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Monday, June 19, 2017

Anatomy of writing success

“I'm a fisherman who likes to observe and tell yarns, and so I told stories about things that I knew about.” – John D. Voelker

Born on this date in 1904, Voelker is best known for his book Anatomy of a Murder, written under his pen name Robert Traver.  An avid fly fisherman and practitioner of the law, Voelker almost became a bartender like his father, but was constantly encouraged by his mother to get his education and pursue the law instead.

In law school at the University of Michigan he nearly flunked out, but fought the grade ruling, got reinstated, earned his degree and went on to a highly successful career, first as a trial lawyer, then as a judge,       and finally as a Michigan Supreme Court Justice.     

Voelker wrote his first story, "Lost All Night in a Swamp with a Bear" at age 12 and had his first published piece, a short story called "Iron" in 1934.  By that point he was immersed in the law and so took on a pen name, a combination of brother’s first name and his mother’s maiden name – because he "didn't think the taxpayers would fancy [him] doing [his] scribbling on their time."

Anatomy of a Murder is based on a real case that he won for the defendant in 1952.  It not only was a best-selling book but also an award-winning movie, filmed almost entirely in Voelker’s Michigan hometown and county courthouse, the first time that type of filming had been done.  It has been named one of the best trial movies of all time.

Voelker said he was glad he chose the law and combined it with his love of writing tales.  “Spinning yarns,” he said,  “is a protection against the nuttiness... the greed, and the hate all around us.”

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