So excited to have Hollie Overton, author of Baby Doll, on my Clues and Reviews today! Last year, when I first read Baby Doll, I was obsessed. In case you missed it, you can read my full review for that here.
Her upcoming novel, The Walls, will be releasing in August, so I figured it was a great time to invite Hollie here to talk about her previous book, her upcoming book, her writing style and life in general!
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Did you always assume you’d write thrillers?
My mother was always convinced that my destiny was to become a writer. It took me much longer to figure that out. I really wanted to be an actress. Knowing what I know now, I realize I didn’t have the “it’ factor. I don’t say that for sympathy. I was fortunate enough to get enough auditions for some amazing TV shows and films and I just didn’t measure up. Still, I’m grateful for all those experiences, hours spent reading plays and then screenplays, going to rehearsals and acting classes. That training informed my writing, provided me with a solid work ethic and an innate understanding of storytelling and structure. When I began working professionally, my mother was so proud. It was her favorite “I told you so,” and mine too.
Growing up, I loved thrillers. I was obsessed with Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham, James Patterson and more. I wrote my first novel when I was nine—a thriller about an actress whose friend is murdered (dark for a nine-year-old, I know!) Sadly, in a fit of artistic insecurity, I threw it in the garbage but I guess my adolescent self knew something I did not. I had a lot of stops and starts on the path towards becoming a novelist. I wrote two terrible romance novels that will never see the light of day and I considered writing Baby Doll as a YA novel, until I found Rick Hanson’s character and I knew that put it in the adult category. Now that I’ve written two thrillers, I feel like I’m finding my rhythm. As long as I continue to feel inspired by ideas in this genre, and people keep reading them, I plan to keep going.
Your novels discuss some pretty tough subject matter. Baby Doll looked at kidnapping and your new novel, The Walls, looks at domestic abuse. What type of research goes into writing novels like this? I always feel like I need an emotional place to start when I’m tackling a new project. I have to hook into the characters.
For Baby Doll, the heart of the story was the twin sisters but once I knew it was a kidnapping/captivity story, I did a lot of research. I read up on similar tragic cases, including Ariel Castro and the Fritzl case in Austria. I also spoke with an agent from the FBI for research on how they interview kidnapping victims and consulted with my friend Giselle Jones who is a therapist and clinical social worker. She provided insight into the mindset of both Lily, the victim and Rick Hanson, the sociopath.
For my 2nd novel, The Walls, which tackles domestic violence, I have personal experience with that subject matter. My father was an addict and had a violent temper and so I’ve always been particularly fascinated by the psychology of abusers. Of course, I still read many true life accounts and spoke with victims, as well as friends who confessed their own experiences, one of which they revealed as a result of the novel. The Walls also tackles the death penalty. Growing up in Texas, the death penalty is an intrinsic part of our justice system but I began to question the morality an early age. My high school journalism teacher Lee Ann Barnhardt also worked as a reporter in town and she was one of the media witnesses at an execution and told the class about it. Her stories always stayed with me. I was lucky to find a wonderful consultant, a woman by the name of Michelle Lyons. She’s a former employee of the Texas Department of Justice in Houston, and she had the same career as my main character. Her insights and understanding of that world were truly invaluable in bringing the Walls to life.
As you know, Baby Doll was one of my favourite novels that I read last year, so I HAVE to ask some questions specific to this one!
Can I just say it never gets old hearing that people like your work? THANK YOU!
Are there any sections that you decided to edit out of Baby Doll?
I wrote entire chapters devoted to Sheriff Rogers. I loved his character, this honest and dedicated man, who was the antithesis of Rick Hanson, and wanted to do the right thing. In his chapters, there was time spent in the basement where Lily and Sky were kept and there was a bit more about what they endured. In the end, my agent was the one who pointed out that his chapters didn’t really add anything to the manuscript. Truthfully, I think they slowed the pace of the book down and made it a bit tawdry. It’s always hard to scrap hundreds and hundreds of words but sometimes the story requires it.
In an early version of the book, there was also another character, Eve’s new husband Eddie. She remarried after her affair with the sheriff, which meant she was a busy woman. Her husband Eddie was a survivor of a violent crime as well, a nice guy but he was basically a less interesting version of Sheriff Rogers. As I was editing, I began to realize that I kept making up excuses to have him leave each scene. He basically spent half the book at the supermarket. In the end, saying good-bye to Eddie was easy. And I knew it was the right choice because it didn’t change the narrative structure at all.
If Baby Doll were to be optioned as a film, which actors/actresses would you cast as the leads?
I wrote the film script but right now it’s in that lovely place called limbo. Still, I’m super excited to share my dream cast with you. I think Elle Fanning would be perfect as Abby and Lily. She’s got such a raw vulnerability but also a strong presence. I could imagine her bringing a real nuance the characters. For Rick Hanson my top pick would Tom Hiddleston. I adored him in The Night Manager and he has that effortless charm that makes you love him. Playing the nice guy personal seems to come easy for him (Loki aside.) I’d love to see how he balanced Rick Hanson’s duality.
