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Interview with Paul Hollis   3 comments

Today’s interview is with Paul Hollis, author of The Hollow Man. Welcome to the blog, Paul. Tell us something about yourself. 

Hollis Paul Author PhotoI was born in a small town east of Birmingham. My family moved to Chicago when I was five and I came of age in California. I entered university at the end of 1967 and fell into a blossoming subculture that reshaped my reality, figuratively and perhaps a little too literally.

 

Ah, my brother’s generation!

I worked for IBM and had worldwide responsibility for several emerging business opportunities for the company, one being intelligent video surveillance. After 9/11, as you can imagine, security and safety became of paramount important to corporations, police departments, governments, casinos, banks, retailers, and a host of others. As a result, I was almost constantly on my way to somewhere else.

 

Such as?

I’ve lived in some exotic places such as London, Brussels, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Anchorage, and more. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in all fifty states and almost as many countries. If you’re thinking of your dream vacation spot right now, I have probably been there.

 

That sounds exciting and educational.

These experiences have allowed me to interact with people within their own cultures, experience their spiritual and political environments, and understand their hopes and dreams. Consumed with an overwhelming fascination to learn something from every person encountered along my journey, I was able to understand the world through their eyes; its animosities, ambitions, and motivations. As a result, The Hollow Man has a ring of realism that pulls the reader into the scene with the characters, whether it’s entering a dark alley in Madrid or sitting in a café on the Champs Elysees.

 

At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?

After retiring, most days I sat with friends on the porch of my country home. We spat tobacco juice into the yard and told old stories. Okay, it was the local pub and none of us smoked. Curiously though, the group was always interested in my stories. One encouraged me to write a book about a few of my early exploits and I took the challenge.

I self-published The Hollow Man on Amazon, listened to a few critiques from early reviewers, and republished a second version which filled in a few minor flaws. Soon after that the book received its first award; The Awesome Indie’s Seal of Excellence. During last summer, I entered the World’s Best Story contest and The Hollow Man was fortunate enough to be awarded second place out of thousands of entries.

It was then I realized I could do this and I had a potential to be good.

 

Hollis Paul Hollow ManWhat is your favorite genre … to read … to write?

Thriller / True Crime. Crime is everywhere and every day. It’s been part of our nature since the start of time. Though we don’t want it to visit our homes, we’re curious about it. We poke it, we want to know the what, the how, but mostly the why. And it’s just a little more real if the author adds a few bloody, violent or gory details, especially if the crime actually happened.

Having said that, I write what I know. I was a hollow man for almost three years, living on the fringe of what we thought was a sane world. It was either write about this, or write a very boring book on computers.

 

Much prefer the thriller over the cyber-snooze. When you are not writing, what do you do?

I’ve been taking guitar lessons for ten years and I’m still the “world’s okayest player”, as the saying goes. I would love to be able to play really well and I would also love to blame my lack of skill on the fact I’m left-handed playing in a right-handed world. But the truth is, playing the guitar well requires a huge level of practice. Strangely, that’s very similar to writing.

 

Guitar is hard to master. My husband keeps trying. Writing is too and I haven’t given up yet either. Where do you get the inspiration for your novels?

The inspiration for my storylines comes from a series of true incidents that occurred during the early 1970’s. The Hollow Man traces some of my lesser known experiences traveling in Europe as a young man. To make a long story short, I met a guy in early 1973 who thought I was wasting my time digging latrines in East Africa. He had a better offer for me.

At the time, terrorism was on the rise and I was assigned to learn as much as I could about it. Most early acts of terror were specific, personal and damage was focused on a distinct, definable enemy. But terrorism was beginning to change its strategy to the familiar, senseless chaos we recognize today. The death of political figures no longer seemed to bother us as much as these new, random attacks against our children. Targets of innocence became preferable to these people because it was the kind of shock and hurt that hit closer to our hearts. The fear inside us grew larger with each incident.

All of the characters in The Hollow Man are real or based on real people though most of the names were altered. I drew them as I remembered seeing them at the time. To create your own characters, simply watch people and interact with them. Pay attention to their actions, thoughts, and motives. Don’t worry if one person is not interesting, unique, strong or weak enough. Take pieces from these people to make the special character you need.

