How Law School Affected My Writing

When I started law school I was worried it would kill my creativity. No more beautiful prose (ha! Like I had that to begin with) because bland and formulaic writing would take over. I’d forget how to be a writer, or a reader for that matter, because I’d be bogged down reading nothing but case law. Well, yea, you have to read a lot in law school, and it’s not the same as the reading I had to do at my liberal arts undergrad, but there’s still time for non-law reading. I think law school in conjunction with outside creative writing classes changed the way I read and write, in ways both good and less good.

Legal writing did change my writing in a negative-for-creative-writing way because it strove to teach me to be succinct and to the point. No showy language, no artistry, focus on facts and plain language. That’s not to say that lawyers aren’t creative (um have you seen some of the arguments they can come up with?), but the creativity is channeled in a different way than what I need as a fiction writer. I’d read short stories then look at my own work and think, mine doesn’t sound like this. I don’t write like this. Had to go back to the basics and Creative Writing 101—punchier verbs. Finding my writerly voice will likely be an ongoing process, but it was weird to put conscious effort into rebuilding that tone. I read older stories I’d written pre-law school, and after the cringing subsided (apparently I like to shift POVs. A lot. Often within the same paragraph) I had an idea of where I’d been and the direction I wanted to go in order to hit my stride. Part of that meant accepting that law school had affected my writing. Livening up some dead prose probably occurs more often for me than others. But, it does make those moments when I get a sentence of word-gold especially fulfilling. Unless I have to cut it later. Some darlings I cannot kill.

I’ll never be an artsy writer, one who picks up the pen and Shakespeare falls out. Flowery language and sentences that you need to re-read a few times to fully appreciate the word use—not me. The opposite tends to happen in that I get too plain trying to state the point. Finding the happy middle has been/is an odd journey, but an entertaining one. It’s an interesting position to be in, writing and wondering “who am I?” without any of the teenage angst.

As a consequence of law school and the almost tunnel vision approach it imparted, how I read and the books I enjoy have changed a bit. Of course, this isn’t all law school’s “fault,” as some of it comes from me studying the craft of writing and learning to be more critical. But, I do find that I don’t enjoy wordy, flowery prose anymore, or intense worldbuilding.

If I have to do math/charts/whatever to figure out monetary systems or the calendar, I’ll just substitute in something from reality.

I like pacing to be quicker and to the point. I’m tired of the mega-novel, dawdling behemoth works that are super popular in fantasy, my genre of choice, right now. It feels wrong to say that I want “simpler” books, but in a sense, I do. Not bad or boring writing, but a story that can be told without spending X number of pages detailing the interior of the room. So, really, I guess law school made me a boring writer with the attention span of a ferret.

1st Workshop Recap- Cascade Writers- How Not to Write a Novel

I recently found out about a local writing group called Cascade Writers. Founded something like 15 years ago by Karen Junker, this group has an impressive number of events–both public and paid–still to come this year.

I went to the “How Not to Write a Novel” 3-hr public workshop held at a local library.The four author-speakers were Cat Rambo, Jennifer Brozek, Tina Connolly, and Raven Oak.

Note to Self and others: Don’t forget to eat before a workshop that starts at 12:30. Also, if you arrive half an hour early like I did, don’t wander off on foot in search of a nearby Starbucks because you think you know the general direction of one, like I did. I ended up going into the workshop 15 minutes late (I did eventually find a Starbucks, it wasn’t worth it) and was able to get a seat all the way at the end. And I wasn’t even the last person to get there, yay. I didn’t count, but there was a good number of people there…guessing (and I’m terrible at this) around 60? I’ve never been to a workshop before so I had no idea what to expect. Seemed like a good turnout to me, and apparently about half had never been to an event hosted by a public library.

Anyway, when I walked in the authors were answering some pre-determined questions with Raven Oak acting as the moderator, if you will. They answered questions like “worst advice you ever got,” “best advice,” “tips to writers,” & “what piece of advice do you wish you’d had from the start?”  Not entirely new answers if you’ve taken writing courses, read author interviews, or done some general poking around the net, but the fact that such answers like “butt in chair writing, it sounds easy but is actually one of the hardest parts,” or  “it’s ok to break the rules, but only if you understand and know why you’re breaking them,” continuously pop up shows that they should be taken seriously.

