Former Kaufman County Judge Dennis Jones has recently put the final period on a project that he has been working on for 30 years: Blurred Justice, a courtroom-based fictional drama.
Jones has spent his professional lifetime firmly entrenched in the Texas criminal justice system. He’s worked as a prosecutor, as a defense attorney, and most recently served as the judge of Kaufman County Court of Law No. 1 for the last six years. But when his final term ended in December and he began to question what was next, Jones saw the opportunity to finish a project that he had started back in 1989.
Jones got the inspiration to make his literary debut in an offhand conversation with his wife over a book she was reading one evening about the justice system. This wasn’t a rare occurrence; Jones says his wife often enjoyed reading criminal fiction and court room dramas though he tried to stay away from them himself to better separate himself from his work. But one evening, Jones asked his wife about what she was reading, and she responded with a statement that left a profound mark on him.
“You could probably write something better,” she said.
Immediately, Jones began working drawing up an outline for a story about a prosecutor who finds himself a little too close to comfort for a murder case based in part on the foundation his knowledge of the system that he worked in on a daily basis.
“This prosecutor gets personally involved in a particular criminal case,” Jones explains. “He shouldn’t do it. But he did. And as a result he ends up getting charged with murder. The story is not so much about the trial itself. There are, of course, some trial aspects. But it’s really about the story of this prosecutor.”
After working out the general direction of the story and establishing the characters, setting and plot, Jones went to work crafting these concepts into a novel. For years, he spent an hour or two each night working on his book in the late evenings after putting his children to bed. But by the time that he was finished with his first draft in the mid-’90s, he found himself being pulled away by his maturing children.
“About that time my kids were becoming Boy Scout age and about that time baseball came,” Jones said. “By the time I got one kid out of the way to work on the book, I’ve got another kid coming up. And so it stayed on the shelf.”
After over a decade later and following multiple drafts and edits, Jones decided to pick things back up about 10 years ago. The story surrounding protagonist Roy Mitchell had ballooned to around twice the size of Jones’ original draft and he decided it was finally time to start shopping it around and trying to get his work published. Jones began sending out his work accompanied with letters to agents, hoping that at least one would break through, but each letter sent was a frustrating process and it often took months before Jones would hear a response.
“I bet I sent out about 50 of them,” Jones said. “And I got about 50 rejections. A couple of agents did like it. But they said ‘you’ve got a lot of work to do.’ I got tired of it.”
As Jones spent much of the last decade presiding over a county courtroom, Blurred Justice, largely finished, remained unpublished. But finally, after retiring from the courtroom and arming himself with exponentially more free time, Jones was determined to finally make things work.
After reading back through Blurred Justice, Jones noticed that much of what he had originally written was out of date for the current landscape of the country. The story was written in a time before cell phones, and many of the monetary figures that he included in the story didn’t make much sense following 30 years of inflation. Although Jones initially set out to update the story and make it more applicable to modern times, one of his sons who he consulted on his work convinced him to change it back to its more nostalgic roots.
But Jones still had to overcome his most imposing hurdle: getting his book published. And after reading an article about self-publishing, he finally found his solution. Now, after three decades in the making, Blurred Justice is finished, published and available for purchase. Writing it was a massive undertaking for Jones, and while he doesn’t expect it to be a runaway success or make him world famous, he’s satisfied that he was finally able to complete a project that he began so long ago.
“I’m glad that I finally pulled it off the shelf,” Jones said. “I spent too many hours late at night typing this darn thing back in the day. I didn’t want to let it sit there on the shelf and gather dust. I may not sell but one copy to my kids, but at least it’s out there.”
Jones has already donated the book to the Kaufman County Library and will be holding a book signing on Thursday, September 19 at the library from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. where copies of the book will be on sale. But even if it doesn’t take off there, Jones does have a Plan B.
“I guess I could try to hawk them at the State Fair,” he said with a laugh.