The story of a life is never straightforward. Every individual follows a circuitous path, determined by some mixture of birth circumstance, passion, goals, education, career, and simple happenstance that creates a unique human being.
This uniqueness means that everyone has a story, says Albert Stark, shareholder of the law firm Stark & Stark. Over the course of his life he has written and self-published three books, each with a different purpose, and he encourages other people do the same. “I hear so many people say, ‘If only I could tell my story,’” he says. “Today’s technology makes that a reality.”
Stark will present “Writing Books for a Purpose” on Thursday, April 7, at 11:30 a.m. at the Princeton Chamber monthly luncheon at Princeton Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, 100 College Road East. Cost: $65. To register, go to princetonchamber.org or call 609-924-1776.
As examples of different purposes for writing, Stark offers his own self-published books and explains why he wrote each one:
#b#Sharing personal career experiences with newbies and raising money for a cause#/b#. In his first book, “Beyond the Bar — Challenges in a Lawyer’s Life,” published in 2003, Stark related stories from the first 15 years of his career to offer lessons about overcoming the challenges faced by young lawyers: how to use a mentor, how to experiment to find your proper place in the legal profession, how to understand judges, and how to develop business.
Technological change has made a huge difference, including a company that Stark & Stark helped to form years ago in a Trenton incubator, the self-publishing platform XLibris. Not sure how to proceed, Stark took a writing course with Carolyn Farrington, who later helped him edit the manuscript and prepare it for publication. The book was intended to raise money for Leadership Trenton, which was just being formed by Thomas Edison State College at the time. He published through XLibris. The book, which appears in the American Bar Association catalog, has sold 9,200 copies and brought in more than $100,000 — enough to create an endowment for Leadership Trenton.
#b#Filling an information gap and raising money for an organization#/b#. As a volunteer for the Institute for Social Service at the College of New Jersey, Stark worked with professor Alan Dawley on a social justice course and discovered that the students, 18 to 24 years old, were missing critical knowledge of events from his own lifetime. “As we don’t remember the Depression, they don’t remember what led up to 9/11,” he says. What they did not know ranged from Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, to concepts like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to political machinations like the U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup that put the Shah in power.
Although Stark is an attorney, he studied government and economics at Dartmouth College and has always been interested in public policy. So in 2006 he wrote the 70-page “A War against Terror through My Lens” to be used in the course and also to raise money for the the Institute for Social Service at the College of New Jersey. His fundraising got a big boost when the chief of staff of the airborne unit of the U.S. Army saw its value for his trainees in the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg. The book ultimately raised $50,000.
#b#Sharing accumulated career wisdom#/b#. What compelled Stark to write his third book, “Insider Secrets to Winning Your Personal Injury Battle,” in 2009, was a call from an old client, Nina Rich, whose son Terry had suffered a serious brain injury in a car accident. She had read an article in the New York Times about how soldiers were not being given proper treatment for injuries they had suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan and suggested that Stark write about his cases and what happened after the cases were over. The soldiers, Rich told him, should know what they will go through when they come back.
Stark interviewed about 50 of his “superstar” clients with brain, burn, and spinal cord injuries and their caregivers to write a book about what it took to secure the lifelong care these victims needed. Says Stark: “I wrote it from a legal perspective but addressed it to the veterans who were coming back with these injuries.” These were young people who didn’t get the kind of care that ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff got after he was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. Young people who “were being sort of dropped by the Veterans Administration and Department of Defense after they got out of the rehab with post traumatic stress and burn, spinal cord, and brain injuries,” he says.
This book was released in softcover but also as an E-book that is available free online at survivalfortheseriouslyinjured.com. “It gets around 10,000 hits a month, mostly from caregivers and family members of people with serious injuries,” says Stark. “The purpose of the book is not to make money but to get out information to people who ordinarily would not be able to get information because they don’t go to bookstores, but are on computers a lot.” It is also available as an online audio book.
Stark grew up in Trenton and graduated from Trenton High School. His father, who co-founded the firm Stark & Stark with his uncle, had wanted to be a professor of law and a judge, but graduating in the middle of the Great Depression in 1932 made that impossible.
After graduating from law school at Penn Stark wanted to be an urban development lawyer who would change cities. His first job was with Governor Richard Hughes and Trenton Mayor Arthur Holland, drafting legislation enabling New Jersey’s cities to replace slums with low and moderate-income housing and creating a Department of Community Affairs.
But his direction changed when the riots of 1967 sent him to an office suite in his father’s and uncle’s law offices. Because every new lawyer was expected to do pro bono criminal work, he was assigned some cases and, as a result, “got a taste of the courtroom and never left.”
He then took a job as assistant prosecutor for Mercer County, but after his discomfort seeing police beat up people during the 1968 Chicago convention, he resigned and returned to the family law business. Ironically, police officers who had been in accidents of various kinds started calling and asking him to represent them. That and a serious injury in his family several years later led him to his life’s work in defending victims of catastrophic injury. “We don’t just do law,” he says. “We do a lot of social work, rehabilitation counseling, and family counseling.”
Just as Stark has used his personal experiences, knowledge, and expertise to write self-published books for multiple purposes, he asserts that most people can do the same. “You don’t have to just write to get into a bookstore,” he says. But the strictures on new writers are many — big publishers are looking for authors who already have a huge platform; they are less interested in older writers; and in fiction they are looking for series. And that is why Stark wants to encourage his business colleagues and others to self-publish.
“I’m going to show people how they can do something with today’s technology,” he says, “I’m going to spark their imaginations.”