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Jillian Medoff: Why I Write

May 15, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[As an individual, Jillian Medoff (Good Girls Gone Bad, Hunger Point) knows herself well and — because of this — as an author, she knows her characters even better. I Couldn’t Love You More, her third novel, releases today and holds the promise of being your “next best read.” Seriously!

In today’s guest post Jillian admits her need to make sense of the world through writing. However, by doing so, the novelist gives voice to all of us. Enjoy.]

Why I Write

I Couldn’t Love You More, like each of my novels, was born of rage and frustration. Although the reasons for my rage differ from book to book, the underlying motivation is always the same: to have my say, usually about someone who has wronged me or someone else. (To clarify: nine times out of ten, the people who wrong me have no idea. Although I burn with the heat of ten thousand suns, I do this silently. I am painfully shy and overly nice (too nice, sometimes), but only my closest friends (and now you) know that I can also be opinionated, competitive, and when it comes to writing, very critical of myself. But because I rarely articulate my truest thoughts (not out of fear but because it’s not nice), I need some way to express them.) I also feel very sympathetic toward people who have been mistreated, marginalized, and under-represented in our culture. My husband says that I carry the sorrows of the world, but someone has to speak up for those who can’t. I realize this sounds as though I write novels about migrant farm workers or early 20th century factory workers when in fact I write tragicomic domestic dramas. Give me time, though. I’m just warming up.

Here’s the truth about writing fiction: no one asks you to write, and no one cares if you do. In fact, very often it feels as though people are actively arguing against it. As an artist, then, your challenge is to create despite (or in my case, because of) the world’s indifference and opposition. To make art is a very lonely, very isolating enterprise. Believe me, I would much rather watch crime shows and British period dramas than stare at a computer all day. But I am a writer, which means that even if I have just spent five years working on a dead book that no one wants to read, much less buy (see my Q&A), I will sit down and do it again, and again, and again.

The world is an absurd, chaotic place, and my books help me make sense of it. Writing is what keeps me tethered. When I’m not engaged in a novel, ambient sounds become deafening. There are too many sharp corners. Time moves at a dull, languid pace. I feel too present, too large and ungainly. But when I’m working, the loud noises are muffled, the edges smoothed out, and everything is cast in soft focus. Writing well feels like moving through water. It’s easy, endlessly satisfying, often exhilarating, and I can lose eight, ten, twelve hours at a clip. Writing novels is like having a conversation with every person who has ever burned you (or a mistreated factory worker), except you are the only one talking, so you can finally express all that built-up resentment and sorrow. For someone who rarely had her say growing up, this is a very heady, very powerful feeling.

I am the eldest daughter of a traveling salesman who moved his family 17 times by the time I was 17. I attended seven elementary schools, two junior highs and three high schools. At the end of the tenth grade, my family ended up in Atlanta, where—spoiler alert!—my new novel is set. After high school, I studied writing at a fancy private college, and then struggled to pay for a top MFA program while working full-time. In graduate school, I discovered I was a terrible editor, and had to first re-learn how to read before I could then re-learn how to write. Most of the writers I went to school with were talented, many far more talented than I, but talent, we all found out, was the easy part. A writer’s life is fueled by stamina, relentless self-belief, deliberate self-delusion, and absolute will (and in the end, it all comes down to the luck of the draw). Back then, I doubted myself at every turn, but to not try to succeed seemed worse somehow than failing. So I gave it a go.

Here is another truth about writing: you are rejected, in one way or another, every single day. I graduated from college in 1985, and since then, I have worked (almost) full-time at an anonymous, old-fashioned, nine-to-five corporate job. So for the whole of my adult life, I worked and went to work. While my friends went to bars, hooked up, got married, and had children, I worked and went to work. Eventually, I had children and got married, too, but I continued to work and go to work—and I continued to get rejected Every. Single. Day. Despite all the rejection, though, the idea that anyone—agent, publisher, reviewer—could say anything that would make me stop is beyond my comprehension. I may never be considered a literary icon, but my art is my art and I work at it every day. I’m a writer, ipso facto, I write.

After reading (and likely feeling) Jillian’s strength and passion, you can now watch and listen to her describe the storyline of I Couldn’t Love You More. Also another truth is that this book could not be more highly recommended!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of I Couldn’t Love You More by Jillian Medoff — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.

The Revealing of Jillian Medoff

May 02, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Novelist Jillian Medoff (Good Girls Gone Bad, Hunger Point) is known for creating in-depth, “real” people to tell their stories and her third novel I Couldn’t Love You More — available Tuesday, May 15th — is another example of brilliant storyteling and effortless writing.

The book is best described by a single question: Which child would you save? A decision no parent can even fathom.

Here’s the synopsis:

Eliot Gordon would do anything for her family. A 38-year-old working mother, she lives an ordinary but fulfilling life in suburban Atlanta with her partner, Grant Delaney, and their three daughters. The two older girls are actually Eliot’s stepdaughters, a distinction she is reluctant to make as she valiantly attempts to maintain a safe, happy household . . .

