Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Book Club Exchange: Jillian Medoff

I'd like to welcome author Jillian Medoff to Book Club Exchange, a feature on Booking Mama which highlights anything and everything book club-related! A few days ago, I reviewed Ms. Medoff's latest novel I COULDN'T LOVE YOU MORE. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and I think it's an ideal selection for book clubs!

Recently, I asked Ms. Medoff to write some of her thoughts about book clubs as well as some of her personal experiences with them. Here's what she had to say:

As a writer, I love book clubs. For two hours—or more, if we really get going—I am queen for a day. I get to sit in the comfortable chair, have a glass of wine, and discuss all the nuances of my novels. A dedicated audience, devoted readers, snacks—what more could a writer want? I’ve had memorable experiences at every book club I’ve visited, even when my connection to the members was tenuous or awkward, and certainly when the discussions got heated. (Full disclosure: my favorite evenings are when members get so passionate about a book, they argue. Again, what writer wouldn’t love to have their work taken so seriously?) 

When my first novel, HUNGER POINT was published, book clubs weren’t as widespread as they are now. I did meet with a few though. My books are more literary than genre fiction, and by this I mean I work hard to create three-dimensional characters (often flawed, always vulnerable) and fully realized stories. I've never been afraid of taking on complex themes or risky subjects--I like to write about the things that people think but never say aloud. So my writing is very intimate, very gritty, and wholly honest. As a result, not only are most people convinced that I’m writing about myself (which I’m not) but they also feel compelled to tell me about themselves (which I love). Hunger Point was about eating disorders, dysfunctional families, sibling rivalry, suicide, food, depression, and sex, and almost every book club I visited evolved into a group therapy session with people disclosing their most intimate secrets. In those evenings, I learned more about those women and men than their therapists did. And, of course, I was thrilled. To me, one reason to read is to feel less alone in the world, and those book clubs certainly illustrated the power of fiction to bring people together over shared experiences. 

Then Oprah came along with her big, bad book clubs, and people straightened up. Now there were agendas and pre-approved questions, and coordinated menus. But because I continued to write as down-and-dirty as ever, people continued to reveal themselves. In my new novel, I Couldn’t Love You More, I’ve included a very personal essay called “This is a True Story,” about the long, painful history of the book, and also about my long, painful writing career. I think people realize that I’m very forthcoming about rejection and heartache, which makes them more inclined to discuss their own personal histories. This in turn creates riveting book group discussions. If a novelist is willing to cut close to the bone in her work then readers will respond in kind. The book only recently came out, but we’ve booked several clubs all across the country, and I’m curious to see what kinds of issues come up. The book is about a stepmother who is forced to decide which of her children she’ll save in a freak accident, so the possibilities are endless. 

Here’s a true confession, though: I’ve never belonged to a book club myself. This is primarily because I don’t have the time (I work at a corporate job, I have three children, I write novels, etc.). But it’s also because I have so much pressure in my life these days, I can’t add another deadline-driven activity. If I commit to reading a particular book by a particular date, I will kill myself to do it, so right now, I’m better off just visiting. To this end, I would love to join your book club to discuss I Couldn’t Love You More, so please drop me a line at jillianmedoff@gmail.com if you’re interested! 

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.

You can learn more about Ms. Medoff on her website, and you can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

A huge thanks to Ms. Medoff for stopping by today and sharing her thoughts about book clubs! If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.

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