Courting the Novel: How being a juvenile court judge helped inform my YA novel

Courting the Novel: How being a juvenile court judge helped inform my YA novel

I'm so excited to welcome Leora Krygier, author of the recent Young Adult novel Keep Her, which I really loved. Prior to that, she wrote "When She Sleeps" which was a New York Public Library Selection for "Best Books for the Teen Age" and "Juvenile Court - A Judge's Guide for Young Adults and their Parents."

I was fascinated by her roles as judge and novelist, and how both of them involves such insight into teenagers. She graciously agreed to author this guest post when I asked her to share more about how her time on the bench shaped her views of adolescents and guided her books.

Her perspective is fascinating, and I appreciated the important reminder that everyone has a unique point of view, and every story has many sides. That's valuable to keep in mind both when parenting and in life in general.

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Keep Her is the story of Maddie, a seventeen-year- old artist and photographer and Aiden, a young filmmaker whose worlds collide in a freak, water main break. It’s about young love, fate, terrible loss, family and the environment, not the legal thriller you might expect from a former Juvenile Court judge.

Yes, for more than twenty years, I was a judge for Los Angeles Juvenile Court, a special court that seeks to rehabilitate rather than punish and which gave me the authority and ability to help teens and families in crisis. But my experiences in court also became a writer’s well from which to draw stories and inspiration.

The best part of my job was listening to the kids, hearing about their lives, and finding the right solutions for them, their families and the community. Because there is no jury in Juvenile Court, I was the one to take in all the information and circumstances, and then come up with a constructive disposition for everyone involved.

While I was at the court, I started writing novels, usually in the early mornings or late at night. I’d always wanted to be a writer, and while law school was a good training ground for writing legal briefs and for honing language and accuracy, I found myself most connecting with the “Background” portion that appears at the beginning of every legal brief, much more than the legal arguments that follow.

It was the background where the heart of the “story” existed, and writing novels was a way for me to explore more deeply the elements of character and humanity, something that wasn’t possible in my work life.

During my time at the court, I was fortunate enough to publish two novels and a non-fiction guide about the court for teens and their parents. Keep Her is the first novel I wrote post-court.

But the important lessons I learned during my tenure on the bench have stayed with me.

One of those lessons was that there is never one, absolute truth to any situation.

The truth is very often colored with bias, conjecture, subjective memory, perception and a whole lot more.

One witness’ testimony as to what he or she “saw” or experienced can, many times, completely contradict another witness who could be standing only a few feet away.

As a judge, the fact that we see ourselves, the world and the important events in our life in differing ways, can be daunting. But as a writer, this part of human nature makes for more interesting, multi-layered and flawed characters. Just as a trier-of-fact must hear and weigh “both sides of the story” before drawing any conclusions, so too a writer needs to step into and outside the shoes of his or her characters.

I’m sure this was one of the reasons I wrote Keep Her with different points of view as well as the two distinct voices of Maddie and Aiden.

As a working judge, I had the unique opportunity of seeing people at their very worst, but also at their very best, overcoming great odds.

It gave me insight and empathy, especially for teens, their problems, challenges, and the circumstances they shared with me.

Now that I early-retired from the bench, I’m happy to be a full-time author, using my insights from my time at court to create stories that hopefully uplift and inspire kids as well as the young adult in all of us to keep searching and finding their own special paths.

_________________ Leora Krygier Keep Her

You can find Leora Krygier on Twitter and Instagram. You can find her books on Amazon.

Prior Post: The lasting impact a Kristallnacht survivor had on my teen and me

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