Then Finn Montgomery, Eliot’s long-lost first love, appears, triggering a shocking chain of events that culminates in a split-second decision that will haunt her beloved family forever. How Eliot survives-and what she loses in the process-is a story that will resonate with anyone who has ever loved a child. With hilarious honesty, wrenching depth, and a knockout twist, I COULDN’T LOVE YOU MORE illuminates the unbreakable bonds of family and reveals the lengths we’ll go to save each other, even as we can’t save ourselves.

TRUTH: This is a WOW! And Pre-ordering is encouraged.

For further proof, consider this sampling of praise:

Poignant…Medoff’s exploration of fidelity, family, and parenthood provides a complex look at the difficult role of a stepparent.” —( Publishers Weekly )

“Medoff produces another fallible, witty, realistic heroine with whom readers will identify. Eliot’s biased and evolving narration brings the characters to life in this gripping story of personal growth. By turns hilarious and heart-wrenching, Medoff’s honest writing and realistic dialogue make the book truly enjoyable, while a Sophie’s Choice moment and its repercussions make it a real page-turner.” ( Booklist )

“Every woman has one: the guy who got away. So what happens when he walks into your life again? If you were happy before-can you still make that claim? The choices we make-and the ones we don’t make-form the backbone of Jillian Medoff’s wonderful novel. These are characters you know, or might even have been, and their trials and tribulations are by turn devastating, hilarious, and painfully familiar.” ( Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Sing You Home and House Rules )

“I COULDN’T LOVE YOU MORE is a sheer pleasure to read. Boasting clear, beautiful writing and characters who could be people I know (and love), it’s a gripping story that doesn’t let up. But more than that, Medoff is that rare thing, a novelist brave enough to unleash the complex, strong emotions of which literature is made.” ( Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man and The Astral )

“Unflinching in its honesty, I Couldn’t Love You More is an intimate story of contemporary family love — with all its maddening and miraculous complexities. Jillian Medoff’s writing dazzles the brain, cracks up the funny bone, and breaks open the heart. Her characters are so realistically layered, you’ll sometimes want to hug them and sometimes want to shout at them, but you’ll never want to forget them.” ( Seré Prince Halverson, author of The Underside of Joy )

The Divining Wand has scheduled a return visit from Jillian Medoff for Tuesday, May 15, 2012 but today let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Jillian Medoff attended Barnard College and received an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU. A former fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Blue Mountain Center, VCCA and Fundacion Valparaiso in Spain, Jillian has taught at NYU and the University of Georgia. She lives in NYC with her family.

And now the opportunity to get to know Jillian upclose and person:

Q. How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A. Overwhelming. Manageable. Overwhelming. Manageable: Depends on the day.

Q. What is your motto or maxim?
A. True blue to the end. And by this I mean I’ve been known to stay in unrequited love affairs, toxic friendships, dead-end jobs, and other self-defeating situations long after all the joy has been sucked out.

Q. How would you describe perfect happiness?
A. Poolside with my daughters, a big fat book, an iced coffee and no phone service. Okay—and a Valium.

Q. What’s your greatest fear?
A. I’m afraid that if I say it out loud, it will happen, so let’s just say I wish my family members were impervious to pain of any kind.

Q. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A. See above: poolside with a Valium—I mean with a book.

Q. With whom in history do you most identify?
A. Richard Yates, American novelist and short story writer, known for his exploration of mid-20th century life. His novels were about self-deception, disappointment and grief. He was totally committed to his art. He was also a raging alcoholic who would work and drink all day, stopping occasionally to vomit into a garbage can by the side of his desk.

I am an American novelist who explores 21st century family life. My novels, although comic, are about self-deception, disappointment and grief. (They’re also about love and devotion, but stay with me.) I am totally committed to my art. I am not an alcoholic but I have been known to binge on Wrap-and-Run tuna (see below) and Tasti D-Lite peanut butter frozen yogurt while working. I, personally, have never vomited into a garbage can, but I say live and let live. I judge dishonest politicians, other parents, and myself, but I would never judge another writer’s process.

Q. Which living person do you most admire?
A. Imagine raising three high-strung daughters, each of whom you love beyond all measure. You and your husband work hard, not just to provide your girls with food and shelter, but also to instill good values, sound judgment, and semi-decent table manners. For eighteen years, your life is a never-ending whirl of sleepovers, bad haircuts, boy trauma, science projects, nacho cheese Doritos, and Clearasil. One daughter puts your favorite cashmere sweater in the dryer, where it shrinks to doll-size. Another drives too far into the garage, hits a load-bearing wall, and compromises the structural integrity of your house. A third is given to crying jags. Imagine your teary pride (and relief) when they finally grow up and move out. “Be careful!” you call as the last daughter motors off. “I love you.”

Fast-forward eleven years. Life is good. You’re enjoying the empty nest. Your time is finally your own again. The phone rings. “Guess what!” Turns out your eldest daughter has sold her first novel. Imagine your surprise when you find out the book is about a dysfunctional family’s unraveling, and then your horror when the press calls it “autobiographical.” But wait, there’s more. The book is made into a movie starring Barbara Hershey who, as the ostensible you, is portrayed as clueless, self-absorbed and obsessed with her body. Even worse, she sports one of the weirdest haircuts in the history of cable television.

