Unsympathetic Victims is the first in the Ashley Montgomery Legal Thriller Series by Laura Snider. Fans of relatable female protagonists and plot twists that keep you guessing will love Snider’s gripping debut novel. SRP sat down with the lawyer/author to find out more about how she uses her professional experience to shape her books and what simlarities she’s found between the two.
SRP: Ashley Montgomery, the protagonist in your debut thriller Unsympathetic Victims, is a public defender, and, when you’re not writing, you’re a prosecutor. How did it feel to write from the opposition’s perspective?
Laura: I spent seven years as a public defender working in rural communities in Iowa. Yes, I’m a prosecutor now, but I wasn’t when I originally started writing the manuscript. I loved my work as a public defender, but it can be a grind. The case load is overwhelming. The only way to properly represent that number of clients is for public defenders to end up working extremely long hours for little compensation.
Prosecutors are better funded positions. They generally don’t have to work the late hours. Yes, law enforcement sometimes needs guidance in the form of a late-night call, but that work can be done from home. I made the switch because I got married and had children. I no longer had all the time in the world to work, and I felt like I had to decide between my family and criminal defense. I also started my writing career around the same time, and that requires a good chunk of time. Working part-time as a prosecutor has allowed me to be present for my family, work in criminal law, and write.
SRP: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Laura: I think the most difficult part of writing any book is the revision process. I don’t outline before writing, so that makes for a lot of cutting and letting go. There are characters I’ve created and lost through revisions. I’ve had to trash entire scenes. Sometimes it is necessary to scrap 50,000 words and start over. It’s not fun to let go of a single word, but 50,000 can be pretty gut wrenching. But the truth is that revisions are the only way that a manuscript gets any better. I have come to terms with the fact that the first draft of anything I write is junk compared to the final product.
SRP: What’s your favorite characteristic of your protagonist, Ashley Montgomery? Do you see any of yourself in her?
Laura: I love Ashley’s snarkiness. She’s different from most people and she owns it. I would say I have many of the same thought patterns as Ashley, but I’ve never been strong enough to brazenly say what I think like she does.
Ashley’s character is modeled off the many excellent attorneys that I worked with in the public defender system. I worked with some pretty fantastic attorneys. They fight for their clients in a way that is unapologetic and bold, and I’ve always admired that about them.
SRP: What’s next for Ashley Montgomery?
Laura: Like any other public defender, Ashley’s office is a revolving door of new clients. In each new book, she’ll receive new cases, and with them clients and circumstances that continue to challenge her understanding of true justice.
SRP: Where do you see parallels between working in law and writing fiction novels?
Laura: Deadlines and preparation are both necessary parts of practicing law and fiction writing.
In law, deadlines are constantly present, forcing each case to move along at a fairly expedient pace. There are speedy trial deadlines, indictment deadlines, and motion deadlines. In writing, deadlines are necessary to keep the publication process moving along. There are people who cannot even start working on their job until I finish the writing portion. Blowing deadlines in both writing and the legal profession can cause serious issues for other people.
Preparation is key in both writing and law as well. They each require a different kind of preparation, but in both professions it is time consuming and it shows if you don’t do your due diligence.
SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
Laura: I’m always reading three books – a physical book, e-book, and listening to an audiobook.
At this moment, my physical book is Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen, my audiobook is A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers, and my ebook is A Killer’s Wife by Victor Methos.
Some of my favorite books that I’ve read this year have been, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.
SRP: Are you a pantser or a plotter, meaning do you dive head first into writing and see where the story takes you or do you like to create an outline and work from it?
Laura: I’m a pantser. I write and see where the story takes me. I do this mostly because my books are character driven and I have a hard time deciding what a character will do until after I’ve created him or her. So, I sit down and start writing and as the characters form, so does the story line. It makes for some pretty extensive editing, which can be painful at times, but also much more adventurous. My characters are constantly doing things that surprise me, and I love that about them.
Unsympathetic Victims launches July 27. You can pre-order your copy for just $0.99!
When successful public defender Ashley Montgomery helps acquit yet another client, people in small-town Brine, Iowa are enraged. Following the verdict, a protest breaks out — and the hated defense attorney quickly finds her life in danger.
But little does Ashley know, things are about to get worse — much worse. One of her clients turns up dead, and Ashley is arrested for his murder. As local investigators Katie Mickey and George Thomanson dive into the case, they start to suspect that Ashely is being framed — but by whom?
With Ashley’s freedom at stake, Katie and George are desperate to find out the truth. And soon, they uncover a sinister plot born of corruption, greed, and misplaced loyalty that will leave the whole town reeling — and questioning their faith in the people they trusted most.
SRP: This is your debut novel! How does it feel?
