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A Dream Come True: The Walls by Hollie Overton

Hollie Overton © 18 September 2017.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Crime · Interviews ).

“It’s like a dream,” my mother replied when I phoned her in April of 2015 to tell her that my first novel, Baby Doll, was going to be published. She was right. Selling Baby Doll in the U.S. UK and dozens of other countries was a dream come true. After years dealing with the ups and downs of life as a TV writer, I naturally expected publishing to be equally arduous difficult. Publishing Baby Doll proved otherwise. But when it came time to write my second novel, The Walls, I was apprehensive. Lightning doesn’t often strike twice. Not to mention I’d written Baby Doll in a vacuum. No deadlines, no expectations, just my story unfolding on the page. But I had a deadline so I had to jump in and start writing. When the nerves bubbled up, I reminded myself that I’d done this before. No reason I couldn’t do it again. You may know where this story is going. Every heroine needs a few twists and turns on her journey and mine had plenty.

My TV writing job is seasonal, but when you’re writing on a show, you work late nights, weekends and holidays. I’d written Baby Doll during a long stretch of unemployment and I was a bit anxious, wondering how I’d juggle writing TV and a new book. As luck would have it, my job on Shadowhunters didn’t start for almost eight months. With my deadline looming, I wrote furiously. I would never say that writing a book is easy, but the second time around, I found the process smoother, now having a better understanding of how to plot and craft a story. There’s a sense of confidence that comes from having done something before.  I also genuinely loved what I was writing. The Walls is set in Texas where I grew up and many of the characters were inspired by people in my own life so it was comforting to sit down and get to work.

By June of 2016, I’d finished a rough first draft and sent it off to my agent to make sure it was in a good place. She loved it, and I began my revisions. By that time, I was back to work on Shadowhunters, which meant I worked all day in the writer’s room and returned home in the evenings to edit. At this point, my mother who had battled lung disease for years took a turn for the worse. I became a master multi-tasker, juggling all my deadlines while making sure I carved out time to spend with her. It wasn’t easy, but I made it work.

I finally finished a first draft The Walls at the end of October 2016. I was quite proud and sent it off, eager to hear back from my editors, Selina Walker at Penguin Random House and Anne Clarke at Red Hook.  I woke up the morning of November 9th, head spinning, brought down by a massive hangover. I had good reason to tie one on. My mother was in the hospital again, and the US election had elicited a devastating result. As I lay in bed, trying to summon the strength to get up, I grabbed my phone and saw an email. It was my edit letter. Every writer knows the anxiety that comes with receiving that letter. I held my breath hoping this would be the emotional boost I needed.   Unfortunately, it was not.

The letter began with plenty of compliments, praising my writing, the strong, well-drawn characters, the unique and unusual setting. Their main concern was that there was simply too much set-up before we got to the heart of the story. They had a “simple” suggestion— cut 125 pages.  I stared at my phone in disbelief. There may have been tears. There may have been a panicked call to my agent. There may have been a spiral of epic proportions.  I was convinced they were wrong and there was no way to fix this book and that it wouldn’t be published. I went to visit my mom and she wouldn’t even entertain the idea that I wasn’t up to the challenge. “Take a breath, get some rest and get back to work.”

Like with most things in life, my mom was right. Working in TV, I’m used to getting notes and having to do massive rewrites. It’s part of the job.  I took a week off, and when I reread my editors notes, I realized my brilliant editors were right (and that’s why they do what they do!)  I’d fallen in love with my characters and lost sight that this was a thriller and I was missing the thrills. It was a painful process, but I cut over 75 pages and reworked the entire manuscript, determined to make my deadline. It was one of the most challenging creative endeavors ever, but I wasn’t a quitter. I turned in the final draft a week on January 9, 2017.

Two days later, my mother went back into the hospital. Six days later she passed away. My mother read everything I wrote, saving each script, short story, dating it and writing her thoughts, always complimentary. But she would not read The Walls. At first, I felt resentful about the time I spent writing, as if this book were a living breathing thing that had stolen me away from my mother. But as the months passed, I realize The Walls honors her. She understood that writing is my passion, my calling and she wanted me to succeed.

Writing a second novel certainly wasn’t easier than writing the first, but it taught me so much more about myself. Through creative challenges, through personal tragedy, I stayed the course, doing what I love— telling stories. I can’t wait to do it again.

(c) Hollie Overton

About The Walls:

What if murder is your only way out?

Single mom Kristy Tucker works as a press agent for the Texas Department of Corrections handling everything on death row from inmate interviews, to chronicling the last moments during an execution. Her job exposes Kristy to the worst of humanity and it’s one that’s beginning to take its toll.
So when Kristy meets Lance Dobson, her son’s martial arts instructor, she believes she’s finally found her happy ending. She’s wrong.
Kristy soon discovers that Lance is a monster. Forced to endure his verbal and physical abuse, Kristy is serving her own life sentence . . . unless she’s willing to take matters into her own hands. Perfectly poised to exploit the criminal justice system she knows so well, Kristy sets out to get rid of Lance – permanently.

Order your copy online here.

Baby Doll was my first novel, and so much of it is formed by my own childhood experiences. An identical twin, I was born in Chicago, IL and adopted at six days old, along with my identical twin sister, Heather and carried home in matching red Christmas stockings. My father was a member of the Overton Gang and spent several years in prison for manslaughter. Unfortunately, he found family life overwhelming. His addictions began to consume him, leading to my parent's divorce. My mother relocated my sister an I to her hometown of Kingsville, Texas. A theater nerd, I spent my childhood dreaming of bright lights and big cities.

My love affair with storytelling led me to New York City where I studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, writing at Hunter College and mixology in Murray Hill. A few years later, I headed to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a star. My sole TV claim to fame was one episode of TNT"s “Leverage,” opposite DB Sweeney. Thankfully, I realized my talents were better suited behind the scenes.

My first screenwriting break came in 2008 when I was accepted into the coveted Warner Brothers Writers Workshop, a boot camp style program for aspiring TV writers. I’ve gone on to write for CBS and Lifetime. I’m currently a writer and Co-Producer on the new Freeform drama Shadowhunters, based on Cassie Clare’s international bestseller “The Mortal Instruments.” There's nothing more I love than working with aspiring TV writers. I currently teach and offer private consults at Script Anatomy.

I live in West Hollywood, CA, with the loves of my life, my rescue Chihuahua, Stevie and my Geordie husband, David. When I’m not writing, I can be found exploring LA (and beyond) with my twin sister, Heather. Sometimes we even let Stevie and David join us.

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