Thursday, September 4, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger - Cody Fowler Davis

Welcome Cody Fowler Davis to the blog, a first time author who is here to talk to us about writing what you know. His bio is actually in his article, so I will let him tell his own, interesting story.

Write What You Know, Even If It Is The Law
By Cody Fowler Davis

I never had a choice. Starting at an early age, I was immersed in the world of the civil jury trial system. My grandfather, Cody Fowler, or “Big Cody” as we called him, was President of the American Bar Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers; my father was a judge and a law school professor; my brother was House Majority Leader of the Florida House of Representatives and served in Congress for twelve years. Conversations at family gatherings centered on how the law was made, how a judge instructed a jury on the applicable law, and how a jury, or the ultimate fact-finder, applied the law to the evidence presented by the lawyers to come to their decision.

I guess it should be no surprise that by my sophomore year at Vanderbilt I was leaning towards law school. Late at night, my girlfriend at the time, Beth, now my wife and mother of our four daughters, and I would talk about our future plans – Where to go to law school? Where to practice? Should I take the easy road and work for my grandfather’s large and prestigious law firm? I did not. (The story about how my best friend, Beth and I have so far survived raising four daughters who travel and study in China, Africa, France, and around the world, will be for another day. But I will give you a clue – the key is not only to love and trust your children but more importantly, respect and encourage them.)

On to law school, clerk with numerous firms, join the oldest and most established firm in Tampa, work day and night, become an excellent and winning trial lawyer, receive numerous awards and recognitions, become the youngest partner in the history of the firm, start my own law firm, blah, blah, blah. The point is that I learned all aspects of the civil trial system, the good and the bad.

My mind was constantly full of potential law suits and the stories surrounding the people involved. So I decided that it was time to start writing fiction in my overabundance of free time. Of course, I am kidding because as a Type A workaholic who cannot resist serving on numerous boards in addition to work and family commitments, I never have a free moment. I write at night and on weekends. I find the process to be therapeutic and so far, writing has kept me away from counseling!

Implied Consent is fiction but at the same time the writing accurately reflects how cases progress through the civil trial system. I created two diametrically opposed lawyers. Anderson Parker is an idealistic and honest young lawyer who wants to help people who have been either severely injured or have lost a loved one as a result of someone’s negligence. Justin Cartwright is a win-at-all cost, conniving attorney who is motivated solely by money and the thrill of victory.

At one time, the two attorneys worked together but Anderson could not tolerate Justin’s cross-the-line tactics so he left to start his own firm. As fate would have it, Anderson’s first big trial was against Justin, his ex-boss – and Anderson wins big. Justin is possessed with his desire to obtain revenge against Anderson who he feels is the cause of all his problems.
Although Implied Consent centers on the conflict between Justin and Anderson, many issues are explored in the novel which cause the reader to think about how they would react to complicated situations which could only be created by a seasoned trial attorney.

Although I cannot give away the twisting plots and murky moral dilemmas contained within the novel, I will give one example of a challenge faced by both the reader and the jury members in the story. How should fault or responsibility be allocated among the parties in the terrible situation involving the untimely and unnecessary death of a young college-bound girl with a bright future ahead of her? Jana steals a bottle of rum from her parents and goes to her friend’s house to celebrate his eighteenth birthday. Her parents know that she had taken alcohol before but had not take proper precautions to prevent her from doing so again. At her friend’s house, the parents not only see that the minors are drinking but the father of the birthday boy brings out another bottle of alcohol and proposes a celebratory toast. Jana drives home that night after drinking, not wearing her seatbelt. Her car swerves off the road and strikes a pole. Jana is thrown through the windshield, suffering a blunt trauma injury to her chest which leads to a slow and painful death. The lawyers put spin on the evidence to sway the jurors (and you, the reader) to their side as they try to decide whom to hold accountable for this tragic death.
Throughout the story, the reader will encounter other fascinating cases and issues that will offer much cause for reflection. What is the personal cost of a win-at-all-costs attitude? When does bending the rules lead to victory and when does it lead to personal destruction? How does a family man who is going through a rocky time deal with the temptation of another woman? Should a husband and wife stick together and fight as one under the pressure of allegations of infidelity or should their bond splinter? I hope to challenge my readers to think through all these issues just like a sworn juror must do in the courtroom.
Now, it’s your turn. Here are 7 tips to get started:

1. Write what you know and use the knowledge you have as a result of your work or your real life experiences to serve as a basis for your writing. Although research is very important for a novel, start with the truth of your own life and then allow your creativity to flow from that truth.

2. Schedule your writing time and be consistent, even on the days when you don't feel like writing. If you think your writing is dreadful that day, keep writing anyway. You might only save one sentence from that day but it's the consistency and the discipline that will get you through the tough times.

3. Think your story through in your mind and prepare an outline of the book before you take pen to paper. I actually create a fictional world involving lawyers and cases that become real to me so that it is easy to write about once it's time for me to sit and begin writing the story itself.

4. Once you have completed your outline, write the entire story without going back at anytime for editing or embellishment. It is very important to get the story written and completed before editing and polishing occurs. Remember there can be no editing of a story if the story is not complete. I personally believe that a common mistake made by writers is they get half way through their first draft and then spend too much time going back and correcting so they never finish writing their entire story.

5. Once your draft is complete, go through it one time making edits. Then find someone that you trust and have them read the manuscript to offer suggestions. In my case, I work with my wife and although our discussions became heated at times, she offered many good ideas and helped improve the book through excellent rewrites.

6. Finally, don't be afraid to make changes in the story. Remember that a final work is always the product of numerous revisions.

7. Keep the writing fun. Although it is a job, you have to love to write and you have to look forward to when you write. If the writing becomes nothing but work for you, it will be reflected in the tone of your story.

This is good advice for writers who outline (I'm not one of them, but I know many who swear by it!) It's inspiring to know that the things in your head, the things you have studied, the career you have immersed yourself in can all come to play in your work of fiction. Fiction is telling stories that could have happened. You don't have to have gone to law school to use what you know and turn it into a great story. I often use my background in counseling and psychology in my writing. What have you got that you can use in your story?
I bid you good writing.


sheriboeyink said...

Thanks for sharing Cody's journey. Nice. I've always believed in the "write what you know" theory as well. Also, the SOTP (seat of the pants). I don't outline, I just let it flow. The fun part is going back and linking everything together, putting the flesh on the characters, and meat to the plot.

Great times. And Cody's right, "Keep it fun." It's such a blast getting lost in our little writing worlds, isn't it?

Bonnie Grove said...

Good thoughts!

You've just pointed out another great idea for the blog: layering.

I have a great line up of guest bloggers still to come, perhaps one of them (or me) can share ideas about going back into the story line to layer on elements.

Thanks Sheri!