This page allows you to link to my website where you can listen to my radio interview on WKCC (91.1 FM, Kankakee) taped in May, 2011: http://www.maureengill.net/
Also, I'll discuss "January Moon" with Celeste Quinn on the "Afternoon Magazine" radio show (580 AM, WILL, at the University of Illinois, Champaign) on June 1st @ 12:40 PM; please put the date on your calendar if you're in the area. More information about this program and others at WILL can be found at this link: http://will.illinois.edu/afternoonmagazine/
On September 1, 2010 I sat down with Lynice Tutt to discuss January Moon and related issues.
Lynice was one of my students when I taught at Kankakee Community College and I'm pleased to say that she continued her education at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and graduated with a BA in history in May 2011. (Bravissino!)
Here's the interview:
MG: Lynice, it’s wonderful to see you again. I’m so happy you’ve continued your education. Interviewing people is an excellent skill to develop for a historian.
LT: I’m a little nervous interviewing one of my past college teachers; seems weird.
MG: Hey, I’m flattered you want to interview me. You’ll do an excellent job.
LT: Let me begin by saying I really enjoyed reading January Moon. You’ve written an incredible story. I enjoyed how you wove so many interesting characters together in such an interesting and exciting way.
MG: Thank you. That’s wonderful to hear. Can I ask what you enjoyed most?
LT: Probably the story about Wiley, Eliot and Kenny; their story really touched me. Of course I loved Wolf.
MG: Everyone loves Wolf.
LT: And you obviously love Chicago.
MG: Yes, it’s one of the greatest cities in the world. I’ll always call myself a Chicagoan.
LT: You mentioned earlier that you wrote against formula. Can you explain that, please?
MG: I didn’t set out to do that; I just wanted to write a good story and did it the only way I knew. I had no idea I was slaughtering sacred cows until I read what agents and writers discuss in the blogosphere and also received feedback from the “insiders.” The more I learned, the more I realized I was either screwed or breaking new ground. I suppose it will take awhile to find out.
LT: Obviously, FGM and animal abuse are important issues to you but you showed a lot of empathy for the scourge of mental illness. Do you want to discuss that?
MG: Actually, I’d like to discuss where mental illness ends and evil begins but that probably exceeds the scope of this interview. I envisioned a truly evil antagonist in Rae Harte but then I felt compelled to give her a history that would serve as explanation for why she was so hideously flawed. I have a hard time seeing evil as something that just occurs out of nowhere, without explanation.
As to the heartbreak of mental illness and what it does to a family, well I wanted to throw that out there too. The Farrells proved to be a very strong family; three individual members remained healthy despite Evelyn’s apparent mental illness and that’s pretty amazing. Crazy people make normal people nuts yet the Farrells remained largely functional as a family unit despite Evelyn’s craziness.
LT: What’s mentally wrong with Evelyn? She was a pretty terrifying kid.
MG: As Louise explained to Del, Evelyn more or less defied all the labels. That happens sometimes. The same with Rae and her brother; with them I did some loose research on a variety of severe personality disorders and pathologies but in the end went for literary license over clinical accuracy.
LT: If this is a painful question we can skip it…
MG: No, go on. I think I know where you’re going.
LT: Do you think you’re just naturally more sympathetic because of your own personal battle with bipolar illness?
MG: Of course. I suffered depression most of my life but I was excellent at hiding it and that was part of the illness and spoke to other issues, very painful issues that created devastating consequences. And only recently one of my first cousins gave me very important information about several relatives and their very profound illnesses and so, yes, I am very in tune with the devastation mental illness causes in families and society. I’m also interested in the nature vs. nurture debate because I think inappropriate thinking can be taught and that certainly complicates matters.
LT: How are you now?
MG: I think I’m doing fine. Probably better than at any time in my entire life and it feels pretty good. Bipolar illness operates on a big continuum and there’s BP I and BP II, with BP II the least severe, which is my condition. People with the least severe condition can live very normal lives without apparent problems but the illness can flare as it did with me on several occasions, sometimes cycling into some very bad areas for years at a time. Typically, I operate at a very low level of bipolar illness but certain stressors, including a stressful life, the wrong medications and even diet choices, can exacerbate my illness. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with a far more severe and chronic manifestation of the illness but there are many people and their families who struggle with this and even far more serious challenges on a daily basis and for the most part they do so heroically. When I think of them I’m reminded of Thoreau’s saying that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I’ve lived the quiet desperation and now I hope to sing the song before I go to the grave. If I can encourage others to sing their hearts out, that would be wonderful. Everyone has a song in them, even the most troubled of us.
LT: Can we talk about prison?
LT: I understand you spent three months in a federal prison, is that correct?
MG: It was actually five months. I was at an FPC, a federal prison camp, which is a very low security camp for non-violent offenders. Martha Stewart was in the same kind of place. In fact, there were a lot of fascinating women there. We even had nuns.
LT: Nuns? You’re kidding.
MG: Nope; it’s quite true. The nuns, and there were lay people too, were peaceful demonstrators who trespassed on government property. Overall, I met some very good, even remarkable, women. Some were guilty, some were not. Some were “overnighters” (short stays) like me; some were there for absurdly long sentences thanks to our country’s insane war on drugs and the misuse of the RICO statutes. I mean it with all my heart when I say some of the strongest, kindest, and most heroic women I’ve ever met were those I met in prison. That’s not to say that there weren’t a few who certainly belonged there.
LT: Why were you there?
MG: I committed a financial crime. I chose to enter into a plea bargain because the matter went on seemingly forever and was making me even more ill than I was to begin with; in fact I attempted suicide and was hospitalized for two weeks in a psychiatric ward at a major university hospital.
LT: Is there something you’d like to say about your suicide attempt?
MG: Absolutely. If you’re thinking about it, please, please get help. Don’t do it. No matter who you think you are or what you may or may not have done, no matter how desperate your situation, your life is precious. There is a reason you’re here. There is a reason for everything. Believe that and don’t let go.
LT: Any advice for those who think they have a novel in them?
MG: Go for it. Have fun doing it; enjoy the process and don’t be intimidated by it. The best advice is to write something every day, even if it’s just a little something, write it. I’d only add this: ignore the gurus and their formulas. Good books are not written with formulas. Good books are written with passion. Passion is primary; everything else is bupkes.
LT: Last words? Personal motto? Favorite saying?
MG: Oh there are a lot of wonderful sayings but currently my favorite might be this one by Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” And while you’re right smack dab in one of those defeats I think it’s helpful to remember Ecclesiastes 3:1 that “for every time there is a season.…”
Beyond that, I think it’s also true that every season has its own reason, its own purpose. It’s possible we’ll never know the reason but nonetheless we must believe there was a reason and accept that some things are only for God to know. Maybe this is the very essence of faith, I’m not sure, but I certainly believe it can be the glue that binds the shattered pieces of a life together and makes it whole again. Yes, I do believe that.
LT: Thank you, Maureen. It’s been a thrill to interview you.
MG: Lynice, the pleasure has truly been mine.