We interviewed Jan Morrill, public speaker and author of the novel The Red Kimono (University of Arkansas Press, 2013), selected as the Historical Novel Society’s Editor’s Choice and an Arkansas Gem by the Arkansas State Library, Life: Haiku by Haiku, and Creative Characterization. Her award-winning stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul and other anthologies.
What you’re reading right now:
I’m currently reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.
How do you decide what goes on your reading list? Word of mouth, reviews, friends?
I recently joined a book club, so my book selection is often dependent on the book our members have agreed upon. Most of our members bring suggestions based on bestseller lists, word of mouth, and reviews.
A classic novel you recently read for the first time:
I must admit I have not read a classic novel (though I think “classic” is a subjective term) in a long, long time. Most of the books I read today are contemporary.
A book you just couldn’t finish:
Many people disagree with me, but recently, I was not able to finish A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. I was surprised, because historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. Though beautifully written, for some reason, I was not drawn to the character, and the character is what keeps me hooked on a story.
A book you just couldn’t put down:
Unfortunately, because of the time of day I read (just before bed) it’s rare for me to find a book I can’t put down, because putting the book down is often involuntary. But a couple of books that kept me awake long hours into the night were The Kite Runner and Memoirs of a Geisha.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three authors, dead or alive, do you invite?
This is tough to answer because so many come to mind. But being in my fourth year of working on the sequel to The Red Kimono, the first person that comes to mind is Harper Lee. I could fill an evening talking only to her (if I could get her to talk back to me!) I’d love to discover the “real” story behind Go Set a Watchman. Why did she wait so long to release it? And was it really her decision to release it? Why was Atticus so different in the two books? If I could get her to open up, I’d also want to know about her friendship with Truman Capote. What did they learn from each other about writing and life?
My second choice would be Jhumpa Lahiri, author of The Namesake. I once read an article she wrote in The New York Times called “My Life’s Sentences.” In this article, she said, “For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words , artfully arranged, to stop time.” I’d love to talk to her about the magic of sentences and about her writing, which, like mine, is about how we live with our differences.
In the interest of brevity of this interview, time constraints at this imaginary party, and the difficulty of whittling down to a third author, I’ll stop with two.
Favorite book growing up:
It depends on which stage of “growing up,” but the series of books I remember loving was the Bobbsey Twins, which, I’m afraid, dates me. I loved the stories of mystery, mischief and adventure.
What do you read when you’re working on a book?
I often refer to two books: The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler for the writing craft and The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal for motivation and success at attaining goals.
What are you working on next?
I am in the editing, re-editing and re-editing (again) stage of Mo’s Shadow, a novel about what a young girl learns about herself and life from her friendship with an alcoholic. It’s a story close to my heart, and perhaps that’s one reason I’ve spent so much time editing it.
I also continue to work on the sequel to The Red Kimono.
What do you have coming up?
This fall, my first children’s book, Magical Red Kimono will be published by 4RV Publishing. The first in a planned series about the friendship between Sachi and Jubie, characters from my historical fiction, The Red Kimono. In Magical Red Kimono, Sachi teaches Jubie how to do a Japanese dance.
Jan will be teaching two classes at The Writer’s Garret: Creative Characterization will take place at The Writer’s Garret on Saturdays from October 14 to November 4, and Elements of Fiction will take place on Wednesdays from October 11 to November 15. Find out more about Creative Characterization here or more about Elements of Fiction here.