your own for the prizes.

“I still have a writing session every day. It’s another thing that organizes your mind. The coffee goes here. The pad goes here. The notes go here. My writing technique is just: You can’t do anything else. You don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else. The writing is such an ordeal. That sustains me.”
– Jerry Seinfeld in a 2020 interview with the New York Times, quoted by media coach Dan Blank in his 9/17/21 newsletter

Writing Wednesday — 10 Essential Books on Writing

Books, Crooks, and Councelors

I’m continuing the 10th anniversary celebration of Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction.

This week, a list of ten books that should be on every writer’s shelf – with a cracked spine and plenty of page markers!

The Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald Maass (2016) – We read in part for emotional experience, and Maass, one of my teachers, is a master at showing writers how to evoke emotion in the reader.

Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell (2004) – crammed with practical approaches

Writing A Woman’s Life, Carolyn Heilbrun (1988) (she wrote mysteries as Amanda Cross) – I discovered this book long before I started writing, when my interest was in women’s history, but it’s just as applicable to novelists

Scene & Structure, Jack Bickham (1993) – these days we want our “sequel” or reflection interwoven with the action, but Bickham’s breakdown of scene and its function is enormously useful

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, Francine Prose (2007) – the name says it all

The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, Ted Kooser (2005) – a guide to working with the language, as important for novelists as for poets

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg (1986) – half inspiration, half therapy

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (I’ve got the 2012 edition but it’s since been updated)

How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America, Ed. by Lee Child with Laurie R. King (I’m a contributor!)

and of course, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure, Leslie Budewitz (2011)

Obviously I’ve left off basics like a dictionary and thesaurus. Grammar guides, whether you’re partial to The Elements of Style or Sin and Syntax, and Garner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner (3d ed., 2009). In the inspiration category, I chose Goldberg because I discovered her early in my own writing journey, but you can’t go wrong with Ueland’s If You Want to Write, Brande’s Becoming a Writer, Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, or Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Books on creativity and on medicine, psychology, and police procedure fill another shelf. (Hmm, I sense another list coming on!)

What essential writing books would you add?

Saturday Creativity Quote

Bay and Bridge

“When you love books and live with them daily, it’s tempting to believe they’re the answer. That whatever the crisis — war, pandemic, social delamination — books will be our lanterns and compasses, our balls of string leading out of the labyrinth. I think all this is true, and moreover that these primitive bundles of ragstock and ink still pulse with curious music, but twenty years on it’s plain that their greatest power is to move us toward each other.”

— Lief Enger, quoted in the Washington Post book newsletter, 9/2/21, in a foreword to the new 20th anniversary edition of his novel, Peace Like a River.

Writing Wednesday — 10 Favorite Novels About the Law

Books, Crooks, and Councelors

This month I’m celebrating the publication of my first book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. Two weeks ago, I shared the backstory of how the book came about and linked to my list of Common Mistakes Writers Make About the Law, first published in The Writer in September 2013. The editors asked me for a list of favorite novels about the law, published in a sidebar. And you know what? Though I’ve read hundreds of novels since then, I don’t know that I’d change a single one.

Herewith, one lawyer-writer’s list:

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960) – None of us will ever be Atticus Finch, but we’re better for trying.

Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson (1995) – Trial and prejudice, with brilliant courtroom dialogue.

The Firm, John Grisham (1991) – A newbie with a dog named Hearsay outwits his wily bosses—what’s not to love?

Rumpole of the Bailey series, John Mortimer (1978-2009) – Taught me everything I know about the British legal system.

Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987) – The epitome of the legal thriller.

Anatomy of a Murder, Robert Traver (1958) – A classic by a Michigan judge, basis of the fine and fiery movie.

Every Secret Thing, Laura Lippman (2003) – A castoff Barbie, a missing baby, and two young girls—a heart-breaking look at juvenile justice.

If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him, Sharyn McCrumb (1995) – Domestic violence is nothing new.

The Trial, Franz Kafka (1925) – Still gives me the chills.

The Indian Lawyer, James Welch (1990) – A tale of anger and revenge, beautifully told.

Got a favorite book or movie touching on the law?

Saturday Creativity Quote

“Instead of writing what you know, find out what you know by writing. … All fiction is political, even if it’s not deliberately so. I don’t write about elections and their consequences, but my characters make choices in their lives, and every choice is a kind of political act.”

– novelist and short story writer Hilma Wolitzer, in an August 2021 Washington Post interview with her daughter, novelist Meg Wolitzer, on publishing at 91 a short story collection with a new story written after the death of her husband from Covid and her own hospitalization

Saturday Creativity Quote

The Browsing Bison, welded sculpture, The Bookstore, Dillon, Montana

“It has been said that the detective story flourishes best in an age of anxiety and pessimism, simply because we then have the greater need of the solace it offers.”

– P.D. James, British novelist and politician (1920-2044)

Dame Phyllis said that in 1993. She was on to something, wasn’t she?

Celebrating Books, Crooks & Counselors!

Books, Crooks, and Councelors

Ten years ago today, my first book was published: Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. I actually first saw it in late September, at a display inches inside the book dealers’ room at Bouchercon, the international mystery convention, held that year in St. Louis. Screaming may have been involved.

The book had its origins in my dual life as lawyer and fiction writer. Other writers often asked me questions about the law: How can my character get a search warrant? Can this character inherit from that one? Who is Miranda and why are are we always warning her? So I created 160 Q&A covering 12 topics from Trial and Error to Research and References — and yes, the book proposal included the whole darn list, though they changed a bit as I wrote and under the probing of my editor, Kent Sorsky. (He’s responsible for me expanding a couple of questions about judges into a full-fledged section of the book.)

I was beyond thrilled when BCC, as I call it, won the Agatha Award the next year for Best Nonfiction, over books about Sherlock and Agatha and Sookie! The award meant I’d correctly identified a niche and filled it. Writers, like lawyers, live and die on our judgment, and that stamp of approval of mine kept me committed to writing my own mysteries, while continuing to help other writers get the facts about law straight in their stories.

leslie budewitz agatha award winner

And even though the book is ten years old now, it’s still pretty darn relevant, IMO!

For years now, I’ve been talking to writers’ groups about common mistakes writers make about the law. Here’s my list, as originally published in The Writer magazine in 2013, along with a few resources for getting it right. (Sisters in Crime members can watch my webinar in the online archives. And if you’d like me to speak to your writing group, drop me a line!)