Squawk Radio

Thursday, June 15, 2006

KITTY INTERVIEWS JILL BARNETT

KITTY: Barnett, KIRKUS reviews, which notably did not review my memoir, BIG GUYS I HAVE KNOWN, listed your book, DAYS OF SUMMER, as one of the top ten summer reads. Why?

JILL: I have tried to figure this out, because the pick was by "the editors of Kirkus" and eventually, two months later, the reviewer just slammed me. Obviously she is not a beach kind of gal. I have heard "big beach read" from more than one publication. It was all over the newspapers here last weekend.

Since the advance copy didn't have the summery pearlescent shimmer cover, I have to believe it is the meaty story aspect. Without the old fashioned thousand pages, the story of DAYS covers plenty of time and drama without being a saga. Also, there is the fact that the characters are far from perfect and there are plenty of them and some controversial secrets, plus it is very, very fast paced.


KITTY: This is a big, sweeping, gossipy family dynasty, land-o-the-mega-wealthy type book, isn't it? Where'd you get hold of my diary? So, tell us a little about it.

JILL: Funny about your diary. Maybe if I had read it I could have produced the book earlier.

Actually it isn't that kind of book at all. It's not gossipy or sweeping, and there is some private wealth, but not the society. It is the West Coast, where things are separate and casual and not so clickish, especially in the beach communities.

I did make California a character because I lived through so much of what California was in the 50's, 70's and forward. It's in my bones and blood, those things none but we native baby boomers and those who came before know intimately about the state, most of which break a lot of outside misconceptions of Southern California. (Hollywood does not a state make.) This is the real California, the land where a place as magical as Disneyland was born, where the Beach Boys played at local dances, and a real-life Jules Verne kind of island where everyone knows everyone was only two hours by boat from the mainland.

For all of the time passing in THE DAYS OF SUMMER, thirty years, the scenes are very focused and the time periods we experience were chosen carefully. We don't see their whole lives, but only the characters' moments of change and highest drama.

And the characters are far from perfect. They make mistakes, but we understand why and how and perhaps understand ourselves and our own lives better because our choices are always easy in retrospect. Understanding that allows for us to forgive ourselves as the characters find their happiness and peace.

KITTY: You recently moved to the Great Northwest. Does this have anything to do with the reason you haven't had a book out in two years? I mean, has there been a mold problem or have you just been watching the slugs grow fat in your backyard?

What is your excuse then?

JILL: I just feed the slugs a dinner of salt. Cruel, me.

Ugh. I can't joke about the real reason. And I won't lie. The truth is I was emotionally devastated, overcome by a delayed reaction to tragedy and the biggest losses in my life.

I said goodbye to my husband one morning and took my daughter to school. Late that night, a policeman stood at my door and told me Chris was dead. I was so scared, so afraid to be sole support and to take on the whole responsibility to raise our daughter alone (she was 11) that I ran forward on sheer woman-power, mother-power.

And over the next few years, I lost everyone in my family except my sister and daughter, one after another, and each time I was the family anchor, the one planning the funerals and packing up and taking care of everything alone, because no one else could do it or was there to do it. I was quite numb with time.

For the coming years I did not stop to do anything but what was best for my daughter, and us together. Fear is quite a catalyst for me, always has been. Anyway, by the time she went off to college at 18, I guess subconsciously I let go, so naturally I had a delayed reaction to losing Chris and my dad and so many others who were my life. My grief woke me in the morning and I went to bed with it at night.

I couldn't write. I couldn't think. I couldn't love or feel. And I hid it from everyone, although two friends knew me better than that, and eventually they dragged me up by my hair, me kicking and screaming, and made me see I could go on and I could write, that I wasn't broken, just my writing process was. So with some time and practice and good friends at my back, I have my love of writing back and a whole new process of producing books. I write my books longhand and love it.

KITTY: I know everyone here at SQUAWK is sorry to hear about this and hope the writing of your books provides you with at least some small part of the great pleasure they do your readers. What are you working on now?

JILL: I'm well into the next book and absolutely loving it. I have *never* had a book come to me like this one has/is. Atria wants to bring it out late next fall sometime, which is good because it is not a summer book, but a winter story, and another family drama, set in San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, both places I lived and know well.

It's about a single family (all adults) broken apart and their journey back together again. There are two subplot love stories for two different generations. I have something to say about how our society treats its women of a certain age and about what that same society expects from its young men. Like Days it fast forwards through time so you really understand the makings of these characters and their relationships.

KITTY: You went from writing some of the most charming romances in the genre (and I don't throw that word "charming" around lightly) to generation spanning books. Was the transitition hard?

JILL: The desire wasn't difficult, but the execution was. And the charm of meeting a love is still very much a part of my books and always will be. I want the reader to fall in love, too.

When my publisher came to me to say they wanted to bring my books out in hardcover back in 1998, I was really struggling to write fairy-tale historical romances. I'd lost Chris and my dad and so many people I loved, and each book was getting harder and harder to write. I remember calling Susan Phillips one day and asking her, "How can I write these happy, joy-filled love stories when there is no joy in my heart.?"

Hardcover turned out to be my gift from God or Fate or Whatever Spirit. I felt and still do, that if someone is going to plunk down that much money, they should get a bigger story experience. By then I knew I wanted to write bigger books about the issues I was facing in my life. How do I find a sense of peace again? How do I find the grace to rise above all the crap that life dumps on you? How do I live down my own mistakes and bad choices? How do I forgive life? Those questions and the search for answer became my stories.

And I had to completely rethink how I write books. I whined and cried to my best friend that I wasn't good enough to write these stories, but I was just scared and searching for answers and knowing I was taking a huge risk with my career. Once I made the commitment, things eventually fell into place.

KITTY: Is there any other type of book you'd like to write? Any other genre you'd like to dip your talented little tootsies in?

JILL: God only knows, but probably not a mystery. Look for some first person in the future. I have so many stories in my head I just want to live long enough to write them.


KITTY: Okay-- time to play the Stupid Question Game.

1> Cole slaw or caesar salad?

JILL: Out? Cole Slaw. Home? My Ceasar.

KITTY: 2> You're driving your best friend's car. What's the make?

JILL: Cadillac & Chevy

KITTY: 3> What's better, five for a dollar or first one free?

JILL: The first one free and I only have to have one.

KITTY: 4> What brand of deodorant are you?

JILL: Baby powder.

KITTY: 5> How many drinks are you planning on buying Kitty Kuttlestone at RWA's conference?

JILL: As many as she can handle, and margaritas and cosmos for me.

Kitty Kuttlestone, 10:02 AM
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