Effective fiction: Attorney finds avocation in written word

By Jo Mathis
Legal News

Ann Arbor attorney Donnelly Hadden doesn’t write briefs the way most lawyers write briefs.

He writes them as if they are news articles, complete with a headline at the top.

“I try to make a story out of it so someone will want to read it,” he said.

One day, he realized that no matter how artfully he writes a brief, it’s read only by a handful of people.  And that suddenly seemed like a shame.

A fiction writer was born.

Now he has eight stories for sale on Amazon.com, with Kindle purchases at around $2.99.

As much as he loves to write and do research for his stories, he admits that fiction writing is tough for a lawyer.

 “It’s difficult to write effective fiction if you’re a lawyer because we’re not taught that way,” said Hadden, who graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1961 and has been practicing law in Detroit and Ann Arbor since then.  “We’re taught to be very specific and to lay out your case and use as much precision as you can to tell what the case is about.”

His first book, “The Tree,” was about the marriage of two gay men in Ontario.

It sold a few hundred copies.

“It wasn’t a best-seller. It wasn’t even a good seller,” he quipped. “It was published almost six years ago during the previous administration when gay marriage was a hot topic and very controversial. Nobody cares anymore.”

But it may have some shelf life after all.

 “I’m thinking of stealing some scenes from that book and putting them in another,” he said. “There are some really good court scenes in there.”

He’s also written a story about a man who found a load of money, and all the catastrophes that befell him as a result. It’s loosely based on a true story of a man in Detroit who found a lot of cash hidden in his house, only to end up in court.

Hadden says there’s not much market for short stories, and it’s hard to get an agent, so he self-publishes.

Plot ideas come randomly.

One came when Hadden was driving down the freeway from Detroit and saw a sign for Rawsonville Road.

“I said, `I like that: Rawsonville Road.’ I wonder if there are any Rawsons.”

And before long, he was writing about a rich old woman named Mrs. Rawson whose children are squabbling over their inheritance. Meanwhile, she sends for a lawyer, who meets the dysfunctional family, and it goes from there.

“All that from seeing the Rawsonville Road sign, thinking about it, and spinning a tale,” he said.

He’s now writing a book with the working title “Crocodile Man” about a priest in ancient Egypt who attempts to escape his enemies by turning himself into a crocodile.

To make the book authentic, he’s read books on ancient Egypt, and bought software that let him write the formula for a counter-charm in hieroglyphics.

Writing has been a pleasant weekend and evening diversion from his practice of environmental law, which Hadden sums up in three words: “We sue polluters.”

Clients have included a neighborhood group suing a steel mill for damages to their homes from emissions of dust and rust, as well as those suing owners of oil companies, compost facilities, leaking underground storage tanks, power plants, and landfills that contaminated wells.

His practice is winding down now.

“I like writing better than practicing law now,” he said. “I’m trying to ease out of the law business. I’m not taking on new cases. I’m just processing the cases I do have, and once in a while, some old client will call … and I’ll do it.”

He said he feels fortunate to have found an avocation that will keep him from being bored in retirement.

“It’s fun,” he said. “I just really enjoy everything about it.”

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