12/13/2014 01:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'A Crime of Passion': A Talk With Scott Pratt


Photo: Scott Pratt

Scott Pratt is the bestselling author of the Joe Dillard series of legal thrillers. A former attorney, Scott worked as a criminal defense lawyer before writing his first novel, An Innocent Client. Although originally published by a major house, Scott decided to publish his recent novels independently, thus gaining control over the entire process.

A Crime of Passion is the 7th Joe Dillard thriller. In this novel, Joe is hired to defend a record company baron accused of murdering a young country music star. He finds himself amidst a web of lies so byzantine, he may never learn the truth. As the trial nears its conclusion, Joe realizes his client may be wrongfully convicted, and he himself may not survive.

A Crime of Passion was published one week ago. It's already heading to the top of the Amazon charts. What do you think makes Joe Dillard novels so popular?
I think readers connect with the characters. The novels seem to appeal to that segment of readers who enjoy a protagonist who isn't a drunk, who's loyal to his wife, and who hasn't been divorced. Joe Dillard is a family guy whose life is oriented around and toward his family. I think people connect with that since it's a breath of fresh air. I put Joe in a lot of difficult situations. I'm actually pretty hard on him. But, he's anchored firmly in place by Caroline, his wife, and by their children. I think people identify very meaningfully with that.

You once said, "Joe Dillard and I are joined at the hip." What did you mean?
I believe Joe is a very strong reflection of my personality, although he's better than I am. As does Joe, I have two kids. I have a wife, who, like Joe's wife, has been dealing with breast cancer since 2007. I had a German shepherd named Reo, as does Joe. Similar to Joe, I did a great deal of criminal defense work in high-profile murder cases. I had the same inner conflicts he has, and I think that's what drove me to write these novels.

So, Joe and I are joined at the hip. Sometimes, I take my family out to dinner and say, 'This is on Joe. Here's to Joe.' (Laughter). I've had a few readers write to me, saying, 'I don't like reading books that talk about cancer. I read to escape. But the way you handle it is very good.' Of course, I write about my wife's cancer with her permission, and she thought it might help us deal with it.

When cancer invades your life, it becomes a central part of life. You must manage it. It's a chronic disease. It changes things. Writing has been a good way for me to deal with my wife's cancer, almost from a therapeutic standpoint. I also think it's good for readers to read about it and think, 'Here's a guy--Joe Dillard--whose wife has been disfigured, poisoned, and who has gone through all these things. And, he still loves her. He doesn't feel any differently about her than he did before this happened. I think it's good for both men and women to read that kind of story. So, in essence, Joe and I are wrapped up together in this series. I try not to overdo the cancer part; I don't get preachy about it. It's just the way it is. It's part of my life, and it's part of Joe's life, too.

Your courtroom scenes are electrifying. What is it about a trial that lends itself so well to fiction?
There's nothing more dramatic than when someone's freedom is at stake. As a defense lawyer, having a defendant's freedom in your hands is an awesome responsibility. You feel you have the opportunity to send the defendant home, or if you fail, he may go to prison. A prosecutor trying a murder case often has the victim's family in court. They want some sense of justice, closure, or even revenge.

Everyone in a courtroom is looking for something. And that "something" is fodder for drama. People are only human, and in court, they don't necessarily tell the truth. That creates conflict. The courtroom is, under our system, naturally adversarial--between the prosecutor and defense lawyer. And the judge may be an adversary of one or another attorney. The lawyers play adversarial roles with certain witnesses. The entire scenario is filled with conflict and is ripe for drama--for fiction.

What has surprised you about the writing life?
A few things have surprised me over the past couple of years. First, how lucrative writing can be has surprised me after going through several years of not making any money. (Laughter).

What surprises me most is that whatever is inside my own subconscious mind comes out when I'm sitting by myself and writing. I can finish a scene, go back, read through it, and wonder, 'Where did that come from?' I guess what I'm really saying is I sometimes surprise myself. There are things I know that I don't even know I know (Laughter). It strikes me that writing stirs up all sorts of ideas that can rise to the surface.

What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
I would probably work outdoors--possibly construction or some kind of conservation work. I enjoy being out of doors. I come from very modest means in a rural Michigan community. I'm fairly simple. It doesn't take much to satisfy me. Whatever it would be, it would be something really simple.

What do you love about the writing life?
I love the freedom, the independence. I love being able to set my own schedule. I love being able to discipline myself rather than having a boss do it for me. As a writer, I have so much freedom to be with my family. Writing also gives me an enormous sense of accomplishment. It's very gratifying to realize I can discipline myself to do this, because you know as well as I, that writing a novel is a major undertaking. It takes a long time and enormous discipline, along with persistence. It can be energy-draining and even soul-sapping. But I love it.

Congratulations on penning A Crime of Passion, another Joe Dillard legal thriller that's already getting much well-deserved praise and attention.

Mark Rubinstein
Author of Mad Dog House and Mad Dog Justice