National Hot Dog Day 2015 v1

Harvey Shinblock can’t be the first lawyer who wanted to open a hot-dog stand.

So today, Thursday, is National Hot Dog Day. Don’t believe me? Well, would the Des Moines Register lie to you?

Not legal enough a topic for your bloggish reading? Stick around. I’ll get to the legal in a moment.

In the meantime, here are a few places in the Phoenix area you might enjoy a hot dog.

Musing on the wonderment of wieners, I was curious about this, so I checked: In the five-plus years I’ve written my daily blog, I’m chagrined to note that the words “hot dog” appear more than a dozen times.

That seems high for a legal blog. Agreed? Well, maybe it’s a cry for help.

In any casing (see what I did there?), I thought I would share my first-ever documented blogular use of the phrase. It occurred in the prologue to a legal novel I wrote (detail about that endeavor is here.)

The book is titled The Supremes, and it involves a new law firm composed of former state supreme court justices. They thought clients would come knocking—which they did—but the law firm partners underestimated how much they disliked each other—and disliked hard work.

The hot dog reference came early, when the new firm’s administrator thinks about Harvey Shinblock, a colorful lawyer who is now disbarred (for numerous offenses, including a Circle K assault with a pocketknife). Harvey owns a hot-dog stand, and he carries quite a grudge against the legal profession. Here’s a portion:

Bernie Galvez liked hot dogs, and Harvey Shinblock sold the best in the city.

Galvez smiled as he recalled how Shinblock had managed to get 30 days in the county lockup for his “misunderstanding” at the convenience store—the best lawyering Shinblock had ever done, representing himself before old Judge Barnes. And after that 30 days, Shinblock woke up driven by a dream of opening his own hot-dog stand.

Human nature being the self-destructive little imp that it is, Shinblock drove his metaphoric stake in the ground on the sidewalk right outside the criminal courts complex. There, he gazed balefully as lawyers and judges streamed by him daily. If looks could kill—or wound with a pocketknife—those members of the bench and bar would have been a bloody mess on the Phoenix streets.

National Hot Dog Day 2015But maybe they got their comeuppance. For in the last three years since Shinblock opened “Court Wieners,” he had received the praise of every publication in town, from the “Best in Phoenix” to the “Best in the Southwest” to the “Best Nooner in a Casing.” Shinblock knew what he was doing as he steamed his hand-crafted dogs.

Nonetheless, no lawyer or judge was ever known to be brave enough to step up and purchase a meal. The history, the bad blood, and the fear of poisoning kept a significant portion of the suited sidewalk denizens from venturing forward and trying Shinblock’s bliss in a bun. They salivated and gnashed their teeth, but the gray and blue army marched past the stainless steel stand, thinking hungrily that they may have been a tad hard on good old Shinblock. Still, march by they did.

The complete prologue is here. Want to keep reading? Here’s Chapter 1.

And … do get out and eat a hot dog.

Amtrak writing writer residency

On offer: The chance to ride the rails and write about it.

How many of you would like to engage the creative process while never having to consider acquiring life’s annoying essentials, like food and shelter.

If so, there may be a few opportunities for you (and me).

The news stories I link to today not only engage the artist in most of us; they also are perfectly matched to Change of Venue Friday, that casual day when no one really wants to read about the new rules of arbitration (or whatever else is cooking in the legal profession).

So I invite you to kick back and enjoy a vision of yourself as an artiste, accompanied by your own financial backers.

The first story is one you may have seen: Amtrak is looking for writers. That’s right; your benevolent backer would be none other than America’s passenger-railway system.

Here is a news story that explains Amtrak’s plan to plop writers into a cozy berth from which they will trip the light linguistic.

If you’re ready to board that train, here is a link to Amtrak’s own blog, where you can get more information and complete their application. And yes, there is a dining and adult-beverage car (we are writers, are we not?).

(And for you attorneys still hesitant about blogging: Amtrak is blogging, which is the sound of you officially becoming a super-late-adopter.)

Here’s the serious skinny:

“Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.”

“Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed by a panel. Up to 24 writers will be selected for the program starting March 17, 2014 through March 31, 2015. A passion for writing and an aspiration to travel with Amtrak for inspiration are the sole criteria for selection. Both emerging and established writers will be considered.”

Sign me up! (And yes, that means I’m applying.)

If a less rollicking journey is what your writing arm requires, consider Detroit. That’s where a nonprofit called Write a House is creating a unique “writer’s residency.”

As this news story explains, the organization is repairing vacant and blighted homes to give them to writers.

I was intrigued to see that it was an editor at the marvelous Curbed, the real estate site, who was one of the founders of Write a House. Well, if an editor is involved, it must have been well vetted! (No kidding, we editors have got it goin’ on.)

Pertinent info:

“Write A House will accept applications from working, “low-income” writers in the spring, who will be asked to send writing samples and a letter of intent. The judges include former National Poet Laureate Billy Collins, poet Major Jackson, writer and filmmaker Dream Hampton and editor of the Farrar, Straus & Giroux publishing house Sean McDonald. Writers from all over the world, or living just a few miles away, are all encouraged to apply.”

