Guest post: Jillian Medoff
I’m very excited to welcome Jillian Medoff here today since she’ll be in the upstate for a Book Your Lunch event on July 19. I’ll be there and hope you’ll join me if you’re in the area. Jillian’s third book, I Couldn’t Love You More was released on May 5 and it’s getting great reviews. Jillian was kind enough to tell us a little bit about the book’s background.
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. People have been asking what inspired me to write this book, wondering, I guess, how much of my novel is autobiographical. Here is the short answer: none of the events that occur in I Couldn’t Love You More actually happened; however, everything in this story is true. In other words, I personally have never experienced a Sophie’s Choice moment, nor do I know anyone who has. However, if I have done my job correctly, every detail in this novel, including how the characters look, feel, act and react will be consistent; that is, true to the way that I, the writer, envision them and you, the reader, experience them. So if you believe the whole book, then I have in fact written a true story.
Many years ago, in graduate school, I took a master 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.”
Like my other two novels, Hunger Point and Good Girls Gone Bad, I Couldn’t Love You More evolved in 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. I’ve always been a writer who tackles complex themes and risky subjects—I write about the things that people think but never say aloud. So I was looking for a challenge. If a book has a predictable storyline or familiar situations, there’s little satisfaction in writing it. A woman deciding which man she’ll spend her life with? I’ve read that story a million times, but a stepmother deciding which of her children she’ll save in a freak accident? Now that’s a challenge.
I had no idea how I would react if forced to choose between my daughters, 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 the question. I mean, how can any of us know what we would do in that situation?
About the author:
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.