Paul Hollis grew up during a time when the notion of a shrinking world was still in its infancy. People lived in rural communities or in city neighborhoods, rarely venturing far beyond the bordered rim of their lives. But as a kid, Paul tumbled off the edge of the yard reaching for greener grass. Having lived in twelve states and eventually working in all fifty, he fell in love with seeing the world on someone else’s money. Since then, he has lived abroad nine years while working in forty-eight countries, spanning five continents. These experiences helped inspire the novels in The Hollow Man series. From traveling throughout Europe as a young man, to flying three million miles which took him nowhere near home, to teaching companies worldwide about coming global implications, as a world tourist Paul Hollis brings his own unique viewpoint to his mesmerizing thrillers.
Time to chat with Paul!
What is your latest book?
The Hollow Man is based on true events during the early 1970s, 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 terrorism were specific to political and social leaders who represented offending ideologies. 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.
The Hollow Man is the first in a three-part series dealing with the growth of terrorism. The second in the series, London Bridge is Falling Down, centers around IRA and UVF activities during ‘The Troubles’ and is due out by year end. Surviving Prague is the third installment.
You have seen far more of the U.S. and the world than most people. How has your vast experience influenced your work?
Early on, traveling awakened a massive awareness in me when I realized how much more lay beyond the limits of my own existence. And, my first life lesson was the simple understanding that a certain maturity and wisdom inevitably comes with the basic need to accommodate and accept lifestyles different from the northern Midwest where I grew up. Seeing new sights and exploring new places increased my knowledge and enriched a global perspective for me – one that’s more intertwined with each day. As a result, opposing political views, cultural differences, regional geographies, and the people themselves all find their way into my writing.
Are there places you haven’t visited that you would still love to see?
I’ve lived in some exotic places: Paris, London, Brussels, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, and more. I’ve even made two complete circuits around the world before returning home but somehow I’ve never found myself in New Zealand. It’s top of my list right now.
What are the special challenges in writing a series?
There are three important challenges I encounter in writing a series.
First, sustaining a character arc can create difficulties. A character begins a series with certain viewpoints that change through events in the initial narrative. As the second narrative begins, the character should reflect the impact of the first novel and the third installment needs to show continued growth.
It’s also not easy to maintain the story arc across multiple books while ending each with a resolution that leaves the reader satisfied. Try to plan a high level view of your series then plot convenient ending points.
Lastly, the tone of each book should reflect the series but not serve as a rerun. There should be something that surprises but at the same time, the reader is reentering the same world left at the end of the last book. If it is too different, the reader may feel betrayed and stop reading.
What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?
I love writing dialogue. This is where characters come to life. We can describe their idiosyncrasies and characteristics. We can position them with thoughts and feelings. We can thrust them into circumstances to watch them squirm. But what comes out of their mouths immediately adds a third dimension to the script and the character jumps off the page.
I enjoy most aspects of writing a novel except possibly the inescapable frustration of procrastination and distraction that comes with a daily routine. But I’ve found ways to minimize these disturbances. A regular regimen and daily goals help me stay on pace. Sometimes.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
Both are important to define the bounds of the book for me. I want to know the ending in general terms and the title specifically. The title sets the tone, mood and theme of the book and the ending sets the direction.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
I seem to do both types of editing, while I write and at the end when I can see the novel as a whole. When I come to a natural breaking point, in thought or content, I usually go back over the last few chapters and spend some time editing. It helps me to make sure the storyline and characters remain consistent. After the first draft has been completed, I go through the manuscript as many as 10-20 times editing for specific things each time, such as overuse of particular words, complex sentence structures, and tensing. Editing and improving each draft is fun and relaxing for me. Yup, I’m weird.
How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?
A character’s name should fit the personality, the story, the genre, the events, the setting, and the era. I want the names to reflect the intricacies of the characters and the realities of the characters’ worlds. Many names carry preconceptions, images, and connotations with them. Several times, I’ve had to change a name that created the wrong expectation for the reader.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?
I haven’t written a character that I despise. A writer should step back from a story, see a character for what he/she is, and tell the story as an impartial observer. Otherwise the story will demonstrate an obvious bias against the hated character which might cause unexpected consequences – like, a sympathetic bad guy.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
First-time authors may be overwhelmed by the amount of conflicting information that’s going to be flying at them. Try to tune the noise out and write. Write the story you need to write with your own style and voice, not the one you think agents, publishers, and readers want. Find the time to write on a schedule, every day and write until your story is drafted.
Proof it, edit it, stylize it, or whatever until you’re satisfied with the result. Then hire a professional editor. An editor will raise your work to the next level. You will hate her, disagree with her, and argue with her but listen to your editor and make the suggested changes. In the end your book will be much better for it.