Well, if my Amtrak train makes a stop in Motor City, I’ll stop by your house and we can trade writing stories. In the meantime, let’s apply ourselves!

Have a wonderful—and writerly—weekend.

In the madcap schema that is Change of Venue Friday, today’s story fits like a glove. For today I share something that may be the farthest afield from law practice, and that still involves practicing lawyers.

Today’s topic is … moustaches.

Specifically, it’s about those men who grow moustaches in the month of November, and occasionally raise money during the growth period. And they do all of that in service to medical research.

Confused yet? Let me put it this way: These are the guys who transform November into Movember. Here is how the organizers describe it:

“During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces, in the US and around the world. With their Mo’s, these men raise vital awareness and funds for men’s health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer initiatives.”

“Once registered at, men start Movember 1st clean shaven. For the rest of the month, these selfless and generous men, known as Mo Bros, groom, trim and wax their way into the annals of fine moustachery. Supported by the women in their lives, Mo Sistas, Movember Mo Bros raise funds by seeking out sponsorship for their Mo-growing efforts.”

“Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November. Through their actions and words they raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health. The funds raised in the US support prostate cancer and testicular cancer initiatives.”

The hair-lipped copy goes on to say that the Mo Bros and Mo Sistas often celebrate with a Movember party at the end of the month.

Local angle? Yes, we’ve got one. It comes to us from those dedicated and occasionally hairy lawyers at Polsinelli Shughart.

I heard from Polsinelli shareholder Leon Silver, who pointed me toward their dedicated team page.

Leon tells me that firm shareholder Brian Flaherty is a cancer survivor and participates every year. But for 2012, they decided to make it an office-wide event. Go to their page to view the leaderboard and read the crazy-comment ticker (which includes photos of the lawyers’ kids with moustaches). Congratulations to all who participated.

Moustaches, huh? I remember three years ago when I spent the better part of November writing a legal novel (a novel!), as part of the national NaNoWriMo effort. Meanwhile, other guys stop shaving for a month and they’re heroes. Whatever, Leon.

Because a terrific event deserves a video, enjoy the following one from Bloomberg Law. In honor of Movember, they feature famous legal faces that were moustachioed.

Have a great—and barbate—weekend.

Who wants to write a novel in November?

Apparently, quite a few people.

In fact, it was two years ago today that I launched my effort to write a legal novel in November 2009. That wild adventure was part of a national movement called National Novel Writing Month. I posted chapters (warts and all) every day on this blog. (Full disclosure: I achieved the required word-count for the novel task, but never felt I had penned a final chapter. Ugh.)

In my novel, I described the exploits of a new law firm whose partner ranks were populated entirely by a unique species: lawyers who had formerly been state supreme court justices. They had anticipated that the firm’s brain-power and power-power would make it irresistible to potential clients. But what they hadn’t counted on was the hard work involved, and the difficulty they would have getting along. And, oh yes, there was an incontinent Corgi named Rufus.

Such the problem.

And now it’s November 1, and I am faced with the question: Do I plunge in again? Do I stay up late and get up early to scribble my required 50,000 words by November 30?

What do you recommend I do? And are any of you taking part? Let me know.

In the meantime, here is the opening of my 2009 novel, titled “The Supremes”:

“Dawn hadn’t yet broken over downtown Phoenix as Bernie Galvez inched his truck toward the parking gate. Much to his disappointment, it remained stubbornly horizontal, as he waved his key card at the sensor over and over. He knew it was still hovering around 85 degrees outside, even in the darkness, so he hesitated to climb out to come up with another solution. But finally he concluded that his vehicle—and all those others starting today at this new business—would be out of luck unless he made a repair.

“Galvez was the office manager of a new law firm launching that day, May 25th. He had been hard at work for three months laying groundwork for Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine. He had overseen the gutting and restoration of space at the Security building, the purchase of furniture, the installation of servers and computers. And today, for the first time, the lawyers and their staff would arrive. For the first time in months, he was using this entrance, the one that would soon be used by everyone on staff.

“The stubborn gate was a bad omen.”

You can read more of it (and the rest of the novel) here.

Shall we get writing?

Happy Change of Venue Friday. Have you ever wondered what it takes to publish a book? An organization guessed that people wondered about that, so they decided to shed some light on the subject.

The group is the Valley of the Sun chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, a great group of folks. Their idea was to gather a few published authors, invite folks, and hold the event in a place with great food and drink. So they hosted “From Journalist to Author: Turning Your Beat Into a Book.” Well done!

That is how I came to be at Monti’s La Casa Vieja in Tempe last Friday, October 7. That is a place with a lot of history, and they can mix an excellent martini. Most important, the panel was excellent.

The speakers were Jana Bommersbach, Shanna Hogan and Terry Greene Sterling. Each of them generously shared their thoughts on the highs and lows of book publishing.

