A question-and-answer interview with Pierre native and author Lisa C. Hickman follows. Her latest book, “Stranger to the Truth,” is available from Prairie Pages Bookseller.
Q: How did you get into writing and did your years in the Pierre school system or at Riggs High School play a role in that?
A: Any writer’s interest in the craft, I believe, is first stimulated by reading. The elementary teachers I had at St. Joseph, primarily nuns, conveyed a genuine enthusiasm and love of reading. As early as probably the second grade the teacher would have a “chapter” book underway. Whenever there would be a lull in the schedule, she would continue reading wherever she’d left off. It was a real treat. As a child I remember getting completely lost in the old Pierre Carnegie Library. It was a warm, wonderful place with creaky, uneven wood floors, and what seemed like an endless supply of enticing books. I likewise benefited from some excellent English teachers at Riggs High who were quite passionate about literature.
Q: Your latest book is called “Stranger to the Truth.” Can you give us a short description of how you came to write it?
A: I discuss this in some detail in the book’s preface. I had reviewed a novel about a matricide case. It was a fictionalized story based on a real case. Then, when this young girl in Memphis, Noura – who briefly attended my daughter’s high school – was charged and later convicted of her mother’s murder, I immediately wanted to know more about the situation. We all know we live in a society completely saturated by stories about murder. I’ve tried to understand this fascination. In part, I think it is the absolute extremity of the crime. It is one thing to be angry, have a grudge, or countless other forms of motivation, but to take it to the point of actually ending another life is hard for most people to comprehend. That, I believe, is why we keep exploring and probing this aberrant behavior. In this creative nonfiction story, Noura recently had turned eighteen; there was no record of any form of abuse; and she had, by most accounts, a privileged upbringing. What caused her to snap? The book’s website www.strangertothetruth.com offers a good deal more background and information.
Q: Do you see an intersection between fiction and nonfiction in a work like this?
A: It is very much a blending of the two though not in the way many people imagine. This book’s genre is creative nonfiction, also known as narrative or literary nonfiction. What that means is that the story is based on fact but the author employs the same narrative techniques of a novelist. My book is built around extensive research, courtroom testimony, interviews and other primary sources, but I also imagine – again based on what I learned – the thoughts and feelings of Noura’s mother, Jennifer, and her daughter. My epilogue is told from Noura’s perspective and it is my re-creation of what might have happened in the early morning hours when the murder occurred.
Q: We’re told it’s not your only book, you’ve written at least one earlier one. What was that about?
A: My other book, also nonfiction, was actually my Ph.D. dissertation, “Lonesome Spirits,” for the University of Mississippi. I then revised it and published it as “William Faulkner and Joan Williams: The Romance of Two Writers.” Joan Williams was a Memphis author of five novels and a short story collection. I came to know her quite well and she shared the hundreds of letters she’d received from Faulkner and her letters to him. They had about a four-year romantic relationship but were friends until Faulkner’s death in 1962. My interviews with Joan and the exchange of letters between the two authors offered an intimate glimpse into their lives; but I think what’s more important, readers take away the day-to-day struggle of writing. Faulkner won the 1949 Nobel Prize for literature yet frequently he sounds as unsure of his work as Joan, who by contrast, was a fledgling. He often told her when she was struggling with her writing to “keep after it.” I don’t know that there could be better advice.
Q: How do you know you’ve got a good idea for a book?
A: When you can’t quit thinking about it and you start to see the basic elements of a story like plot, character, setting and tone. If you feel you can’t let go of the subject, chances are you have a book.
Q: Where is your new book available for purchase?
A: Prairie Pages has some copies on hand. I’d like to add that Pierre is very fortunate to have such a gem of an independent bookstore. They are increasingly rare and contribute so much to the community. The book also is online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.