Sunday, June 30, 2019
I’m a Southern lawyer, and that suggests a double pedigree in storytelling. My mom was an English teacher for years, and she jokes that Southerners always start their stories at the very beginning. “Let me tell you about this hilarious self-deprecating thing that happened yesterday, but first I have to tell you about the family trees and life-stories of every single person involved in my otherwise pithy anecdote.” We don’t need better editors; we just take our time.
That legacy led me to a deeply rooted love of literature and storytelling as a craft (and an English minor). I’ve written about that before on this blog. When teaching law students how to be great advocates, I often teach the elements of narrative, rhetoric, and storytelling. In class, we talk about narrative structure: setting, character development, rising tension, conflict, climax, resolution, and the rest. We talk about Aristotle’s elements of ethos, pathos, and logos. We talk about the Hero’s Journey and other Joseph Campbell ideas.
These ideas are powerful elements of advocacy, negotiation, counsel, and communication in every context. I deploy them in trial, appeals, representation in mediation, negotiations, and policy advocacy. Creating good stories is an essential skill that we too often neglect in legal education.
One my favorite experiences as a law teacher has been teaching Law and Literature. Through novels, short-stories, essays, poetry, plays, and film, the students and I examined narrative forms and elements, the structure of arguments and rhetoric, the use of literature to understand and critique the law, and the law’s presence in our cultural consciousness. My students joked that it should have been called Atticus Finch and the Law, but that’s because we were in Alabama and had a vested interest.
But like a lot of Southern lawyers, I really want to write novels, not just teach about them. Atticus is just barely fiction to me.
After we moved to California, my wife, who constantly encourages this dreaming, pointed me toward the Writers Program at UCLA Extension. I took a course, and it reignited my hope and drive to write. I started a story in 2015 without a clear sense of its destination. That story has evolved in various iterations since then, and I have tested it in traditional markets and with a lot of generous readers. I was never quite ready to launch it into the world until recently.
I took the fiction writing course to exercise the craft that I discuss often in law school classes. The end is a novella that I am publishing this summer myself via Kindle Digital Publishing. It’s a little bit gut-wrenching to share creative writing with the world, but trying circumstances in our world have prompted me to share it.
The story began as a short-fiction exploration of one of my parental nightmares but became something bigger. It became a story of war, displacement, fear, refugee struggle, exploitation, and love. It quietly demands justice for children, girls, and women shattered by the arrogance of great powers. It looks to the anonymous lost to recover our souls in an era of gross bigotry and violence.
Thank you for reading. Our stories define us and explain us to ourselves. They may be the most powerful tool we have for justice and peace.