He has been called my some the next E. Lynn Harris, but the path for Terry E. Hill to superstar status as an author has been slow in coming. The power he has for the craft, however, could not be stronger. His debut novel INSIDE THE FALL has been repackaged, and now may be just the thing he needed to blaze his own trail on the bestseller's list.
TERRY, THANK YOU FOR TAKING OUT THE TIME TO TALK WITH CONVERSATIONS. THERE IS SO MUCH I WANT TO LET OUR READERS KNOW ABOUT YOUR BOOK INSIDE THE FALL, BUT I WANT TO FIRST INTRODUCE THEM TO YOU. TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF.
There's really not much to tell. I, by design, live a very simple and uncomplicated life. I'm 46 years old and a native of Southern California. For the last 10 years I've lived in Oakland California. I am recently separated from my partner of 15 years who is still my best friend. We co-parent our two dogs Parker and AJ. I have worked in the social services industry for over 15 years as a director of homeless programs and as an advisor to the Mayor of San Francisco on homelessness and poverty issues. I attend the theater as much as possible. The last play I saw was Gem of the Ocean. Loved it but fell asleep and missed half of the second act. I'll watch any Woody Allen until the grooves rub off the DVD and, I might be the only person in the country who loved Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2.
THE BOOK WE ARE FOCUSING ON IN THIS INTERVIEW IS ACTUALLY YOUR FIRST NOVEL. WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU WERE EVEN INTERESTED IN WRITING? AND TAKING THAT INTEREST INTO ACTUALLY WRITING A NOVEL? HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT? I discovered writing relatively late in my life. I wrote Inside The Fall when I turned 40. One Sunday morning my partner and I were in Church waiting for the service to start. While waiting I mentioned something that happened at work. He thought it was interesting and suggested that I write it down. The following Monday morning I naively sat down at the computer and began to write what I thought would be a short story. Three months later I had the first draft of Inside The Fall.
BEING A FORMER POLICY ADVISOR TO THE MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO DEFINITELY GAVE YOU ALOT OF BACKGROUND INTO WHAT WOULD EVENTUALLY BECOME A FIRST NOVEL. WERE YOU AFRAID OF PEOPLE WHO KNEW YOU OR KNEW OF YOU TRYING TO FIND WHAT TRUTH THERE MIGHT BE IN YOUR FICTIONALIZED ACCOUNT?
Never. As you said, it is a work of fiction. Even though I had access to situations that gave me the opportunity to observe politicians in action, none of that ended up in the book. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have a pretty vivid imagination. Once I had formed the personality of a character in my mind, they took on a life of their own. The characters become independent of my experience which allowed me to passively observe how they behaved in a given situation. For example, Elijah Farrow, the Mayor of San Francisco, is the most dominant character in the book. His personality is a composite of powerful men I've known, including my father. I had a clear picture of who Elijah was before I wrote the first word. His personality dictated his behavior. I became a voyeur. Some of the things Elijah did even shocked me.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE CLOSE TO YOU, TERRY. WHEN YOU SHARED WITH MAYBE FAMILY AND FRIENDS YOUR PLANS TO WRITE A BOOK, WHAT WERE THEIR THOUGHTS?
Let's start with my Mother. I didn't tell her about the book until it was actually published. I sent her a copy and the first question she asked was "Is this book about you?" To her relief I said no. While writing the manuscript I had two friends read it as I progressed. My hidden motive in having them read it was to get them to say "Poor delusional Terry. Why are you wasting you time on this?" so I could pack up my lap top and get on with my life. Neither of them said it though. Instead they pushed me to write more. So I was stuck. Chained to the computer by their seemingly insatiable need to find out how the story would end.
AFTER YOU HAD FINISHED WRITING INSIDE THE FALL, HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHAT PATH YOU WOULD TAKE AS FAR AS PRESENTING IT TO THE WORLD?
Writing the book was the easy part. It took me a year to find an agent and another six months for her to find a publisher. Then there was another six month wait for the book to come out. Since then I've had two great publicist who got exposure for the book.
