Jilliane Hoffman
 

 

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Please welcome New York Times bestseller Jilliane Hoffman!

 

 

 

 

 

                                             
Pretty Little Things            Plea of Insanity          Last Witness              Retribution

 

 

New Mystery Reader - Jilliane Hoffman Interview
 

NMR:  Congratulations on your new novel Pretty Little Things, a novel that by all accounts is no doubt going to prove as successful as your previous tales. Can you tell us a bit about this latest hit?

Jilliane Hoffman:  
Thank you! I’m really excited about it! Pretty Little Things was definitely a fun and sometimes challenging book to write—delving into the world of Internet sexual predators—but as I have two young teenage daughters myself, the topic hit close to home. It’s probably the most frightening personal thriller I’ve ever penned. As for your predictions on its success, I have to say I hope you’re psychic!

Pretty Little Things is set is Coral Springs, Florida, a suburb of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Thirteen-year-old Lainey Emerson is the middle child in a home police are already familiar with: her mom works too much and her stepfather favors his own blood over another man’s problems—namely Lainey and her wild older sister, Liza. When Lainey fails to come home from a night out with friends, her disappearance is dismissed by the local police as just another disillusioned South Florida teen running away from suburban drama and an unhappy home life.

But FDLE Special Agent Bobby Dees is not quite so sure. When he discovers Lainey was involved in a secret internet relationship, he fears she may be the victim of an online predator.  And when chilling portraits of other possible victims are sent to a local television station, he realizes she may not be the only one. Haunted by the still unsolved disappearance of his own teenage daughter, Bobby will find himself pulled into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the most prolific killer he’s ever encountered.

 


NMR:  This book is sure to ring some very loud alarm bells with parents regarding their children’s use of the Internet and the possible dangers lurking there.  During your research of this issue, what did you find the most alarming and surprising about it?

JH:    Although I had worked on cases with FDLE’s Crimes Against Children (CAC) squad and the Law Enforcement Against Child Harm (LEACH) task force, it was actually a personal encounter with an Internet sexual predator that first gave me the idea to write about the subject of vulnerable teens and the dangers of chat rooms and social networking. My daughter was only eleven and in the fourth grade when a classmate of hers started a texting relationship via cell phone with a boy she’d met on the Internet and communicated with via AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Pretending to be sixteen, this little girl then passed the telephone numbers and email addresses of her friends along to her new pal. My daughter was not a participant, but she had listened while the girls talked about what was happening over lunch. She finally told me—mind you, while I was driving—what was going on after the boy asked one of the little girls to send him pictures.  That was when I learned this “boy’s” screen name was “rooster69”, the obvious sexual meaning of which was lost on a bunch of eleven year-olds. After the tow truck finally unwrapped my car from the light-pole I’d driven into (I’m kidding about that part), I contacted the parents of the children involved, as well as the CAC squad of FDLE.  And that was probably the most surprising thing I discovered: the ambivalence of the parents to the dangers of the Internet: “Not my kid,” and “That wouldn’t happen because Lexy knows better,” was what I heard back and it really threw me. It wasn’t until one of the little girls tearfully ‘fessed up that the photos this “boy” had asked her to send to him were to be taken without clothes on that the parents stood up and began to listen and realize that, yes, this sort of tragedy can happen to their child right under their noses in their very own living rooms. What was not so surprising was when CAC agents subsequently discovered that this “boy” was a 43 year old man from North Carolina. 

I wasn’t prepared to encounter these Internet problems with my kids at such a young age. But I should’ve been. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in every seven children is approached by a sexual predator on the internet. A recent sweep by the Attorney General in New York found more than 3500 convicted sexual offenders on Facebook and MySpace. That’s just New York sex offenders. And those are the ones who used their real names on the social networking sites. And those are just the sex offenders who have been caught and actually convicted. It’s an ever-growing problem, as more and more kids use social networking sites to communicate with “friends” they have never met outside a WiFi connection. And parents need to not just sit and talk with their kids about the dangers of the Internet, they need to know about the dangers firsthand. They should visit chatrooms to see what the participants talk about, they should go on Facebook and MySpace and see what a post is, and how much personal information is made available to the public.  Giving your kids a blanket okay to use these sites without monitoring what it is they are posting is a recipe for trouble.

 


NMR:  With the explosive growth in communication technology, it seems an almost impossible battle that parents face in keeping their children sheltered from online predators -  both those parents who are aware and care, and those who don’t or who remain blissfully ignorant.  As a former prosecutor, what role, if any, would you like to see our government play in this escalating dangerous situation?

JH:  It’s completely unrealistic to think that we can keep children offline in today’s society. But as stated above, I think it is a parent’s responsibility to teach their kids about Internet safety, in particular warning them to never disclose personal information to someone they do not personally know, never taking, sending, or posting nude or otherwise inappropriate photos of themselves, and never meeting up with ANYONE they’ve chatted with over the Internet. Seeing as some parent’s don’t want to take up this mission before letting their kids surf the web, then I think the secondary responsibility should fall on schools and the community to educate kids. And that means sharing real-life stories with children, most of which don’t have a happy ending. Laws such as New York’s e-STOP (Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators) help the state and social networking sites reconcile their files and purge registered sex offenders emails from their databases, but that alone is not enough. It won’t get rid of those offenders who use aliases when subscribing to MySpace or Facebook, it doesn’t affect all offenders who visit chat rooms, and, perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t purge offenders who have not yet been caught and convicted of a qualifying sex offense. Consider this sobering statistic: According to the Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM), the average sex offender offends for 16 years before he’s finally caught. In that time span, he has committed an average of 318 offenses and violated 110 victims.
 



