Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Q&A with Stephen Hillard

Stephen Hillard is the author of the new novel Knoll, which focuses on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He also has written The Chronicles of Ara series, with Joel Eisenberg, and Mirkwood. He lives in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Q: You note that Knoll is based on actual facts. What did you see as the right balance between fiction and history as you wrote this book?

A: Because the actual facts really grounded the story, I decided to use them as far as possible (with some name changes) to serve the fictional account about Carlos Marcello and his involvement in the JFK assassination.

For instance, my brother did work for Marcello at his nightclub in Bossier City, Louisiana, as did my father indirectly as the night manager of the main downtown hotel in the area. The description of the infamous “Bossier Strip" is spot on from actuality.

The characters are close to people I interviewed or for whom I had transcripts of their oral histories. Louie, the assassin, in particular is similar to a guy I tutored at Rikers Island prison in the 1970s.

Blacklisted screenwriter and Academy-Award winner Dalton Trumbo did grow up in the same town I did (Grand Junction), and did write the movie Executive Action, a controversial precursor to Oliver Stone’s JFK. Much of the journal of Bus’ father was verbatim from my own father’s journal when he had left Louisiana and was a small-town cop in Colorado.

So, if real facts are available, I think they are a far better foundation for a story, especially for a variant of historical fiction. Even the abandoned roadside stop is a snapshot of a really scary place I blundered into from a Texas road.

Q: What kind of research did you need to do to write this novel?

A: I spent a year gathering sources and ideas, reviewed Senate hearing videos and interviews, visited Louisiana and spent time at the Bossier Parish Historical Archives, read biographies of Marcello and Trumbo, read a dozen or more books on NSA spying and talked to folks in the spy business, consulted my own experience as a lobbyist dealing with higher levels of access in Congress, and, of course, revisited many of the mentioned roads on my motorcycle.

Q: What do you think accounts for the ongoing fascination with JFK conspiracy theories?

A: Two things. The investigation and release of public information after the event was botched, purposely or otherwise. Second, you have a young, charismatic figure who was dramatically murdered in front of millions, his hopeful story recast in vivid images of destruction, robbing a generation of their hero.

Since then, political murder and cover-ups have come to seem much more plausible, while the evidence of the assassination has at least the appearance of being withheld, altered, and destroyed. A generation of amateur detectives has been on the case, trodding the evidence into a confusion of forensic theories.

No wonder the public viewpoint that there was a conspiracy of some sort remains at something around 75 percent. I bet with the simple wisdom of the crowd on this one.

Q: Which authors do you particularly admire?

A: An eclectic group. I’m a fan of Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, E.A. Burroughs, and, recently, M.L. Stedman.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m starting, with Joel Eisenberg, a television content development company. That brings a lot of new and old stories across the threshold. I’m continuing with The Chronicles of Ara books, in rewrite as part of a development with the Ovation Channel, and the comic book series, Farway Canyon, with Dennis Nowlan, that has been announced by Anthony Ferrante of Sharknado fame, as his next project.

I’m eager to do follow-ups about Banner McCoy, the strong female protagonist in Knoll, and Cadence Grande, the female lead in Mirkwood. I’m partial to heroines.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Writing is a tough, unpredictable and fascinating thing. I’m honored to share the story in Knoll with other folks.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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