James: I am excited at seeing Misjudged published. The entire project started several years ago with a sort of off-handed comment to my wife after I’d read a particularly poor novel: “I could write a better book than that,” I said. “Well, why don’t you?” And it was on. The process of writing, revising, finding a publisher and working with the SRP team to bring the book to readers has been eye-opening—you have no idea the amount of work that goes into publishing a book until you go through it. It has been both challenging and exhilarating, and it will be fun to see everyone’s efforts come to fruition. I hope readers will enjoy themselves for a couple of hours.
SRP: Where did you come up with the idea for Misjudged?
James: When I decided to write the novel, I had a very rough outline in mind. Misjudged is admittedly a character-driven, rather than plot-driven, novel. Because I’m not trying to make any points or drive home an agenda in my books, and because trials are structured, linear affairs, the plot beyond the initial outline evolved from the characters: “How would a guy like Sam handle a situation like X?” “What would Judge Daniels do if confronted by Y?” and so on. The key players are composite portraits of men and women I have known, mostly inspired by military officers I encountered during my career (trust me when I tell you the Pentagon was a rich source of material). I had some procedural and forensic twists I wanted to introduce, so I outlined and revised until I felt like I had a solid idea for a novel I could sit down and write.
SRP: What can you tell us about the plot?
James: Misjudged introduces the reader to Sam Johnstone, a disabled veteran who went to law school after being discharged from the Army. After struggling at a law firm in Washington, D.C., a down-on-his-luck Sam accepts an offer from an old friend to relocate to rural Wyoming to practice in a last-ditch effort to save his career—and himself. Against his better judgment, Sam agrees to defend a veteran accused of killing a prominent local attorney. Misjudged follows Sam and the other key players as the case develops and is tried in front of a jury. Along the way, Sam struggles with his demons while he and the various participants find their assumptions about the actions and motives of others are not always accurate.
SRP: Why did you choose Wyoming as your setting?
James: I’ve been fortunate to have been around the world several times—and yet, here I am! I love Wyoming like only someone who has been everywhere else can. Custer, Wyoming is a fictional place, but I think it represents what Wyoming, its people, and its legal practitioners are all about. I gave serious thought to basing the novel elsewhere, but decided I was most comfortable with Wyoming people, places and law.
SRP: What’s next for Sam Johnstone?
James: The next novel in the series, One and Done, follows Sam as he defends a star athlete charged with the murder of a gay college student. While the facts alone are problematic, outside pressures and Sam’s internal struggles complicate an already difficult situation and threaten to interfere with Sam’s defense of his client. I’m already mulling some general ideas for the third book. There’s a minor character—a woman—who was introduced in One and Done. I think she might merit a closer look. I could see some interesting things happening in her life, and her interaction with Sam could get complicated.
SRP: Have you read any good books lately?
James: My reading is heavily weighted toward non-fiction, especially military history. Right now, I am reading several books dealing with the Great Sioux War and the Army of the West. As a retired Army officer formerly assigned to places like Fort Riley, Fort Leavenworth, and Fort Bliss, I have a fondness for the old Cavalry posts. It must have been an amazing experience to be garrisoned at one of those posts at the relevant time. My fiction reading is rare and leans toward dated detective novels, police procedurals and thrillers. I’m a huge fan of Robert B. Parker (who could say more in fewer words?), Evan Hunter a/k/a Ed McBain (talk about page-turners!), and Alistair MacLean (the breadth of subjects he dealt with in his thrillers is unmatched). I am not as a rule a big fan of legal thrillers, and purposely and with malice aforethought have read but a single legal thriller since I started writing Misjudged in 2016: Anatomy of a Murder, by Robert Traver, the pen name for John D. Voelker.
SRP: If you were shipwrecked on a deserted island with all your physical needs taken care of—such as food and water, what two items would you want to have with you?
James: I would need a fly rod to keep me busy and some way to communicate with my wife and daughters. Although I tend toward the misanthropic, I love the women in my life and would need to communicate with them—if only to send them pictures of my catch.
Misjudged is available to purchase here.
When a disabled veteran takes a new job as an attorney in a small Wyoming town, he is thrust into a mysterious murder case.
Sam Johnstone was hoping for renewal when he took a job at a boutique law firm in rustic Wyoming. The mountains and streams of the west would be a refreshing, quiet place to start over after years of war and turmoil in his personal life.
But after a local woman is brutally murdered, Sam realizes that things aren’t so quiet in this rural American town. The accused is one Tommy Olsen, a known delinquent who had been sleeping with the victim. Sam is repulsed by the crime and wants nothing to do with the case, but meets with Tommy to make sure he has legal representation.
Yet things are not as they seem.
What begins as a cut-and-dry case becomes infinitely more complicated as new facts are uncovered, and Sam agrees to serve as Tommy’s defense attorney.
With the killer’s identity still unknown, Sam is enveloped in the small-town politics and courtroom drama of a murder investigation that keeps getting more shocking.
But if Sam can’t uncover the truth, an innocent man might be punished…while the real killer watches from the shadows.