~Guest Post by Elizabeth L. Silver, Author of The Execution of Noa P. Singleton
When you’re a writer and a lawyer, people often think that the law came first. You may be pinned “a lawyer who wrote a book,” instead of the reverse. While pursuing a career as a novelist, I spent years working in writing-related jobs, moved from New York City to Norwich, England to attend the University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA, returned to teach English literature and writing in Philadelphia, and found the rare gift of an occasional publication along the way. It was only after a handful of years that I hung up the writers’ day jobs, changed directions, and in my late-twenties, enrolled in law school.
For two and a half years of law school, I still continued writing fiction, never quite feeling comfortable with the label of “lawyer,” but also failing to feel as if I’d earned the label of “writer.” I spent my days learning about criminal procedure, criminal law, and litigation, while silently penning short stories and scripts at night.
Then, in my third year of law school, I moved from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Austin, Texas and studied capital punishment (while spending most of my free time at BookPeople!). As part of the course, I worked on a clemency petition, visited death row, interviewed inmates and met with a handful of victim family members with my supervising attorneys. At the end of the course, I attended a symposium at the Texas State Capitol where a priest, several lawyers, journalists, filmmakers, and a solitary victim’s rights advocate spoke about the problems with the death penalty as it related to a potentially wrongful execution. While listening to each person express a different perspective on the issue, the complicated relationship between a mourning parent trying to forgive and an admittedly guilty inmate struck me as an intricate bond ripe for exploration. It wasn’t about guilt or innocence necessarily, or even what transpired, but instead about the fragility, doubt, and unease in each of these people. I rushed home, and over the next few weeks, wrote the first and last chapters of the The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.
For two subsequent years, I worked as a judicial clerk to one of the nine judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin. The first assignment handed to me as an untapped, inexperienced lawyer was to draft a death penalty judicial opinion, reviewing the appeal from trial to decision with the aid of my judge. During the days, I read trial transcripts, reviewed appeals, researched the law, reviewed photos and evidence, and wandered into the local courthouse to watch a handful of murder trials. At night, I worked on the novel. Following my clerkship, I lived in Austin for another year and a half writing the novel in some of Austin’s best writing hot spots and coffee shops (Bennu, Epoch, and Quacks, I’m speaking to you, and of course, I spent many an afternoon writing in the BookPeople café).
The two careers finally congealed, and with the power of a magical literary agent and editor, became the novel that found its way to bookshelves in June, almost six years after first experimenting with how to try a murder case in a mock trial in Philadelphia federal court, and fifteen years after I began writing seriously. The short-lived career in criminal law serendipitously gave life to the literary career about which I’d dreamed for years. So, when people ask if I’m lawyer who wrote a novel, I can finally reply and say I’m a writer who went to law school to find her first story.
Elizabeth L. Silver speaks about & signs The Execution of Noa P. Singleton here at BookPeople on Thursday, August 15 at 7pm. Copies of the novel are currently available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.