Alice Bauer LAW ’86 spent 10 years writing pamphlets about legal aid. Now, she writes young-adult novels about fairy godmothers.
Bauer — whose first published book “No Castles Here” came out Oct. 23 under the pen name A.C.E. Bauer — took a less-than-traditional route to her current career. Although the jump from the legal world to the world of children’s books might not be an obvious one, a decade of practicing law left her feeling “burnt out” and in 1996, Bauer resigned from her job at New Haven Legal Assistance to pursue writing full-time. Within its first month in print, “No Castles Here” has received positive reviews both from Kirkus Reviews and from customers on amazon.com, although its sales rank on the Web site was 295,501 as of Monday.
“No Castles Here” is the story of an 11-year-old boy named Augie who lives in Camden, N.J., a lower-class city just across the river from Philadelphia. Searching for escape from a life plagued with bullies, gangs, poverty and loneliness, Augie seeks solace in a book of fairy tales he steals from a Philadelphia bookstore. His life begins to reflect the themes in the stories he reads, as the owner of the bookstore takes on the role of fairy godmothers and Augie finds the strength to stand up to bullies and try out for the school choir.
In a review that called the book “one of the strongest titles of the year,” Kirkus Reviews complimented Bauer’s ability to balance “tone and content beautifully.”
And with another children’s book under consideration from publishers and a third in the works, Bauer shows no signs of turning back.
Bauer said she never considered being a writer while growing up, although she wrote stories in high school and college, mostly as gifts. She stopped writing when she entered law school and did not pick it up until 10 years after graduation.
“I realized that I enjoyed telling stories to my kids,” Bauer said. “After a while, I started writing them down again, and I realized how much I enjoyed the actual writing part.”
“No Castles Here” is the fourth novel Bauer has written, but so far the only one to make it to publication. The book took her three years to write and revise, and after sending the manuscript to Random House in 2002, it took another three years for them to get back to her.
“This was at the time of the anthrax scare, when everyone was afraid of the mail, and publishing companies were saying, ‘If you don’t hear from us, that means we don’t want your manuscript,’ ” Bauer said. “When I didn’t hear from them for six months, I figured they had rejected my manuscript.”
But Bauer, who former co-worker Shelley White called “tenacious,” later found out that the manuscript had been put in a box right before Random House had moved into a new office, where it lay forgotten until 2005, when an editor called Bauer and asked apologetically if it was still for sale. She eagerly said it was, and signed a one-book contract with the publishing house the same year.
Bauer said she drew from her early experiences in the law to create the setting for “No Castles Here,” from impersonal housing complexes to parks full of drug dealers. After graduating from law school, she worked briefly in Camden, which provided the template for the inner-city neighborhood she wanted to use as her setting. But while the Camden in her novel has the same architectural feel as real-life Camden, she invented a “fictional Camden” for the novel, which incorporates neighborhoods from a variety of places where she and her husband had worked, including New Haven, West Haven and the Fort Green and Prospect Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
“No Castles Here” also has a cast of characters inspired in part by her work with New Haven Legal Assistance.
“Some of the characters are [based on] what I saw working for the bureaucracy that exists in every city,” she said. “Petty tyrants, basically.”
Despite the inspiration Bauer found in her early career, the move from law to children’s literature was an unconventional choice. Frank Dineen, who taught Bauer while she was at Yale and later worked with her at New Haven Legal Assistance, said she was a “dedicated, committed, really fine lawyer” who worked on one case that was heard by the United States Supreme Court.
“Who would think a Yale law student would say, ‘I’m going to leave law and write children’s books?’ ” said Bob Solomon, another of Bauer’s former professors at the Law School.
Bauer said her job writing legal aid pamphlets for adults with low levels of literacy taught her to be clear and comprehensive while dealing with complicated topics — useful skills to have when writing children’s literature with a message.
But she emphasized that legal writing and fiction writing are at the core two very different endeavors. Solomon said the characteristics of good fiction are in many ways diametrically opposed to the skills required for writing about the law.
“It leaves as little as possible to the imagination,” Solomon said. “Sometimes in literature you want to have ambiguity.”
Miriam Berkman LAW ’82 said although other Yale Law alumni have chosen to pursue careers outside the legal profession, few have diverged as dramatically as Bauer from their intended career path. Berkman, one of Bauer’s former classmates, switched from legal work to social work, and said she encountered a number of ex-lawyers while attending social work school at Smith College. But she said she particularly admires Bauer’s radical change.
“I think her life has turned in a much more creative way,” she said. “It’s a brave decision of Alice’s.”
Bauer credits her husband for encouraging her to make the decision to become a full-time author despite the financial impact, and her two children, ages 12 and 15, for listening to the story in its earliest stages.
“They’re some of my biggest fans, which is wonderful,” she said.