They talked about how they start a novel, and it was interesting that many of them either were from the start or shifted over to becoming more outline-oriented. Nothing wrong with being a pantser (someone who writes from the “seat of their pants” aka no plan), but at some point you need to have an idea of where you’re going and what you’re looking to accomplish with the story. Not setting it in stone because stories will change from start to finish, but having at least a rudimentary road map. They also cautioned about not being the opposite of a pantser–the person who outlines obsessively and spends a year building the-most-perfect-world-ever that they never get any writing done. This is a trap SFF writers in particular seem drawn to, and some never get out. Oh, and revise, people. Just finished that NaNoWriMo novel? Don’t send it off right off the bat. Revise, revise, revise. I hate revisions, but that’s where the real writing happens.

I’ve taken several online classes (that I’ll eventually review) so this wasn’t really “new” information for me, but if you’re a newb to the writing scene, definitely go to these kinds of workshops! Even if you write short fiction or non-fiction, there’s information useful to everyone. The authors encouraged honing your craft with short fiction, or saving those scenes you have to delete because they don’t move the plot forward and using them in short stories later. They gave some general publishing tips. Editing tips. Just because “novel” was in the title didn’t limit the discussion. Don’t be afraid to venture forth!

They introduced people to submission sites like Ralan and Duotrope. These are great ways to find markets for your work, and Duotrope also serves as a submission tracker. I was skeptical about Duotrope until I trialed it. Goodbye Excel spreadsheet tracking my submissions. Ralan is free, and looks like a web relic of the 80s, but it is updated and a good alternative to Duotrope. As Cat Rambo said, if you use it, like it, and are able, please consider donating a few bucks to sites like Ralan so that they can stay around.

There was a Q&A session, then a 5min break. I think it’s time for an interlude with cats and fish.

Cats and Fish

Beth is on top of the tank having a drink, Cogwheel on left, and his sister, Juniper, on the right.

After the break, the authors each read for about 10 minutes from their current or forthcoming books. I haven’t been to a reading since I was a tween (John R. Erickson and his Hank the Cowdog series is much beloved in this house), so I was interested to see what it would be like. After Raven Oak’s reading using a southern drawl true to her character, I’m afraid to ever read my work in public if I need to use an accent. Mine is awful. Hers, on the other hand, was great. A performance that makes you not want to have to go next because you’re like “craaaap. Way to set the bar.” I always wondered how much “acting” you should do to relate what’s going on in the story, and it looks like it’s whatever you makes you comfortable.

After the readings the authors were available for more informal questions and book signings. I chatted with a few to get their opinion on attending WorldCon even though it’s more of a geek con than a writing workshop (they encouraged me to go), and introduced myself to the CW folks. As I said earlier, workshops = great networking opportunities. Even if you’re awkward and afraid like me. Thing is, writing is a solitary gig so it’s nice to have a group of people to commiserate with once in a while. And it’ll be a good excuse to get out of the house.

Looking forward to the premium workshop in July.

Starting With Book Two- The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham

I know I know, THE KING’S BLOOD isn’t the first book in Daniel Abraham’s THE DAGGER AND COIN quintet; it’s #2. I didn’t take many notes back when I read the first one, so I’ll be lumping in some thoughts from THE DRAGON’S PATH here too. So, be warned, readers, that means there will be some mild SPOILERS about what happens in Book 1 in this review. If you don’t want anything spoiled, see you next time. Unless I review THE TYRANT’s LAW, which has much bigger spoilers about what transpires in Book #2.

Oh look, cover art for the books so that anyone who doesn’t want to read spoilers has time to find the exit.

Book #1, which won’t be addressed in great detail here.

THE KING’s BLOOD, 501 pages, pub. 1/1/2013, Orbit

This review is more about my thoughts on certain aspects of the book rather than a summary of what it’s about.

We see more of Geder’s rise to power/turn to the dark side in KING’S BLOOD. He’s still the sweet, geeky kid spurned by his peers, only now he’s getting some real power with seemingly no consequences. It’s making for a horrifying character change, but even though he’s got the makings of a train wreak, I can’t look away from the carnage. The last bits of free will he has are withering away due to Basrahip’s presence. It’s creepy seeing him become a mix of addicted and reliant on Basrahip and his “gift.” The stalker angle of Geder with Cithrin is going to make for some interesting complications. At this point I still want to like him, but am beginning to worry that I won’t be able to forgive the corruption.

