Jill Malone, fabulous talented – but not “a girl gifted at garden parties.”

A Field Guide to Deception


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.

Your first two books were fabulous, fast-paced, smart, compelling stories with unexpected endings.  Loved the intriguing themes of passion, the narrators relationship with danger, the growing pains of self-awareness, shifting alliances, and morphing roles of hero and anti-hero.  Now that I’ve had my say, do you see recurring themes in your work?   

Thank you, Sally. I especially like your comment about the narrators’ relationship to danger. Red Audrey and Field Guide were both concerned with grief and forgiveness. I think of Red Audrey as a novel of self, Field Guide as a novel of family and Giraffe People as a novel of community. But I’m always grappling with memory and what it means to be good. I mean, whose life isn’t messy? We do the best we can. And the really interesting bits come when we struggle — especially in fiction.   

Also, love the title and cover of your new novel, Giraffe People.  How is the work progressing?  When can we expect to see it in print?

Oh! I have been so excited working on Giraffe People. To write a teenager is such a curious experience. Teens have so much artifice because they’re still trying to sort out who they are, but they’re also painfully authentic. There are so many cracks in their shields. The book cover sent me — I was leaping around cheering when I saw it: it’s so perfectly alien; the solitary members of this family. I hope to have a rewrite done by the summer. Bywater Books has scheduled the novel for publication in March, 2012.

How does your background of accountant, mom, and the many unknown (to me) sides of Jill Malone, inform your narrative choices? 

That shifts over time, doesn’t it, our backgrounds? As a military brat, I’ve always had to redefine what I mean by my hometown, and how to answer people when they ask where I’m from. Place is important to me because it’s how I build a timeline. How I tell stories. I can’t tell you the year anything happened, but I can tell you which base we were living at. I can tell you the kids involved and if I ever heard another thing about them, after that one year we all lived in Missouri, or California or Colorado or Germany. My novels start with place. And place becomes this motor in the narration. A tropical island let me talk about mythology and melting pots and dying languages and sexuality. Spokane allowed a claustrophobic exploration of two women with pasts trying to be better. For Giraffe People, I began with the Chaplains’ school in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. For Field Guide, I wanted to write a mom with a complex inner life, and I wanted her to be cool and interesting. Turns out writing a child was even more compelling, and that’s part of why I chose to write a teen protagonist in Giraffe People.
Art and politics are not always compatible.  How do you happily “marry” the two in narrative?  Is this marriage desirable?You know, I wouldn’t have considered myself a political writer until recently. I write about women and power. Of course I’m a political writer. But politics, like place, are just aspects of the story — lenses. Sometimes I think I’m done with metaphor. With translating the world into stories. But it’s never true. Art and politics are the way I see. The way I decipher. I couldn’t divorce them if I wanted to.Any advice for the newly published?  (Self-serving question, yes indeed.)

I have no gift for self promotion, and I’m OK with that. I write. That’s what I do. People notice or they don’t. Our most important work, as writers, is to promote what we love in the work of others. That’s how we build viable communities, and how we nurture art. I find it’s helpful for me to write different things — my blog helps me be terse and to articulate my arguments sparingly. I build debates in my head, and see themes in ways I wouldn’t if I only wrote novels. So, my advice is to build relationships with other artists — promote their work — tell people what you’re psyched about — share! And try to write different styles. Test yourself.

What inspires you to write?  What/who are your muses?

I love Jane Austen. Love. I love short stories. The New Yorker podcasts thrill me. Early Winterson, Sarah Waters, Josephine Tey, Alice Munro. I read Inferno by Eileen Myles, and I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep. I listen to music, and take walks, and get ideas about things I’d like to explore. It’s all terribly random. I read a lot of kids’ books. I love stories of discovery and formation. The Philip Pullman novels. His heroines are unlike anyone else. Carol Shields’ Unless is the best book about daily feminism I have ever read.

What, in your writing life, are you most proud of?

I love working with Kelly Smith. I don’t know how it is for other writers, but it’s such a phenomenal experience when your editor trusts you enough to say things like, “The first 50 pages are boring.” I have so much faith in her ability to articulate what works and what needs more development, to push me. And throughout my experience working with her, I feel like she has honored my voice. Getting to work with her a third time for Giraffe People is entirely sonic.

What is your wildest, skies-the-limit, dream for your work?

A BBC miniseries. Seriously.

What do you like most or least about the writing process?  Most or least about your own work?

I love writing, and editing, and reading at events and bookstores. The other promotional aspects — schmoozing — not so much. I’m an introvert. I live in my head. I’ll never be a girl gifted at garden parties.

Greatest writing achievement – bragging encouraged.

Winning the Lambda was huge. Huge. When I found out, I was alone with my son, and we were running around the dining room table screaming. It was such an exciting moment. You spend so much time at a chair, looking at a computer screen, you know? It’s a gift to hear that people dig your work enough to honor it.

Any advice about the craft/art of writing?

Use fewer words. Write the experience of living. The actual experience of it. Write that.

Tell us something you haven’t yet revealed in writing.

Is there something I haven’t revealed yet in writing? I don’t have places any more that I won’t go in my writing. My blog has pierced the last of those boundaries. I hope to write a comedy after Giraffe People. Lesbian books tend to be overwhelmingly serious and dark. Have you noticed this? But we’re raising these happy, well adjusted kids, and we’re throwing these hilarious dinner parties, and we enjoy our lives. Where are the novels about that? I hope to write one. We’ll see. Comedy is freaking hard.

What differentiates good and exceptional writing?

The exceptional stuff changes your life. It sticks with you. You can’t shake the feeling you had when you first experienced it. I hate finishing really stellar books. I stall and stall and prolong the joy for as long as possible.

What do you do for fun?  In your spare time?

I work out. I’ve just started Aikido because I’ve been feeling spiritually bereft. I run. I bike. I take long walks. I play Mario Kart with my kid. I talk for hours and hours with Mary, my girlfriend. I eat rich food. I read kids’ books. Simple. Very simple.

What is your favorite or most memorable childhood experience?

My parents took me to Dachau when I was four. We did a tour when we were stationed in Germany. I remember everything. The photographs in the museum. The smell of the mud as we stood looking at the ovens. The wrought iron gates we had to drive through. I feel, sometimes, that I’ve been trying to explain that experience to myself ever since.

Love this photo

About sallybellerose

Author of The Girls Club, Bywater Press, spring 2011 http://amzn.to/apVqj1 writer gardener booklover
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3 Responses to Jill Malone, fabulous talented – but not “a girl gifted at garden parties.”

  1. Ariane says:

    I live in my head too. People I find hard work, animals, a necessity of life.

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