Skip to main content

Interview: December 19, 2003

December 19, 2003

Jilliane Hoffman's background in law enforcement helped serve as the inspiration for her debut novel, RETRIBUTION. In Part One of a two-part interview conducted by Co-Founder Carol Fitzgerald, and reviewers Joe Hartlaub and Bethanne Kelly Patrick, Hoffman discusses why she made sex crimes the topic of RETRIBUTION, the development of her characters and why she wrote some scenes as graphically as she did. You were Assistant State Attorney in one of America's crime capitals. Why not a nonfiction book? What led you to write fiction?

Jilliane Hoffman: While I often find truth in the law to be stranger --- and sometimes crueler --- than fiction, with fiction you can be more creative with the facts to intensify the suspense and color the characters. You create the story and the people, and you control the events. That's challenging.

BRC: You were an advisor for The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and dealt with both civil and criminal matters. When one --- at least one who lives outside of Florida --- thinks of crime in Florida, one thinks of drug trafficking. What was the impetus for you to make sex crimes, as opposed to drug trafficking or smuggling, the topic of RETRIBUTION?

JH: As the RLA for The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) in Miami, I helped rewrite Florida's sexual predator and offender notification laws (The Public Safety Information Act) and worked closely with FDLE special agents and the local police departments tracking offenders and notifying the public of their presence. As a prosecutor, I prosecuted a serial rapist and worked closely with many sexual battery victims. I know the physical and emotional damage inflicted on their victims and the psychological fear that grips a community when they are at large. I thought it a more interesting and socially compelling dynamic than drug smuggling.

BRC: The secondary characters in RETRIBUTION --- the judges, the policemen, the defense counsel, and particularly Marisol Alfonso --- seemed very true to life. Did you model anyone in the book directly on any of your acquaintances? Without naming names, of course!

JH: Every character in RETRIBUTION is flavored by the people who I have met in law enforcement. I would not say that any one person is representative of a particular character; rather I have borrowed certain distinctive attributes and idiosyncrasies from friends and associates that I have come across, mixed them together and created unique true-to-life characters.

BRC: Let's ask the obvious. How much of you is there in C.J. Townsend?

JH: You write what you know, so there is a great deal of me in C.J.

BRC: There's a great --- clearly fictional --- twist in the creation of your main character. But was the story itself inspired by a real case?

JH: No. While I can't say that all I have seen and heard in my years of law enforcement did not somehow make it into the book, there was no one case that inspired me.

BRC: As a woman who knows sex crimes victims from the prosecutor table, how hard was it to write the rape scene in RETRIBUTION?

JH: As a prosecutor, when you explain a set of facts to a jury, you have to do more than just that. You have to take them back there --- to the scene of the crime, into the bedroom --- and let them live the moment and feel the terror that your victim did, so that they can truly understand it. Understand her. I have listened to a lot of victims tell their horrible stories, each one different, and yet strangely similar. As a woman, I think all you need do is close your eyes and imagine one of your greatest fears happening in the privacy, sanctity and isolation of your own home, and the scene will play for you and the words will come.

BRC: Is RETRIBUTION a legal thriller? A suspense book? How would you characterize it?

JH: Both, and then some. I call it a legal, psychological suspense thriller.

BRC: A thriller. A sex crime. A psychiatrist. That's SILENCE OF THE LAMBS --- and RETRIBUTION. How conscious were you of that earlier book as you planned the character of Dr. Chambers?

JH: Conscious in the sense that I admire Thomas Harris and loved SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But the dynamics in RETRIBUTION are different, and without giving anything away, the motivations of Dr. Chambers are not that of Hannibal Lector.

BRC: Again and again, we read that men who commit sex crimes rarely stop at one. It's an extension of government that would violate civil rights … but would women sleep better if all men had to give police a DNA sample?

JH: Rape is a crime of power and control, not passion. The fear of getting caught will not stop a sex offender. A DNA sample will help law enforcement find an individual --- if he has left a sample of himself behind --- but it will not stop the crime itself from occurring.

BRC: Reading your book, we thought, "It seems that if you're an attractive young woman, you should go through your day thinking that life is dangerous and you, in particular, aren't safe." Do you believe that? If so, what can women do to protect themselves?

JH: I think no one is immune to crime. With that in mind, I take certain common-sense precautions. I don't walk or jog alone at night, or in areas that are deserted or isolated even during the day. I make sure my home is secure before I go to sleep, and I am aware of my surroundings at all times. If my gut tells me something is amiss, I listen to it.

BRC: RETRIBUTION has received a lot of attention before publication. What is it like to have your manuscript become The HOT Debut Book of the year?

JH: It is an amazing feeling, really. I never imagined it would happen, so I appreciate every piece of good news that I get, thinking it can't get any better than this. The big test is the reading public.