Q&A With Jill Fordyce
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Q&A With Jill Fordyce
On December 7th I finished reading the debut novel Belonging by Jill Fordyce. Jill’s publicist Emi Battaglia had connected me with her as well as many other wonderful authors. I have the honor and pleasure of doing this Q&A with Jill.
Q: For those who haven’t read the novel, would you like to tell the readers of the blog about it and where the idea for the novel came from?
A: My original inspiration for the book was the notion of a childhood friendship so deep and abiding that it lights the way across time and distance, throughout life, and even death. I was inspired to tell the story from Jenny’s point of view because I wanted to convey her experience of growing up in a home with an alcoholic mother in an intimate and realistic way. I wanted to show those things that a young girl would rely on when her home life is so tumultuous: friends, extended family, faith, music. Finally, I wanted to understand how she would emerge from it and create the life that she longed for—and those things are possible primarily due to the circle of loved ones around her.
I also had a strong desire to write about the landscape of Bakersfield and California’s Central Valley, sometimes called “the other California”, home to farmland, oil fields, and country music. It is a place that is often maligned or misunderstood, but that many of us who grew up there have a deep affection for: the music, the Basque, Mexican, and Italian food, the warmth and the fog, the families who have known each other for generations.
Q: I had no idea that Belonging was your first novel. The descriptive beautiful writing was as though you’ve written forever. When did you know that writing was your calling?
A: Thank you! I have been writing forever, just not a novel! An old friend recently told me that she remembers me writing and sharing stories in elementary school. I was an English Literature major at USC and my senior year, I took a short story class from the novelist and short story writer T. C. Boyle. There were only about twelve of us in the class, and it was the first time I ever had something workshopped. I remember classmates reading my story and discovering themes and ideas I never saw while writing. This revealed the magic in storytelling to me—that I could put words on the page, but once it was in the hands of readers, they each brought something different to it, and the story would have a life of its own. That experience sparked my interest in a writing career, and I knew I wanted to write a novel someday.
Q: The characters in the book are so realistic and relatable. Would it be fair to say you used bits and pieces of real people to create the fictional ones in Belonging?
A: Yes. I used bits and pieces of real people and relationships to create the characters. A good example of this is Heather, who encompasses some characteristics of one of my oldest friends, some of my sister, and a little of myself. In writing Nonna, although her personality is much different than my own grandmother’s, the feeling of her was the same, the nurturing Jenny experienced from her was taken from what I felt with her.
Q: As a Catholic I love the fact that Jill and her family being Italian Catholics was a part of the story without it being preachy or bashing the religion. What made you choose to have faith be a part of the story?
A: The concept of Jenny’s faith is an important theme that emerged organically from a few images I had early in the writing process. I imagined that Jenny collected folk art images of the Virgin Mary, sorted prayer cards in her lonely bedroom, and I saw her in the hospital covered in prayer cards that formed almost a quilt over her. Eventually, as I came to understand Jenny more deeply, I could see that her faith was central to her character, and that the comfort she derived from it was critical to her survival as a child. Her faith stays with her, and when she is with Henry at the end of Part II, she absolutely believes what she tells him: to love forever is to live forever. If she didn’t have her faith, I don’t know if she would have had the fortitude and resilience that she does. She knows she’s not doing it all alone.
Q: What lessons do you hope readers take away after reading Belonging?
A: I hope that the novel brings understanding of childhood wounds and how they are healed, the patterns that keep us small and hidden, and the peace and freedom that come with forgiveness. I hope that readers take away the idea that we can start anew, break generational patterns, and recreate family despite our past. I would be so happy if the book resonates with readers who see themselves in Jenny or Henry. I would love it if the portrayal of these characters encourages acceptance, forgiveness, and faith. Most of all, I hope the novel conveys a sense of warmth, hope, and belonging.
Q: How long did it take for you to write Belonging?
A: This is very hard to quantify. My first draft took about one year, but that was a very long time ago! I started writing this book when my youngest child was in kindergarten, and she is now nineteen. There was a lot of waiting, however, without actively writing; for example, sending out query letters and waiting for literary agents to read and consider the book, rewriting with my literary agent, and submitting to publishers all took a long time.
Q: If it’s not too early to ask, would you like to talk about your next book you are currently working on?
A: My new novel, which I’m currently calling “Ballad” is about a musical prodigy, Whitney Garrison, the only child of Butch and Lynnette, star-crossed teenage parents who grew up in rural Tennessee. The seeds of the novel began by writing a few songs in Whitney’s voice. It includes an ensemble cast of characters, a family saga, and a love story, too.
Q: Whether Hollywood has the rights to Belonging or not, who would be your dream cast to play your characters?
A: My first two choices for anyone in the film would be Timothee Chalamet as Henry and Mark Ruffalo as Uncle Gino. Also, the whole time I was writing the character of Heather, I was imagining the young Taylor Swift in that role. Since more than a decade has gone by since then, it would be a dream to have her portray Aunt Hope!