On his website, rattlesnakelaw.com, Albuquerque’s Jonathan Miller says his “skills as a novelist have made me a better advocate for my clients.”
Miller is also a lawyer. He has a state contract to represent indigent clients in criminal cases in virtually every judicial district in New Mexico.
“I’ve learned to tell a story to a jury, and the jury is just another audience,” Miller said in a phone interview. “And I am able to make my client a sympathetic person. In the courtroom, I try to make my clients recognizable as human beings, because sometimes people jump to conclusions about them.”
In his novels, Miller said, he focuses on universal details – peoples’ wants and needs.
The difference between wants and needs is that a character should be on a quest for a need, not a want. “Sometimes what they want is not what they need,” he said.
Still, Miller added, individuals – real-life clients and fictional characters ——must differentiate between wants and needs.
Everyone, Miller contended, wants the same thing. “They want to be there for their family and they want their freedom. A lot of my clients have addiction issues, and they want to be free of their addiction. And the characters in my books try to become their best selves,” he said.
Miller’s 10th and newest work of fiction is “Luna Law: A Rattlesnake Lawyer Thriller.” He described it as a love story told as a legal thriller.
Miller came to writing fiction through screenwriting. In 2000, he received a master’s degree in fine arts in screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.
He completed his first “Rattlesnake Lawyer” thriller, “Amarillo in August,” about a lawyer’s life on the road, while he was still in film school.
“The one good thing about AFI is that I learned structure, that every story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. And literally each story was broken down to 70 scenes in a film and every 10th scene is supposed to be important,” Miller said.
That division carried over to writing books. He usually tries to find a big event or key transition in every 10,000 words of a 70,000-plus-word segment.
The film school also required screenwriting students to pitch their story ideas and defend them to fellow students and to the teacher. That requirement, Miller said, made him a better courtroom advocate for clients.
He believes that every book in the series is better than the one before. Miller describes the series as “a surprising mash-up of legal thriller/science fiction/Western/multicultural fiction.”
Miller said his plot ideas almost always come to him in a vision while he’s driving, running or dreaming.