{Author Guest Post} Bonnie Wynne on lawyer skills and creative writing

Saturday, 1 February 2020

High-flying lawyer turns courtroom drama into blockbuster novel success. Sadly, I’m talking about John Grisham, not myself. As far as lawyer-novelists go, he takes the crown for most famous. But even Charles Dickens dabbled as a law clerk, and Harper Lee dropped out of an Alabama law school at age 23. So what turns so many respectable legal minds into starving, bohemian artists?

Maybe the real question is what turns creative writers into lawyers. A home truth: law school is where you go when you love writing but also love money. So off I went to learn the law, bright-eyed and eager, with a briefcase full of dreams and unfinished manuscripts about dragons.   

The Venn diagram between lawyer skills and writer skills is basically just a circle, and the most obvious shared skill is ‘sitting down’. We do a lot of that. But the second most obvious is language. Lawyers spend all day wrestling with the written word. Every sentence must pull its weight. These days, I can draft cleanly and hack through superfluous adverbs like a machete through the underbrush. A writer must kill their darlings, and I have no qualms about executing mine on sight. And I like to think it works both ways; that my creative side gives my law writing a little extra pizzazz. My boss may disagree (as he strikes out the word ‘pizzazz’ from my draft).

Law school also teaches you to see an argument from both sides. That’s not so different from the job of a writer: to put yourself in the shoes of somebody else. Imagining the point of view of an orc is a little different from imagining the view of opposing counsel (or is it?), but the principle is the same.

The Ninth Sorceress tells the story of Gwyn, who was raised in a travelling wagon by a stern and emotionally distant father figure. My own childhood was crushingly normal, so I had to imagine the world from her perspective. Who would you become if you were forbidden from having friends? How would you react to the abrupt and cataclysmic upheaval of your life? Those were the questions that intrigued me as I was developing Gwyn’s character.

Lawyers are detail-oriented by nature, and that’s a great skill to develop if you want to write well. My favourite podcaster Tim Clare always talks about crunchy specificity, which basically means steering away from the broad and obvious word choices and picking something with texture, something that suggests a world or a time period or a cultural milieu. It’s putting your protagonist in a clumsily hand-stitched sarafan instead of a shirt and trousers. I often fantasise about tattooing crunchy specificity onto my forehead.

Law school teaches you to be specific, with statutes and precedents and case law. Sure, you can show up in court and ramble about how ‘it’s the Constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s the vibe’. (But please don’t). And sure, you can write about how your wizard’s library smells of dust. But that’s an obvious choice, and it’s not going to wake up the dozing peanut-crunchers in the back row. What else? Floor wax? Woodworm? Buckram? Specific, specific, specific.

That brings me to the next great lawyer skill: research. At work, my browser history would put you to sleep. But at home it would put me in jail. Torture with hot irons. How to dispose of a body. How to make gunpowder. In law and in fiction, it pays to know what you’re talking about. Or if you don’t know, at least you can sound like you do. Research: the backbone of any convincing lie.

One thing every writer needs is discipline. Writing is work, even when you’re enjoying it. It’s tempting to go play video games or watch another episode or pair your entire sock collection. Those things are easier and more fun (well, maybe not the socks). And it’s no surprise that discipline is a mandatory skill in law school. If you’re a natural procrastinator (hello), the terrifying onslaught of essay deadlines and take-home exams will beat it out of you.

You can’t force inspiration – sometimes you turn the creative tap and only a trickle comes out. But you can force your butt into the seat. I wrote The Ninth Sorceress piecemeal over the course of a decade. But I wrote the first draft of Book 2 in just a few months, my fingers clacking at the keys so fast they started getting friction burns. Luckily, the warring wizards of The Ninth Sorceress are a lot more fun to write about than tortious misfeasance.

If my writing career takes off, it would be nice to eventually leave the law books behind. But in the meantime, I owe a lot to my legal training. And if I ever get sick of gods and alchemists, maybe I can try one of those twisty courtroom thrillers. John Grisham, I’m coming for your crown.

THE NINTH SORCERESS, Bonnie Wynne's debut fantasy novel, is slated for release February 13.

