Interview with Jillian Thomadsen, Author of All the Hidden Pieces

AllTheHiddenPiecesNovel2Screen’s next summer book recommend is a character-driven thriller perfect for your vacation read.  All the Hidden Pieces is a fast-paced mystery that’ll leave you guessing to the end.   When Greta Carpenter gets a call upending her life, she and her family hastily pack their bags and disappear.  Detective Roberta Hobbs is assigned to the Carpenter case, but as she uncovers the truth she discovers hers and Greta’s lives mysteriously intertwine.

All the Hidden Pieces is Jillian Thomadsen’s debut novel.  As she says, she first got the writing bug at age seven and has been honing her craft ever since.  She’s been a contributor for ADDitude MagazineSophisticated Living, ScaryMommy, BusinessWeek and was featured on The Today Show for an essay about travel with kids.  With All the Hidden Pieces, she tackles more than the typical mystery.  The novel delves into the reality of our education system failing children with learning disabilities and the effects it has throughout their lives.  Novel2Screen had the pleasure to interview this breakout author!

Chris: All the Hidden Pieces is two stories in one novel with the police investigation surrounding the missing family and the unfolding life of Greta Carpenter. How did you keep the timelines and dates straight while writing and connect all the pieces?

Jillian Thomadsen

Jillian: Before I started writing the novel, I wrote a detailed outline.  I wanted to weave together the stories in such a way that the reader was sucked into one story and then lunged into the other story.  And just when the reader got comfortable with the second timeline, I went back to the first timeline.

I did all the writing as it appears in the book, so I took this journey along with the reader.  It probably would have been easier to write chronologically – to finish entirely with one story and then go back and write the other story, but I thought that would complicate the eventual marrying of the two stories.


Chris: How much research did you have to do to capture the authenticity of the police work?

Jillian: I have read a fair number of books – novels and memoirs – and seen TV shows, documentaries and films that deal with police procedures and how they approach solving crimes.  I have a real interest in crime solving, and so I tend to gravitate towards those stories.

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Chris: Struggles with learning disabilities is an element you tackle in the book. Why did you choose this struggle for your character(s)?  Did you personally struggle with a learning disability growing up?

Jillian: Oh gosh, I could probably write another novel just answering this question alone.  I intended to write the book about the difficulties of parenting a child with dyslexia.  One of my sons has dyslexia and I’ve written about it a few times in personal essays because it’s such an important issue to me, so close to my heart, and something so often misunderstood.  (You can read Jillian’s essay about his journey on ADDitude Magazine’s  here.)

The truth is, I never had learning disabilities, and that made it harder to comprehend what my son was going through when he was younger – five or six years old. As a parent, I had a very hard time understanding how my kindergartner could not, under any circumstances, sound out simple words, or how he couldn’t match letters to sounds even after I’d gone over it with him numerous times.  It was very frustrating for both of us.

When I finally figured out that he was dyslexic, I started talking to other parents and I found that so many had similar, parallel stories. These were stories not just about our children’s battles with literacy but also stories of frustration with public schools and the need for unyielding advocacy on behalf of our children.  I started to wonder, if this is so widespread, why don’t we hear more about it?  And that drove me to write a book about it.

I wanted to authentically explore what happens to so many dyslexic children who fall through the cracks of public schooling.  The true crux of this novel hinges on the love that a mother has for her children, and the pain of trying and failing to get your children what they need during those critical years of development.

To get a bit technical, the reason it’s so easy for these kids to fall through the cracks is that schools aren’t screening for dyslexia; they’re just screening for a 22-point gap between IQ and achievement.  There could be a dyslexic child with a 19-point difference who receives no services.  Or a dyslexic child who qualifies, but the services they receive aren’t tailored to dyslexia, rendering the interventions useless.

Interestingly, the Missouri laws changed as I was writing the book.  There’s new legislation (signed into law mid-2016) for educators to screen for dyslexia and provide in-classroom support.  This is all encouraging, but it remains to be seen how that will play out.

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Chris: Who was your favorite character to write?

Jillian: Roberta Hobbs was by far my favorite character to write.  What I like about her is that she’s seen as hardened and impenetrable, but she’s actually very vulnerable.  She has this heartbreak in her past that she was never quite able to put aside.

The interesting thing about Roberta is that she waited her entire adult life for an apology from her ex, but when she got it, it didn’t have the effect she had always thought it would.  So she responded by pushing away the current boyfriend who tried to get too close.  By the end of the book, Roberta had to learn how to open up and find love again.


