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BOOKTHINK: When you wrote your first book, how difficult was it to get it published?

HOFFMAN: You know, I have a Cinderella story for you. My whole experience was truly like a Cinderella story from the get-go. As I said, my husband encouraged me, I quit my job, and I started writing it in September of 2001. I told everybody when I was leaving the Department of Law Enforcement that I was going to go be a novelist and write Gone with the Wind II. Not because I thought I was going to write Gone with the Wind II, but I thought as long as I told everybody that I was leaving to write a book, they would put pressure on me. I'd have to answer to them when they saw me at parties or when they called me asking, "How is the book coming?" and I'd have to have an answer. So that's what I did, and people did call and ask me about it, and it really did keep me focused and on task with what I set out to do. Maybe five months into the project, my mother called me from a New York City train platform, probably from the only existing pay phone in New York City, and said to me, "I just got you published!" She had met a guy she had known in college on the train, they were chit-chatting and as it turned out his daughter was an editor at a publishing house, and of course she told him her daughter was going to be a writer. By the end of the conversation my mother was sure that his daughter was going to publish my work. I said, "Oh, really, how interesting, but I don't think it works that way." Anyway, this young woman was a junior editor in the romance department, and I think she had been there for, you know, ten minutes. She had probably been inundated by want-to-be authors from her very well-intentioned father, so all she would give me was her email address. I sent her a synopsis, and she asked me to send what I had, so I sent her the first twenty chapters. About a week or two later, I got the phone calls that all writers want to get: "Oh, my gosh, this is amazing, this is great! Can this be a series, can you do a sequel?" And I'm staring at the phone thinking, "Lady, this can be anything you want!" It was really exciting because I didn't belong to any writer's groups, I didn't chat with anybody or show my book to anyone to get feedback. It was the first validation that I had from anybody that what I was doing was good. A few more months went by, and I wouldn't give her any more of the book because I wanted to finish it the way I thought it should be finished, and I didn't want to be deterred from what I originally envisioned. I spoke with her a few months later and she told me she didn't work with unrepresented authors, and that I needed to get an agent. She gave me a list of six agents that she had personally worked with. When I finished the book about a month or so later, I called them up and they said, "Just send the book." So I cut a lot of slush piles out of the picture.

BOOKTHINK: That really is a Cinderella story.

HOFFMAN: I was very fortunate. I didn't know any other writers or anything about the process except for what I had read in Writer's Market; and I didn't want to hear all the negative stories because now I do know them, and they can be very disheartening. So she sent the three manuscripts out to three agents. Within 24 hours of her sending out the manuscripts I got three phone calls. Every agent said the book was amazing. No one was home with me to validate these phone calls, so for a limited period of time I thought I was John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, like reality was slipping and this must be the reality I want, not the reality that exists! Long story short, I knew then that what I had written was really good - and I had agents fly down to Florida to meet me - and I realized my most important decision was going to be the decision on agents. Ultimately I called up my editor friend again and asked who represents Thomas Harris, because I love his writing, particularly Silence of the Lambs. So Janklow and Nesbit did end up representing me. They put it out to auction, and the manuscript was pre-empted by Putnam on a Monday, sold in five languages by that Wednesday, and was in a bidding war with Paramount, Universal and Warner brothers by Friday.

BOOKTHINK: That's a sensational story. I think you had the right approach - to write the story on your own until it was finished. You had a clear idea of the story you wanted to write.

HOFFMAN: You know, there are so many negative stories about becoming published. I guess they are good to hear when you've been rejected multiple times. Like the J.K. Rowling story that she was rejected by 39 agents. Those are great inspirational stories, but I just didn't want to know that out of 10,000 writers only two get published.

BOOKTHINK: It could stop a person from writing, logically.

HOFFMAN: It takes so much of your time to write. It's like "Why bother?" if you really believe you don't have a shot. So that was my method, and it was kind of crazy, like being a newborn. I didn't know anything about how it worked. So it's really been learning over the past ten years, and lots of things have changed in the past ten years that I've been writing. I love to tell my story, because it should be inspirational to anybody who doesn't think it could happen to them, or that you only get published if you know somebody. I didn't know anybody, except by chance a junior editor in romance, and her publishing house never even acquired the book, as things worked out.

