Today’s featured author is Jillian Medoff who recently released I Couldn’t Love You More.
I read on your website that you moved 17 times by the time you were 17. This is something that I can relate to having grown up in a military family. How do you think this has influenced you as a writer?
Although now I can see that moving so many times is unusual, growing up, I thought it was perfectly normal. A lot of families moved; my family just moved a lot more often. In fact, it didn’t occur to me until I was in my late 30’s that moving almost every year was a weird way to live. Similarly, while it was difficult to be the new girl all the time, I always made a few friends—maybe not at first but eventually. Usually, though, these friends were misfits because I felt like a misfit myself. From the time I was young—really young, like six—I was always acutely aware of being other, of feeling two steps removed from everyone else. I think I would’ve felt this way even if we hadn’t moved so much, although the moving definitely compounded my sense of otherness.
As a writer, these contradictions are what characterize my work: (i) that everything appears normal on the surface but isn’t, and (ii) that even though what I’m writing is fiction, my stories are absolutely true. As a novelist, I’m an observer, but I’m also a participant in my characters’ lives. None of them are me, but they’re all me, and I’m invested in doing each of them justice on the page. Therefore, it’s important to write about them honestly and intimately, not to keep them at arm’s length. A good writer, an honest writer, can’t be afraid to go deeper, deeper. She has to get as close to the bone as possible.
Moving around so often also made me fearless and empathetic, and both qualities inform my work. As a child, I learned to be independent and assertive; otherwise, I would have gotten lost in the shuffle. So I’m not afraid to tackle risky material. And because I was constantly thrust into unchartered and uncomfortable situations, I became overly attuned to other people’s feelings. Nine times out of ten, I care about other people, I do for other people, more than I care about and do for myself, and while this is exhausting in real life, it actually enhances my fiction. I take a 360-degree view, which is vital when your novels are character-driven. I was also alone a lot, so I read a lot, and as you know, compulsive readers often become compulsive writers. For me, writing made me feel less lonely, less other, although I never thought I would write professionally. I never thought I was good enough, frankly. In many ways, I still don’t, which is why I work so hard—to prove to myself, over and over, that I can actually do this. Finally, and most importantly, as a new girl, a lonely girl, an other, I was constantly rejected. Birthday parties, sleepovers, trips to the mall—the new girl was always left out. I’m still rejected—all the time. But that’s the dirty little secret of writing: we’re all rejected every day; the secret is to never give up.
Where do you find inspiration for your novels? Was there something in particular that inspired I COULDN’T LOVE YOU MORE?
In graduate school, I took a class with Grace Paley who said, “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” It didn’t occur to me until a few years ago that this is exactly what I do. I’ll take moments from my own life, from my family’s life, from strangers’ lives and I’ll look at what would normally happen—what I know—and then I’ll consider everything I don’t know, the big “what if’s.”
I Couldn’t Love You More evolved in exactly this way. Here’s what I knew: I’m a mother and stepmother. I have three children. I love them each equally but all differently. What I didn’t know was how I would react if forced to choose between them. And figuring that out became my obsession for the next decade. In fact, even though the novel is finished and published, I still grapple with that question. I mean, how can any of us know what we would do in that situation. What would you do?
What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t writing?
I’m very busy, and every single moment of my day is filled with activity. I’ve been in corporate communications since three days after I graduated college, and now I work four days a week. It’s an anonymous, nine-to-five job—a career, actually—but it gives my life a structure, which is important. The downside is that I’m either working (writing) or going to work, and that doesn’t leave much time for pleasure.
I do spend every moment I’m not working or going to work with my family—kids, husband, sisters, parents. I read a lot, and I watch crime shows. Television has gotten so good in the past decade; it’s practically a golden age and many shows are as richly layered as novels.
What’s next for you?
At the moment, I’m finishing up a turkey sandwich. Long term, though, I’m almost at the halfway point of my next novel, which is about—well, I won’t give it away. All I’ll say is that it’s set in the HR Department of a small, failing company.
I was once asked this question during a job interview, and has become one of my favorites to ask because I get such a variety of answers. If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be and why?
A pomegranate because it takes a lot of work to get to the fruit, but when you do, it’s kinda sweet and kinda sour and very messy but also delicious.
I love these answers! Thanks so much for stopping by today Jillian. Make sure you check out I Couldn’t Love You More. I’m really enjoying the story and my review will be up soon.
© 2012, Teresa. All rights reserved.