Ellen Grauer Court Reporting
It took me a long time to become a published writer. Perhaps Holland House Books and I would have found each other sooner if I hadn’t loved court reporting so much. In the thirty-two years I labored, unpublished, over my novels, I might have spent more time writing and submitting my work to agents and editors if I hadn’t been so happy transcribing other people’s words instead of my own.
I loved my job! We reporters have a wonderful window onto human nature. Now that I’m a full-time novelist, I invent attorneys and judges and witnesses, plaintiffs and defendants. But before I retired from court reporting I didn’t have to invent anyone or make up any dialogue because I caught real people’s words in the air and put them down on paper as soon as they were pronounced. Court reporters observe human behavior and capture the way people really talk. Now that I’m a novelist, I try to do the same thing.
When I worked in New York City, I had a terrific life. In contrast to one or two court reporting agencies that are less than considerate and less than ethical in the way they pay their reporters, Ellen Grauer Court Reporting treats its reporters with respect. It was a happy occasion when I pulled my rolling case through the front door of Ellen’s agency and asked her for a job. I worked there for years. Later, at age 70, when I entered the Brooklyn College graduate writing program, she encouraged me and cheered every little literary success that came my way. She still does.
In the thirty years of being unpublished, I worked on novels early in the mornings before going off to court proceedings or depositions. I wrote in the evenings, too, and on weekends. I did most of my talking on paper. In my short story “The Jury Is Out, ” the narrator tells the reader: “I am used to writing shorthand notes as long as you are the one speaking. I prefer to write your testimony rather than my own. For years I have been listening to what you say. I write your words a heartbeat after you pronounce them. Your breath is my professional life.”
Court reporters aren’t supposed to talk when they’re working. We’re not paid to form opinions, either. We’re paid to capture rapid speech on a keyboard that has fewer keys than the alphabet has letters.
Yet we do form opinions. We often develop a strong feeling for who is telling the truth and who isn’t. We form opinions of witnesses, their attorneys, and yes, judges, too. But real people can surprise you. Often they’re not as good or innocent as you thought, and not as bad or guilty as they seemed. And if fictional characters surprise the author who creates them, so much the better.
Speaking of surprises, who could have predicted that I would begin publishing at age seventy-two?
I’ve taken hours and years of legal proceedings deep into myself and now turn them into novels. But I do not lift plots and characters from real-life litigation. I am too busy making up people and stories. I can only say thank goodness for thirty years of court reporting. They add fuel to the flame and keep the fire burning.
Transcribing President Clinton’s Speech