BOOKTHINK: Well, you are a really good writer, and there aren't that many really good writers out there. I'm sure it captures the attention of publishers when a gripping manuscript comes in their door.

HOFFMAN: I think it's also because my first novel is very realistic. When I wrote it, I wanted to take a case that if it happened in real life it would go through the justice system exactly as I did it. It was almost like mapping it as I would handle it as a prosecutor, through all the hearings and so on. Truly the first one was really a legal suspense thriller. When I was writing it, I was thinking, "People are going to find this stuff boring." But go figure.

BOOKTHINK: You've got the background to make it real. Your books don't sound like a fantasy from somebody's head. So is it Warner Brothers that's working on a movie based on Retribution?

HOFFMAN: Yes, Warner Brothers and John Wells Productions. It's in development, so who knows if, how or when it will come out, but Forrest Gump spent eleven years in development, so if they ever do make it, I hope it will come out as good as that. Wouldn't that be nice?

BOOKTHINK: How much input will you be allowed in the film as an author if it goes into production?

HOFFMAN: I actually wrote the first screenplay. Originally I had toyed with the idea of writing it as a screenplay first. But I read something that said there are so many unsolicited screenplays in Hollywood that it would be better to try writing it as a novel. So I wrote it as a novel, thinking it would take years to sell, and in the meantime I would write it as a screenplay as well and I would have two mediums to sell it in. But it sold so quickly to Warner Brothers, and I still wanted to write the screenplay because that's what I had first thought of doing. So when I sold it to them it was with the contingency that I got to write the first screenplay. So I went ahead and wrote the first screenplay. They said, "Thank you very much, it's very nice," and they hired somebody else. It was one of those things where I was reading "How to Write A Screenplay" by Fitzfield in my left hand and typing my screenplay with my right.

BOOKTHINK: I'm sure you learned a lot by trying it, though.

HOFFMAN: It's a completely different medium. I still love writing screenplays, but it's just totally different than a novel. They do have another screenwriter on it, then it was put off for a bit, and now it's in development and I don't know the exact status of it right now. I'm just hoping that one day I'll get the phone call that it's in production. I'll have a lot more friends and an entourage!

BOOKTHINK: Do you have any qualms about it being made into a movie - that the end result won't satisfy you?

HOFFMAN: No, not at all. I'm not worried about that. I figure, if they can take and make it into a terrific movie, they can do a good job on this one. Not that my book is modeled after that, but I do love Thomas Harris. I think he's a really gifted writer. He has the ability to scare me, which not many authors can do. I thought they did a brilliant transition from that book into the movie and also the film Manhunter, which was based on Red Dragon, his second novel. I'm not worried about it. It's good publicity, and if they can do a good movie, it would definitely be worthwhile.

BOOKTHINK: What do all your old legal buddies think about your success as writer?

HOFFMAN: I have been so blessed. I have great friends, most of whom I still call on when I'm writing my books. Twelve o'clock at night, I've got a question, and I call someone. I've got great friends, and I've used a lot of them in my books with variation in their names and they think it's a lot fun and they are very supportive. The best thing is that I've been able to be home with my kids. That is one of the greatest things about writing, the flexibility that you have. I might be up until four in the morning, but I'm home with my kids. Now that they are teenagers they take more of my time than they did five years ago. I'm with them all the time, and they've been really dreams to have; even as teenagers, they haven't given me a moment's trouble. I think part of that is due to my ability to stay home with them. That's been a great benefit to the writing career, probably more than anything else.

BOOKTHINK: Well I can understand that wish to be home with your children, especially after reading Pretty Little Things.

