Today, I'm delighted to interview Jennifer Hillier, author of the thriller Creep and its upcoming sequel Freak. Enjoy her thoughts on writing, thrillers, Stephen King and tipples.
LW: Your debut novel Creep was published last year. Did you write with an eye on publication from the start or was it more a case of write the book first and then see about aiming for publication/finding an agent?
JH: When I started writing Creep, I didn't know whether I was even capable of writing anything publishable. I had written one other novel (which was terrible, and we shall not discuss it), and I hadn't written a short story in years. Pursuing publication was always in the back of my mind, but my focus as I wrote Creep was primarily on not sucking. It wasn't until I had finished the book, workshopped it, and was well into my third draft that I even started researching agents. But I didn't start actually querying until I had finished polishing my sixth draft.
LW: Your upcoming novel Freak is a sequel to Creep. Did you always plan on two books or was it a happy accident?
JH: Definitely a happy accident. I didn't know how Creep was going to end until I actually wrote the ending, and even then I wasn't sure if there was any story left for the characters I didn't kill off. My agent and editor were the ones who were asking for a sequel, so that was the spark.
LW: Without wanting to spoil anything in Creep, your lead character Sheila has a strong sexual side. Do you think there’s a subtle (or not so subtle) way of thinking which suggests it’s more acceptable for a male character rather than a female character to have that aspect to their personality?
JH: When I workshopped Creep early on, I got nailed so bad (no pun intended) for having a character like Sheila, who's a sex addict struggling with her recovery. One fellow male participant even labeled her as "gross" and said the story was "unappealing" and "I can't imagine anyone wanting to read this." (Yeah? LOOK AT ME NOW, JOHN!)
But I weighed his feedback carefully. It forced me to think long and hard about Sheila's sex addiction, and I eventually decided it didn't feel right to change her. She was initially created as a minor character, and obviously her role in the story grew, but from the beginning, I had always seen her as a sex addict. And the terrible choices she makes directly lead to the challenges she faces in the novel.
LW: Have you always written in the crime/thriller genre?
JH: I've always loved reading thrillers, but when I was a teenager, most of what I wrote was young adult romance. And then later, and for a long time, I wrote horror (my first novel, the one that's now trunked, is horror). It took me a while to realize that I'm not actually very good at writing horror, and I've long been fascinated by serial killers, so writing thrillers turned out to be a good fit.
LW: Who’s influenced you?
JH: For sure, Stephen King. I pretty much jumped right from Sweet Valley High books when I was ten to Stephen King books when I was eleven (so why I was writing angsty teen romance back then, I do not know). But in the last ten years or so, I've been paying attention to how thriller writers like Jeffery Deaver and Chelsea Cain write. I'm also a huge fan of Jeff Lindsay and Chuck Palahniuk, because they have it down when it comes to voice.
LW: Stephen King’s It is your favourite book (it’s mine as well for that matter). What makes it so special to you?
JH: I do love It. There's magic in that book, and every time I read it (over a dozen times now), I find something different and unexpected. Overall, I think the story is really beautiful, despite the terror and gore. The book has seven child protagonists (Bill, Ben, Beverly, Richie, Eddie, Stan, and Mike), and King writes each of them so well. They all have distinct personalities and voices. As a reader, I am so invested in what happens to these kids that I will willingly follow them to hell and back. I read It for the first time when I was eleven – the same age the kids are in the book – and the story has always stayed with me.
LW: What advice that you’ve either been given or come up with yourself would you like to pass on to new writers?
JH: In my last writing workshop (back in 2009) the last thing the instructor said to us was, "If you want this, don't ever give up. The last one standing gets published."
So, okay, she was oversimplifying, but she's not totally wrong. Too often I see writers with real talent query a handful of times, get rejected, become discouraged, and stop writing. PLEASE DON'T STOP! If you love to write, then write. Write as often as you can, read as much you can, ask for feedback, and learn from it. That's my best advice.
LW: What’s next in your writing world? A second sequel to Creep or other plans?
JH: There's definitely another book in the works. I'm not sure where it's going yet, as it's too early to say, but I wouldn't be surprised if a character or two from Creep and Freak end up making an appearance. Though I don't necessarily think this book will qualify as a sequel.
LW: Do you have an average day of writing – butt in chair at a certain time?
JH: I'm pretty methodical when I'm writing, especially if I'm writing a first draft (like now). I have a quota of 1,400 words a day, and I write Monday through Friday, starting from about noon till about six p.m.
LW: And finally, what’s your favourite tipple?
JH: I had to Google this! I got two definitions: a tipple is either an alcoholic beverage or a device that receives cargo freight. (I do have to admit I'm slightly disappointed that a tipple wasn't something dirty.)
Assuming you meant the first one, I'm only ever a social drinker, so it depends on the occasion. If I'm out with the girls, I'll usually have a mixed drink, something sweet, like a Cosmopolitan or an amaretto sour. If I'm trying to appear sophisticated and mature (both of which I'm not really), I'll drink white wine, usually Pinot Grigio. If I'm on vacation, I love blended drinks, like pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris.
Thanks for the interview, Luke! One of these days we need to read It at the same time, and dissect the book thoroughly as we go. Nerd fun!
Jennifer's blog can be found here and Freak is published in the UK by Little Brown/Sphere and can be purchased here.