Magpie Moments: Origins of Character Nicknames

Time for another Magpie Moments post, peeks behind the scenes where I’ve scavenged bits of real life for my fiction.

Continuing with the theme of names, this time I thought I’d share the origins of one of Sydney’s nicknames.

“If trouble starts, it’s usually because she brought it with her,” [Richard] said, pointing at me. “Little Miss Tempest in a Teapot.”

Back to Lazarus, Chapter 39

My first job as a licensed attorney was for a Legal Aid office in Lafayette, LA. It was relatively small—just a few  each of attorneys, paralegals, secretaries and admin-type people—considering it provided services to people in several parishes.

(Yes, there really are parishes instead of counties in Louisiana. Think The Vicar of Dibley. And you thought your state was religious!)

I worked in the Family Law section, so we helped low-income people in need with issues like adoption, divorce, name changes, etc. The majority of my cases were child custody-related, so—as you can imagine, things occasionally got volatile.

Early on, I actually ran into more trouble with other attorneys in court than I did with my clients or their ex-whatevers.

Most of the judges and attorneys were men. (The first courthouse I appeared in didn’t even have a ladies restroom, and this was the late 1990s.) They were used to doing things a certain way. In other words, it was the quintessential “old boys network.”

I quickly discovered that if I went along with the way things were usually done (beware of anything informal or “in chambers”), my clients—mostly women—got screwed.

So I came prepared, with statutes and case law, and tried to hold the men to every nit-picking detail therein. It often annoyed the holy crap out of opposing attorneys, many of whom hadn’t cracked a book in the last 17 years. (This was back in the days when you forked out a good chunk of change every year for the privilege of killing a small forest and learning what minutia the legislators had tweaked this time.)

After one of these court appearances, my boss called me and the other family law attorney into her office. (There were only three of us at the time, all women; in my experience at a couple of offices, Legal Aid drew disproportionately on women, especially since most of the private attorneys were men.)

My boss told us what she’d heard—either through a phone call or a crazy motion filed by opposing counsel—and I braced myself for the fallout.

I can’t remember the details of my “transgression,” but I will never forget her shaking her head and tsking, “Little Miss Tempest in a Teapot.” She was trying not to grin, but she wasn’t successful for long. Whatever it was I’d done, and whoever I’d succeeded in annoying, I don’t think I could have pleased her more.

I like to think Sydney inspires that brand of tsking everywhere she goes.