Interview with Jill G. Hall by Casey Cromwell

Posted by on Sep 21, 2015 in Author Interviews, Fresh Ink, Inklings | Comments Off on Interview with Jill G. Hall by Casey Cromwell

For Jill G. Hall, practicing a creative lifestyle comes naturally. After working as a public school educator for twenty years, she dove into the world of blogging, building whimsical mosaics and, most recently, completing her debut novel, The Black Velvet Coat. The book follows the lives of struggling artist Anne McFarland and young heiress Sylvia Van Dam. The girls, though separated by five decades, are connected by a strange coat that changes both their lives – and a story that keeps readers on the edge of their seats!

The Black Velvet Coat is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

 

San Diego Writers, Ink: Why did you choose to feature two female protagonists?

Jill G. Hall: I didn’t choose to feature Sylvia and Anne; they chose me. My writing is very intuitive without any motives in mind. I got started after leaving an over twenty-year career as a public school educator thinking perhaps I’d create a children’s book or maybe even a memoir about teaching in the inner-city classroom, but that’s not what happened at all. I began to attend a weekly drop-in writing group, Tuesday Brown Bag with Judy Reeves, that offered prompts with timed-sessions. Writing in community helped my pen stay on the page and continue going even when I wanted to stop. Months later, Sylvia and Anne began to appear as if from nowhere. And then they kept showing up week after week, time and again, as if they were haunting me to tell their stories. I saw them everywhere including in my dreams.

 

SDWI: In the excerpt of The Black Velvet Coat, I noticed several pop culture references. Did you enjoy exploring 1960s for the book?

JGH: Honey, that’s so cute! I’m sixty years old and grew up in the early 60s so I did very little research. It all came from my memory. Before publishing, though, I had to look up actual buildings, famous people and music references to make sure they would have been in the world by 1963.

 

SDWI: I noticed you have a dog named Lucy, as does Sylvia. Do you often insert your own life into your writing?

JGH: Actually it was the other way around; Lucy inserted herself into my life. As I kept writing, just like Sylvia and Anne did, a mischievous puppy kept showing up on my pages. It was strange because at that time I wasn’t much of a dog person. She was named Lucy, had a long body, droopy ears and blinking eyes. She seemed so real that I wanted to find her. We searched at animal rescues and the humane society but to no avail. Then, one day on our way to the hardware store, we walked by a pet shop and there she was in the window looking up at me. I said, “There’s, Lucy!” We took her home and our beagle-bassett now has been with us for over ten years and is such a joy.

 

SDWI: How did visiting Anne’s hometown in Oscoda, Michigan help you with writing her character?

JGH: Oscoda, Michigan is just north of my husband’s hometown, East Tawas on Lake Huron. We’ve visited there many times and I am completely smitten by the mitten! I just love its natural beautiful and the small town atmospheres. Completely the opposite of our busy San Diego lives in the big city.

In my novel, many of the descriptions of Oscoda were actually taken from things I observed in Tawas. When I am there, I love to watch for the great blue heron just like Anne in my story does. The first Mexican restaurant opened up one year and I put that in the book. On one of our evening walks, I saw a sign on a front lawn that said “Avon sold here” and I thought that would be a fun career for Anne’s mother to have. Tawas has an amazing Fourth of July parade, with floats, local businesses and organizations participating, I incorporated a parade scene into the novel. Growing up, I myself attended the Coronado parade every Fourth of July and it made me nostalgic for my own younger days.

I didn’t want Anne to actually live in East Tawas because it’s to close to home. (Ha! Get it?) Often, when there, my husband and I go for long drives to pass the time and enjoy the country views. One day cruising through Oscoda I saw a house that exactly resembled the one I thought Anne would live in. My husband laughed at me when I told him to stop so that I could take a picture.

 

SDWI: On your website, you mention that your artwork adds depth to your writing. Can you give an example of how so with The Black Velvet Coat?

JGH: I’d been a mosaic artist for many years and wanted to branch out and dabble in collage, so I signed up for a class. The instructor told us our work for that session needed to be text-based. I was really stumped, but then realized I was writing a novel and had oodles and oodles of text to choose from. Searching through the pages, I pulled out some of the most dramatic lines to use and had a blast making pieces with those incorporating vintage postcards, magazine photos and even some found objects to create assemblages. Studying these postcards and photographs, I was able to zoom deeper into my writing by describing the details I can see in the artwork.

Then I actually wrote a scene in the novel where Anne, my present day artist, sees a photo of Sylvia in a vintage Life magazine wearing a coat that looks just like the one Anne had bought in a thrift shop. There was the connection between my two characters! This inspires Anne to try and find Sylvia and to continue to make collages as she follows her desire to find out the mystery of what happened to the young heiress in the early 1960s. Some of the artwork that Anne makes are ones that I actually made in real life. To view pieces of that work, go here.

 

SDWI: Any tips for writers wanting to use visual prompts, like you used a thrift shop coat or visual prompts?

JGH: When writing first drafts, I encourage writers to get their minds out of the way and respond with their hearts. When using visual prompts, I encourage writers to respond to these questions: What do you see? Does the piece tell a story? Write for ten to fifteen minutes. Use the visual details that you see, and then add in your own imaginary sensory ones such as sounds, smell, taste and touch.

In fact, I’m running a Writing to Visual Prompts workshop for Writers, Ink on Saturday, October 17 from 2 – 4. Maybe you’ll come join me!

 

SDWI: Did any surprises emerge for you when writing The Black Velvet Coat?

JGH: There were a lot of surprises along the way, but one of the coolest was that after completing my first draft and started to type it up, I realized Alfred Hitchcock’s films had been a latent inspiration for me. In the book, I had an early 1960s noir San Francisco setting and many of his films also included those. We both have suspenseful train scenes too. Sylvia, my blonde heroine, is similar to his actresses such as Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedrin and Kim Novak. Sylvia even wears a French twist like Kim does in “Vertigo.” My novel even has a Hitchcockian psychological twist, which causes Sylvia to be inhibited and addicted to shiny things.

The biggest surprise, though, is that my novel is finally finished and getting out there in the world! How exciting is that? My official pub date is October 6 and my first signing event is at Warwick’s in La Jolla on October 11 from 12 – 2. It would be great to see you there. For more information and to contact me, go to my website at www.jillghall.com or Facebook at Jill G Hall, author.

 

JillGHallauthorJill G Hall’s first novel, The Black Velvet Coat, was released in October 2015. Many of her poems have been published in a variety of anthologies and her routine blog postings share thoughts about the art of practicing a creative lifestyle. As a visual artist, Jill fashions mosaics and dabbles in mixed media collage. The creativity workshops she facilitates are for artists of all types. She also enjoys curating art shows at Inspirations Gallery featuring original work by San Diego artists. Jill currently chairs the Creative Catalyst Program at the San Diego Foundation. She resides in San Diego with her husband, Jerry and beagle-bassett, Lucy.

Casey CromwellCasey Cromwell is a Writing Major and Women’s Studies minor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Her writing – ranging from poetry to short stories to creative non fiction – has appeared in several literary magazines. She also runs a successful blog called “Casey the College Celiac,” which shares her adventures while being a gluten free celiac at college. For more information about Casey, check out her blog at caseythecollegeceliac.blogspot.com.