Chris: The novel delves into the idea that past choices and relationships help create who we are today. When you set out to write All the Hidden Pieces did you intend to pursue this theme or did it evolve with the story?

Jillian: Great question.  The influence of the past on our present lives is a theme that I put in all of my writings.  We are all humans and we all have pasts; we all make mistakes and we all have complicated relationships.  Roberta is an interesting case because her past with Steven Vance was continuing to influence her current decisions but she didn’t know how to take a hard look at the past and find a way to move on.

Greta’s estrangement from her mother was another important example, since Greta was able to live her life in such a way as to not dote on it…but it kept resurfacing in small ways.  She named her son after her mother and kept telling the same textured tale of an eventual reunion – without taking any of the steps to make such an event happen.  I feel like many estrangements start off this way – two opposing sides walk away from each other and over the years, small gaps become chasms.

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Chris: Sounds like there was a story behind publishing the book. Are you able to elaborate?

Jillian: Yes. A small publisher found me through a Twitter pitch contest.  She read my manuscript in a day and then signed me.  We went through all the paperwork, agreed on all the terms and I had a book deal!  I told almost everyone I knew.

Then, just a few weeks later, my publisher had a personal setback and closed down her shop.  The good news was that all the rights to our novels reverted to us authors (I have heard horror stories about that not being the case), but now I had to go and un-tell everyone who I had formerly told about the book deal.

Overall, it was a humbling experience but I’m glad I went through it.  I found my cover artist, formatter and editor through my former publisher.  And I learned a valuable lesson that led me to stop trying to get a book deal from an outsider and just publish my own work.


Chris: What are you working on now?

Jillian: I’m soon going to start writing another book that features Detective Hobbs.  It’s very early in the process, so I’m outlining exactly which mystery she’s going to solve and what personal factors are going to be at play.

I also love contributing to blogs (particularly parenting and writing blogs).


Chris: What are your favorite books?

Jillian: I absolutely love books – all kinds of books – and if you looked at my bookshelf you would mostly find memoirs and book-club fiction.

Picking a favorite one is almost like selecting a favorite child – there are so many in my collection that are unique and special to me, books that opened my eyes and challenged the way I thought I saw the world.  So I’ll select a few favorites:

  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg. This book is a tome, almost one thousand pages and an absolutely captivating tale of a shooting that takes place in New York City in 1977.  There are several main characters in the book – each of whose lives are written with such clarity. They all are connected in some way with the shooting and their stories unfold bit by bit over the pages.
  • The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood. I don’t just love this book because of present times; I loved this book long before it seemed prescient.  The first time I read it I was a young woman in my 20s, sneaking in pages during subway commutes and long corporate dinners.  It spoke to what it means to be a woman who has sovereignty over herself and her body and how quickly those freedoms can go away.
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan. Well, of course I don’t have favorites but if I did, this one would probably be it.  On the topic of adaptations, I don’t think it translated into a particularly gripping movie and maybe that’s because I’d read the book and knew how it was going to end…or maybe it’s because the book is quite simply a literary masterpiece (in my humble opinion) and the grist of the novel is in its words.  I loved every bit of McEwan’s writing.  I loved his story-telling.  I loved his characters.  I loved how one of the main characters made a terrible mistake – owing to childish puerility – and there was no way to undo it.  Such a tragic, common display of human fragility and such a lovely book to read.


Chris: As we’re Novel2Screen, what is your favorite adaptation of all time?

AllTheHiddenPiecesJillian: It just so happens that when I was in high school in the mid-90s, my friend and I were cast in a local Baltimore TV show called The Young Critics.  On the show, we discussed and rated books that had been adapted into screenplays. So this is a very topical question.

On the show, we gave our highest marks to Interview with the Vampire, and I think that remains my favorite adaptation.  The writing in the book was engrossing, the characters well-developed and the film version served the book well.  I don’t often finish a movie and think that it did the book justice, but in this case I think it did – right down to the noir cinematography of the vampire scene in New Orleans.

I also love the story behind the story – that author Anne Rice was initially unhappy with the casting of Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat but she changed her mind as soon as she saw the film.

I should also mention Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  Unfortunately, I haven’t made the time to see the Hulu version but it is on my to-do list, and from what I’ve been told, I have a feeling that will become one of my favorite adaptations!

Chris: Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is brilliantly made.  I think you’ll find they have done justice to the novel we all love dearly.  Reading Atwood’s pinnacle work is like a right of passage for young women.

You can get your copy of All the Hidden Pieces here.  Be sure to add this book to your summer reading!

For more of Chris’s interviews with authors, click here.


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