Cithrin still rubs me the wrong way, but I see potential in her. I want to like her. I like her craftiness and feel her annoyance/exasperation with the interferences she encounters with her bank. Pyk Usterhall coming to “mind” her was amusing, and the deal struck with the Komme is interesting (definitely better once she has the mentorship in Book #3).

Dawson is one I’m torn on. I like how he’s written because I feel like I get where he’s coming from even if I don’t agree with all of his values and/or beliefs. But he gets a bit obsessive and overdone on this righteous crusade against the obvious evil of the spider goddess’ minions. It gets a bit hard to suspend my disbelief over some of the things he does or doesn’t do. Trying to be as un-spoilerish as possible, Dawson’s arc is ok with me and I’m more interested in what will happen from this side of things in Book #3.

Wester doesn’t seem that much different from Book #1. We see him show a little bit of his vaunted leadership skills during a skirmish with a pirate compound, but it’s not a big fight that leaves you wiggling the loose tooth you felt from that punch. I love his partnership with Yardem, so SPOILER ALERT the end of this book makes me feel all the sad feels. But they’re both big enough characters that I don’t believe Abraham would leave these two at loose ends (at the time of this review, I’ve read #3 and yes, Abraham has a resolution for them). I’m glad Wester reconnects with Kit and is set to start a new chapter in Book #3, because the daddy issues he’s having with Cithrin are ugh. I’m hoping they address that in the future so that there isn’t an unresolved tension floating for the next three books.

One of the things I’m enjoying the most about Abraham’s quintet is the diversity in the worldbuilding. When he writes about the thirteen races of humanity, we’re not talking about only colors. In fact, he doesn’t mean “color” at all–Firstblood to Kurtadam isn’t the same as White to Asian. These aren’t thirteen kinds of humans dressed up in different costumes. Except, wait, they are because the other twelve are crafted from the Firstbloods. In all seriousness, the races work for me without feeling forced or gimmicky. They are all sort of humanoid races, but each is given their own look and culture so they feel distinct.

So far, the worldbuilding is holding me in the series more than the plot. I’m curious to see how Abraham will stretch this story out over three more books (still felt this way after THE TYRANT’S LAW too) because the baseline plot seems to revolve around the dragons awakening and the spider goddess being defeated. By the end of Book 2, there’s still so much unknown about either the dragons or the goddess. But, there’s some great character development going on as Abraham sets up who I think are going to be the pivotal characters going forward.

THE DRAGON’S PATH was a bit confusing in the early going because there’s a lot of worldbuilding. We get a lot of places and races/cultures being introduced from the start, but Abraham does a good job “reminding” the reader of where you are and/or what a particular race looks like. It helps that we’ve got a decent spread of characters as our main POVs (Wester, Geder, Dawson- Firstblood, Cithrin-Cinnae (part), Yardem-Tralgu), and several supporting characters representing more of the races later on.

I’m divided on how I feel about the history and the dragon emperors. The history passages quoted in the story from “books” are written to read like old historical texts, so in a sense that’s clever…but it also makes them boring and tedious to read. They’re a bit more manageable here than I thought they were in THE DRAGON’S PATH, partly because Geder’s already discovered the spider goddess and isn’t reading quite so much.

In contrast, I like the bank system and how economics play out in the world. The trade guilds and banks were a part of the worldbuilding in Joe Abercrombie’s THE FIRST LAW trilogy (which I adore) that I liked a lot, and the system in DAGGER AND COIN is different and complex, but not so much that I tune out and skip over it. Math makes my eyeballs bleed. The banking system and challenges it produces keeps me going on the Cithrin story (in this book, I like her more by Book #3) because her alcoholic tendencies irritates me on an irrational level.

The dialogue flows for the most part, and has a few gem quotes that naturally I forgot to mark down. The only jarring part is that some of the slang and cursing reads a bit modern for my perceived time frame of the story. “Lick my ass” seems a bit present-day for an essentially sword and sorcery, middleish fantasy albeit with a modern flair.

