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Interview with Jennifer Hillier 2012

Author Jennifer Hillier

Jennifer Hillier has recently had one of the reads of the year published at the birth of a new year; the tense, exciting and beautifully crafted read, Creep (Sphere). Here Jennifer explains to Chris High how the novel born out of as adversity ... though nothing like as much as that faced by the novel’s antagonists.

Where did the inspiration for Creep come from, how long did it take to write and how difficult was it to get published?

I cringe at telling this story – because it’s so cliché! – but the idea for Creep came to me in a dream. I woke up one morning with a very vivid image of Ethan Wolfe in my head, and felt I needed to write it down. I ended up with maybe half a page of notes, and thought, “Hmmm, this might be a cool short story.” The next morning, I started writing it, and knew after the first five pages it was going to be a novel. Altogether, it took me 14 months to write Creep and 5 months alone to write the first draft. The publishing process was definitely a rollercoaster. Lots of rejections until I signed with an agent, then a few more rejections from publishers until the book sold. But of course, it was all worth it.

Sheila Tao and Morris Gardener are both incredibly damaged yet incredibly strong. How difficult was it to balance the two traits so deftly in two very individual characters?

I believe the strongest people are often the most damaged people. I think you need to be torn down before you can build real strength, and I wanted to write about people who were flawed and imperfect and resilient. But it’s tricky, because you don’t want the characters so deeply flawed that they’re unlikable, which is why I gave Sheila huge doses of guilt, and Morris a sense of humour. I wanted them to feel real to the reader.

Ethan Wolfe is, as are most fictional crime antagonists, is charming, charismatic and deeply disturbed. How difficult was it (he says, trying not to give away a plot-point) keeping his true nature suppressed?

My stories always start with the villains, because they’re my favourite characters . Once I have my villain, the rest of the story grows from there. Ethan definitely kept me guessing the whole way, which is probably why he keeps the reader guessing. I don’t outline before I write, and I honestly never knew what Ethan was going to do until I actually wrote it. So it really wasn’t too difficult keeping his secrets, because he kept them from me. The nerve!

There are surprises and twists and turns on every page. How far ahead do you plan your novels or do these elements and how much research did you undertake for Creep?

I really didn’t do too much research. I spent years working in a university so the setting for the book came naturally to me, and I already knew quite a bit about psychopaths from courses I’d taken in school. But I did have to research a lot about sex addiction and alcoholism, issues in the story with which I have no personal experience. Sheila didn’t tell me she was a sex addict until maybe halfway through the first draft, and Morris didn’t tell me he was an alcoholic until I started working on revisions! So I obviously don’t plan much.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing Creep and what was the most enjoyable aspect?

The most difficult aspect of writing the book was believing it could be any good. I’m super self-critical, and there are days when I get so bogged down with self-doubt, I can’t write anything (I’m working on that). The most enjoyable part was being surprised by the plot. There were many, many days where I’d read back my work and think, “Hey, that works. Where did that come from?”

What is it about crime fiction you enjoy?

I can’t get enough of the adrenaline rush. Good crime fiction is well-paced paced and well-plotted, and when the characters are deep and fully developed, that’s the ideal trifecta in fiction for me. I appreciate good writing, too, of course, but as a reader it’s almost secondary for me, because what I crave most is a good story. And did I mention that I absolutely love villains? The bad guys are always my favourite part of a crime novel, and you really can’t have a crime novel without a bad guy.

Do you have a writing routine or any particular superstitions?

I must always have coffee or tea ...this week its tea. I must have a clean and organized desk. I must have a scented candle burning, and I prefer food smells (cinnamon, apple, citrus, cocoa). I must have the right playlist on my iTunes. I must always have a sticky note at the side of my computer monitor that tells me exactly what today’s goal is. The phone must be turned off. If all these things are in the place, it will usually be a good writing day. Usually, that is.

How much of a drive to write Creep was moving from your native Canada to Seattle?

Creep came from a lonely place, actually. The first couple of years I lived in Seattle were hard, as I had no friends and no family close by, and I had a hard time adjusting to the rainy – and often gloomy – weather. Losing myself in writing the book was the way I got through it. And there’s something about all the trees and mist in the Pacific Northwest that make it perfect for writing about serial killers.

What three pieces of advice would you give aspiring authors?

Read a lot, write a lot, and be open to feedback on your work. I don’t believe you can grow as a writer unless you do all of these things, as much as you can. And can I add a fourth? Check your ego at the door. Know that there’s always room for improvement.

What’s next for Jennifer Hillier and are there any plans to visit the UK in the near future?

I’m currently working on edits for the next book, FREAK, which is due out in the US and Canada this summer and hopefully the UK soon after! Boy, what I wouldn’t give to visit the UK. In pictures, it actually reminds me a lot of Seattle, but with so much more history. Someday soon, I hope!

Chris High reviews 'Creep' by Jennifer Hillier

More information: www.jenniferhillier.org

 

 


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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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