Unlearning the Law: Novel Lessons
by Martha Anne Toll, former lawyer, current novelist
Myriad lawyers transition from litigating to literature. I am no exception: I recently published my debut novel, THREE MUSES. Before that, I attended law school, practiced law, and worked for many years in social justice and the nonprofit world. Each of those jobs involved intensive writing where I had to learn how to present arguments clearly on the page, and to advocate for strategy and policy positions. I sharpened my research and analytic skills as I tried to present the incontrovertible. However, as I was becoming a novelist, I realized I had to unlearn the writing practices I found most useful in my time in the corporate and non-profit world. I have thus identified three rules in fiction that may come in handy for others following a similar path:
We’ve entered the final weeks of summer. In practical terms, that means that it could turn brisk at a moment’s notice — or that a heatwave might be upon us before long. All of which means that this month’s array of books take a similarly wide-ranging approach, encompassing everything from taut poetry to maximalist fiction. Here are some recommendations to get your fall reading started.
In our morning reading: an interview with Laura Warrell, notes on good writing conferences, and more.
In our morning reading: thoughts on Patrice Nganang’s trilogy, an interview with Martha Anne Toll, and more.
In our afternoon reading: thoughts on Atticus Lish’s new novel, an interview with Colson Whitehead, and more.
In our afternoon reading: new fiction by Brian Evenson, Martha Anne Toll and Ed Simon in conversation, and more.
by Martha Anne Toll
1963. Katya detoured to St. Patrick’s Cathedral before ballet company class. Not to attend Mass—she didn’t need to mouth words and hymns that punctuated her childhood—but for sanctuary and anonymity.
Genuflecting before she started down the great center aisle, Katya took a pew on the left toward the altar, where she could avoid Fifth Avenue’s street noise and bathe in the rainbow of colors refracted through rows of stained-glass windows. She felt alone in the cavernous space, less a child of her parents than an autonomous woman. St. Patrick’s bore no resemblance to the small parish church of her childhood. It wasn’t Mama that Katya recalled from church, it was Mama’s absence, her early death, as much a part Sundays as the colorless windows over the pews.
In our afternoon reading: an excerpt from a powerful new anthology, thoughts on Sam J. Miller’s new book, and more.
We’ll be off tomorrow for the holiday. Normal posting will resume on Saturday. Sunday Stories will resume next week.