When Dani asked me to become a monthly contributor to Love Bytes, I was thrilled! Social media outreach and interaction really isn’t my thing, and it’s not because I don’t love my readers, because I do. I just don’t have any time. I have a full-time job, and I’m acting as a single mom to my 13- and 11-year-old sons while my husband is away for an extended period with the Navy. So I’m looking at this monthly gig as a great way for my readers to get to know me, or potential readers to discover me. Thanks, Dani! <3
I’ve recently participated in a blog tour for my new release with NineStar Press, Pieces of Me. A large part of that blog tour was doing author interviews, so I feel like I’ve answered a lot of the basic questions anyone might have, and I hate to rehash that information all over again. I thought maybe for my inaugural column with Love Bytes, I would talk about something I’ve never talked about in a post before…my career as a court reporter!
First of all, a court reporter is the person in a courtroom or lawyer’s office who sits in front of that little machine taking down everything that’s said on the record. And yes, it’s everything that’s said. It’s supposed to be one hundred percent verbatim, from the “mm-hmms” and “uh-uhs” to everything in between. The average person speaks about 180 words a minute, so court reporters are trained at speeds as high as 240 wpm. At the peak of my career, I could write at 260 wpm.
A lot of people ask how someone could possibly write those speeds. Well, a steno machine isn’t anything like a typewriter, where you press individual keys and type out whole words. This is what the steno keyboard looks like.
To write words and phrases, you use combinations of letters to make sounds. As a court reporting student, the first thing you learn is the steno alphabet. Here’s an example:
A – A for the “apple” sound and AEU for the “apex” sound
B – PW
C – KR
D – TK
E – E for the “elephant” sound, and AE for the “edict” sound.
F – TP
G – TKPW
H – H
And so on. As you’re looking at the machine, the left side is used for the initial sound of the word, the right side is the final sound. It’s all based on phonetics, rather than how the words are spelled. “Mop” would be spelled “PHAUP” in steno. It sounds confusing, but when you personalize your dictionary and add brief phrases in, you can learn to write whole sentences in one stroke of your fingers, so “State your name for the record” becomes “STAURPL.” That’s how you build speed.
It took me a couple of years to learn the theory and become fast enough to write as fast as people talk, but eventually it became second nature. It’s like learning another language!
As for the job itself, I worked as a freelance reporter for my entire 13-year career. That means I worked in courtrooms, on federal and state grand juries, in lawyers’ offices for depositions. I worked wherever the job took me, rather than working with one judge in one courtroom every day. In my author bio I talk about meeting a mass murderer, a teenager. That teenager is Jonathon Doody, who was eventually convicted of the Buddhist Temple murders here in Phoenix, a terrible crime in which he and an accomplice gunned down nine Buddhist monks, including a 12-year-old boy. Doody was seventeen at the time.
During the course of my career I’ve reported stays of execution, seen horrific crime scene photos, visited actual crime scenes during trial, deposed a scaffolding expert at a construction site in the pouring rain while a paralegal held an umbrella over me, and been inside maximum security prisons. Besides the temple murders, another high profile case I worked on was the corruption and racketeering investigation of the mayor of Providence, RI, Buddy Cianci. A pharmaceutical trial in Texas would have been the biggest punitive damage award in history if the plaintiffs won…instead, I was there when they were awarded a big fat zero, which ended some law careers. I’ve ridden in lawyers’ private planes, and sat in an office with bullet holes in the window because the attorney prided himself on being an offensive jerk.
The only reason I left the profession is because combining high pressure and high stress, along with endless deadlines and even more endless demands, didn’t translate well into raising a family with an often-absent husband. Overall it was a wonderful experience, and the money certainly wasn’t anything to sneeze at! What I really enjoyed about it was being in the background, and yet I was still one of the most important people in the room. In the days before voice recognition and digital recording, if I didn’t hear it and get it down on the record, it wasn’t said!
I’d love to somehow take all these experiences and turn them into a book series, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet! Taylor V. Donovan and I have been talking about writing together, so maybe if we can mesh our schedules, we might be able to come up with something that combines her law experience with my court reporting experience. We have a lot of great ideas, so stay tuned!
If you have a comment or question about anything, please leave them below! I’ll choose one winner from the comments and award their choice of an ebook from my backlist OR an Audible code for my debut novel, Everything Changes, which was just released in audiobook!
Thank you, Love Bytes, for hosting me today!