Enticing Writers Into the Legal Landscape
Written by
Karen A. Wyle
October 2015
Written by
Karen A. Wyle
October 2015

I've been practicing law for almost thirty-five years and writing novels for five. These two preoccupations converged in my novel Division, about a quarter of which takes place in a near-future courtroom. (It's handy setting a legal matter in the future: you can tweak the rules more that way. . . .) Even before Division, however, I was finding ways to use my law background in my writing career. In April 2012, I wrote a series of guest blog posts for Indies Unlimited called "Getting It Right," to help writers avoid some of the more common errors I'd seen in books and movies set in courtrooms or involving lawyers. By early 2013, I'd started thinking seriously about taking the idea behind these posts and turning it into a book. 

It took me quite a while to realize, as I wrote and revised and edited what had become a massive reference work, that my goals had expanded as well. I hadn't spent all that time and written all those words just to help people avoid mistakes. I wanted to show writers and potential writers just how much dramatic potential lay waiting in the legal landscape -- and not only in the obvious places, like murder trials, but in law schools and bar exams, judge's chambers and jury rooms, law firms and law libraries, secretaries' cubicles and corporate boardrooms. Not only substantive subjects but legal procedures offer rich story possibilities once one knows more about them.

To make this point more plainly, I included throughout the book (set off with double asterisks) my suggestions for story ideas or story elements based on the topic of one or another chapter or subsection. And as I made sure to point out, ideas can't be copyrighted, so the suggestions were there for the taking.

Along the way, I puzzled over what to call the book. My first working title, Order in the Court, turned out to have been used for a superficially similar book published in 1999 and now out of print. Rummaging around in anecdotes about lawyers and the law, I came upon one involving (supposedly) General Ulysses S. Grant. Here's how I explain it in Chapter 1.


You may be wondering about the title of this book.

It comes from an anecdote told about Ulysses S. Grant. General Grant, so the story goes, came to an inn on a stormy winter’s night. Rarely elegant in appearance, Grant looked particularly disheveled and weather-beaten on this occasion. A number of lawyers were in town for a court session, and had clustered around the fireplace. One looked up as Grant approached and commented that the stranger looked as if he had “traveled through hell itself to get here."

General Grant allowed as how he had done just that.

"And how did you find things down there?"

"Just like here," replied Grant, "lawyers all closest to the fire."

I borrow this punch line not only to acknowledge the popular view of lawyers as scoundrels, but for another meaning the phrase can bear. Where there’s a passionate dispute, whether between friends or strangers, lawyers are likely to be in the thick of it.


Closest to the Fire: A Writer's Guide to Law and Lawyers finally became available in paperback and Kindle editions on October 13, 2015. (You can find out a good deal more about it by visiting its website.)

And now, back to novels! -- at least until the first of what may be many updates.

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • Karen A. Wyle

    Just put up a blog post on She Writes about how Closest to the Fire: A Writer's Guide to Law and Lawyers came to exist.