One of the first changes you might note about that industry is represented above—every one of these accomplished women has her own website. That and the amount of marketing individual authors are expected to do are striking changes from the past.

This ain’t your grandmother’s publishing industry.

Click through to read more about these writers. Jana is an amazing author (from whom I once took a hilarious and insightful writing class) of the books Bones in the Desert: The True Story of a Mother’s Death and a Daughter’s Search and The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd. Shanna is the true-crime author of Dancing With Death: The True Story of a Glamorous Showgirl, Her Wealthy Husband and a Horrifying Murder.

And just to prove that it’s not all blood and guts, Terry spoke about her book Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona’s Immigration War Zone.

Their insights about the industry, agents and pitches were helpful. As a writer, though, I really appreciated their comments on that ink-stained craft of writing itself. For instance, Terry told us that “The essence of writing is understanding the human soul.” True that.

Shanna described her brave plunge from “fitting her writing in” to making it her main work. Attendees appreciated her honest assessment of those risks.

And then there’s Jana, who I’m sure would be able to make me laugh even as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse swept into town (“… and the horse you rode in on,” she’d likely mutter to the overly dramatic riders). She offered those gathered some suggestions that we all could use, whether we write book length or something smaller.

“Don’t overwrite the story,” she offered. “But you sure have to write the heck out of it.”

When you conceive of a book, she said, “Write a one-page treatment of it: If I can’t snare the reader in 500 words, I certainly can’t snare him in 15,000.”

Finally: “If you have the first sentence of your book and the last sentence of your book, you’re halfway home.”

Below you’ll find a few of my dreadful cell-phone pictures of the event. But you should go to the authors’ websites for better art and copy.

(And for an odd but related blast this weekend, head to—appropriately—The Trunk Space in downtown Phoenix, where the film “Murderess” will be screened. It is filmmaker Scott Coblio’s retelling of the Winnie Ruth Judd story—with puppets. It’s shown at 7:30 pm Sunday; click here or more information.)

Thanks to the authors and to the Phoenix chapter for such a great event. Have a terrific weekend.

L to R: Terry Greene Sterling, Shanna Hogan and Jana Bommersbach, Oct. 7, 2011

L to R: Shanna Hogan and Jana Bommersbach, Oct. 7, 2011

"We're 1!" I typed.

Later, I will post a story about an annual awards ceremony at which three Arizona lawyers were honored. But before we get to that, I have to tell why that event is significant to me and this blog.

It was one year ago, on March 17, 2010, that I launched my daily posting on this blog, AZ Attorney (and yes, I generally mean weekdays only – cut a guy some slack). And the story that historic day was a post about the same awards banquet, in the 2010 version.

Yes, I had blogged more occasionally before over the preceding six months. And I had started it originally to write my novel-in-a-month, called The Supremes. (The entire thing is still online. Go here to read the Prologue and Chapter 1. And if you want to keep reading about Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine—“Dead Duck”—have at it.)

I’m not much for birthdays, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment. Writing is a wonderful outlet, and I am pleased that it has become an essential part of my daily routine. It’s as second nature as drinking too much coffee and failing in my battle to not roll my eyes at nonsensical directives.

When I tell others that I write, I often feel that I should add an asterisk. After all, I live and work in Arizona, where the circus never leaves town, and where everyone from the governor on down happily shovels piles of steaming ideas on my writer’s doorstep every day. The primary challenge: selecting among the piles for just the right material for that day’s entries.

And now, I’ll turn to writing about the awards ceremony: the American Jewish Committee’s 2011 Learned Hand Awards Luncheon Honorees.

In the meantime, feel free to send some drinks to my table, or tell the waiter it’s my blog’s birthday—we’ll take the free cake.

The confession is a central icon of the law—and of the Catholic Church, come to think of it. And because I’ve operated in both of those worlds, the declaration of guilt should come easily to me—you would think.

Well, I may as well get on with it. My mea culpa for the day? I have never read To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Yes, I know, that is a standard of the American legal literary sphere. Written in 1960, it won a Pulitzer Prize. It travels deeply into issues of racial injustice and the loss of innocence. But it never passed before my reading glasses.

Strange, I know. I even got a few English degrees, along with a law school education, and still no Kill for me. How could I have slogged through Pennoyer v. Neff but skipped the novelistic moral high ground?

All I know is, I can’t be the only one. Anyone care to share?

The timing of this emotional outpouring is related to a State Bar of Arizona event this evening—a screening of the classic 1962 film version of the novel. People like “Atticus Finch” and “Scout” and “‘Boo’ Radley”—much-loved characters in the American lexicon, I’m told—will come to life on the big screen.

(The showing will benefit the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education. I wrote about the October 14 movie screening here. And more detail is here. One thing to note: Bring cash, which is all the concession stand will take—not To Kill the Classic Movie Feeling, or anything.)

You never read it, son? I'm very disappointed.

I plan to be there in the Pollack Tempe Theater, with my daughters, as I watch and expiate for my literary sins. I’m hoping you join us too, whether you’re a Harper Lee groupie or not.

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