NMR:  Another topic you address is that of missing children, those reported as missing and those that sadly aren’t, and what you present is pretty troubling.  Do you think there’s more as a society that we can do to lower these seemingly ever increasing numbers?

JH: The estimated number of runaway and “throwaway” children—those that run away from home, but are never even reported missing as such—in this country is staggering. I was completely blown away by the idea that an estimated 1.5 to 2 million kids go missing of their own volition each year. The hardships that these children face when living on the street is truly tragic—prostitution, drugs, sexual exploitation, violence. Unfortunately some kids run from homes that are worse than what they face on the street. That is the sad truth. Attempts to fix the home environment don’t always work—some people are bad parents, plain and simple. And many state foster-care systems are in need of a complete overhaul and additional funding: too many social workers are overworked, underpaid and severely disillusioned.  When a kid faces a terrible home life, and the alternative is a broken foster-care system where he or she may face even worse treatment then he or she did at home, the only option in a child’s eyes can be to run. It’s a terrible situation. I don’t really have an answer.




NMR:  All your novels have presented some very timely issues facing society and you’ve done a great job of providing the legal, personal, and investigative viewpoint of all concerned.  Which of these do you find the most difficult to portray?

JH: It is quite challenging to write from the perspective of a character suffering from a severe mental illness. In my third novel, Plea of Insanity, my lead character, Julia Vacanti, comes from a family that is devastated by a debilitating and frightening mental illness, namely schizophrenia, and as her life begins to unravel and the pressure mounts on her to secure a conviction in a high-profile murder case against a prominent surgeon, Julia worries that she herself may also be afflicted. Considering one of the hallmark symptoms of schizophrenia is an inability to recognize that you are sick, writing from her perspective was particularly difficult at times.

I’ve found that writing from a sociopath’s point of view, however, can actually be a little easier and a lot more fun. Now what does that say about me?     




NMR:  As mentioned above, you seem to easily switch perspectives in your novels and make each sound just as realistic as the next.  So is there any character from your group of novels that you felt the closest to and that you would like to bring back on a regular basis?

JH: I love all my characters! Even the bad ones! C.J. Townsend, my protagonist in both Retribution and Last Witness—my first two novels—is an interesting character to write, because I can totally relate to her on a personal level. Overworked and underpaid, C.J. is a zealous and committed prosecutor who spends her life-energy keeping the human monsters in jail, far, far away from civilized society. She knows all too well what they are capable of. Although I myself am not a rape victim, I have spent a lot of time counseling sexual assault victims as a prosecutor and holding their hands through motions, hearings and trials. I have listened to their gut-wrenching stories and through C.J. Townsend, was able to give them a voice (and, perhaps, a little vindication, even if it was only fantasy play via a fictionalized novel).  To that end, I am bringing C.J. back in the novel I am currently working on, which is a sequel to Last Witness. I have also intentionally set all of my novels in and around the criminal justice system in South Florida, so that even the characters in my two stand-alone novels—Plea of Insanity and now Pretty Little Things—could eventually work alongside characters from my other works. They are all related, even if the plots are independent.



NMR:  How much of your past experience as a prosecutor has come into play when devising your wickedly suspenseful plots?

JH:  I definitely call upon my previous experience as a prosecutor and police attorney when I imagine plots and create characters. I have prosecuted some really creepy defendants who have done some monsterous things. I could not have written any of my novels without my experience in law enforcement. My characters, from defense attorneys to correction officers to judges, all of them are slices of people that I have worked alongside for years. The dialogue in my books could be stolen from any of the thousands of conversations I had over the years at crime scenes and in courtrooms and at training exercises. 

 


NMR:   All your novels have had, and continue to have, great success, with Retribution as a movie now in the works.  Have you found this to be a surprise?  A burden?  Or, maybe simply a joyful experience.

JH:  I was definitely surprised when Retribution was optioned as a movie with Warner Brothers. When I originally conceived the plot, I actually envisioned it as a movie, and toyed with the idea of writing it as a screenplay first. So to have it optioned by a major studio right out of the box was definitely a dream come true. Seeing it through to production, however, can take a whole other lifetime, I have learned. But I have extreme patience and I thrive on optimism, so I do believe that one day Retribution will be made into a movie, and when that happens, I intend on being there with it every step of the way.  Up to this point it has been a joyful experience for sure.



NMR:  Speaking of Retribution, have you been involved in that project in such a way that you feel assured that the movie will remain true to the novel?

JH:   Hmmmm….good question. I did write the first screenplay to the movie, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. It’s the final screenplay that counts, and by the time someone finally picks up a camera, that could be a completely different animal from what I put on paper. I do hope that when and if it is made into a movie, that it follows the novel. Far too many good books have been ruined in translation.




NMR:  How difficult, or easy, is it for you to finally put a novel to bed and call it complete?  And which, if any, characters continue to haunt you afterwards?

JH:  I know my ending before I pick up a pen. It is what drives me to the finish line. So when I do finally cross it, I know I am done. I may go back over and add and tweak, but I definitely know when it is done. I have to say that until Pretty Little Things, no character from any of my other novels had ever haunted me. But then along came Lainey Emerson. She’s a hard one to forget about. Her story stays with you, and not in a good way.  
 


NMR:  And finally, what can you fans expect next?

JH:  As I indicated before, I am currently writing a sequel to Last Witness, my second novel, which will see the return of C.J. Townsend and the final chapter in the C.J./Bill Bantling thrillogy.



NMR:  Thank you so much Jilliane for sharing your thoughts; both your novels and insights are greatly appreciated!

For review of Pretty Little Things

For Jilliane Hoffman's website: http://www.jillianehoffman.com