It was a unique event for TJSL - Lawyers in Literature.
Professor Steve Semeraro read excerpts from his award-winning short story “The Birds They Sang at the Break of Dawn” at a special reception in the 8th floor conference room Wednesday evening, January 23.
The story, based loosely on the real-life career of TJSL alumnus and DUI attorney Eric Ganci ‘08, won the first ever Journal of Legal Education Fiction Contest in 2012, sponsored by Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. The contest was judged by a panel of prominent writers and Professor Semeraro’s story was selected as the best entry from among 129 from writers across the U.S. and several other countries.
An audience of fellow faculty members, alumni, students and staff came to the reading, as Professor Semeraro set the mood by positioning himself behind a music stand with an old-fashioned style microphone and a wine bottle atop an antique wooden stand next to him.
“Erica Lane’s boyfriend called Gramchi first,” said Professor Semeraro reading the opening lines of his story. “Around 10 the night before, Erica had flounced out the door with Sheila and some girls that Grail didn’t know. She did this often; late nights were par for Erica’s course. But when 2:30 came and went, Grail suspected that this wouldn’t be a typical night. At 4:50, he heard the phone. He let it ring a little because he didn’t want to rush into hearing what he knew would not be good. Erica had been arrested for DUI. Bad as it initially sounded, it only got worse.”
As he read the story, Professor Semeraro interspersed background anecdotes on how he created the characters and his inspiration for the writing style he developed – from the works of Thomas Pynchon to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech by Eric Clapton.
“Inspiration is likely to come from anywhere,” said Professor Semeraro.
The story was also based on his own real-life experiences, according to Professor Semeraro, including a ride-along he did with the U.S. Park Police while he was working as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Virginia.
That resulted in this colorful passage:
“Tom Foley, a young patrolman at the end of a long nightshift, pulled her over and saw an open bottle of Vodka on the front seat. He asked her to get out of the car, and after a short pause her mid-thigh-high boots reached tentatively for what she hoped was the ground. She couldn’t walk a straight line. Hell, she couldn’t walk a curved line. She could barely walk at all. Repeatedly, she screamed at Foley calling him a “Yogi-bear cop” whose ass her boyfriend would undoubtedly kick or something to that effect. Foley looked more like Booboo than Yogi, but you had to forgive her for the mistake. Most everyone made it.”
In the audience was Eric Ganci, upon whom the character Gramchi is based. The story chronicles Ganci/Gramchi’s decision to specialize in DUI cases – after a conversation with a homeless man who Ganci used to see regularly in the microfiche room at the old TJSL campus in Old Town. “Make yourself the very best at doing that one thing,” said his gray and wizened street sage. And that’s exactly what both Ganci…and Gramchi did.
“I am sooo beyond flattered,” said Ganci of Professor Semeraro’s fictional portrayal of him. “And it’s also cool to see every level of TJSL here – from students to professors to alumni. This is a really nice event.”
Ganci was also thankful for the special beer and wine-tasting created for the event by Associate Dean Eric Mitnick and Professor Semeraro, which was a hit with the literary crowd.
The evening was also a fund-raiser for the following three different and worthwhile projects. The first is an Alumni Association art gift, the second is a mural to grace the lobby of TJSL’s law clinic offices, and the third is the sponsorship of clinical student.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to share the story behind The Birds They Sand at the Break of Day with my colleagues and alumni from throughout the school’s history,” said Professor Semeraro. “And as I said at the event, it gave me the chance to extend my 15 minutes of fame to ½ hour. The opportunity to raise money for TJSL’s extensive clinical program was the icing on the cake for me. Even if you missed the event, please contribute to support the students in the various clinical programs.”
"I really enjoyed the evening and especially Steve's presentation,” said Dean Mitnick, one of the event’s organizers. “There was a genuine warmth in the room among the faculty, staff, alumni, and students attending. Our hope is that it will be the first of many 'Evenings With' different faculty members."
By the way…the bottle of wine on the stand was a raffle prize and it was won by none other than…Eric Ganci!
To contribute to the Alumni Association Art Gift click here.