Thursday, February 1, 2024

Q&A with Jill Fordyce




Jill Fordyce is the author of the new novel Belonging. Also an attorney, she lives in California and Tennessee.


Q: What inspired you to write Belonging, and how did you create your character Jenny?


A: I have always been moved by stories that chronicle coming of age, young love, lifelong friendships, and the hold the past often has over the present.


When I sat down to write, the only concrete idea I had was the notion of the bonds of childhood friendship that light the way throughout life, across time and distance—and even death.


I also had a strong desire to write about the landscape of Bakersfield and California’s Central Valley—a place that is often maligned, but that many of us who grew up there have a deep affection for: the country music, the Basque, Mexican, and Italian food, the warmth and the fog, the families who have known each other for generations.


In my earliest vision of Jenny, I saw her in her tangerine-colored bedroom, listening to music, collecting prayer cards, and having the escape of her gravel rooftop.


I wanted to understand and intimately portray a young woman who was raised in an alcoholic home and explore how that affected her.


I was very interested in the way she could hold such fondness for the idea of home and experience the love and comfort of extended family, while simultaneously being deprived of these things in her own home.


I especially wanted to delve into the push-pull that in some ways define Jenny: a fierce independence that is often at odds with a deep need for the love and connection she did not receive as a child.


Q: The writer Stacey Swann said of the book, “Fordyce captures the complexities of both love and forgiveness as well as the painful ways the events of the past can't help but color our present day lives.” What do you think of that description?


A: I am very grateful for Stacey’s description, as I think she identifies two key themes in the book, both of which I hoped to portray in an intimate and authentic way.


The first is the way generational trauma and the lack of secure attachment as a child can affect the ability to connect with others long past childhood.

The second is the role of forgiveness in overcoming these difficulties. Forgiveness is explored as an individual—almost defiant—act, and it gives way to grace and the ability to move forward in a manner that acknowledges the past, but does not dwell in the suffering.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I knew how the novel would end from the very early days of imagining the story. I did, however, make many changes along the way, primarily to the structure, the way the story was told.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title was suggested by my developmental editor, who told me that she thought the book was really all about belonging. After that, I did a lot of research into the concept of belonging.


I, too, began to see it everywhere in the book—from Jenny’s immigrant great-grandparents putting down roots in Central California, to her own feeling of isolation, to Henry’s keeping of secrets in order to belong.


In my research, I encountered so many articles, stories, and anecdotes about the importance of belonging to someone, someplace, a family, a community, a faith, yourself.


I also read and learned about the experience of feeling like you don’t belong, and I think that Jenny and Henry, from their earliest days together, were drawn to each other because they were each grappling with that feeling.


Belonging is fundamentally the undoing of aloneness, which is a primary need for all of us.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a new novel, which I’m currently calling Ballad. It is a coming-of-age novel about a musical prodigy named Whitney Garrison, the only child of Butch and Lynnette, star-crossed teenage parents who grew up in rural Tennessee.


When Lynette dies, Whitney is raised by her unreliable father, and her life trajectory changes dramatically.


Ballad is a family novel and a love story, and includes an ensemble of characters and an exploration of legacy.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I would love to talk to book clubs about Belonging! Please feel free to reach out via my website:


I am hopeful that Belonging will be a good book club selection as the book includes exploration of various social issues over multiple generations.


The book spans 30 years and has an ensemble cast of characters who grapple with varying views on religion, sex, alcoholism, family loyalties, and expectations of women.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb 

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