During the writing process, join social media and make friends, not followers. Ask questions on your social networks and I guarantee we will answer from personal viewpoints of experience, knowledge, and strength. Avoid most of the Googled ‘how to’ articles which ask your same questions but never seen to get to the ‘how to’ part.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
The Hollow Man series is based on facts and other incidents that occurred forty years ago. As a result, my research is extensive. I want to be as historically correct 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. And honestly, if you’re writing fiction, it generally doesn’t even matter if the information is true or not. It’s all about the spark of curiosity that ignites the wildfire of your imagination.
Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?
I do allow others to read my work in progress because I’m looking for honest reader perspectives and understandings as early in the process as possible. I want to know what’s working and what isn’t. The exercise is very helpful when I remember to disregard most of the accolades unless they are very specific to, for example, a particular passage or character. I’m looking for disconnects in time and thought, character weaknesses or inconsistencies, and plotting errors. I believe each of these discoveries increases the quality of my writing.
Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?
Being a practical guy and more than a little impatient, my suggestion for new writers is to self-publish your first book. The odds of landing an agent in a reasonable timeframe are incredibly daunting. A study a few years back cited the following statistics. Each year, about 275,000 new titles are published by representative publishers in the U.S. alone and within this sea of new books, fewer than 50,000 are new fiction titles.
Or look at it another way. A literary agent may get 5,000 query letters a year. Only a fraction of these will lead to the agent requesting the manuscript. If you think about it, an agent reading one out of a hundred submissions must read 50 books every year!
My advice is to save yourself a bucket full of frustration, and anger, and self-defense. Unless you truly believe you have just created Son of Harry Potter or 100 Shades of Red, start by self-publishing your book. Here are the positives behind this. First, your book gets published quickly and you are free to market it with all the passion it deserves or go about writing the next book. Second, you will get feedback on your book’s market value through reviews and sales. Lastly, you can begin to grow a reader fan base. None of this happens while you are waiting for your cannon blast of queries to come back to you.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
My first reaction is always denial, followed closely by the urge to throat-punch the reviewer for not understanding the book. Eventually though I have to go to plan “C” because the first two options do no one any good. It’s very difficult to separate oneself from the situation because someone just called your baby ugly. But the review isn’t personal, usually.
Honestly ask yourself three questions. Do I want to make my novel the best it can be? Is what the reviewer saying legitimate? What can I learn from this? I’ve learned that both bad and good reviews can be helpful, and I learn something every day.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
I believe the cover is extremely important to your book’s success. As a reader, I look at the cover first, then the title, possibly a glance at the author’s name and finally turn it over to read the back cover blurb. The cover has about three seconds to capture my attention. If it does, I pick it up. If I’m not convinced I look at the title for another three seconds if I’m a slow reader to determine how the title fits with the cover imagery. If I don’t pick it up now, it stays on the shelf.
How would you define your style of writing?
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.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
Most indie writers don’t have much luck getting decent book reviews, but I’ve found it’s one of the best ways to generate sales. Reader reviews are the electronic version of word-of-mouth. Nothing says ‘buy this book’ better than a personal recommendation. Reviews control rankings, impact the buying decision, and ultimately sales on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.
And, if you’re worried about giving a less-than-stellar review, an author should be able to learn something from every review no matter which star count is attached to it. So either way, a reader’s review is critical to a book’s success.
If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
As you know, I have traveled extensively over the years and I’ve had an opportunity to see many of the most wonderful places on earth. If I had to move now, two immediate choices come to mind. I’ve always felt comfortable in the English countryside with its rolling hills, friendly small towns, and of course its history.
My other option is the southern coast of France. With the growing Alps behind, the Côte d’Azur offers a shoreline to suit all wants. Everyone finds what he needs on the Riviera, whether it’s strolling on a stony beach or soaking up gentle sunrays, dining with locals or simply people-watching from the comfort of an outdoor café, shopping with supermodels or partying with rock stars.
Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats.
Lisette, I believe you’ve found my passion with this question. I love any kind of vehicle that doesn’t back up very well, and all of these keep me moving forward toward some new adventure. I grew up around trains. My father worked with the Chessie System for 30 years and I played in the train yards as a child. I’ve flown over three million miles on every sort of airplane imaginable, cars were made for the open road, and I’m an accomplished seaman on 36’ sailboats.
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
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.
What music soothes your soul?
I have eclectic tastes in music. Though the rock and roll explosion of the sixties still owns my heart, I also enjoy pop, jazz, blues, reggae, and even the occasional cowboy song.
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