 

I minored in political science and I’m conjuring images of the Rome Airport, Belfast and Baader-Meinhof. What sort of research do you do for your novels?

The Hollow Man series is based on incidents and facts occurring forty years ago. As a result, my research is extensive. I want to be as historically accurate as possible so I explore everything from actions prior to documented events to reactions in the aftermath to local cuisine and currencies, and so on.

I use the internet for most of my research. Over the past twenty years, the web has grown from an enigma of secrets and codes to a modern oracle of answers. Ask a question and I’m immediately presented with pages of explanations, observations, interpretations, comments, and justifications. My first inclination is to believe what I find but since it is the Internet, I always double check the sources.

 

Yeah, the Internet — there’s a reason they call it “the web”. You must figure out which strands are safe to step on. If someone who hasn’t read any of your novels asked you to describe your writing, what would you say?

My writing style is very visual. It’s important for me to completely immerse the reader, drawing him/her totally into each scene. I want the reader to see what’s going on around them, feel the excitement, and hear the voices. When readers say The Hollow Man should be on the big screen, I feel like I’ve made the story completely real.

 

Do you write from an outline or are you a discovery writer?  Why?

I write from a very shallow outline. Because my work is mostly character driven, the plot is laid out in chapter boxes using a few sentences to keep the action moving with the characters. As the characters come alive, change, grow, etc. the plot changes in the same way. Though I try to remain true to the plot outline, occasionally it strays because of character development.

 

But generally, the drift is minimal. It’s important to me that plot and character exist in sync like words and music. Otherwise, a fully plot-driven novel is just a story told without the sound and passion of real life and a wholly character driven novel is at best, characters looking for something to do to give their lives meaning.

 

I’m going to need to read this book, I think. What point of view do you prefer to write, and why?

I prefer to write from the first person point of view.

Like life, the protagonist doesn’t and shouldn’t know everything. S/he learns through interactions with other characters, the environment, experiences, actions, etc.  The character is giving you their personal view of what’s happening, and yet it’s clear to the reader that it’s not the whole story. It’s the natural way we all perceive the world.

In first person, I believe it is easier for the reader to identify with the protagonist.  Everything the reader sees is infused with the narrator’s personality and pathos. Things don’t just happen in a first person narrative, they happen through the narrator’s perspective.

Having said that, I occasionally include a third person viewpoint to give the reader insights into character development and build suspense around the first person protagonist.

 

Do you head-hop?

I do head hop occasionally when I write in first person. Though it isn’t possible for the narrator to know all via a first person viewpoint, the reader sometimes deserves a bit more information than the narrator can provide. I use this technique to increase reader knowledge, enhance plot suspense, and expand characterizations.

 

I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you? If you’re bringing books, what are they?

Being a city boy, I’ll assume there is no electricity, not even a generator snuggled between the wolf den and the bear cave. It’s a good thing I just bought a 45-day battery for my laptop because I’ll need to write. Since I failed penmanship in the fourth grade and my handwriting went south from there, I’ll require something more than pencils.

I’ll also be bringing an automatic weapon. No offense but I’ve been to Alaska and the mosquitos are bigger than single engine planes. Mosquito spray is useless against them. They fly two hundred miles per hour and can instantly mummify your carcass without slowing down.

Thinking about it, I won’t need any books. After a month’s total isolation, when you return to pick me up, you’ll find me sitting in a dark corner, sucking my thumb, and talking to my demons.

 

We will have a generator, maybe next year. You are totally right about the mosquitos, though it is entirely possible that I have built up such a concentration of DEET in my system that it actually does keep them off me. 

Talk about your books individually.

 

The Hollow Man is based on true events during the early 1970’s, and traces some of my experiences as a young man traveling in Europe. At the time, terrorism was on the rise and I had been assigned to learn as much as I could about it. Most early acts of terror were specific, personal and damage was focused on a distinct, definable enemy. But terrorism was beginning to change its strategy to the familiar, senseless chaos we recognize today. The death of political figures no longer seemed to bother us as much as these new, random attacks against our children. Targets of innocence became preferable because they hit closer to our hearts and the fear inside us grew larger with each incident.