HOFFMAN: What really surprises me is the ambivalence of parents. Everybody now has Facebook, and they all have MySpace. Even though, contractually, you are not supposed to be having a Facebook page unless you are fourteen, and I think that's been lowered to thirteen now, kids as young as seven or eight years old have them. Parents don't care. They think that rule doesn't apply to their kids. Kids are communicating and building these buddy and friends lists with complete and utter strangers. Statistics are that one in every seven kids is approached by a sexual predator on the internet - that's 13% of children. And most of the time they don't even know they've been approached because he doesn't come across as Joe Sex Offender; he comes across as Zach, a seventeen year old boy, or as a thirteen year old girl, somebody that they would want to chat with. They develop this relationship, and from there they've been groomed. And once they've been groomed they agree to meet them outside the home. Just look at the headlines. Two weeks ago in our paper down here a thirteen year old girl met a boy she met on MySpace at the movies. He turned out to be a twenty year old man. He went back to her house later, sneaked in and raped her. It made page three of the local section; this has become so commonplace, it doesn't even make the front page anymore. So I wanted to write a book that was very real. I thought of writing it as a young adult book at first because I wanted to capture that audience's attention on this subject. All kids say to me, "I would never talk to a sex offender on the internet." I keep telling them, "You are never even going to know who you are talking to. You won't know until it's too late - until you've been groomed." So I wanted to write it exactly how it would happen because that's what is so frightening about it. It's not so much what he does to the girl; it's really how he gets her in that car. That is the nightmare of every parent.

BOOKTHINK: Right. The scariest part was seeing the young girl getting drawn into the situation. You could see how easily it could happen, especially for someone who wasn't so popular, being vulnerable to someone who starts giving them strokes online.

HOFFMAN: Yes, they are just looking for friendship, looking to fit in somewhere. In this instance, she feels that he likes her, and that's all she needs - a boyfriend, someone to call her own.

BOOKTHINK: The way you laid it out was really an eye-opener. You might have done as much or more good writing this book as you could have done as a prosecutor because if it makes more people aware. That's huge. Besides educating people about the dangers of predators lurking online, what else can be done to address the problem except catching them after something terrible has already happened? There's really nothing to keep them from cruising those chat rooms.

HOFFMAN: They are everywhere. Last December, Andrew Cuomo, who is the attorney general of New York, was implementing New York's new E-Stop Law, which is designed to get sexual predators and registered offenders off the internet. He purged the known email addresses of registered sex offenders and predators from New York - only from New York - with Facebook and MySpace, and they purged 3,500 sex offenders from the sites. Those are just the ones who actually use their real email address, they don't use an alias - the ones who have been caught, convicted, and registered. Think about that. That doesn't include the ones who have not yet been caught, or who use an alias, or who don't live in New York State. It's overwhelming to think about who you or your kids may be potentially talking to online. And it's not just kids; with Match.com and E-Harmony, there's lots of potential for trouble.

BOOKTHINK: I thought about that too as I read your book. There are plenty of vulnerable adults out there.

HOFFMAN: People who are good people want to think that everybody they talk to are good people. I can tell you from working ten years in law enforcement that is not true. There are some really bad people out there. And there are some people who are not necessarily serial killers but who are psychopaths in the sense that they'll come and rob you blind, or polygamists with multiple women they marry through relationships they have cultivated online to get access to bank accounts, and then they disappear.

BOOKTHINK: There are a lot of good things about the Internet, but I've heard some amazing statistics about the huge percentage of the Internet that is used for pornography. It says something so terrible about humanity.

HOFFMAN: Doesn't it? It's true. If you Google Mickey Mouse, you'll come up with a porn site if you don't have parental controls in place. Even the parental controls don't do much. Kids now know how to disable them, or they may have friends that know how to disable them. We as an older generation came of age later in computers, but we really didn't grow up on computers. Today's generation is much more technologically savvy. Our generation feels the computer is not really there. If we turn it off, it's not a problem. But it really is very much of a problem. When I was prosecuting originally back in the 90s, if you were a child pornographer, you had to take a negative and duplicate that negative, make it into a print and disseminate that print using the US Mail most of the time. It was a lot more work. Nowadays, you upload and hit send, and 50,000 people can have that image, and you can never get it back. That's another sad thing. You can't get these images back. I tell my kids don't ever take your clothes off for anybody on a computer, a camera, a cell phone because the images will never go away. You can be 45 years old, and it can pop back up again. It can be used for different purposes than what you thought you were taking it for.

