Point Loma native and resident Jill G. Hall thinks a well-researched story, crafted from several art forms and steeped in references to pop culture icons, trumps the odds. At 60, she's a debut author whose plot speaks to the intangible boundaries within time and space, a trend that's gained a media foothold over the last 20 years. She's also a poet and a former educator, who spent two decades fueling inner-city school programs through her love of the arts. Support groups like San Diego Writers, Ink and Bravo School of Art are familiar with her administrative savvy, and her PhD from Northern Arizona University doesn't exactly hurt her litany of credentials.
Comes now “The Black Velvet Coat: a Novel,” Hall's stream-of-consciousness piece on the paper-thin veil that separates the main characters' lives. She'll sign and discuss her book, published by She Writes Press, at La Jolla's Warwick's Books on Sunday, Oct. 11, from noon to 2 p.m. and will formally launch it on Saturday, Oct. 24, from 5 to 7 p.m. at NTC's Barracks 17 in Point Loma. She'll have a lot to talk about, as the characters aren't just placeholder figures – their flesh-and-blood backgrounds color their flesh-and-blood contexts. 1960s heiress Sylvia van Dam's loser fiancé is in love with her eventual fortune, and present-day itinerant artist Anne McFarland doggedly searches for Sylvia and fights self-defeatism as she seeks to mount a one-woman exhibit.
A supposedly innocuous key in a thrift-shop coat pocket ignites the intersection of the women's lives amid the 50 years that separate them. From there, each figure surrenders to her greater potential, with extraordinary new life paths the result.
Hall spent 10 years crafting this story, hungrily exploiting more than one source from art and the commerce it reflects. Among them was community support from writing groups like San Diego Writers, Ink and Tuesday Brown Bag – that meant sharing her ideas with like-minded members in spite of herself.
“That first typed draft, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Hall explained. “It was all out of sequence and a mess. But the group members were very patient and encouraged me to continue and helped me hone my craft. After that draft, I was able to put it in some kind of order, and lo and behold, I did have a story.”
Ambition set in as Hall further culled her narrative through McFarland's penchant for visual art. A collage class at La Jolla's Athenaeum Music & Arts Library lit the way.
“The instructor told us our work for that session needed to be text-based,” Hall said. “I was really stumped but then realized I was writing a novel and had oodles and oodles of text to choose from. Searching through the pages, I pulled out some of the most dramatic lines to use and had a blast making pieces with those, incorporating vintage postcards, magazine photos and even some found objects to create assemblages. Studying these postcards and photographs, I was able to zoom in deeper into my writing by describing the details of the art pieces.”
At 60, Hall's old enough to assess her life and young enough to adapt it. The book's '60s cultural references (replete with inspirations from Alfred Hitchcock films) came to her accordingly.
“Someone... recently asked me if I enjoyed doing the 1960s pop culture research for my book,” she explained. “And I said, 'Honey! I’m 60 years old and grew up in the 60s.' I didn’t have to do much research, because most of it came right from my memories. Sometimes, though, with actual buildings, people and music references, I had to look them up to make sure they would have been in the world by 1963.”
That brings us to today, with historical accounts invading pop culture staples like television (“The Tomorrow People,” “Grimm,” “Once Upon a Time”) and radio (“The Twilight Zone,” NPR's “L.A. Theatre Works”). Hall is clearly in the element as her characters transcend five decades, sometimes outside reality itself. “They kept showing up week after week, time and again,” she says of her characters, “as if they were haunting me to tell their stories. I saw them everywhere, including in my dreams.”
Hall is also keenly aware of the odds on her book's long-term success. Come to think of it, maybe they're an illusion as well.
Warwick's Books is located at 7812 Girard Ave. in La Jolla. Learn more at warwicks.com or by calling (858) 454-0347. NTC Promenade straddles Cushing Road in Point Loma. For more information, see ntclibertystation.com or call (619) 524-4947. For more on Hall, see jillghall.com.