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Interview: January 26, 2007

January 26, 2007

Frank Turner Hollon has written numerous short stories and is the author of THE GOD FILE, THE PAINS OF APRIL, LIFE IS A STRANGE PLACE, A THIN DIFFERENCE and THE POINT OF FRACTURE. In this interview with's Joe Hartlaub, Hollon discusses how the "lost art of one-on-one conversation" drove the plot of his latest novel, BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE, and explains how his experiences practicing law allowed him to accurately portray both legal and psychological matters in his writing. He also describes his meticulous writing process, reveals the motivation behind his foray into the world of children's literature, and shares details about the possibility of a movie adaptation of his previous work. BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE is told in the form of a transcript between Joel Stabler, a man accused of a mercy killing, and Dr. Ellis Andrews, a consulting psychologist. In all of your novels to date, including BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE, you have tinkered a bit with the conventional form of a novel. How do you go about deciding what form you will take in writing each novel? Do you begin with your basic idea behind the story and introduce a new wrinkle into the format each time?

Frank Turner Hollon: For me, it's all about communication. I try to start with a story worth telling, and then I try to communicate it as clearly and as interestingly as possible. I also need to challenge myself. I had the idea for BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE for some time, but it didn't come together for me until I decided to communicate the story through the lost art of one-on-one conversation. With cell phones, emails and other technology, we can't use our instincts of observation like we can in a simple conversation.

BRC: You are a practicing attorney, and while BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE has a legal matter --- the defense of a murderer --- as a backdrop, the primary focus of the work is psychological, rather than legal. Do you have any background as a psychologist? And what sparked your interest in psychology?

FTH: In practicing law, I have the opportunity on a regular basis to deal with mental illness. The people suffering from mental illness are sometimes fascinating and tragic, unpredictable and extreme. I find myself imagining the cross-over from reality to delusion. In BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE I wanted to place myself, and ultimately the reader, in a world where we can never be sure what's real and what's imagined.

BRC: One of the most impressive elements of BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE is that, despite its brevity compared to other novels in the suspense genre, the length was entirely appropriate to the subject matter. The language was concise, though hardly simple or elementary, and one got the feeling that although not everything was revealed, enough was told to make the story complete. Brevity is not a concept normally associated with attorneys. Did you deliberately set out to paint this complex story deceptively simply?

FTH: I am blessed with a publisher who allows me great freedom in my writing. I am blessed with a job that feeds my family. I don't care how long a book is supposed to be in order to fit a certain category or become a bestseller. I start the story and it ends when it ends. Sometimes it's 10 pages. Sometimes 300. With BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE, as with THE GOD FILE, I was very aware of the heaviness of the subject and the risk of overdoing.

BRC: If you re-read BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE immediately after finishing it for the first time, you come to fully appreciate what has been done here, in terms of questioning perceptions of reality, and comparing and contrasting sanity and insanity. Did you intend to create such a palimpsest when you began writing the novel, or did the work gradually evolve into it as you got deeper into the respective psyches of Stabler and Andrews?

FTH: I had to look up the definition of palimpsest. I think the answer is "yes." I started out with the intention of creating layers of understanding and misunderstanding. I wanted the reader, and myself, to have the opportunity to go as deep as possible.

BRC: Are any of the characters in BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE drawn from your professional life?

FTH: The characters in BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE are not real people, but certainly they consist of pieces of real people.

BRC: You published a children's book, GLITTER GIRL AND THE CRAZY CHEESE, last year. Compare and contrast, if you would, the difference between writing a novel aimed at a "'tween" audience and writing BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE, which is for the adult market. Do you find writing for young people to be more difficult? For which audience do you prefer writing? And do you plan to write any children's books in the future?

FTH: I wrote GLITTER GIRL AND THE CRAZY CHEESE with my kids. It was a way to combine my writing life and my family life, which is not an easy thing to do. For the most part, writing is a solitary endeavor, and certainly a book tour is boring for the wife and kids after the 19th bookstore. So, I set out with the purpose of involving my three kids, getting their names on the book (or in it) and finding an illustrator to bring it all to life. MacAdam/Cage stretched itself to publish such a book, and I am grateful.

BRC: I had read a number of years ago that you write your novels in longhand, on a legal pad, and then dictate them for transcription. Do you still employ this method of writing? In what ways do you feel that it helps your writing process?

FTH: I still write everything in longhand, preferring to feel the words come from my hand and see them strung together on the paper. I edit myself at least twice before dictating to my secretary between legal motions. I edit again in the typed form, able to see how it will be seen by others, and then I put the chapter away. I usually can only find enough time at the office in one sitting to write eight to twelve pages, which explains why so many of my books have short chapters or pieces.

BRC: What inspired you to begin writing? Do you see yourself ever leaving the practice of law to write on a full-time basis?

FTH: I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I often find myself motivated by my personal need to understand. By facing issues through characters in situations other than my own, I can make a little more sense of this strange world. I doubt I'll ever reach a point where I'll trust the book business to take care of my family.

BRC: The work of Walker Percy plays a brief but important role in BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE. Percy, yourself, Cormac McCarthy, Larry Brown, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Tennessee Williams…so many of our best authors are from the South. What, do you believe, is it about the South that provides such rich and fertile literary ground?

FTH: I was born and raised in the South, but I don't really consider my writing to fit what we usually think of as "Southern Literature." I'm not convinced the South actually produces more great writers than other places. Maybe we just appreciate and embrace our writers more fiercely.

BRC: What authors, if any, have influenced your work? And what authors, and types of books, do you read for pleasure?

FTH: Walker Percy is an influence on me now still. When I get a chance to read, I usually read my favorite novels again. I promised myself when I was young I'd never do such a thing.

BRC: What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?

FTH: If the movie gets made, and it looks like it will begin filming soon, of the funny book LIFE IS A STRANGE PLACE (see the IMDB website under movie title Barry Munday), then I hope MacAdam/Cage will publish another funny book entitled AUSTIN AND EMILY around the same time they would release the paperback of LIFE IS A STRANGE PLACE. Right now I'm working on a novel called THE WAIT. I'm up to 215 pages, and I'm curious to know where it will go.