The Honorable Barry Schaller – a visiting lecturer in public policy and law at Trinity College – has done a lot of writing in his career. He has penned opinions as an associate justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, from which he has retired, and continues to serve as a judge trial referee for the Connecticut Appellate Court. Schaller has written three books about law and contributes articles to publications including the Connecticut Law Tribune. But these days, his writing is taking him in a very different direction as he explores a new passion for creating literary fiction.
Schaller’s first novel, The Ramadi Affair, was published in January by Quid Pro Books in paperback, hardcover, and in electronic form. He sees the novel as a fictional continuation of the themes explored in his 2012 nonfiction book, Veterans on Trial: The Coming Court Battles over PTSD (Potomac Books), addressing the consequences of war in the lives of veterans. The story in The Ramadi Affair follows the post-Iraq life of Justice David Lawson, who may soon be the top candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court.
“In some ways it is a culmination of all the writing I’ve done,” Schaller said of his novel. “After I finished writing Veterans on Trial and then giving talks about it, I felt that I hadn’t really completed the subject. I needed to write more fully about the consequences of war, and I had always wanted to write a novel or two, but always postponed it for something else.”
To further explore the topics in which he was interested – like moral decision-making and post-traumatic stress disorder – Schaller decided to create fictional characters to heighten the issues and make them more intense. “That’s what literature does,” he said. “It takes real-life situations and makes them more engaging, more interesting.”
Schaller was a literature major at Yale University – where he earned his B.A. and J.D. – and he said his favorite novels include The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace. “I’ve loved literature all my life,” he said, “especially literature that deals with characters in a very intense, precise way, but in a big landscape.”
The plot of The Ramadi Affair began to take shape in the summer of 2013 and Schaller wrapped up the writing in spring of 2015, with large breaks in between when work and teaching took up most of his time. “I would keep writing whenever I had a few minutes and felt like it,” he said. “I was very determined.”
The process of writing fiction was something that came naturally to Schaller, even though he had never done it before. “I have had mostly a left-brain career, and I really wanted to let my right brain run loose,” he said. “When I sat down, I did not want to write the way you write a nonfiction book. I would just let the words flow in an intuitive way.”
He found this method freeing, but it did require a lot of editing. “The hard part was the rewriting and editing. Worst of all was the proof-reading,” Schaller said. “I didn’t show it to anybody until I had a draft that satisfied me. A friend who was a combat veteran vetted it, to make sure I got technical details like ranks and military terms right.”
Schaller so enjoyed writing fiction that he began work on a second novel as soon as he sent the first one to his publisher. The plot of the next novel is inspired, in part, by a course on public health issues that Schaller taught at Trinity last spring. “I spent a section of the course on public health problems of people who are living in conflict or are displaced,” he said. “That inspired me to get extremely interested in the problem of refugees. It’s probably the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet, and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”
The protagonist in Schaller’s second novel is working with refugees and also is undergoing medical treatment for an illness. Schaller knows firsthand about the latter subject, having been diagnosed with leukemia in 2015. “I wanted to incorporate my thoughts about what it’s like to be told suddenly you have an illness, and have to deal with treatment, hospitals, and doctors,” he said. “I’m still working on that draft, but I’ve probably got 225 pages or so.”
While he still plans to pen articles for law publications, Schaller said that he sees himself continuing to focus on writing novels in the future. “I think another nonfiction book is too big an investment of time,” he said. “And fiction is too darn much fun.”
Written by Andrew J. Concatelli