I may not win the award for most frequent blog posts - but I do hope to snag a blue ribbon when it comes to having great guests drop by for a little one-on-one chat. Jill Murray is not only a friend and fellow Montreal author she is also the voice and code behind the wonderful kid-lit writer site Y-Eh!
For Rhythm and Blues, I had some past experience working with indie music, and I’ve played a bunch of instruments throughout my life, but voice wasn’t one of them. So I took singing lessons with pop-jazzy Montreal chanteuse Amanda Mabro, because I wanted to be able to get across what it feels like to learn to sing.
Finally, you may also note that my protagonists, Nadine and Alya, are black and hispanic, but if you check out my headshot, I, the author, am clearly descended from the blog-dwelling peoples of northern someplace-English. This was a case of wanting to represent the people in my neighborhoods and my life, and give some airtime to interesting voices.
ME: Good advice! Here's a question about your own writing process.
Because MILO borrows moments from my life, I relied on balancing the fiction of the story with things I remembered. The awful smell of hospital visits. The kindness of neighbors who wanted to help me. Waking up and then remembering how different everything then was. The memories became an important part of my palette. What role does memory play in your own writing experience?
JILL: I know I just told you that I make a lot of stuff up, and that I study new things to give life to my writing, but also, I think it’s worth pointing out that memories tell you what’s important enough to bother writing about. If a memory is still with you, chances are there’s something about it that needs further exploration or that if you share it, other people might relate to it too. Bottom line, it’s going to get its job done much better on the page than in your head.
JILL: Friends are important at any age. Like right now, I have friends who share my love of onion rings, olives, summer drinks on balconies, indian food, coffee, vegan ice cream sandwiches, avocados and oatmeal. But maybe this is more about how much I love to eat. When I was Milo’s age, my best friend had moved away, and it took me a really, really, REALLY, long time to find another one. There was an incident in high school where a friend and I spent an hour daring each other to go ask the elderly couple at the next table if we could borrow a french fry “just for a minute.” But we were too polite to actually follow through.
ME: Selfishly I always like to hear how other writers deal with the dreaded “writer’s block”. I have days that seem impenetrable when it comes to being creative. When I’m stuck I like to doodle or read a book…or do laundry. What do you do when the muse just won’t show up?
JILL: That slackerly muse! It’s so hard to find good help these days.
Actually, I don’t have a muse. It’s all “writer’s block” to me. Uphill, everyday, dragging the heavy burden of unwritten manuscripts.
I took a creative writing workshop with writer Kent Nussey once in the early ‘00s (I like typing it that way because it makes me sound like I’m 130 years old.) and he’d spent a lot of time worrying about writers block, and ultimately decided that it’s really just “failure of the ego.” By that, I think he meant that it’s not that you can’t write, it’s just that you think you ought to be having better ideas than you actually are, and that embarrasses and disappoints you, and so you don’t write.
That’s how I decided to take it. And I simply can’t have anyone thinking my ego is defective, so I just imagine I’m some kind of donkey or workhorse, and I put on my yoke and drag the till endlessly across the field, feeling sorry for myself as I write embarrassing, disappointing things. Eventually, in revisions, everything starts looking up again, and I remember that no, actually, I am awesome.
ME: In revisions, thankfully - we're all awesome! Thanks for taking time out from your crazy schedule. One last question: So we can all be jealous - what flavor ice cream did you recently make?
JILL: Mint chocolate cookie dough.
ME: Yum!! You truly are awesome!