The plot/pacing works overall, but I think they’re a bit disjointed when looked at together. The pacing feels alright in the moment, but when I look back over the book I’m left wondering how it’s going to take 5 books in total to expose the priests and kill the spider goddess. Then again, we’ve got Geder’s abrupt rise to power, societal upheaval, and more war brewing. Master Kit is absent for most of this story, but he returns near the end to pick up the thread and I’m excited to see how he and Wester will carry their end of the spider goddess plot.

A bit ramble-y, this will teach me to take better notes.

First Blog Post- Review of The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

I’m not a professional book reviewer so these reviews may be random or digress.  I’ll point out what I liked, what I didn’t, perhaps ways I thought things should’ve gone or could’ve been improved.  Star ratings aren’t really my thing so I’ll probably “grade” more along the lines of if I’d recommend the book or not.  I make no promises about being completely objective, but I will not be mean for funsies.

The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson.

Pub. 10/10/2012, 176 pages, by Tachyon Publications.  Hugo Award winner- Best Novella

I had the kindle format for this book and don’t recall any formatting boo-boos.  Refreshing, because I’ve read a few books that obviously weren’t formatted correctly (or checked over) for the kindle.

Emperor’s Soul takes place in the same world as Elantris, but the novella is a stand alone and you won’t be missing anything by not having read Elantris first.  Really, the only way they’re linked is through the mentioning of ethnicity and locales encountered in Elantris. 

This story follows Shai, a thief and skilled Forger–someone who can change the history of an object using soul stamps–who has been captured during a botched attempt to steal one of the empire’s relics.  She’s facing execution, but is given the seemingly impossible task of Forging a new soul for the brain-dead emperor in 100 days in exchange for her freedom.

This is a nice and quick read.  Plenty of worldbuilding for a short work, and the magic system is well thought out.  The description of the world and magic isn’t always delivered fluidly, as there are some long passages where it’s just Shai explaining how Forgery works via dialogue to someone else.  But the detail and way Shai goes about her Forging is interesting and described well.  I did think Shai was a bit too “perfect” because there are times in the story where she’s able to figure things out with no explanation, but unable to know similar things later on.

The antagonists are a bit one-dimensional, with the exception of Gaotona and the Emperor himself, but given the short page count it makes sense.  Otherwise, Shai has no trouble dealing with the other arbiters and their minions because they fit perfectly into her presumed mold.  It was all a little too neat for me, but Shai’s real conflicts were of a more personal/philosophical nature.

The only glaring issue that stood out to me was the complete lack of attention or explanation for the Imperial Fool.  This is the guy who supposedly turned on Shai and escaped while she got caught during the switheroo they were trying to pull with the scepter relic.  If he’s the “Imperial” fool, then I’d think the arbiters would be at least a bit concerned about his role in the attempted burgling of the empire’s treasures.  I understand the story is left open for Shai to go on and hunt him down if she pleases, but it’s a bit too unbelievable that his betrayal of the empire wasn’t seen as more of a problem.  I also thought she’d try to throw him under the bus upon her capture, but apparently not.

The pace is good and moves right along.  Never felt like there was a dull moment, which is good considering this novella clocks in at less than 200 pages.  The story progresses out by the day as it counts to 100 and Shai’s deadline, which fits well for the base plot of her needing to Forge the Emperor’s soul and escape.  There’s not much of a surprise to the ending, but I thought it fit well with the tone of the story.

Recommended, and I’d love to see Sanderson return to this world and flesh it out more.


Jaime O. Mayer lives in Seattle, Washington, with three needy cats and a patient husband. While she enjoys reading across the science fiction and fantasy spectrum, she has a soft spot for sword and sorcery. Jaime is currently working on honing her craft with short fiction and outlining for a novel.

She has a B.A. from Whitman College and a J.D. from Seattle University School of Law. In the middle of her 2L year, Jaime was in a car accident. Long story short, she realized that she couldn’t keep waiting for “someday” to get serious about writing. After a reluctant return to law school, she also enrolled in an online writing course with Gotham Writers Workshop. It was her first time taking a creative writing class and putting her work out there for serious critiques. She was nervous but had a rewarding experience and learned a lot. Jaime has been writing on a regular basis (finally!) ever since.

Waving her geek flag proudly, Jaime enjoys knitting, gaming (computer, not console), and is an adult-starter on the violin attempting to play video game music. Admittedly a bit weird, she prefers writing first drafts long-hand with a fountain pen.