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The Truth Behind Producer's Fiction


Barbara Hall believes her world is turning into "a hall of mirrors." She's not making a pun about her name, or a joke. She couldn't be more serious.

Much of Hall's focus is geared toward steering CBS' hit courtroom series, "Judging Amy," which combines emotional legal drama with the personal stories of a juvenile court judge (Amy Brenneman) grappling with work, family and single parenthood. Hall is one of the executive producers of the series, which is going into its second season after emerging as one of last year's few network successes in the dramatic arena.

But away from the set, it is Hall's own personal legal and emotional journey that has absorbed her, as she has searched to find peace and healing in her life. It has not come without anxiety.

The source of Hall's jumbled emotions is her new novel, "A Summons to New Orleans," which has just hit bookstores, and her reason for writing it. The book examines the changing relationships and derailed dreams of three female friends and is set against the backdrop of a rape trial in New Orleans.

But "A Summons to New Orleans" cuts much deeper for the author--it is a fictionalized account of her own rape in the historic city's French Quarter in 1997.

Writing the novel was Hall's catharsis--a way of dealing with the crime, her trauma and its lengthy and painful aftermath, including three trials, two hung juries and a legal system she claimed was often unresponsive to her plight. She is also hoping the novel will spark more of a candid and open discussion about rape and its effect on victims.

"I did not want [the rape] to be part of my history--it was not my choice," Hall said, sitting in her large office on the 20th Century Fox lot where "Judging Amy" is filmed. "It's something that happened, and not talking about it becomes a burden for me. I just made a decision that I would not allow myself to be diminished by this--that was the only choice."

She added: "I'm attempting to ask questions rather than give answers, because I don't have all the answers. Maybe that's a reason I wrote it as fiction. It's really my attempt to participate with the public in a discussion without having to provide a solution."

It is not the first time Hall has dealt with the subject of rape in a dramatic fashion. She wrote an acclaimed episode of "Chicago Hope" in which chief of surgery Kate Austin (Christine Lahti), who had been a rape victim, killed a man who was trying to rape one of her colleagues.

"A Summons to New Orleans" is much more direct and personal, though there are not that many overlaps between reality and fiction. But no matter how liberating the novel was to write for Hall, she is now dealing with the other consequences of publishing the book, opening up a damaging and painful chapter of her life for scrutiny. She has also forced her family to directly confront the ordeal publicly.

Family Grapples With Her Painful Account

Even now, she says, her husband finds it difficult to read the trial portions of the novel. And then there is Hall's 8-year-old daughter, who has never been told the whole truth about what happened to her mother.

"Yes, there still is a reluctance for me to go public about this--it makes me nervous," Hall said. "But I'm going on instinct. I'm almost positive I didn't go through this ordeal so that I could suffer in silence. It is a personal risk--I'm exposing way more about my personal life than I'm comfortable with. But talking about it is cathartic, and its also reminding myself that I didn't do anything wrong. That's a big issue that rape victims have."

While the specific pain that Hall examines in the novel is difficult for Hall's husband, Paul Karon, he supports her decision to write the story, in the way she chose.

"A lot of people think it's nuts to write or even talk about this," said Karon, a former entertainment journalist. "I admire Barbara's bravery in confronting it."

The key character in "A Summons to New Orleans" is Nora Braxton, who travels to New Orleans at the request of her old college housemate and longtime friend, Simone Gray. Also there at Simone's request is another old college friend, Poppy Marchand.

It's when the three get together that Simone reveals the reunion is not a casual one. She was raped a year ago, and the trial for her attacker is about to begin. The troubled Simone needs her friends' support, not totally aware that they are experiencing their own turmoils.

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