April 2016 Inside • Writers and the law, Part 1: Peter Shaver on writing about other people • Writing and non-writing life • Writing prompt: Child

Kickstart Your Writing Purple

April 2016



• Writers and the law, Part 1: Peter Shaver on writing about other people
• Writing and non-writing life
• Writing prompt: Childhood scene
• Market tip: Rejection wisdom
• Summoning the audience
• Nerdy Words: Which is it: “Which” or “that”?
• Student showcase: “One Day She Went for a Run” (excerpt) by Jamie Caulley

Peter Shaver

Peter Shaver on writers and the law

Part 1: Writing about other people

Joining us for this month’s a Q&A is lawyer Peter Shaver. Through his law firm Sound Advice, which is located in Portland’s Hollywood District, Shaver works with creative professionals on legal issues related to arts and entertainment, intellectual property, general business, and the Internet. Many of his clients are in the music industry.

Shaver came to Portland in 1991 and founded Sound Advice in 2006. He currently lives in the Cully area.

What attracted you to arts and entertainment law?

I have always loved art, music and media. Prior to law school, I worked in the film exhibition business and at various ad agencies. I have been an avid music fan as long as I can remember. In law school at the University of Oregon I ran a student art law group, and I worked for a professor who allowed me to work with bands and artists as part of projects he was consulting on.

I love working with creative people and businesses, being part of their team and freeing them up to be more creative, while solving business and legal issues for them. My days are a never-ending carnival of colorful and interesting clients, many of whom I am pleased to call my friends.

Are you an artist yourself?

Not an artist per se, but a creative person. I used to play guitar and make sculpture and collage art. These days I take in live music and other cultural events. I also have a gigantic music collection and like collecting vinyl records and music-related posters.

Do you have a favorite author?

David Foster Wallace. I like his vocabulary, imagination and off-the-wall approach to writing and subverting “normal” conventions of the craft.

Let’s get down to business. What legal topics are most important for writers to understand?

Copyright, especially the “fair use” rights contained in the Copyright Act, and defamation (libel), especially as it applies to non-fiction works.

How common is it for writers to get into legal trouble?

Not very, but it all depends on the type of work that is being created. Certain works, especially those involving real people, may be especially risky, if a writer is not careful with facts, or otherwise violates a person’s privacy, publicity or defames them in any way. Writers should be wary of all areas of possible legal violations and obtain a qualified editorial and/or legal review of any works proposed for publication.

Under what circumstances should a writer disguise a real person's identity, such as in a memoir? And how can a writer know if they’ve gone far enough in disguising the person?

“Disguise” is a very loaded term here. Generally, it is best to avoid using the name or attributes of living persons, especially where the descriptions or actions of a character may be viewed as defamatory or invasive of the subject’s privacy.

There is a lot of gray area and decision-making that goes into how much information or description of living persons should be used – either in a non-fiction or fictionalized context. It may be very difficult to determine when a writer has gone too far, or has not adequately blurred the lines between using too much character information. Every situation is different. Generally, the less direct, identifiable information that is used, the better. Or the more such identifying information is changed, the better.

Is it risky to write about a famous person in an unflattering way?

There are various issues related to this question, including legal rights of privacy, publicity, defamation and First Amendment rights. Writing anything false about a famous person can subject a writer to legal action for libel (written defamation), especially if such statements are done maliciously and with disregard for the truth. Even if a writer CAN legally disclose secrets or other facts about a famous person, there may be compelling reasons NOT to. However, the freedom of the press rights in the United States are very strong, and many protections exist that afford writers broad ability to write about famous people.

What about writing about someone who’s not famous, like a relative, friend, or coworker?

Private parties actually have more privacy rights than celebrities or famous people. Extra care must be taken not to divulge private facts or secrets that may be damaging or harmful to a private party’s reputation. The legal standard for proving injuries to such parties are much lower than the standard prescribed for famous persons or those who choose to appear in the limelight. A best practice is to obtain a release or waiver from any subject that might be readily identified in a literary context.

If a writer wants legal advice, how should he or she go about finding a good lawyer?

Personal referrals are always best. Try to find an attorney that is specialized and qualified in any given subject area. Literary and/or art law issues are often handled by intellectual property attorneys with experience in copyright, defamation or First Amendment law. Also, the State Bar for your locality may have a referral service and/or be able to provide information regarding any disciplinary actions or consumer complaints that may have been made against an attorney.

I would not use or rely upon mass-market Internet services, as the results might not be directly applicable to solving any given issue. Personalized interactions with an attorney should be valuable, educational experiences and are a good investment in any writer’s literary career.

Editor’s Note: Join us next month for Part 2 of this Q&A, when Shaver discusses copyright.


Writing and non-writing life

In her recent blog post, author and writing coach Nancy Woods reveals how writers really spend their days (hint: there’s not much pen twiddling) and why, even for non-writers, life sometimes involves “writing, a search for the right word, and a subtle touch or gentle approach.”

Writing Prompt

Writing prompt: Childhood scene

What was your childhood like? Happy? Sad? Sweet? Chaotic? Confusing? Come up with one adjective that describes your childhood. Then write a scene from your childhood that illustrates that adjective (without actually using the word).

Market tip

Rejection wisdom

Stinging from a recent rejection? If so, take comfort in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, Barbara Kingsolver, Ray Bradbury, J.K. Rowling and other famous writers. Aerogramme Writers’ Studio in Melbourne, Australia, posts a dozen writers’ thoughts on rejections, along with helpful writing-related tips, rules, and lists.