About the book

The Ninth Sorceress (The Price of Magic #1) by Bonnie Wynne
Released: 13th February 2020
Published by: Talem Press
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 360
In the blackest dungeon of the Clockwork City, a prisoner lies bound in silver shackles. Who is she? And why are the wizards so afraid of her?

Seventeen-year-old Gwyn has no family and no past. Apprenticed to a half-mad herbalist, she travels the snow-blasted High Country, hawking potions in a peddler’s wagon. Her guardian hides her from the world like a dark secret, and she knows better than to push for answers. But when she discovers she is hunted by the goddess Beheret, Gwyn is drawn into a deep and ancient tale: of chained gods and lost magic, of truths long buried and the rising of a war she never could have imagined. Wizards and their magic-sniffing hounds pursue her – as does a stranger in a smiling mask, who calls her by an unfamiliar name...

But what really terrify her are the dangerous gifts she’s spent her life suppressing. Now, Gwyn must step out of the shadows and take charge of her destiny – even if the price is her own soul. The Ninth Sorceress is the breathtaking first instalment of The Price of Magic, a sweeping fantasy saga full of rich storytelling and tangible magic.

About the author

Bonnie Wynne studied Writing and Cultural Studies at UTS, and completed her law degree at the University of Sydney. After a brief stint in legal publishing, she now works for the Australian government, deciphering ancient law tomes.

She lives in Sydney with her cocker spaniel, Percival Hector (Canine Inspector). When she's not reading or writing, she can be found playing video games, booking her next holiday, or elbow-deep in flour.

THE NINTH SORCERESS is her debut novel and the first book in her series, THE PRICE OF MAGIC.

Author Interview: Seven Sides of Self by Nancy Joie Wilkie

Monday, 20 January 2020

Seven Sides of Self by Nancy Joie Wilkie
Released: 5th November 2019
Published by: She Writes Press
Genre: Short stories
Source: Publisher
Pages: 152
Seven Sides of Self explores seven aspects of an individual — the storyteller, the skeptic, the survivor, the saint (or the sinner), the scholar, the seeker, and the savior. Through the lives of the central characters, Nancy examines themes of battling strong emotions, the lengths we might go to for self-preservation and self-sacrifice, the inability to accept things as different, and taking responsibility for what we create.

Each story seeks to contribute something to our ability to better understand ourselves, the world around us, and the conflicts we all face. Original and thought-provoking, these stories will delight any fan of science-fiction and fantasy.
Author Interview with Nancy Joie Wilkie

How did you first come up with the concept for Seven Sides of Self?

The answer to your question starts with the Preface in the book:

The title and the concept of grouping together these seven stories came to me in a flash. I had just spent the morning exploring my favorite art museum. My mind was full of ideas for new art pieces and projects.  I then made the short drive to the nearby artisan village. After visiting several shops I found myself hungry and walked over to a little sundry shop — “simplyummy.”  I placed my order and prepared myself for a wait of a dozen minutes. By the time my sandwich and salad arrived, I had sketched out the general structure for the book on a paper napkin. As I stepped back out into the hot Southern afternoon after finishing lunch, I carried with me the seeds for ‘Seven Sides of Self’ firmly registered in my mind. Oh, yes — and I had a beaming smile on my face! The Muses had chosen to bless me once again with their spark and inspiration. God bless them!

As for what the title signifies for me—there are little pieces of me in each of those seven stories — hence the title of the collection.

Were there any particular moments during the writing process for this book that helped you learn more about yourself?

The answer to this question is pretty much summed up in the first story of the book (”There Once Was A Man …”).  If one reads that first full sentence of the story, it goes like this: “There once was a man who wanted to write.” The story is somewhat autobiographical and relays the trials and tribulations that one must go through when one first feels the urge to write.

What made you decide to set most of the stories with a sci-fi twist, as opposed to the present day?

Actually, this was not a conscious decision because most of the stories were written before I ever had the inspiration to group these seven stories together as a collection.  So three of the stories (“There Once Was A Man …,” “Microwave Man,” and “Old Mims”) are set more or less in the present day — definitely not on some distant planet or in the far future. Three of the stories (“The Ledge,” “An Intricate Balance,” and “Of The Green And Of The Gold”) are most definitely set in a “sci-fi” realm. The one remaining story (“Journey To Pradix”) is not really set in either the present day or in the far future but rather has more of an epic fantasy feel to it.