I HAVE TO TELL YOU, TERRY, THAT I TRY TO DO AS MUCH RESEARCH AS I CAN ABOUT THE PEOPLE I INTERVIEW BEFORE I TALK TO THEM SO I HAVE A MORE COMPLETE PICTURE OF THEM. IN YOUR CASE IT SEEMS AS THOUGH YOU HAVE BEEN ABLE TO STAY UNDER THE RADAR, SO TO SPEAK. WAS THAT SOMETHING CALCULATED THAT THERE HAS NOT BEEN MUCH WRITTEN ABOUT YOU? Calculated? I've done everything short of standing naked in front of the White House with a lit sparkler sticking out of every hole in my body to get on the radar. It seems you have to be very rich or very famous to become very rich and very famous. I've had luck with local publication and television interviews that have helped get the word out. Word of mouth has been great. I've probably sold more books just from readers recommending it to friends.
LET'S GET INTO INSIDE THE FALL. FOR ME THE BOOK WAS AN INTRICATE SERIES OF EVENTS THAT WAS STILL AN EASY READ. I WANT TO BEGIN BY TALKING ABOUT THE PRINCIPAL ANTAGONIST, CAMILLE FARROW. DID YOU KNOW WHEN YOU WERE CONTRUCTING THE STORY THAT SHE WOULD HAVE THE QUALITIES THAT WE DISCOVERED ABOUT HER?
Not completely. Camille, the mayor's wife, evolved with the story. You know when you first meet her that she is capable of stooping pretty low to get what she wants. But as the story progresses you begin to wonder if she even has a soul. She's not someone you'd want to run into in a dark alley. She was a fun surprise for me. You either love her or hate her. There's no in-between.
WHAT ABOUT HOW IT SEEMS AS THOUGH IN THE END SHE HAD A CHANGE OF HEART?
Without question, my favorite character is Camille Farrow. She's manipulative, power-hungry and conniving but there are hints throughout the book that she has another side; a side that cares deeply about the plight of disenfranchised people; a side that loves her man even though she outed him and inadvertently contributed to his suicide. She's also vulnerable, lonely and afraid. One has to admire, and in this case, fear a woman who believes so passionately in her goals that she is willing to go to such great lengths to achieve them. I believe she strikes a chord with the book's readers. They feel it socially correct to hate her but I suspect most secretly relate to and are intrigued by her.
THE BACK OF THE BOOK GIVES AWAY THE CRITICAL ELEMENT OF THE STORY WHICH IS THAT THE MAYOR HAS A MALE LOVER. WHAT I FIND INTRIGUING ABOUT IT IS WOULD IT HAVE BEEN HANDLED DIFFERENTLY BY THOSE ON HIS STAFF IF HE HAD A DIFFERENT DEMEANOR?
I think the only way the situation would have been handled differently by staff is if they had found out before the media. The mayor could have been a serial killer who specialized in nuns, but if the media didn't know about it the staff would have simply scheduled his appointments around his killing sprees.
AND DORIAN SINCLAIR? HOW ARE WE TO SEE HIM IN LIGHT OF THE FACT THAT HE BECAME A WILLING PARTICIPANT IN AN AFFAIR, REGARDLESS WHETHER IT WAS WITH A MAN OR WOMAN?
People are complex and Dorian, like all characters in the book has a flaw or flaws. The good in Dorian definitely outweighs the bad. Even though he is a willing participant you can't help but feel a little sorry for him.
CYNTHIA FULTON AND SANDRA KELLY ARE ALSO PIVOTAL CHARACTERS IN MY OPINION. THEY BOTH REPRESENT EXTREME LOYALTY, YET THE HUMAN DESIRE TO WANT TO EXCEL. IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, DO FIND THAT WE NORMALLY FALL IN THE SAME CATEGORIES AS THEY DO WHEN IT'S SOMETHING WE BELIEVE IN?
I made every attempt to construct each character as a multifaceted, multi-dimensional entity. No one is all good or all bad in real like and I tried to do the same in the book. Loyalty and ambition on the surface appear paradoxical. But as you have observed they can, and often times do, exist in the same person. What we see in the book is the internal struggle between these two very powerful forces.
I NOTICED IN THE DEDICATION YOU MENTIONED THOSE WHO "HAVE DEDICATED THEIR LIVES, RESOURCES, CAREERS AND PASSIONS TO SERVING PEOPLE LESS FORTUNATE THAN THEMSELVES." IN INSIDE THE FALL, DO YOU THINK THE REAL VICTIMS WERE THE CHARACTERS WE GOT TO KNOW, OR THE HOMELESS PEOPLE AND PROGRAMS THAT ARE AT THEIR MERCY?
