I met Jan Morrill at the Northwest Arkansas Writers’ Workshop. Week-after-week I’d sit in awe and listen to her short stories and say to myself, “One day I hope I can write as well as Jan.”
Jan is an award winning author with short stories and memoir essays in several anthologies and Chicken Soup of the Soul series. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her short story, Xs and Os. She is currently represented by Kathleen Anderson of Anderson Literary Management who is looking for a home for Jan’s novel Broken Dolls.
But there is more to this beautiful, talented woman than what meets the eye.
Jan is a loyal, giving woman who gracefully glides through life trying to make the world a better place with her writing that is as elegant as she. I hope this interview will give you a deeper insight into the author I call Samurai Gypsy Jan and who I’m honored to have as a close friend.
1. I always wanted to write and wrote my first story when I was ten years old. How old were you when the writing bug bit and do you remember what your first story was?
I’ve always thought of stories in my head, but until high school, those stories came out as drawings and paintings, rather than in written form. I did keep journals from about 8th grade, but didn’t attempt fiction until I enrolled in a Creative Writing class in high school. That is when I was bitten by the writing bug, and the itch has never gone away.
It’s funny you should ask this question, because just the other day, I found a folder of stories I wrote in that Creative Writing class. I smiled—even laughed—as I read. Here’s the first sentence of one of my stories, titled “Judgement.” It was dated February 6, 1976:
Susan still couldn’t believe the sight of what she had just seen.
I’m serious. The only thing good I can say about that sentence is, I’ve come a long way.
2. Your first novel, Broken Dolls is a powerful story about the treatment of Japanese-
Americans during WWII told from the point of view of a little girl, Sachi. What inspired you to write this story? What message do you want the reader to carry with them long after they finish reading?
My mother and her family were Japanese-American internees during World War II. When I first began writing the book, it was a fictionalized account of her years, but the book grew into a completely different story and pulled in a new character, African-American teenager, Terrence. Broken Dolls is about how their lives become entwined with prejudice, revenge and forgiveness.
I hope readers see through the eyes of my characters–Sachi, Nobu and Terrence–the effect of prejudice and misunderstanding. They are all broken dolls, yet the story also shows how one can triumph, even in adversity.
3. All of us dream that our novels will be made into Oscar winning movies. Who would you like to see bring your Broken Dolls characters to life on the big screen?
You’re right – I have imagined the people I would like to portray my characters on the big screen. It helps to have a physical image in my mind as my characters tell me their story.
The main actor I must have in my movie is Ken Watanabe as Papa. In fact, Mr. Watanabe so perfectly captures my image of Papa that I re-wrote the role of Michio Kimura (Papa) so that Mr. Watanabe would have a bigger part in the movie one day.
I always imagined a younger version of actor, Terrence Howard as my character, Terrence Harris. You can probably tell this by the name I chose for my character. Terrence Howard has hazel eyes. It’s no coincidence that Terrence, my character, also has hazel eyes.
As for Sachi, I often imagine the little girl who played little Chiyo in Memoirs of a Geisha. But of course, she would be too old to play Sachi, who is eight years old at the beginning of Broken Dolls.
4. What is the best advice you’ve received to date on writing and what advice would you give a beginning writer?
One of the best books (on creativity) I’ve read is The Art of War, by Steven Pressfield. This book discusses resistance, which is the enemy of creativity. Pressfield says, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.”
He goes on to discuss author, Somerset Maugham’s theory of resistance:
Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he sent in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his.”
This is just a fancy way of stating what we’ve all heard before. Just sit down and write!
Beyond that, the piece of advice I’d share with a beginning writer is to find a good critique group. It was only after I found the Northwest Arkansas Writers’ Workshop, led by Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton, that I truly became serious about my writing. I’d go so far as to say if I hadn’t found this group, I probably would never have completed my book. They taught, encouraged and motivated me and I’ve grown ten-fold as a writer since joining the group approximately six years ago.
5. I call you Gypsy Jan because you’ve traveled the globe. Where are some of the places you’ve been? How has travel helped your writing experience?
I’ve been to more places than I ever imagined I’d ever go in my life, and I count my blessings for the experience. I’ve been to Japan, China, Russia, Italy, France, Turkey, Greece, Thailand, Brazil, Argentina, British Virgin Islands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Croatia, Spain, Estonia, United Arab Emirates. Travel has opened my mind to wonder, because I’ve seen so many things that I don’t see in the United States—different cultures, different landscapes, different foods. I often watch a person and wonder how they became who they are. I wonder about their histories. “What if” is a very common question in my mind, both in and out of the country. I’ve written a couple of short stories based on my travels, and while in Thailand, I came up with an idea for a book down the road. First, though, I must finish the sequel to Broken Dolls, which is titled Broken Dreams. After that, I have in mind one more sequel, and possible a prequel. So, the Thailand inspiration is way down the road.
Thank you so much for the interview, Ruth. You asked some thought-provoking questions, and Question 4 in particular, gave me renewed motivation to “just sit down and write!”
Go to: http://www.jansthoughtsovercoffee.blogspot.com/ for book trailer to Broken Dolls and much more.