My Life as a Writer
I’ve been writing fiction for most of my life. I studied creative writing in college and graduate school, taught fiction writing for a brief period, and have spent the past twenty-odd years stealing time from my corporate job, my family and my friends to work on my novels. My life is centered around my art, and has been for as long as I can remember.
Here’s the truth, though: I’m not an interesting person, so an behind-the-scenes look at my writing life is, sadly, very boring. I get up, take my kids to school, go to work, write my books, make dinner, watch crime shows, read, and then go to bed. But because my day-to-day life is so conventional, I’m able to tackle risky material in my books. For instance, my new novel, I Couldn’t Love You More is about a stepmother who is forced to decide which of her children she’ll save in a freak accident. Like the book’s narrator, I am both a mother and a stepmother. I also have three kids and two sisters. But that’s where the similarities end. I mean, if I were out saving children in freak accidents all the time, I’d never have time or the energy to write books. In my case, then, having a boring life is actually a blessing. Similarly, writing novels requires herculean amounts of discipline and commitment. I write at least 60 or 70 drafts of a book over a minimum of four years. I Couldn’t Love You More took six years to write, edit, revise and sell. Had I not been a boring, middle-aged mother/office worker, I never would’ve finished it.
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. But because I rarely articulate my truest thoughts, I need a way to express them. I also feel very sympathetic toward people who have been mistreated and/or marginalized. My husband says 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 another truth: no one asked me to write, and no one cares if I do. In fact, very often it feels as though people are actively arguing against it. As an artist, then, my challenge is to create despite (or 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, 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, 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.
But to do this—to write novels—over the course of an entire career means you need a lifestyle that allows you to work day in and day out, year after year. In my case, this means holding down an ordinary nine-to-five job. I get up, go to the office, steal an hour during lunch to write, pick up my kids, and then go to bed. Luckily, I’m only in the office four days a week, so on Fridays, I can write all day. I follow this same routine day in and day out, year after year, and eventually, the work gets done, the kids get fed, the books get written, and the rejections roll in.
Eliot Gordon would do anything for her family. A 38-year-old working mother, she lives a conventional 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 threatens to unravel everything she's worked for. 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.
Jillian Medoff's bitterly funny, shocking third novel, I Couldn't Love You More, will be available from Grand Central Publishing in 2012. She is the acclaimed author of Hunger Point and Good Girls Gone Bad, both of which received surprisingly great reviews (surprising to her). A huge seller in the US, Hunger Point was the basis for the original Lifetime movie starring Barbara Hershey and Christina Hendricks (Mad Men). Although Jillian is proud of Hunger Point, had anyone asked, she would not have selected such a bright pink (any pink, frankly) for the trade paperback edition. Her books have been translated into many different languages, including French, Spanish, Hebrew, Turkish, Hungarian, Japanese (abridged), Polish, and German (forthcoming).
The eldest daughter of a traveling salesman, Jillian moved 17 times by age 17, ultimately ending up in Atlanta, where her new novel is set. She has a BA from Barnard and an MFA from NYU, and is grateful for having studied with such luminary writers as Mona Simpson, Jonathan Dee, Robert Coover, and Alice Walker. She also attended Master Classes with Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, and Grace Paley. Although these authors continue to influence her work in powerful and diverse ways, she suspects few of them, if any, remember her. A former fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Blue Mountain Center, VCCA and Fundacion Valparaiso in Spain, Jillian taught at NYU and the University of Georgia, but for only, like, five minutes. She currently lives in New York with her family, and has no plans to move anytime soon.