You have a new novel, The Walls, coming out this year. What are three things you’d like your readers to know about it?
- The Walls is about Kristy Tucker, a Texas woman who works on death row and finds herself trapped in abusive marriage. She’s forced to make a choice— take a life to save her family even if it means going to prison or facing the death penalty herself.
- Kristy’s father, Pops is basically the male version of my mother. He suffers from the same disease, has the same spunk and fighting spirit. So, of course, he’s my favorite character I’ve ever written.
- Writing this book was much harder than the first because of the deadlines and my full-time TV writing job as well as coping with my mother’s illness (she passed shortly before I finished the novel). But in some ways, because I had to get it done in that time frame, I wasn’t able to second guess myself or worry if it was going to be as well liked or well received as Baby Doll.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
When Baby Doll was first released, I read a lot of reviews. But it wasn’t good for my psyche. The good ones made me happy, but the bad ones sent me into a spiral, questioning not only whether I should even be a writer. My husband pointed out that even Pulitzer winners get bad reviews but I realized a healthier way to deal with reviews is to avoid them. Every now and then if someone tweets me a review, I’ll read it. I’m always sad when it’s not great. It’s like really? Thanks for ruining my day. I’ve realized sometimes ignorance is truly bliss.
What does your writing process look like? Are you a consistent writer? Is it more sporadic? Do you make an outline? Go with the flow? Does writing energize or exhaust you? I
I really love what I do so even though writing can be exhausting, it never feels like work. I consider myself a binge writer. I’m not someone who can get a lot done in 30 minutes at a time. I need long chunks of the day or night to really get into the groove. I’m a night owl so I love staying up late, in fact, it’s 3:02 am and I’m typing these answers. I love working late into the night when everyone else is in bed and there are no emails or phone calls to deal with.
Because I started working in TV first, I’m a big believer in outlines. That said, I didn’t outline Baby Doll and it sort of evolved as I wrote. With the Walls, I had a much clearer vision of the story I wanted to tell and then of course that changed drastically.
’m a very consistent writer as well. I get antsy when I don’t know what my next project is. I think it comes from the fear that I won’t be able to support myself, so I’m constantly creating something new so that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t work for everyone but for me, fear is a fantastic motivator.
You write for television shows (currently Shadowhunters), do you prefer writing for television or writing your novels?
It really depends on the day. I’m a very social person so I love the collaboration that goes into TV writing. Chatting about story, telling personal stories, being exposed to people and circumstances you wouldn’t otherwise, being on a set and watching your words come to life. It’s an amazing feeling. I’m not a showrunner or show creator yet, so on the shows I’ve worked on, I’m hired to help bring someone else’s vision to life. It’s a privilege to do this job but you have to check your ego at the door. You don’t call the shots and sometimes that can be a very frustrating feeling.
On the flip side, that is what’s so great about writing novels. When I’m working on a book, for better or worse, it’s all up to me. I get to decide it all! Of course writing novels can be lonely but being able to do both is a good balance. These days I feel like when I’m done working on one project, I can move on to the next. I realize how fortunate I am to have these opportunities and I really hope that continues.
I know that you have a twin sister, did you ever do that whole switching places thing? Does this actually work in real life?
OMG, we have switched places and it totally works. We’ve gone on many job interviews for each other and she even got me a job once (cashier at Dick’s Last Resort in San Antonio TX)! In New York, when we were waiting tables, my twin Heather got sick but I was done early. We ended up switching places and no one knew. The one thing we never did was trade places when it came to boys. That always just seemed too weird, which is funny considering Baby Doll deals with twins and boyfriend problems!
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I spent several years struggling to find a job and then these past 3 years I’ve been fortunate enough to work consistently. Writing Baby Doll the book and then the movie, working on Shadowhunters seasons 1 & 2, and then writing The Walls has left very little time for relaxation. But when I’m not writing, I love spending time with my husband David and my dog Stevie or hanging out with my twin Heather and my great group of friends. I love going to the movies and exploring LA. I love yoga, and I’ve recently discovered paleo cooking which makes me feel very LA. I don’t love cooking but I do like eating good, healthy food. I’m very excited about doing more of all of these things now that Shadowhunters is wrapping up season 2 and The Walls is completed. I’m really looking forward to recharging and finding the next story that inspires me.
As I mentioned before, Baby Doll was a seriously fantastic book and if you haven’t already, I’d highly suggest taking the time out to read it! And be sure to look out for The Walls this summer!
Thanks so much Hollie for taking the time to answer my questions; it never ceases to amaze me when authors I love speak to me directly!