BOOKTHINK: Bobby Dees was such an engaging character. It was sad and terrifying to share his search for the missing girl, knowing that his own daughter was missing. Do you have any plans for the character to appear in future books?

HOFFMAN: This novel and my third novel, Plea of Insanity, are what you call stand-alone novels. All of my novels are set in Miami and set around the state attorney's office and FDLE and Metro-Dade and the police departments down here, and I use continuing characters in them all. Sometimes they are just peripheral characters. My second novel was actually a true sequel to the first. I didn't want to get stuck writing about the same character for fifteen books. But I've allowed that I can bring characters back into other books so that maybe my character from my third book could meet my character from my fourth book in book number six. Yes, I do love Bobby Dees, and he would be an easy character to bring back in a future book. No guarantees, but I have written him so that I can bring him back in the future.

BOOKTHINK: You've written four legal thrillers. You must have an endless wealth of material to write about from your work and your comrades. Is it difficult at times for you to write about these crimes?

HOFFMAN: I love to write what I love to read. I'm still fascinated by what human beings are capable of doing and the reasons they do it. Because that still intrigues me, it's easy to write about it.

BOOKTHINK: And that may be what inspired you to get into law enforcement.

HOFFMAN: You know, I have always been the one, since I was a kid, who would turn to the crime section in the newspaper. My thirteen-year old does the same thing now. It's just what I always like to read, and when I went to law school, I always wanted to be a prosecutor. I was drawn to it, and I was very fortunate in that regard - that I knew what I wanted to do, and always loved doing it. I loved not just the courtroom but criminal prosecutions too. There's nothing more exciting than that. So I don't know if I'm ever not going to want to read about bad guys anymore, or write about them.

BOOKTHINK: I think it's hard for people to realize that people who are big trouble don't always look like trouble. They can be normal looking, guy-next-door people who can be psychotic.

HOFFMAN: Look at Ted Bundy ... law student, good looking, the whole bit…and he was a serial killer. Those are the ones that actually intrigue me the most. Like Bernie Madoff; he was a true psychopath. He wasn't a violent one, but he had no remorse. He could take people's money without a problem. Literally, he left them destitute and didn't care. It's a lack of having a conscience in that regard. I think that's a perfect example - he didn't necessarily raise a knife to anybody, but he didn't have to. He took their savings and ruined their lives.

BOOKTHINK: Does it ever affect your optimism about life?

HOFFMAN: No, I'm very optimistic about life. Not that I don't think I'll ever be suckered in because I'm smart enough to know that all of us can be victims. I'm more cautious in a parking lot than your average bear, but I still park in a parking lot. I'm just smart enough to not park next to vans, park under lights and have security walk me out after nine o'clock. It's just a matter of being more cautious in life so you can enjoy it but also understanding that there are very bad people out there, and there always will be.

BOOKTHINK: Are you currently working on a book?

HOFFMAN: I'm working on my fifth, yes, and it's a sequel to my second book. It's very interesting because I don't want to re-write my first book or my second book. I want the issue to be fresh. So it took me a while to come up with a clever way to bring back certain characters without having them be tired or diluted. I think it's pretty fresh- faced, and it's bringing back a couple of characters who were kind of peripheral. But it is a true sequel, so it's not just a recurring character, but a sequel to the second book.

BOOKTHINK: Are you doing any book signings or promotional tours?

HOFFMAN: I've done some book signings, I've done a lot of radio, I did a TV interview yesterday. I just hope I wrote a good enough book that people who pick it up and read it say, "Hey this is really good," and say to their friend, "I read a really good book." I think word of mouth is the best form of advertising. It has made careers, it has launched books. That I think is the biggest compliment anybody could pay me - to recommend my book to somebody else.

BOOKTHINK: Well, I'm recommending it now. And I already have recommended it to many of my friends. Thank you, Jilliane, for taking the time to talk about your books and writing career. We look forward to your continued success! Learn more about Jilliane Hoffman and her books here.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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