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Blog Archive March 2017

Creative Lawyers and Judges

Most writers are asked about their prior jobs. When I say my job was a law professor and lawyer, they follow up by asking whether law training helps or hurts you as a novelist. The creative aspects of law practice before a judge features in this excellent article by Maksymilian Del Mar: The Legal Imagination.

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Having been on both sides of two creative cultures, and that has given me a slightly different perspective from Del Mar. Here are my thoughts. Lawyers (specifically trial lawyers) and judges can show flashes of creativity in interpreting another’s story so that it fits better than his rival’s story. Both litigants desire outcome permitted by law and they often have very different stories about the same events or circumstances. No doubt that takes creativity to shape a client’s story into a convincing, compelling narrative that blows the other’s story out of the water. You’ve seen the films or TV show where this happens.

Okay, if lawyers are so creative, why aren’t most novelists by training lawyers? The reality is most lawyers couldn’t bother to write a novel. But I understand a fairly sizeable number do write that novel. It’s a bit like Fermi’s paradox about extraterritorial life. If they are out there, why don’t they contact us? One explanation is the class of lawyers who write that novel on the side, with a their little makeshift altar/shrine complete with John Grisham’s picture, can’t write a publishable novel. Their novels may circulate as ebooks but they become lost (rightly or wrongly) in the deep space of indifference where most mediocre stories go to die.

I have a theory why that is the case. Like all theories, it is subject to be falsified. Here it goes. A novelist must possess the skill and talent to invent an original, believable cast of multilayered characters, each with their own demons, dreams, loves, betrayals, bitter experiences and aggression. The fiction characters exist in the writer’s head but they move through their tangled of conflicting invented stories as if they are real people in real situations. The novelist invents them, he transcripts them, he allows them to vent their feelings, doubts about their lives, the significance of events, along with smells, sights, and touch all have to be forged into words. In terms of the legal world’s thinking the writer, in effect, becomes his own client.

Every lawyer is told from day one that only a fool is his own lawyer. That’s the poisonous little seed of contempt that lawyers are taught about thinking he can be both client and lawyer. The lawyer, like the judge, waits until someone comes to them with a story and conflicts with someone else’s story of why I was injured, cheated, beaten, extorted—you get the picture. Their stock in trade of the trial lawyer is his positive, creative spin on the evidence that supports his client’s case.

The judge’s verdict decides whose story is the most reasonable and supported by the evidence. You can have some creative fun going through the evidence but the reality is the judge doesn’t make up the characters or the evidence, or set the scene in the distant future or past, or explore other aspects of the litigant’s lives; he only cares about the evidence that comes before him. Inevitably in the legal world there is a distinct winner and loser. In the fictional world, things can be much more uncertain and murky.

It is precisely this attitude about being his own lawyer that terminates his creativity beyond his office or chambers. His cardinal belief isn’t of much use to him much as a novelist where readers demand creativity unearthing quirks of fate, coincidence, and doubt that shape a character’s motive or intention. Courtroom dramas compress life. Like a jpeg it is useful to compress information unless it is totally relevant. It allows the judicial system to work. It excludes the irrelevant. Like any system of law creativity is the lifeblood that keeps the lawyers and judges relevant and useful.

In my view, the manacle of relevance chains the lawyer and judge to his armchair consideration of what happened. No novelist would ever make that mistake.

In the end, yes, lawyers and judges are creative. But does that give them advantage as a novelist? I argue that creativity of law practice (unless you are representing Wall Street bankers) is the kind of creativity process that fails to produce publishable fiction. The novelist isn’t constrained by waiting for a case to come in the door, and what goes through his or her mind is from all of the evidence what is relevant. The rest gets thrown away.

While, the novelist goes out the door and finds the case somewhere in the street or alleyway. He or she is always bumping into things. Irrelevant things that enhance fiction such as the way a shadow falls over a face at sunset. Creativity for fiction is a very different process. The rules of evidence don’t apply. But I know whom I’d like to follow into fictional territory, where it is the irrelevant, irreverent side road keeping far away from the expressway to relevance. That’s the road filled with serendipity: and where the best creative pearls are found are never where you think they’d be found.

Posted: 3/28/2017 8:04:23 PM 

 

Four images from Hoi An, Vietnam. March 2017

1) Waiting & reflecting in the late afternoon of life before the real journey begins. Hoi An. March 2017.

 

2) Inside the high window are whispers that never reach us. Some imagine plots, others prayers. Me? I just moved on down the street. Hoi An. March 2017

 

 

 

3)Icon, calendar, and lunch to measure the passage of time in Hoi An. March 2017

 

 

4) Afternoon tea in Hoi An. March 2017

Posted: 3/24/2017 4:42:18 AM 

 

A Meaning of Noir

A Meaning of Noir

By

Christopher G. Moore, creator of the Vincent Calvino crime fiction series

When you come across the phrase “noir crime fiction. “ The first question is what is meant bynoir? I have written private eye fiction set in Southeast Asia. My experience has probably been different from many other crime writers in the United States or Canada. The purpose is to start a discussion rather than reaching a definitive conclusion.

After twenty-five years writing the sixteen novels in the Vincent Calvino series, I’ve had a chance to think back about the books and find I’ve evolved a meaning of noir. Here’s my one sentence definition: Noir fiction serves to deconstruct the security state by exposing its acts, secret and public, of hypocrisy, venality, and brutality.

Above all the security state is unaccountable for its actions. During the course of an investigation the private eye in a noir novel reveals the dangers faced by ordinary people at a time and place where state authorities act with impunity.  The noir story recounts his experience working inside such a system as he attempts to solve a crime or a find a missing person. What the reader discovers is that through a private eye’s investigation the evidence mounts as to how such a regime, in particular its justice system, operates like a blind force of nature, without logic or reason. It is this unpredictability of state authorities and the harm they inflict on ordinary people.

What makes a noir novel distinctive is the acceptance by the private eye, like those around him—except the romantic—is powerless to stop official acts of violence. Violence is the exercise of the raw power of the security state as if on permanent war footing. At war all critics are enemies and all enemies an existential threat.

A noir novel can be judged on the author’s success in recreating precisely this war mentality. The contradictions build up over the course of the novel. Choices of the characters are rarely binary, clear and absolute. Instead their choices in the struggle for justice become blurry, compromised, incomplete, pointless and absurd.

Like everyone else, the private eye in a noir novel has the choice to surrender to the dictates of the security officials or confront them head on and risk being destroyed. The pure noir moment is the realization that no one can escape from attention, dictates and forces of raw power. Everyone outside their narrow band of supporters is equally un-free.

The authority of a democratic, liberal political system is constrained, accountable, bounded by laws, regulations, and customs. There is no noir in such a system. For one very good reason: there is a consensus that the leaders in such a system have legitimate authority to make the security forces account for their use of violence, threats or intimidation.

Remove the democratic legitimacy and you enter a very dark place whistling through an infinite graveyard.

Posted: 3/7/2017 9:20:46 PM 

 

 

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