I’m working on a sequel to The Hollow Man, called London Bridge is Falling Down.  By the early 1970’s, animosities between England and Ireland had become razor sharp. Mass bombings and cross border clashes were constant reminders of Ireland’s struggle to be united and free. The media had dubbed these conflicts “The Troubles” which had already claimed almost a thousand lives and there was no end in sight. Militant activities were spiking amid rumors the IRA had developed a list of targets designed to bring England to her knees. Like The Hollow Man, London Bridge is Falling Down is based on true events and includes some of the same, unforgettable characters.

Surviving Prague is scheduled to be the third installment of the series.

 

What do you want readers to think or feel after reading one of your books?

I want readers to think I am a decent writer who entertained them for a while.

 

What influenced your decision to self-publish?

I totally understand there are hundreds of thousands of inferior books in the marketplace today, each vying for a portion of the reader’s attention and money. Someone needs to be a capable gatekeeper to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Those guardians are today’s agents since it’s difficult to get to a publisher unsolicited.  I also understand both agents and publishers are in the business of profits.

However after eight months of submitting the first three chapters of The Hollow Man to countless agents with very few responses, I finally understood our goals were mutually exclusive. Agents scour submissions for the next great formulary bestseller and I just wanted a chance to present my entire novel to an industry expert in exchange for an honest appraisal. It was at this point I realized the Internet was full of readers and reviewers who were more than happy to offer their opinions on the weaknesses and strengths of my novel. So the decision to self-publish became easy.

 

I would mostly agree with that assessment from my own experience. What do you find to be the greatest advantage of self-publishing?

The greatest advantage, and disadvantage, of self-publishing is having full control of the process.  It can be daunting for many, thinking about writing, publishing, marketing, etc. But the control can be empowering too.  The author can make every decision from cover art to font size to sales techniques. If s/he wants to change the title, finds an error, needs to rewrite parts, wishes to sample changes in the price structure or whatever, the path to a better publication is quick and easy.

 

Conversely, what do you think self-published authors might be missing out on?

In a few words, we’re missing out on professional marketing.  As self-published authors, most of us struggle after a book is published with such tasks as building an author platform, soliciting reviews, marketing, etc.  We just want to write and let the books take care of themselves.

That’s where professional marketing supplied by a publisher becomes a key component of a book’s success. A publisher is able to apply proven techniques to promote and sell books. But like everything these days, a publisher’s marketing doesn’t last forever. But it can be self-sustaining if an author can learn from the publisher’s actions.

 

Who designed your book cover/s?

The cover art on the self-published edition of The Hollow Man was designed and created by me. I had a vision of exactly what I wanted; an image of excitement, adventure, and mystery.

 The cover for the relaunched edition of The Hollow Man was a collaboration between my new publisher, the agent, and myself. We created two potential covers and allowed my fans to choose the cover they liked best.

 

Do you believe that self-published authors can produce books as high-quality as the traditional published? If so, how do you think we should go about that?

It is certainly possible to produce high-quality books to rival traditional publications. But it can’t unfortunately be accomplished on a shoestring budget. At a minimum I would recommend professional cover art and professional editing – possibly as many as three in depth rounds (spelling / sentence structure, developmental and character arc).

 Top quality or not, if sustained paid marketing is not included, the sales will fall short of expectation.  Book sales require either money and / or many hours of the author’s time.

 

Where can interested readers find you?

Social media links:
Amazon:              http://www.amazon.com/HOLLOW-MAN-Paul-Hollis-ebook/dp/B012RNPSAO

Website:              http://www.thehollowmanseries.com/

Blog:                      http://www.thehollowmanseries.com/blog
Facebook:           https://www.facebook.com/TheHollowManSeries
Twitter:                                https://twitter.com/HollowManSeries
Goodreads:        https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7151833.Paul_Hollis
Trailer:                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4lp4N5hGK4
 


 

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