interview with author Jillian Medoff
We have adult author Jillian Medoff answering a few questions on her writing and her novel I Couldn’t Love You More!! YAY!!!!
First, thank you so much for inviting me to Girls in the Stacks. I love your website and visit all the time! This is truly an honor because you read so many great books…
Please describe Eliot Gordon in five words.
Way-too-nice, flawed, generous-of-spirit, way-too-busy, human (yay for hyphens—they make three words into one)
Jodi Picoult described this book as “devastating, hilarious, and painfully familiar.” How were you able to take a painful situation and write about it realistically, yet have generous amounts of humor?
Here’s the thing: I really don’t want to be a funny writer. Over the years, I have tried, valiantly, to write in a dark, brooding, noir-like voice, but every time I do, it seems and false and unnatural and simply not me. I have a predisposition to finding the absurd in the everyday, that is, looking at ordinary random moments and seeing the humor. We are each absurd in our own way, and to accept that—to celebrate it—is critical to our survival. Think about it: we live and then we die. How dark is that? Therefore, we absolutely must find humor—otherwise life would be too depressing. Of course, my philosophy doesn’t lend itself to all literary subjects. You won’t find me writing about, say, the Holocaust or missing and murdered children. But family relations, sibling rivalry, true love, the devaluation of the American dollar—all of these are perfect opportunities for humor, even in their darkest moments.
Here’s the other thing: writing funny is not easy and it’s not fun. It’s deadly serious and very hard. As a writer, you (and by that I mean “me”) have to be humble as well as realistic and accepting of your place in the world. If I were too impressed with myself, I could never be funny. You (again, “me”) have to be willing to see—and exploit—your flaws and those of everyone you come in contact with. It’s a brave thing, writing humor, because it’s so easy to fall flat. I wish I could write a Pulitzer-prize winning novel about the history of slavery, but alas, who would find that funny?
While writing this book, was there a moment, a particular scene of a character realization that caught you off guard?
I wrote a very personal essay called “This is a True Story” that is available in both the print and eBook versions of I Couldn’t Love You More. This essay discusses the long, painful history of the book, and my long, painful writing career. One issue that I return to again and again in this essay is the concept of taking risks, of being a brave and honest writer, of cutting close to the bone and going deeper, deeper. I like to write about things that people may think but never say aloud. So, I was thinking about this woman who was inherently good, and how I wanted to tear her down because, really, what does it mean to be good? We’re all good and we’re all flawed. But writing about her having an affair was way too predictable, and if a book has a too-predictable, too-familiar storyline, I get no satisfaction from writing it. A woman deciding which man she’ll spend her life with? I’ve read that story a million times. But then it hit me—a woman, a stepmother, deciding which of her children she’ll save in a freak accident? Now that’s a challenge, and thus my new novel had a foundation.
As an author, we assume you’re also a reader, and we would love a book recommendation, something that we must read.
I’ll give you two: American Pastoral by Philip Roth and My Hollywood by Mona Simpson. Both are fearless writers whose mastery of the craft of fiction is awe-inspiring. They write brilliantly about complex family relationships, which is very difficult to do, and their voices are clear, indelible and true. Roth writes in a raw, often brutal way about flawed people, but he respects his characters, so they’re vulnerable, and that vulnerability can break your heart. Simpson’s style isn’t as aggressive, but she’s just as honest. Her characters are complex and haunted, and her observations about the way we live are as powerful as a punch to the gut.
–plotter or pantser: Pantser
–a book that made you laugh: Him Her Him Again the End of Him a novel by Patricia Marx
–favorite TV show: any Law & Order
–an item on your bucket list: traveling to the Greek islands
–favorite word: adenoid (the sounds just kill me)