Point Loma author links past and present to tell stories of women
Point Loma native and author Jill Hall likes to let her characters dictate how to tell their stories.
“I’m an intuitive writer, so I don’t really decide when I’m writing. I just start writing and my characters tell me what they want to do and where they want to be. They just unveil themselves to me through my writing,” Hall said while discussing her latest book, “The Green Lace Corset,” which will be released in October.
The book is the third in a series of Hall books that tell stories using the same modern-day protagonist, artist Anne McFarland. The books also have a dual-timeline format: one taking place in modern times and one in the past, with an item of clothing as a link between the two stories.
The first book of the series, “The Black Velvet Coat,” released in 2015, takes place in modern times and in the 1960s. The second, “The Silver Shoes,” released in 2018, takes place in modern times and the 1920s. “The Green Lace Corset” takes place in modern times and the 1880s.
“It’s a trilogy, but you can read them in any order,” Hall said. “They stand alone. I tell readers, pick the era that appeals to you the most and read that book. And then if you like my writing style, you can go back and read the other ones as sequels or prequels.”
In “The Green Lace Corset,” McFarland is searching for spiritual guidance. She finds a green lace corset in a resale boutique in Arizona. It turns out the corset was once owned by Sally Sue Sullivan, a young woman from the Midwest who was kidnapped by a bank robber in 1885.
The corset connects the women as they “face their fears and find the strength to journey down their designated path and learn the true meaning of love and family with a little push from the same green laced corset,” according to the book’s description.
Hall said she finds inspiration in objects and likes incorporating used clothes or other items in her books as a way to connect the characters.
“The clothes are the link between Anne and the person from the past,” she said. “I’m also a visual artist, so this started because I used to go out — I still do — and find treasures ... to use in my artwork.”
While writing “The Black Velvet Coat, " for example, Hall had a black velvet coat she found at a resale shop. And for “The Green Lace Corset,” she saw a picture of a vintage corset on Pinterest that sparked her imagination.
“I really wanted my own, but I couldn’t find a vintage one. So I actually had a costume designer make it for me,” she said.
But her trilogy isn’t “just about vintage finds.” Hall’s books also feature strong, empowered female characters.
“It’s also about women trying to find their place in the world. So a lot of them are women coming-of-age stories,” she said. “I have a lot of nieces that are at that point in life, and I’m really hoping that young women will read these stories and see the difference between what life was like in the past for women and what they are in the present. As I write the characters, my present-day artist Anne is going through a lot of what they’re going through, trying to date and trying to figure out what it’s like.”
For her characters set in the past, when there were no cellphones or texting, Hall takes some inspiration from her own youth.
“When I was dating, there weren’t even any answering machines. It was just one telephone that all four of us had to share,” she said with a laugh. “So things have really changed, and I think it’s really great for young people — and also other women — to remember [or learn] what it was like in the past.”
Growing up in Point Loma, Hall didn’t always know she wanted to be a writer. She graduated from Point Loma High School in 1973 (“Once a Pointer, always a Pointer,” she says) and then embarked on a teaching career.
“I taught at inner-city schools. ... I taught elementary and middle school, performing arts and history. I integrated the arts into everything I did,” she said.
After 20 years, she left teaching.
“I thought I would try writing children’s books or maybe a memoir about being a teacher,” she said. “And I started going to a writing group. And what happened was, characters started to appear from nowhere. And that’s where my books came from.”
Her characters pushed her to continue writing and telling their stories.
“I just kept writing and writing. These characters just appeared. And they kept coming back,” Hall said.
Hall, who also writes poetry, said the first drafts of anything she writes are done by hand.
“I write all of my first drafts by hand because I believe in the heart-hand connection. And then later, after I fill journals, I pick out what I think is worthy and I type those pages up, and that’s what ends up in a real draft,” she said.
She writes every morning. “Sometimes they’re my poems, sometimes they’re my characters. Sometimes I’ll work on that email that I need to write to somebody but I haven’t been able to get it out because it needs a little bit of extra energy.”
Nowadays, Hall splits her time between Point Loma and Descanso, where she owns property that borders Cleveland National Forest. It’s a place where she can escape and work on her craft.
“Growing up, I always was really into nature,” she said. “It’s really, really beautiful there. And quiet. I can see stars at night. I’m out there as much as I can be. And I have my art studio there, and a house that I built. So I go out there and really sink into my writing. I can really hear my characters are there with me in nature.”
In her spare time, Hall is active with San Diego Writers Ink, a nonprofit writers workshop out of Liberty Station. She also has a blog, “CreaLivity: The Art of Practicing a Creative Lifestyle.”
Hall’s books are available everywhere books are sold, though she urges readers to support independent bookstores. “The Green Lace Corset” can be ordered now and will be available to purchase Oct. 13.
A virtual book launch through Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla will be held at 4 p.m. Oct. 24, with another virtual event set for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 18 through Point Loma Friends of the Library and La Playa Books. A portion of sales from each event will benefit the San Diego Arts + Culture Challenge Fund.
For more information about Hall, visit jillghall.com.