Sunday, May 16, 2021

Gin Phillips

Gin Phillips is the author of six novels, ranging from historical fiction to literary thriller to middle grade. Her work has been sold in 29 countries.

Phillips’s debut novel, The Well and the Mine, won the 2009 Barnes & Noble Discover Award. Her recent novel, Fierce Kingdom, was named one of the best books of 2017 by Publishers Weekly, NPR, Amazon, and Kirkus Reviews. Her novels have been named as selections for Indie Next, Book of the Month, and the Junior Library Guild.

Born in Montgomery, Al., Phillips graduated from Birmingham-Southern College with a degree in political journalism. She lives with her family in Birmingham, Al.

Phillips's new novel is Family Law.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

This is my sixth novel, and it’s the first one where my original title has stuck. Normally one of the first things that happens in the publishing process is for my editors to tell me—in detail—why my title doesn’t work at all. Maybe I’m getting better at this. At any rate, Family Law has both an obvious connection to the story and a more layered one. The book follows the friendship between Rachel, a teenager struggling with the expectations of her very traditional family, and Lucia, a young lawyer who specializes in family law. So that’s a pretty obvious reference. But the book also looks at the reach and limitations of family: it’s a story about the mothers we’re born to and the mothers we choose for ourselves. So “family law” also works as a nod to our ability to expand the very definition of family.

That said, the title might lead readers to believe it’s more of a courtroom drama than it is. It’s a very straightforward sort of title, and it doesn’t necessarily convey lyricism and warmth and humor, all of which I hope are significant parts of the book.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Of all my novels, this is easily the one that lands closest to my teenage self. It’s set in the world of my childhood—1980s Alabama. It’s a landscape that my old self would find very familiar, and my own teenage questions and struggles are at the core of the book. That said, the teenage me fully expected to grow up and write fantasy or sci-fi. She’d be very disappointed that I don’t have a single dragon or gateway to another dimension in here.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings are much harder. I love the blank page—everything in play, anything possible. I loved the feeling of writing these first few pages—Lucia in the courtroom, comfortable and in command. Her joy in her work is crucial to her character, and I found it immensely fun to try to capture the kind of particular satisfaction that comes from loving your job. I felt it, actually, as I was writing it.

In those first few pages, you haven’t screwed anything up yet. But the ending—that’s where you have to take all those threads you’ve been spinning and make them come together in a way that’s true and right …but not too tidy. Not too neat. As you close in on the ending, you can see whether or not you’ve taken a wrong path, because—when you’ve done it right—the ending is right there in front of you. You’ve been heading there the whole time, even if you didn’t know it. Sometimes I have that feeling, and it’s glorious. Other times, I have a feeling like, oh, hell, and I know I have to go back and tear out some of the stiches to figure out where I went wrong. I change the ending more often than the beginning, but I change the middle even more.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I don’t think I’ve ever written a character that has absolutely none of me. I’m not sure how that would work. It might be that I’m writing a middle-aged coal miner in the 1930s, but he has my love of poetry. Or a woman who lived a thousand years ago who looks down at her child and feels the same pulse of connection that I do. There has to be some thread between us. It might be one percent of a character, and then the other 99 percent spirals into a completely foreign direction, but some part of me connects to some part of them. In Family Law, Rachel asks the same questions about herself and the world around her that I did at that age. Lucia has plenty of me as well, although her love of conflict is not like me at all. Both women have a similar worldview to mine, which does make it easier to get in their heads.
Visit Gin Phillips's website.

The Page 69 Test: Family Law.

--Marshal Zeringue