Saturday, August 24, 2013

Giraffe People

Hello everyone! I hope you had a more fantastic week than the thought of a thousand neon-painted crickets armed with tiny bats chasing after a lion.

My week has been... fascinating. Fascinating in that, "I think I might need one of those nice white jackets that lets you hug yourself," kind of way.

For instance, on Wednesday, I walked into one of the social work agencies I work with, and the first thing I was met with was two, giant, tattooed, color flying gang bangers... who were knitting.

As I walked by, one of them turned to the other and said, "Ah, mother-@$!#*! I just missed a stitch!"

Apparently the leader for the AA group that was supposed to meet that morning had not shown up, but all the participants had to have a sober activity to do for a couple of hours to meet their service requirements. So, some little old lady taught them to knit.

That mental image, for me at least, can brighten even the darkest day.

This week I had the opportunity to interview another Spokane-based author, Jill Malone, who wrote the wonderful book "Giraffe People."

Jill Malone's "Giraffe People" paints a vivid and unique picture of the classic coming of age story. Set in the life of a military preacher's kid, Malone manages to create a soul in her character of Cole who is both so genuinely a teenager in her speech and actions, but also feels like a sage in her realizations.

Readers feel a connection to Cole as she deals with relationships, the pressures of school, struggles with religion, family relations and becoming her own unique person. Malone also does an excellent job of talking about teenage relationships in a way that is realistic, instead of trite or overly dramatic. "Giraffe People" is a work that feels genuine and is a wonderful read.

Jill is also just an all around fantastic person, as I'm sure the answers to these questions will show.

What motivated you to start writing?

I've been writing stories since I was six. They used to feature daring animals and super sketchy artwork. In graduate school, I intended to focus on poetry, but discovered Alice Munro and saw an entirely different potential for short stories. My first novel, Red Audrey and the Roping, began as a short story when I was 22. The story sprawled so much that it translated into a novel easily. I think we write because we're trying to explain the world to ourselves. To understand it.

For Giraffe People, I'd been listening to the New Yorker podcast of Tobias Wolff reading Stephan Vaughn's short story, Dog Heaven. Wolff said it was the first story he'd ever read that took on the lives of military dependents. It's a gorgeous story, and I felt, as I listened, how correct he is. There's too much silence about the experience of military dependents. I wanted to write about memory and the Persian Gulf War, about high school and music, about sexuality. I wanted to write about Jersey -- what an odd freaking base Fort Monmouth is. 

How hard was it, writing from the perspective of a teenager, to put yourself into that mindset?

Writing teens is delightful: they are self aware and clueless in a compelling way. I needed the clarity of Cole's observations about her self and the war, about the military and her family. She's individuating, and at the same time, she's discovering her sexual self and what that means. One of the things I'd forgotten about high school until I started writing the characters is how communal the experience is. We had eight classes and sports and extra curriculars and our community was huge. 

I also wanted to write the power imbalance of a teen. The way that imbalance is crucial when you're discovering your sexual self, and deciding what you believe, and negotiating the adult you'll become. The fact that Cole's father is a military chaplain is at the center of her life, but it isn't her center. She is starting to see that clearly.

I enjoyed remembering the strange world of high school. The kind of gum we chewed and the terrible acid-washed jeans. The crimped hair. The peculiar diction. I love that time when you realize that your parents are also just doing the best they can. That most of life is guess work. That's a terrible discovery and also one filled with grace. 

Which of your characters was your least favorite to write?

In Giraffe People, the character I struggle with most is the father. I have sympathy for him as a human, but his controlling impulses toward his daughter are not OK. When I was writing the novel, I didn't realize how timely the story would be. Since I finished the manuscript, Don't Ask Don't Tell is no longer policy; It Gets Better, and numerous other organizations, have changed the way the queer community reaches out to teens. I didn't have stories like this -- stories that felt true to my experience, stories that gave me a way to see my potential -- when I was first coming out. I felt vulnerable in high school in a way that mirrored my experience writing Cole Peters' father. 

Cole is discovering her own agency. And her father is not interested in that agency applying to her sexual self. I find his impulse to control her sexuality creepy, and it was hard to write about with fairness. 

"Giraffe People" is about youths. When you were writing it did you originally intend it for a youth audience?

I certainly hoped it would have crossover appeal, but I didn't set out to write a young-adult novel. Nor, for that matter, did I set out to write a lesbian novel. I wrote this story because it was important to tell. My favorite feedback so far has been from teen readers. They get the story in a different way. In that way that Cole experiences things -- as if for the first time, and bigger. 

What was your favorite part about writing this book?

 I love writing about music. I hadn't done that before. And writing teens is liberating. They can speak and observe exactly as it occurs to them and so the narrative goes in surprising places and feels like it's taking deep breaths. I didn't realize how much I loved being an Army Brat until I told this story. I have been lucky. And I feel it now more keenly than ever. Writing Cole -- getting to see the world from her perspective -- gave me a sense of living differently. I love the way she sees.  

If you had to pick one superhero to play checkers against, who would you choose?

I'd totally play against Wolverine. It would be gruesome.

"Giraffe People" is available at Bywater Books and on Amazon for anyone who is interested in this excellent read.

In other news "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" has gotten some really awesome reviews this week!

Kimberly Heiser writes, "I loved this book it's funny it's weird and I laugh every time I read it every day. Amazing book."

Thank you again to all of you who have read and reviewed my book, your support means more than you can imagine!

As always, you can follow my exploits on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads!

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