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It was as if they had fallen under the spell of a sorceress. The more than 65 lawyers and support staff who crowded into the fifth floor conference room at Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn’s Connecticut Avenue offices in Washington, D.C., stood shoulder to shoulder in rapt attention. Forgotten for the moment was the tempting buffet arrayed on the lengthy conference table they surrounded. Eating would have to wait. Many of the assembled wore the kind of wide-eyed expressions you might expect to find on kindergartners during story time. The group focused as one on a figure in a black dress standing near the head of the table who was spinning a tale of intrigue and murder. Not an extraneous sound was heard as Mindy Klasky read from the paperback that she held, along with her audience, in the palm of her hand. Klasky was no stranger to those attending this gathering. Arent Fox’s manager of reference services since 1997, she had also done a stint at the firm as an associate. But on this early evening in late July, Klasky had assumed yet another role — as a debut novelist. Klasky’s colleagues had turned out in flattering numbers to help her celebrate the publication of her first full-length literary effort, “The Glasswrights’ Apprentice,” with a book-signing party and a reading. Published under Penguin Putnam Inc.’s Roc Fantasy imprint, “The Glasswrights’ Apprentice” is the story of 13-year-old Rani Trader, a resident of the kingdom of Morenia and a daughter of the merchant class, whose ill-fated apprenticeship to a guild of stained-glass makers plunges her into the middle of a political assassination. Part of the growing field of fantasy and science fiction literature, often referred to as speculative fiction, “The Glasswrights’ Apprentice,” according to Klasky, is unlike many other examples of the genre in that it is not a strongly magical book. A fan of mysteries, Klasky says that a lot of the mystery sensibility can be found in her initial work: “The notion of finding out who the killer is is central to this fantasy novel.” Above all, she explains, “The Glasswrights’ Apprentice” is what she characterizes as “an other-worldly book.” “I’ve been reading fantasy since I was about 10 years old. When I was in fifth grade, we read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in our English class. I just fell in love with the complexity of the other world and how you could play with the reality of the other world and ask a bunch of ‘what if’ questions. I’ve enjoyed asking those what-ifs in a bunch of short stories and now in novels.” Klasky’s first published story appeared in a small, independent science fiction magazine, Not One of Us. Her latest story is scheduled to appear in the October issue of the more celebrated Realms of Fantasy. Like her novel, the story takes place in Morenia, a kingdom that can be found only in Klasky’s imagination and now in her writings. “I definitely love the world-building part of fantasy,” she says, “and figuring out what the basic rules are going to be.” “The Glasswrights’ Apprentice” is the first of three fantasy books she owes Penguin Putnam under her contract with the publisher. The second, a sequel to “The Glasswrights’ Apprentice,” has been delivered to the publisher and is set to be on bookstore shelves in June 2001. Klasky has written the third book, which is unrelated to her first two, and she is now in the process of revising it. How does Klasky find the time to write and work full time in Arent Fox’s library? Well, the early bird catches the worm. She says that she wakes up each morning at 5:30 and goes to swim for an hour at a high school near her suburban Virginia home. After the watery exercise, she returns home, prepares a cup of tea, and writes for an hour on her laptop before heading to work. Over the course of a work week, Klasky strives to produce one chapter, writing first a rough draft and then massaging that into the final product. She will write on the weekend only if she is having particular difficulty with a chapter. “I tend to be a relatively fast writer,” Klasky admits. “That’s a skill I learned writing briefs. When you receive a motion and need to get your reply filed within 10 days, and you need to research it and clear it through the partnership hierarchy before it goes out, you learn to write very quickly.” When asked if she ever succumbs to that classic writer’s bugaboo of struggling over a first draft in an effort to give it the luster of a more finished product, she again credits her legal training for curing her of that habit: “Knowing that whatever draft I prepared as a first-year associate was going to be reviewed by a senior associate and a partner — the premium on that perfect first draft disappeared pretty quickly.” Klasky grew up in Dallas and moved to Minneapolis when she was in high school. Her undergraduate studies were done at Princeton University, where she majored in English. She received her law degree in 1989 from George Washington University. She had been a summer associate at Arent Fox, and when the firm offered her a full-time slot upon her graduation, she readily accepted the offer. “I practiced until ’95 doing intellectual property work. I started out doing a lot of client counseling and some transactional work, all in the IP field. Then I migrated over to doing litigation, also all IP.” In 1995, Klasky decided that it was time for a change. Always happiest when she was doing research, she decided to return to school to pursue a master’s of library science. After spending a year at Catholic University, she received the degree and obtained her first librarian job at D.C.’s Steptoe & Johnson. Klasky spent about a year at Steptoe before learning of an opening in the library of her former firm. She jumped at the opportunity of a homecoming. Arent Fox also looked favorably on the reunion. Marc Fleischaker, Arent Fox’s chairman, worked with lawyer Klasky on a number of matters, including the firm’s representation of the National Association of College Stores and a pro bono EEO case against the Library of Congress. He says, “Mindy was a good lawyer. We were thrilled she came back as a librarian.” Does Klasky ever entertain the thought of returning to practice? Klasky contends that her lawyering days are behind her. “I have not been tempted since I set foot back in the door. Before I came back, I did have some long discussions with the people I used to work for as an associate to make sure that they were comfortable with my coming back and that they understood I was not going to be working as an associate. There have really been no problems with that sort of thing. I’ve had more issues explaining to new attorneys that my role — even though I have the J.D., even though I practiced — is one of librarian, not of associate. It’s actually been a very, very easy transition.” The firm, she adds, has been only supportive of both her career change and her fiction writing. The kingdom of Morenia that Klasky has created in “The Glasswrights’ Apprentice” resembles to some degree medieval Europe. The guild system features prominently in Morenia’s society and in Klasky’s novel. This is no accident. Explains Klasky: “One of my goals in writing a novel like “The Glasswrights’ Apprentice” is to make it accessible. So I can create this other world, there needs to be a lot of doorways into it and convenient steps that people follow so that they know what’s going on. Most of us have a fairly strong background from our liberal arts educations to know something about the guilds and to feed into that.” Before writing her book, Klasky performed research in libraries here in the United States and in Europe. Rani Trader, the heroine of Klasky’s novel, is apprenticed to a stained-glass makers guild. To learn about the craft, Klasky spent time in France studying the cathedral at Chartres to gain a greater understanding of the construction of stained glass and its social importance in medieval Europe. Klasky even found parallels between an ancient artisan guild and a modern-day law practice. “The whole idea of being apprenticed to the work and doing your journeyman case where you prove yourself and ultimately become a master and be accepted in the partnership is a valid analogy.” When asked if a particular character in “The Glasswrights’ Apprentice” — a demanding artisan who treats the young apprentice Rani with uncalled-for disdain — is modeled on any senior partner she has known, Klasky chuckles and says, “Certainly not any specific senior partner, the idea of senior partners more than anything. I’ve been fortunate to work with very human people with very human characteristics.” Just for the record: In “The Glasswrights’ Apprentice,” the overbearing artisan meets an untimely end, and her head is carried through the marketplace on a pike.

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