(Award-Winning Hemetonian Jim Hitt)
For authors Jim and Vicki Allen-Hitt, writing is a way of life; a way of life that’s spanned 42 years together, 35 married.
“I was always creative but my creativity showed itself in dance and also in art. It wasn’t until I went to one of Jim’s book signings at a library that I sat next to (Hemet-San Jacinto Chronicle Senior writer and author of more than 40 books) Rusty Strait and Rusty heard me telling one of my family stories. He looked at me and said, “You ought to be a writer.” I laughed and said, “I’ll write, Rusty, if you take up painting.”
“Well Rusty never started painting but he sure got me started writing!”
“I called a third cousin who wrote for the McCalls Magazine and who had also written radio scripts and I asked her how to begin writing. She said to me, “You read, read, read…and then you start writing.”
And 5 years later, this past Sunday December 7, Allen-Hitt’s novel, “Family Matters” debuted. Well…it isn’t quite a novel, it’s a memoir. Well..it’s not quite a memoir, it’s a, well…it’s actually a new type of writing treatment which Allen-Hitt calls a “memoir novel.”
Allen-Hitt calls her work a “memoir novel” because it uses the normal format of a family memoir, but it deviates-interestingly so-by using Allen-Hitt’s knowledge of family members to fill in unknown holes in her narrative. The result is stunning and gripping. These “characters” are people that most anyone can recognize from their own families, and Allen-Hitt worked hard to keep the novelistic elements as true to life as possible. “Whenever I got stuck, I’d call my 104 year-old mother. She’s still very alert and she’d relay the information to me, even down to all she knew about my grandmothers courtship, which is where my work begins.”
The toughest part of the writing? “Writing about my maternal grandmother. We were very close,” Allen-Hitt says, as she looks off into the distance. She then picks up her book and reads the dedication: “This book is dedicated to Jim, my husband, without whose support this book could never have been written, and to my mother, Lorraine Jones, who at 103, provided me with so many wonderful stories that made their way into this book.”
Allen-Hitt’s mother, now 104, has read the book and she heartily approves. “My mom is still full of energy at 104. It took an amazing amount of energy to finish this book. I honestly never thought I’d finish it, but one thing I learned, was that if I could picture something in my mind, I could make a scene out of it. I realized and said to myself, “If I can see it, I can make it come alive on the page.”
(Award-Winning Hemetonian Jim Hitt)
As someone who must confess to being a very thankful participant in Jim and Vicki’s weekly writing critique group, I must also confess that the direction given by Jim and Vicki Hitt is prized and has given direction to my own writing. “I would say that between our writing group and Jim and I on our own, this book has been edited, re-edited and re-edited…having been seen by probably 40 people, maybe more.”
“This memoir novel is a book of survival. It shows how you can go through all kinds of things, and come out stronger and more aware of yourself. You look around and realize that you’re not defeated.” How has she overcome the many trials in her life which are depicted in the memoir-novel? “A sense of humor, “says Allen-Hitt.
Anyone reading Allen-Hitt’s first offering would say that all the work, years and effort have more than paid off: the novel has been nominated for the Next Generation Indie Book Award.
Allen-Hitt says she tried not to rely on husband Jim, though Jim Hitt is author of 2 works of Non-Fiction (“The American West from Fiction into Film,” and, “Words and Shadows: Literature on the Screen”), and four works of fiction including the highly acclaimed, “The Courage of Others,” and the award-winning, “Carny.” Still she confesses that Jim Hitt was there for advice whenever asked. “I think of Jim as natural-born writer.”
“I try not to write the same book twice,” says author Jim Hitt. “This current novel is set in 1925 Texas, and as the inside cover reads, “Texas, 1925: two murder victims, one black, one white: two communities, one black, one white. Deputy Sheriff Stoneman has only 3 days to uncover a murderer and avoid a bloodbath.” I’ve never written a mystery before…and this mystery has racism, a love story and murder mixed in, but at heart, it’s about family. I think all my novels essentially revolve around family,” said Hitt. Hitt says that this novel is “not exactly a sequel” to his highly acclaimed, “The courage of others,” but that some of the characters make appearances in both novels. “The Shadows” has been nominated for a “Spur Award” by the Western Writers of America (WWA). It was a reviewer for WWA who said of Hitt’s novel, “Bodie,” that it was, “…the kind of western that every traditionalist novelist seeks to pen.” One might say that this was high praise, but having the honor of knowing Jim Hitt, one realizes that for Hitt, this is normal. Jim Hitt is a soft=spoken man who writes with a scalpel.
(Award-Winning Hemetonian Jim Hitt)
“I had to be very specific with some of the passages because there’s a racist angle to the novel: the characters do, at times, use the “N” word because that word was used at that time. To leave it out would have been a violation of history, though I do use it sparingly.”
With such a thorny component as is racism, you might think that the novel’s outlook is somewhat bleak; you’d be wrong. Did Hitt wince at such a dark subject or at using such language? “If the book had ended with no hope of improvement, then I’d wince, but I must say that the book does have an upbeat ending. I’d say I’m an optimistic writer.”
I’ve wondered how such a decent man as Jim is could “write” characters who might have an ugly side to their demeanor, or who are beset by awful setbacks. “Well, I think it’s the hope of change. All these negative things pile on: how does the protagonist handle it? I tend to know who my characters are, and what they need to do to overcome, and grow as people. I honestly believe that my characters are better than I am, and I believe they’re smarter as well.”
Hitt says, that while some of his characters start out as villains, by the end of the book, they have undergone a change and that we, the readers, see the character’s better angels. “I believe that our protagonists must change as the novel progresses: I also think it’s much more interesting when secondary characters change as well.”
“I create characters I wish I were. I’m constantly going back and refining, because I don’t write an outline. I know where I’m at in the beginning and I know where I’m going to end. I’m not a ‘pantser” (a literary term which defines a writer who writes “by the seat of his pants”), or a “plotter” (one who plots every nuance of his novel), but I fall somewhere in between. I believe the journey for the reader should be as much fun as it is for me, because in the final analysis, I believe all writing is entertainment: if you’re out to send a message or whatever, and you don’t entertain, the reader is going to lose your message anyway. I want my readers to say, “God I enjoyed that book.” Anyone who’s been in Jim Hitt’s presence, or has sat and listened as Jim patiently passed on decades of knowledge, knows that he is entertaining and then some. After having read “The Shadows,” I can guarantee that you will end it by saying, “God, I enjoyed that book.”
Anyone interested in buying either book can contact any bookstore, in-person or online. It will appear on Amazon.com some time next week.
And yes, both Jim and Vicki helped me edit this article: hey, I take all the wise counsel I can get!
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