I am very pleased to have Jill Malone here for you today. Malone, in my opinion, is one of the most exciting writers of the last ten years, or the next decade. Her writing is fresh and original, and just good.
Jill Malone grew up in a military family, went to German kindergarten, and lived across from a bakery where they put small toys, like train engines, into chocolate, and the gummi bears were the size of mice. In the South, she caught tree frogs, and played kickball. She has lived on the East Coast, and in Hawaii, and for the last fifteen years in Spokane with her son, two old dogs, and a lot of outdoor gear. She looks for any excuse to play guitar.
She took Latin from a hot professor at the University of Hawaii, and had this idea for a novel. Like most writers, she has a sketchy career path.
Red Audrey and the Roping, her first novel, was a Lambda finalist, and won the third annual Bywater Prize for Fiction.
Her second novel, A Field Guide to Deception, was a finalist for the 2010 Ferro-Grumley, and won the Lambda Literary award.
At present, Giraffe People, her third novel, is awaiting editorial notes. Or something. If you’re curious, read Jill’s blog.
1) How autobiographical, or not, is your next book, Giraffe People?
Giraffe People is my most autobiographical work, which is saying something. I combined a year in Hawaii with a year in Jersey, so the events aren’t accurate, but the experience is. My father ran the Chaplains’ School in Fort Monmouth, NJ, and it was the most dysfunctional group of kids I’ve ever been around. Initially, I worried about how closely to portray the family, but the point of memory is that it isn’t objective. My childhood isn’t like my brother’s childhood. In many ways, we grew up in different families.
I have enjoyed writing teenagers more than anything else, ever. I finally stopped writing about grief, and got to write about love instead. I got to see power in its developmental stages. I got to write about an entire community in a microcosm. I don’t mean to say Giraffe People is a novel about my life, because it isn’t. I mean to say that Giraffe People is a novel about the world I understand now given to a girl twenty years ago.
2) Lately, I’ve been seeing your name pop up in discussions about what makes a book “lesbian.” so, in your mind, should we even have that talk? Why should we draw a line, and say, for instance, that only books about lesbian lives, written by lesbians, qualifies, or only novels whose main characters are gay, or whose main theme or plot revolves around lesbianism, and so on?
In the bookstore where I worked, it was understood that the good writers — like Winterson and Waters — would be in general fiction, and the other writers would be in genre fiction. You’d sell better in general fiction, of course, but that wasn’t the sum of why writers were shelved there. They were shelved there because there’s fiction, and then there’s genre. But let’s say I drop the business side, and just think about the art side. I don’t consider myself a lesbian writer. I consider myself a queer writer. I have an outsider’s perspective, but that perspective is equal parts military brat, preacher’s daughter, jock, geek and lesbian. This isn’t gay enough is a terrible statement. It’s a hot-house statement. We only have orchids in here, the weeds are somewhere else.I get it, of course, the militant pulp-fiction stance. Fuck you, mainstream. But pulp is not the same thing as being subversive. It’s not the same thing as radical. Queer is a perspective. It’s ours. It’s our perspective and the stories are bigger than lesbian and lesbian issues. Some of us slept with men. Hordes of us have children. We exist in the world and have jobs that don’t involve being a cop who screws a bunch of blonds. Maybe we should be concerned less with telling “lesbian” stories and more with telling “authentic” stories about what it means to be alive and seeking.
3) Followup: Recently, I attended a conference at UNC Asheville where we discussed the marginalization, or “ghettoizing” of queer literature, how no one makes a profit, no one can find our books as more and more gay bookstores close, etc. This was blamed in part by the digitalizing of books, ebooks v print, amazon v independent bookstores. I disagree. I love having shelves of books in my home, and I love all the new gadgets. I ebook and I buy print books. Do you have a stake in this argument?
You know, I’m actually much more troubled when people say things like, “Oh, I’d love to read your book. Do you have an extra copy I could borrow?” Um. I’m not going to be able to live on my writing, but that doesn’t mean I should give it away. Many of my friends are performance artists, and I pay to see them perform. I support their art with my patronage, my praise, and my money. We artists are a community, and as we become increasingly digitized, sometimes we forget how much we rely on each other — how interconnected we are. I see the perks of digital books. The footprint is smaller. After years working in an independent bookstore, I’ll never be able to neglect books. Their smell, the weight of them in my hands, the fact of them. I visit the store where I used to work all the time, simply to touch bindings. I don’t buy books from Costco or Amazon. I buy from my local independent. They can order anything for me, and sometimes they have to order the book in. The wait makes the book feel like a gift once it arrives. Reading is a visceral experience — but that’s true for audiobooks and ebooks too. The format is less important than the story.