And hence — all of this only serves to convey one of the criticisms of the collection — that being that it is very difficult to categorize the book as either pure science-fiction or strictly short story fiction.

What is the main message you hope readers will be able to take from Seven Sides of Self?

Ah, yes, good question! In general, I offer these stories as a means for readers to explore different ways to deal with dreams, fear, curiosity, sacrifice, desire, faith, love. But each story has its own message:

We all struggle to be creative, to be unique.
We all face life-defining decisions.
We are all curious about what’s “out there.”
We all struggle to balance self-preservation with self-sacrifice.
We all want justice for all.
We all strive for certainty that there is something beyond this life.
We all have a need to protect our children.

To sum things up: We all must deal with our emotions.

Without giving too much away, is there a particular quote or story in the collection that holds a particularly special meaning for you?

From “The Ledge”
“Why prolong thought for the sake of being able to think for a few more minutes?”

This line of thinking speaks to me every time I contemplate prolonging the life of someone who is suffering from a terminal illness.

From “Of The Green And Of The Gold”
“By Earth standards, the Color of one’s clothes is trivial; meaningless for all practical purposes.  And yet, in the absence of any other difference, this relatively inconsequential factor has become something monstrous on Aurillia—something that can, if disturbed, invoke nausea, arouse suspicion, and lead to death.  The logical summation of this set of circumstances is that the more identical those within a society are, the less tolerant the society is of differences.  So intolerant of this difference are the Aurillians, that it is the only reason one is put to death on this otherwise crime-free and war-free planet.” This story is really about how we deal with homophobia and transphobia.

From “Old Mims”
“You still can’t convince me your bleeding all over typing paper is good for the soul.  What I can’t figure out is from where do these wretched individuals that you dream up come?  Is there some repository of dark characters in the back of your mind you tap into every time you write one of your stories?  Have you ever thought maybe someone ‘upstairs’ is dropping these folks into your pitiful little brain because He can’t bear the thought of giving them life any other way?  What if a power greater than you or me is pulling all of the strings in this grand ol’ universe and there really isn’t any such thing as individual creativity?”

And this bit of pondering comes from my own thoughts about the Muses.

Could you give us a hint at what you might be working on next?


First, there is my music! My fourth collection of original tunes titled “Aurillian Tales” is scheduled for release in early 2020. Several of the compositions are meant to bring a musical element to the stories that mention Planet Aurillia. The opening track titled “Aurillian Sea” mimics the painting described on Page 44 of Microwave Man.” The closing track titled “Aurillian Dream (Casla’s Lament)” attempts to convey the rather harsh punishment that Aurillia gave to Casla (one of the characters in “Of The Green And Of The Gold”). And I think that the overall “feel” of the CD is meant to mirror some of the same feelings that a reader might experience while reading the stories.

I also have a collection of short stories — actually fables — each ending with a moral containing a pair of anagrams. The idea is that the fable will highlight either the humor or the irony of the anagrammic pair (think “present” and “serpent,” or “ocean” and “canoe,” or “listen” and “silent”).

I have started working on a follow-up short story collection tentatively titled “Faraway and Forever.” There are four short stories (“The Natural Order of Things,” “The Wishbringer,” “Half The Sky,” and “The Last Sunday of Summer”) all a bit longer than the stories in “Seven Sides of Self,” and all are in the sci-fi/fantasy realm. I want to explore more fully the Three Laws of Spiritual Mechanics, Mothersouls, and a few other surprises.

And finally, some number of years ago I started a sci-fi novel titled, “The Oaks of Mamre.” It explores one man’s quest for immortality and the lengths to which he is willing to go — even at the expense of other people’s lives.

About the author

Nancy Joie Wilkie worked for over 30 years in both the biotechnology industry and as a part of the federal government’s biodefense effort. She served as a project manager, providing oversight for the development of many new products. Now retired, she composes original music, plays a variety of instruments, and records many of her compositions. “Seven Sides of Self” is her first fiction publication. Nancy resides in Brookeville, Maryland. More about Nancy and her work can be found at www.mindsights.net.