In my opinion everyone in the book, is to some extent, a victim and victimizer.
I FINISHED THE BOOK, TERRY, WITH THE THOUGHT THAT THEIR WERE REALLY SEVERAL "FALLS". WOULD YOU AGREE? You are correct. No one emerges unscathed. For me, "Inside The Fall" is about the demystification of high profile, very powerful American icons. Like many people, I am attracted to men and women who have the ability to accumulate power. It is an admirable skill to be able to convince the masses that you possess some special ability, insight, or absolute sense of what is right simply through the artful manipulation of words and force of your personality. "Inside the Fall" is my attempt to transform two bigger-than-life characters into multi-faceted, complex and vulnerable human beings who, behind closed doors, hurt, cry, hate, make mistakes, fall in love, and fail just like everyone else.
THE BLURB ON THE FRONT OF YOUR BOOK BY TERRIS MCMAHAN GRIMES CALLS YOU "THE NEXT E. LYNN HARRIS." THAT IS A HUGE HONOR AND GREAT PRAISE TO LIVE UP TO. HOW DOES SOMETHING LIKE THAT MAKE YOU FEEL AND WHAT HAS BEEN SOME OF THE OTHER THINGS YOU HAVE HEARD ABOUT YOUR BOOK?
It felt great when I saw the cover for the first time. I am a big fan of E. Lynn Harris's work. The best comment a reviewer made was that she skipped a concert because she didn't want to stop reading it. The worst thing said was that it was "clunky". I'm not sure what that means but I don't like the sound of anything "clunky". Considering the source it might have been a compliment.
FINDING A BOOK LIKE YOURS THAT IS BOTH ENTERTAINING AND THAT ADDRESSES SOCIAL ISSUES IS NOT AN EASY FIND ALL THE TIME. DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE SET A NEW STANDARD WITH YOUR TYPE OF WRITING?
I'm glad you found it to be an entertaining. And yes I did try to make a social statement; but, I would never see myself as a trend setter.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE AUTHORS YOU HAVE ENJOYED READING?
I don't like to read any writer whose sole mission is to remind me of all that is negative in the world. I'd don't need to read about it because I see in everyday. I also have grown weary of books that chronicle how tough it is to be anything that I am. Black, Baptist, gay, etc. Trust me I already know about it. I leave those type books to those folks who are White, straight and atheists and in need of enlightenment. I'm a big mystery fan. Chester Himes, P.D. James, Louis Edwards, Agatha Christie, and Eleanor Taylor Bland are some of my favorites.
AND YOUR NEXT BOOK? IS IT ALREADY IN THE WORKS? WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING ON?
Inside The Fall is the first book in a series of three about powerful African American men and the troubles they face in relationships. I've just finished the first draft of my next book Come Sunday Morning. It is the story of a wealthy and charismatic Pastor in Los Angeles whose wife has him assassinated so she can take over his church and television ministry.
I'M CURIOUS TO KNOW WHAT CAMILLE FARROW WILL DO SINCE THINGS DIDN'T WORK OUT EXACTLY HOW SHE ORIGINALLY PLANNED. DO YOU THINK YOU WILL REVISIT HER AGAIN?
I didn't plan to write a sequel but at every book signing, someone wants to know what will be Camille's fate. Will she be the first female African American mayor of San Francisco? Will she suffer the tragic end they feel she deserves? Will she have an affair with Sandra? So there will be a sequel to Inside The Fall but it won't be released until the trilogy is complete.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER ASPIRING AUTHORS, TERRY?
First I would say to write about what you know. If you knit write about knitting. If you live in Dowagiac Michigan, then place your story in Dowagiac Michigan. If you've lost a spouse then write about the pain of losing a spouse. Also, don't delude yourself into thinking that because you have a good idea or story line that a publisher will overlook poor writing, because they won't. If you can't structure a sentence and clearly convey and idea you should take a course. And finally, edit your work as many times as possible. Then have someone else edit it again before you submit it to publishing houses and agents.
THANK YOU AGAIN FOR YOUR TIME. HOW CAN OUR READERS FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR BOOK INSIDE THE FALL?The book can be found at Barnes and Nobles. If it's not on the shelf just ask for it. It can also be purchased on Amazon.com.