4) Do you have a writing process that holds for each book project?
I don’t. I know you’re supposed to. They told us in graduate school that we should write at the same time every day. That we should have a schedule. Oh, fuck you. I write quickly and it all comes at once, or I leave it alone. I go for walks. I take showers. I make coffee. My life is already overly scheduled. I don’t use an outline. I don’t have a conclusion I’m writing toward. This isn’t always true. I wrote Red Audrey in scenes. Field Guide and Giraffe People were written to be linear, and I started at page one and went forward. Field Guide is the fastest book I’ve written. The first draft took less than 2 months. However, it had to be re-drafted twice afterward, and I do not enjoy anything about the memory of writing that book. Tragedy is exhausting.With Giraffe People, I’d suddenly bottom out in the writing process. It happened twice, and both times, I thought, “I’ve lost it. The story’s gone.” Turned out I’d just reached the end of part one and part two respectively. I need space when I write. I need allowance for stall and play. Sometimes I won’t write for an entire week. It comes as it comes.Most of writing is thinking. Some mornings I just sit. Thinking. When I edit a manuscript, I won’t look at the draft for ages, and then months later, I’ll re-read the manuscript, take a few more days to think about it, and then edit quickly. During the editing process, I work to expose those themes that were suggestive when I wrote the manuscript. Editing is about clarity for me, about clarifying my intentionality.
5) What’s the best thing about writing? What’s the worst thing about it?
In “Truth and Beauty” Anne Patchett wrote about arriving at her editor’s office with her manuscript, and realizing that she’d somehow lost the final chapter. She sat down at the computer and wrote it out verbatim from memory. If that happened to me, losing the final chapter, whatever I wrote instead would be different. Editing is like that for me too. The tone changes sometimes when I edit, because my relationship to my work and my characters has changed. I love them differently. Often, the edit is much more brutal than the original draft. For instance, in Field Guide, the girl wasn’t alive when Liv found her in the first draft. The edit is my favorite part because I’ve trusted this story into existence and now I get to reinforce it. To shore it up.The worst part, for me, will always be promotion. Super boring. I love readings. I love giving them, and I love attending them. But listening to me give a synopsis of one of my novels is painful. I have no gift for the pop and bang when it comes to my own work. I still describe Red Audrey as a kind of love story.
6) Tell us whatever you’d like to reveal about yourself as bio. Feel free to make stuff up. Right now, I am currently imagining you as a surfer chick with guitar who translates Latin, bakes, lived in Ireland, grew up as an Army brat, etc. In other words, does it bother you that readers assume that you have lived most of the experiences of the characters in your novels?
It’s odd when readers imagine that I’m Jane. I’m not. But I think sometimes we give the character’s life to the author because we want the character to live. Really live. Out in the world, beyond the confines of the story. We want to believe. Jane is based on a Latin professor I had a crush on during my junior year in college. She used to have us sing declensions to the tune of La Cucaracha. What’s not to love? My characters may have aspects of me, or aspects of people I know, but they’re fictionalized. No one has ever guessed accurately who they are in one of my books.In real life, I’m getting married on August 20th. It’s going to be a Day of the Dead wedding. I didn’t think that would ever happen for me again — marriage, I mean. In Fall, 2010, I officiated this queer wedding and my feelings about community and commitment solidified, all at once. I stood on the bottom step and read my speech and cried like a child. Community. It all comes down to community for me. To the people who wish you well. Who foster and nourish you. All our chosen families. I’ve bought a little house in Spokane and the train rolls through the valley, and the rooster and ducks fidget and fuss and deer cross the road. I didn’t think I’d settle here, but I have. After two decades of military bases, I’ve lived in this town for 16 years. What happens in the quiet is the most interesting.
Next? A comedy. I’m not sure what, exactly, but definitely a comedy. What is it with queer books and the melancholy? The idea of writing a comedy is so daunting, which is probably why I’m drawn to it. No idea about place or characters yet though. I still have Giraffe People to edit, and it’ll be available in March, 2012. The days seem to go by so quickly. Not like when we were young and summer droned on and on. My son is in kindergarten, and plays t-ball. When did this happen?
Great interview. Yes, I’d love to see a Jill Malone comedy. Just got “Jane” Bett, on my night stand
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