Interviewed by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Jill Zeller was determined to become a writer ever since her fifth grade play was a flop (let’s just say that no one was yelling “Author, author!”) Millions of words later, she’s still writing both novels and short stories in a myriad of worlds and genres. Her first release from Book View Cafe, the zombie tale Bijou, is creepy in a way that only a woman writing medical thrillers and horror could dream up.
After retiring from her daytime role as a Clinical Specialist in HIV trials, she and her husband, two English mastiffs, and two cats, fled the crowding and traffic of Seattle, Washington—bringing most of her garden with her—and landed in Albany, Oregon, smack in the middle of the Willamette Valley. Now with plenty of time for writing, gardening, freshening her old house, and bits of travel—pandemic allowing—she finished and published at BVC book one of her historical novel The Last Dog in England. Look for book two early next year. An award winner for The Alzheimer’s Book Club in 2009, Jill has lived a lot of places and done a lot of things (and even been a lot of people–pseudonyms!) If you stick around, all of it will eventually show up in a story.
1) Have you decided yet what writing means to you?
A.) Let’s just say that when I ask myself whether I should just give up writing and plant more tomatoes, I can’t.
2) Bijou may be one of the creepiest zombie ideas I have seen turn up in a long time. When did you realize that zombies clearly are an ongoing phenomenon triggered by someone’s greed—plus the lure of immortality? Where did this book start for you?
A.) Oh, that’s a loaded question. As a nurse I’ve been around a lot of death, to put it bluntly. And there always seems to be some triggering event—whether a family member the dying has been waiting for finally arrives—or when the family all leaves the room, for example–when the dying appear to be ready to complete their dying. I’ve thought about that a lot, wondering about the value of love and family to each of us, so it crept into this tale of Annie and her unique ability. And I wanted to use my hometown (Livermore, California, to be exact) as a setting for this tale (names have been changed to protect the guilty). Death is a mystery I’ve spent my life trying to solve. This story I suppose is my effort to make it easier to think about something that is never easy to think about.
3) Have you explored all of this world yet? Could there be more stories in it?
A.) That is always possible, although I haven’t, except as S. Thorndyke, written a series. Each novel or short story seems to be its own little universe.
4) Do you think your “voice,” the thing that stamps your writing as uniquely yours, changes from book to book, story to story—or can you already see themes that reoccur in your work?
A.) Oh yeah, I think so. I’m writing a historical right now with a very different tone. And many of my short stories, depending on the character, setting, theme, will have a different voice.
5) Do you use different styles for short versus long fiction? Is this deliberate?
A.) Funny you should ask because I think about this a lot. In short stories, I experiment more with language, looking for a lyric quality, and deep emotion. In my novels, I don’t get the sense I can sustain that, so the style tends to be more utilitarian.
6) What draws you to writing horror as opposed to any other genre?
A.) An obsession with Shirley Jackson.
7) What have you learned from your own writing? To what concepts, intentionally or not, do you think you’ve exposed your readers?
A.) How to experience rejection and keep on writing. And as for concepts, well, perhaps many different shapes of love?
8) Has writing taught you anything you didn’t expect?
A.) I guess that I AM obsessed with death. Also art, and love, and heartbreak, and redemption.
9) Are you drawn to short fiction, or novel length stories?
A.) I’ve written scads of short stories, but when I read, for pleasure, I like novels.
10) Are you inspired by someone else’s work?
A.) How much time do I have?
ETA: You can find all of Jill’s books at: https://bookviewcafe.com/bvc_author/jill-zeller/