My parents, Naomi and Lewis Medoff, are the most generous, patient, trustworthy, supportive, and loving people I know. In addition to celebrating everything I’ve ever written (regardless of format, content or success), they move through the world with a dignity and grace that I will spend the rest of my days trying to emulate. I admire them, I respect them, and I love them both, deeply. (And for the record: the press got it wrong: my first novel, Hunger Point, was not autobiographical.)

Q. What are your most overused words or phrases?
A. “No, I don’t mind at all” and “Sure, I’d be happy to.”

Q. If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A. My husband asks me this all the time, although in his case, he wants to know which superpower I would want. He wishes he could read people’s minds, which, as a novelist, I feel I already do. I always say I want to be able to breathe underwater, but now that I think about it, this particular superpower is too limiting. I mean, how much time do I spend underwater on any given day? So, I’m going to choose something more useful to my life as a working mother/novelist/corporate drone: I wish I could fly.

Q. What is your greatest achievement?
A. Ten years ago, I wrote a novel that was supposed to be my magnum opus, the book that would prove my worth as a writer of serious literary fiction. It had multiple points of view. It had lofty themes and a complex plot. It told the truth of man. Seriously, though, I thought this novel would change my life. Sadly, I was wrong. Although several editors admired it, no one wanted to buy it. My work had been rejected countless times before, but this particular rejection flattened me. Not only had the novel taken five years to write, but I had also imbued it with so much importance that its rejection felt like twice the setback it actually was. For weeks afterward, I couldn’t write; I could barely read. I was ashamed of my failure, of my sorrow—it was just a book, after all—and my hubris. But eventually, I stopped crying, sat down at my computer and started writing again. Five years later, after sweating through countless drafts, I finally, finally, finally finished my new novel, I Couldn’t Love You More, which will be available on May 15th.

I am very proud this book is being published. However, to me, the true achievement is that I sat down to write even after what felt like a monumental flop.

Q. What’s your greatest flaw?
A. I worry too much about inconsequential things. For instance, I’m concerned that my previous vignette about my parents is too wordy, and would have been more compelling had I trimmed it. I can chew on something like this all day.

Q. What’s your best quality?
A. Humility and the ability to laugh at myself—and, of course, everyone else.

Q. What do you regret most?
A. The time I drove into my parent’s garage, hit a load-bearing wall, and compromised the structural integrity of their house. That, and the time I accidentally shrunk my mother’s favorite cashmere sweater in the dryer. (Full Disclosure: I was also given to crying jags.)

Q. If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A. Angelina Jolie is having a pretty good year. I wouldn’t mind slipping into her Tod’s loafers for a while.

Q. What trait is most noticeable about you?
A. My inability to say no. (See above: What are your most overused words or phrases?)

Q. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A. Katniss Everdeen and Annabeth Chase—my daughter and I are reading the Hunger Games and Percy Jackson together, and we think both these girls are kick-ass awesome.

Q. Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A. Iago from Othello

Q. If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A. Tiger Woods—hands down. “Okay, Tiger,” I’d say, pencil poised over my trusty writing notebook. “Start from the beginning. I want to hear everything.”

Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?
A. A lack of manners, particularly when it’s easy, like saying “please” or “thank you.” And really, would it kill people to reply to an email with “Sorry, I’m too busy at the moment, but thank you for thinking of me?”

Q. What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A. I like to occupy the couch while watching crime shows.

Q. What’s your fantasy profession?
A. FBI Agent, like Clarice Starling

Q. What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A. Honesty, a sense of humor, and self-awareness.

Q. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A. Tuna salad from the Wrap and Run on Lexington Avenue and 63rd street and Tasti D-lite peanut butter frozen yogurt.

Q. What are your 5 favorite songs?
A. Unlike 99.9% of humanity, I don’t listen to music unless I’m running—which is only three times a week for forty minutes. I know this is weird, and probably un-American, but I find music very distracting, particularly when I’m writing or reading. One reason may be because I have sensitive ears and can’t tolerate loud noises, but my husband is convinced that I’m just being difficult. (Who can blame him? The minute I walk into a room, I glare at the radio until he turns it off.) When I’m running, though, I like pop songs with a great beat that can distract me from how much I hate working out: Kanye West, Katie Perry, vintage U2, Rhianna, Madonna, and Lady Gaga.

Q. What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A. Choosing my favorite books (and only five!) is impossible—it’s like choosing a favorite child. So here’s a partial list of books that stunned me when I read them and have haunted me ever since: Song of Soloman, Mrs. Dalloway, As I Lay Dying, Patrimony (anything by Roth, especially American Pastoral), Crime and Punishment, Lolita, Let the Great World Spin, The Hours, And Then We Came to the End, Anywhere but Here, Go Ask Alice, The Things They Carried.

Fascinating, passionate, and engagingly warm, Jillian Medoff is an a “must follow” on Twitter, a “must like” on Facebook, and a “must read” of I Couldn’t Love You More.