Author On the Bookcase: Jillian Cantor, author of The Transformation of Things

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Author on the Bookcase
Jillian Cantor

Jill CantorI'm excited to welcome Jill Cantor, author of The Transformation of Things, to On the Bookcase. Jillian has crafted a truly fantastic novel about a complicated life made even more complicated. Jennifer Levenworth's husband, a judge, is indicted on bribery charges and her "friends" aren't that supportive. Then the dreams begin. When Jennifer sleeps, she swears she can see—and hear—her friends' and family's most private moments though her dreams. Jennifer realizes she is actually learning the truth about their lives, which is also leading her to question everything she thought she knew about herself.

Jillian writes the story of a woman who, in glimpsing the intimate lives of her loved ones, is able to illuminate the half-truths in her own and transform her life.

Jillian asks her characters and her readers, "[Is the] grass truly greener somewhere else? Are we ever really, truly 100% happy with where we are in life and the choices we make? 

What is your answer to your own question, Jillian?

People always ask me if I base my characters on myself or my own life. My short answer is no, because I write fiction, and my characters are not autobiographical. But I guess the longer answer is that even though my characters are fiction, they are in some ways rooted in my own life and my own experiences.

When I first started writing The Transformation of Things, I had two very young children who I stayed home with. Though I’d quit my job as a writing professor after my oldest was born, I was still teaching community college classes, part-time online. I struggled to fit some fiction writing in, in between nursing the baby, chasing after a toddler, watching endless episodes of The Wiggles, and grading some pretty dreadful freshman English papers. I wrote at night after the kids went to bed, or in the few short minutes I got in the afternoon if both kids happened to be simultaneously napping, or on weekend mornings when my husband was home. Like most other new moms, I was exhausted. All the time. It was often a struggle to think hard enough to get coherent words on the page.

I began the book with the idea for a woman whose husband has been indicted and is then ostracized by her friends. This idea came to me after a conversation with a friend of my own, who told me that she’d recently met the wife of a politician who’d been kicked out of office for doing something illegal. Her comment was that the woman was very nice, but she imagined it must be hard for other people to get past what her husband had done. And Jen sprung from there. I imagined what it would be like to feel ostracized from your friends and family, and I also imagined how this situation might affect a marriage – how it might make it worse, and also, better.

The Transformation of ThingsIn a way, it wasn’t such a stretch to imagine that isolation. Though Jen and I are really nothing alike, and my husband (or our relationship) is nothing at all like Will, as a stay-at-home mom with a baby and a three-year-old, I did often feel a bit isolated. I spent most of my time at home with minimal adult conversation. As much as I really truly loved being able to have that crucial time with my kids, sometimes I thought about the other people in my life and wondered what things were really like for them: my sister (still single), or my best friend (who’d just gotten married and hadn’t had kids yet), or another friend (whose babies were similar ages to mine but had chosen to put her kids in daycare and had gone right back to work instead of staying home). Was the grass truly greener somewhere else? Are we ever really, truly 100% happy with where we are in life and the choices we make? 

Thus, the inspiration for the women characters in The Transformation of Things, none of whom are me, or my friends, but all of whom have pieces of what I was thinking and feeling at that point in my life. There is the main character, Jen, who is struggling with isolation, not only from her friends, but also from herself and her marriage. There’s her sister, Kelly, who Jen thinks is the perfect stay-at-home mom and wife and a photographer -- only, maybe she’s not really all that perfect. There’s her friend, Kat, a woman who has all but abandoned her children for her career, and her friend, Lisa, who has all but abandoned her career for her children. Are any of them really, truly happy?

And then, maybe because I couldn’t do so in my own life but sometimes wished I could, I gave Jen the ability to be able to glimpse beneath the surface of the lives around her, to see that what’s on the outside of a life isn’t always what’s on the inside of a life. It became an interesting journey for Jen. And for me.

Eventually, my kids got a little bit older, I finished the book, and I came to realize that the grass really isn’t greener; sometimes it only appears that way from a distance. Maybe I didn’t get to glimpse beneath the surface of my friends’ lives like Jen did, but in writing about it, in a way, I almost felt like I did.

The Transformation of Things is out today, and to celebrate, Jillian is holding a contest over at her blog.

Thanks, Jillian, for chatting with us and writing a story that brings up a topic that, I think, everyone ponders at least once in their life.

Reading Group Alert! Betrayal, secrets, marital upheaval, friendship, personal discovery, love -- great discussion topics!  

Praise for The Transformation of Things

A provocative novel that raises fascinating questions about marriage and how to find our way back when love falters. Thoroughly original, highly engaging, and wonderfully tender.”
Laura Fitzgerald, author of Veil of Roses

Jillian Cantor's first novel, The September Sisters, was called "memorable" and "startlingly real" by Publishers Weekly and was nominated as a YALSA Best Book For Young Adults. Her second young adult novel, The Life of Glass, was released in February 2010. Jillian lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

Check out Jillian's website, as well.

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