NORTH HALL – Transcript of the Novel by Julian Lev

Watch the Transcript Reading of NORTH HALL:

Reading performed by actor Geoff Mays

Get to know writer Julian Lev:

1. What is your novel about?

North Hall is about a psychiatric Forensic Unit where sanity is determined before a criminal trial. The results of an assessment can be the difference between a defendant being sent for treatment or to prison, if convicted. Dr. Ligget, the psychologist who does the assessing, reserves his harshest judgment for himself. Physically and mentally scarred, his crime was being the sole survivor of a house fire that killed his family. His self-imposed sentence keeps him laboring in the cavernous halls alone, as an untouchable, until he is confronted by Jennifer Stanley, who is accused of murdering her son. Her beauty and ingenuous manner spark his hostility, yet are beguiling, drawing him out of himself only to get caught in wider, unexpected webs.

2. Why should this novel be read by anyone?

North Hall is an intrigue that takes the reader behind the locked doors of what are our most hidden institutions, those in which the concept of sanity is no longer abstract and in which both mental and physical punishment are exacted, holding a mirror up to our sense of fairness and morality. All the insanity that people have come to expect in their daily lives exists here, but under pressure of confinement with others who suffer with the burden of mental illness, some patients and some staff members. But, only the staff have keys! In this insane place, Ligget must make a near impossible decision about Jennifer’s sanity, only afterward to learn the whole truth is yet to be revealed.

3. How would you describe this story in one sentence?

NORTH HALL is the tomb-like setting where a forensic psychologist must determine whether an accused infanticide was criminally insane when she murdered her son without submitting to her beauty, her seeming innocence, or her wiles.

4. What movie have you seen the most in your life?

The Seven Samurai

5. How long have you been working on this novel?

I knew I was writing a novel in 2001, months prior to 9/11. As long as three years prior to that I played with plot points and some bad characters, but without serious intent to bring anything written to completion. So, somewhere between 14 and 17 years.

6. How many stories have you written?

Very few. Especially since North Hall, I won’t write anything serious, even comedy, unless there is a strong impulse to write, I have enough time to devote all my attention to it, and I find the writing worthy of my own interest; and, like Ligget, I am a harsh self-critic. Professionally, I write reports daily as a psychologist, have a blog on psychology, psychsurvivalist.com, and have a children’s book to be found at xpsychforkids.com. To me, all my writing is narrative and helps to keep my hand in the process of writing.

7. What motivated you to write this novel?

I first conceived of this story around the time that a series of murders by mothers of their children made headlines. Having trained and worked in forensics, it seemed to me that the media were staging what amounted to morality plays with extremely poor representations of the women-perpetrators and even less of an awareness of what happens to them after they are arrested. The real drama doesn’t occur before the cameras and the public, but behind locked doors. Those events make a far better story that is more nuanced and complex. This is the stuff I like to read myself.

8. What obstacles did you face to finish this novel?

Even before I started writing, I had staged the murder in the opening scene and it stayed that way until the last draft. It was in response to a Wild Sound review that I started to recognize that, with an opening scene that was so riveting, the rest of the writing had to reach an impossibly high bar to keep readers’ attention. I imagined that, like Wild Sound reviewers, an agent would say, with such a strong beginning, how come the story seems so flat? But, it wasn’t flat except in the context of having witnessed the murder of a child, an image that is impossible to erase and that out-weighs everything that follows. The final rewrite brought my hero to center stage where he belonged. This only took me some 14 years to recognize. It was a huge obstacle.

9. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

I am passionate about my field, psychology, and feel that Freud did the world a disservice because the practice of psychology is not so much about medicine, but about narrative. This is where writing and psychology really meet. Our individual lives are largely made up of stories we tell about ourselves, both to ourselves and to others. Narrative is a constant in our daily lives and throughout history. It rightfully deserves to be taken back to the Greeks and still earlier, when tales were not simply entertainment, but had to be meaningful to the audience in practical ways to promote survival.

10. What influenced you to enter the WILDsound Festival? What were your
feelings on the initial feedback you received?

I was quickly interested in the thought of having my story read by an actor. That intriqued me. I entered twice and found it curious that the first submission which was sent back after a week and a half included a review that had a lot of praise in it.

11. Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?

In the current market, I would suggest that people just write their soul. I still don’t know that my effort will get anywhere, because it is clear to me that the world of publishing is more about markets and selling than about art and narrative. Add to that the large number of judges, who are editors and agents, each with their own tastes, who will be judging the story you have labored on for what might amount to many years. Or else, just write formula if it pleases you. That might sell just as well or even better.

    * * * * *

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