For the rare negatively phrased (yet still useful) Aerogramme post, see “Mistakes Writers Make When Submitting to Literary Magazines.” Mistake Number 1? Not reading the literary journals you are submitting to. Number 10? Not thanking the editor when your work is accepted. Fortunately the post, by Eva Langston of Carve Magazine, has lots of suggestions for how to avoid these mistakes, such as buddying up with a friend to read more literary journals.

Kira Obolensky

Summoning the audience: A playwright speaks

By Kathy Eaton

“I summon the audience with everyone in it, offering a seat at the table of my imagination,” said playwright Kira Obolensky at the April Willamette Writers meeting in Portland, Oregon. Obolensky was speaking about the value of considering your audience during the creative process.

The audience did not play much of a role for Obolensky until 2013, when she received a three-year Mellon Foundation grant and became playwright in residence for Minneapolis’s Ten Thousand Things Theater. Founded by artistic director Michelle Hensley, this 25-year-old company performs plays for audiences that include prison inmates and homeless shelter residents, as well as the general public. The theater is not social work theater, but audiences’ life experiences often resonate with characters in a play.

Ten Thousand Things Theater “thrives without stuff like props, sets or costumes,” said Obolensky. There are no lights, so actors can see the audience and each other. “The audience fills the empty space with their imagination,” she explained.

“What story would you tell if everyone was in the audience?” Obolensky asked the Willamette Writers in attendance at the April meeting.

“Think about typical New York City audiences—elite, wealthy and white,” she said. In 2009 Obolensky wrote her play Raskol, adapted from Dostevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, and found that the novel’s universal themes worked for every audience. Obolensky has since written five more plays, creating complicated characters that deal with big issues. She generally finishes about two plays a year, and each one takes about two years of work before it goes into production.

Playwrights and other writers will be interested in the next Willamette Writers meeting, on May 3, when website designer Jocelyn Mozak will explain why she considers WordPress the best website platform for authors.

Writers also should note that early-bird pricing for this year’s Willamette Writers conference ends on May 31. So register soon for this conference, which takes place August 12-14 at Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel.

Nerdy Words

Nerdy Words: Which is it: “Which” or “that”?

By Ann Sihler

An editing colleague of mine who also majored in English often said that she appreciated using her college degree every day in her work. Really? Did she take classes in editing? I wrote many papers for my English degree, but I never took even a writing class in college, much less an editing (or grammar) class.

That must be why, when I started to write freelance articles, my editors often changed my “whiches” to “thats” and my “thats” to “whiches.” For example, “The YMCA hapkido class that will meet on Tuesday and Friday evenings will focus on basic techniques” became “The YMCA hapkido class, which will meet on Tuesday and Friday evenings, will focus on basic techniques.”

At first I didn’t understand why. But I finally caught on, and now I almost never get confused about ... well, which is which.

In grammar-speak, the difference between “which” and “that” has to do with restrictive clauses. But because you and I are even less likely to know what restrictive clauses are than the difference between “which” and “that,” using grammatical terms here is less than helpful.

The real trick is to remember that “which” begins a phrase that is set off by commas and that operates like a parenthetical. It’s an add-on—an elaboration or clarification, rather than a key identifier.

Consider these examples:

“Meet me at the hotel, which is next to the train station.”

“Meet me at the hotel that is next to the train station.”

In the first sentence there’s just one hotel, and the “which” clause is providing helpful additional information about it: its location. In the second sentence, there presumably are a number of hotels, and the specific hotel where we are to meet is the one that is next to the train station. The information following “that” is not just describing the hotel but defining or identifying it.

Here’s an example from one of my early freelance articles, on custom-made pipe organs, that uses both “which” and “that” correctly (finally!):

“In fact, the only part of a tracker organ that uses such modern technology as electricity is the blower, which generates the air that passes into the pipes and creates the sound.”

The “which” phrase is set off by a comma and explains how the blower works; it’s an elaboration. In contrast, the “that” part of the sentence defines the particular part of the organ we are talking about (out of thousands): the one part that uses modern technology.

Got it? I hope so. Because that, as they say, is that.

Student Showcase

“One Day She Went for a Run” (excerpt) by Jamie Caulley

Jamie has been a Kickstart writing student for about five years and a physical therapist for 13. When she is not working or writing, she often is running. Jamie ran track and cross country in college, began marathon running in graduate school, and by now has run six marathons, including the Boston Marathon—twice! Yet only during her most recent marathon, in Bend last year, did she feel like she was starting to understand this challenging race.

Jamie often gets writing ideas while running, when an interesting phrase or image comes to mind. After some free writing, she explained, “I let ideas and words related to the phrase or image flow, and eventually they start to connect themselves.” She then types, edits, and tidies up her thoughts, to create a finished piece.

She blew snot from her nose and the wind slapped it right back against her cheek. Nobody else was outside. Even the winter sun didn’t want to come out and light up the grey sky.

A dog peered out a window as she approached, then turned its back and curled tightly into a ball, trying to create its own warmth. She exhaled and her breath swirled around her, mingling with the saturated air. Despite the weather, she felt strong.

She imagined what the drivers of the cars roaring by her must be thinking as their wiper blades swished at full speed. Is she crazy? Why would that girl be out in this? She knew what they were telling themselves, what people often told her: You can’t run from your problems. All that running can’t be healthy. You’re taking it too seriously.

But they were wrong. All of them. She wasn’t running away from anything. No, she was running towards something. Towards herself. And she was serious about it. Running was the only time she felt free to be the person she wanted to be. Out here—in a slurry of rain, sweat and snot—she was the most authentic version of herself, fully connected to her desires and her dreams.

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