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.

Phoenix School of Law Lawyers as Peacemakers conferenceYou are: Planning to attend a noteworthy legal conference, but would like the opportunity to use your writing and reporting skills to share a follow-up with Arizona’s legal community.

We are: Arizona’s legal community, eager to share your story on the magazine blog.

The Phoenix School of Law Lawyers as Peacemakers and Healers Conference runs this Friday night through Sunday. Currently, it appears no one here at the magazine will be able to attend this remarkable gathering. But if you’re planning to be there and would like to write a story, with attribution, we would like to talk with you.

Ideally, likely writers will be unaffiliated with the conference except as an attendee. Lawyers and law students who have an interest should contact me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Here is the website for the Lawyers as Peacemakers and Healers Conference, which runs February 22 through 24. And you can Like it on Facebook here.

For background, click here for last year’s program.

And as a great service to the legal community, event organizers have posted video recordings of all presentations from last year.

Judge Randall Howe, Sept. 27, 2012

On September 27, I had the privilege to attend a judge’s investiture—that event where a judge is sworn in, robed, given a gavel and sent off to write (many) opinions.

I’ve attended many swearings-in over the years, and a good number have been for people I had come to know well. And Thursday last was another in a great roster of such events. On that day, Randall Howe was sworn in as a Judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Besides being a terrific appellate lawyer, Randy (as we called him until the event) is the chair of the Arizona Attorney Magazine Editorial Board.

(Years ago, another Randy—Randall Warner—was a chair of the same board when he was sworn in as a judge. Hon. Randall Warner is on the bench in the Arizona Superior Court for Maricopa County. And no, not all of our chairs must be named Randy.)

The opening to Randy Howe’s article, April 2011.

Judge Howe’s investiture was special for a few other reasons. For example, it was held at the Disability Empowerment Center in Phoenix, a site that Judge Howe had spent much time supporting over the years.

The remarks by friends and colleagues also made this a remarkable investiture. The best such speeches reveal a part of the new judge we may not have known. And the speakers—Joe Mikitish, Joe Maziarz, Karla Delord and Phil Boas—certainly did that.

Their comments described many parts of Randy’s work and personality. And in so doing, they praised a man for rising so very high in a difficult profession, all while meeting head-on the challenges of cerebral palsy. That, and many things, make him a terrific choice as a new appellate judge.

Congratulations, Judge Howe.

Judge Randall Howe has written for Arizona Attorney before; read his article here.

More photos are at the magazine Facebook page.

David Remnick, The New Yorker editor in chief who carves out time to write

David Remnick, The New Yorker editor in chief who carves out time to write

The role of magazine editor ain’t exactly digging ditches, as a sometime-friend has advised me. And he’s right: My work tasks never involve picks, hoes or laying pipe. A fellow appreciates that, especially when the Phoenix temperatures hit 116 or so.

But (you knew a “but” was coming) sometimes when I face a stack of documents requiring close scrutiny, or when I have to somehow trim a lawyer’s sentence that is as long as a page, or when I must decide whether an attorney’s success on the tennis court is really (really?) worthy of inclusion in the People column … then, I begin to gaze out the window into the shimmering heat island and think, That’s not so bad.

Of course, that’s just temporary insanity, because I’m always able to remind myself of an important fact: Despite an ever-flexible list of “Other Tasks as Assigned,” I am, to a large extent, paid to write. So, dammit, stop gazing out the window.

That fantastic job benefit comes to mind on this Change of Venue Friday, as I think about the recent new-President profile I was privileged to write last month. And I am reminded every year that although that annual profile holds its challenges, it never fails to be a rush to interview people about important matters, and then to transform those conversations into something—occasionally—revealing.

The “revealing” part of the profile-writing job can make you feel you’re on a ledge, let me tell you. For it is straightforward enough to put someone’s resume into narrative form—and I’ve done that, when on a short deadline. But to go beyond, and to say something essential and insightful about a person, requires a large investment of time and energy. It requires that a writer become so conversant about the subject that she or he can confidently draw some conclusions—conclusions that may not be inked in the four corners of a notepad, or uttered in the stream of anecdotes from secondary interviews.

Besides the views into Bar leaders, I’ve gotten quite a few chances to write profiles, and I always feel like I have more to learn. And one way I aim to learn is by reading as many profiles as I can. One of my favorite spots to locate fantastic, rip-out-and-save profiles is The New Yorker. I routinely find myself drawn into a profile on a topic or on a person for whom I have had zero interest before I opened the magazine. But before I know it, I’ve encountered a new favorite “true story.”

The idea of the best profile being a “true short story” is an ideal, and it comes from a terrific magazine editor. If you have a few minutes on this Friday, watch this brief video with David Remnick, New Yorker editor in chief, on “The Art of the Profile.” I have to agree with his assessment of how fortunate the profile-writer is. For, as he points out, writing is an opportunity to carve something artful from what is almost always a mundane task-list of a day. Much better than ditch-digging.

If you’re in a hurry, here is some of Remnick from the video:

“Let me be honest with you: You’re failing all the time, all day long, all week long, all year long. And when you can write something, and publish something, do something out of the ordinary, that is a little funny, or a little insightful, or more artful, maybe—maybe maybe maybe—you don’t disappoint. I think constant disappointment is a very good spur to sometimes doing something halfway decent.”

“If you’re really self-satisfied all the time, you probably are a lousy writer.”

Or a lousy lawyer, chef, or ditch-digger, I would guess.

(Remnick reminds me of writer David Rakoff, who passed away this week. Among many things, Rakoff was the author of Half Empty, a paean to pessimism.)

Let’s hear it for the creative power of disappointment! I wish for you an unsatisfying—but creative—weekend.

Happy Change of Venue Friday. Today, in an effort to help out the staff at Arizona Attorney Magazine, I have just a few short questions for you: 

  • What content that law students could provide might most interest you?
  • What stories—for example, the economy, job seeking—might appeal to both practicing lawyers and to law students?

The reason I ask is that I am in conversation with the Arizona law schools about creating a new relationship between the schools and the magazine—something I’d call a “law school bureau.”

Here is how I described it in my July/August Editor’s column

“Our focus on the future may be best achieved by conversing with people who are inhabiting it. Lacking a time-machine, that takes me to [a new] initiative—our aim to create a ‘law school bureau.’

“We are having conversations with Arizona law students and law schools right now. Our goal is to collaborate on articles that are forward-looking and that serve practicing lawyers as well as law students. The result may occasionally be a story about a new endeavor at one of the schools. More often, we expect the articles to be about the wider legal community. Whether you’re a new lawyer or an experienced one, I welcome your ideas on that and all our initiatives.”

So: What do you think of a law school bureau? Could it provide us great content that also would benefit Arizona lawyers?

Have a great weekend.