Author Interview: Jillian Cantor

Today Jillian Cantor is making a stop at Shelf Elf for her current blog tour, in celebration of her latest novel, The Life of Glass. Jillian’s first novel, The September Sisters, was published to much acclaim and now The Life of Glass is set to be released in February. You can read my review of The Life of Glass here. Welcome Jillian!

In The Life of Glass, your main character Melissa changes her thinking about what it means to be beautiful throughout her freshman year of high school. Describe this transformation.

In the beginning of the book, Melissa really has no interest in being “beautiful” in a traditional sense. She’s not interested in make-up or doing her hair or dieting, quite unlike her older sister and her mother who both are/were in beauty pageants. In fact, Melissa thinks there are two kinds of people in the world: beautiful people and good/smart people. But over the course of the book she comes to realize that it isn’t always one or another; sometimes you can be a beautiful person on both the outside and the inside, and also beauty is sometimes more about how you feel than how you look.

If you could give advice to young women on the subject of beauty and self-perception, what would it be?

Don’t try and compare yourself to women you see in magazines. A lot of those images are impossible, air-brushed, unreal. In fact, don’t try to compare yourself to anyone. Find things to love about yourself, and love them because they’re yours!

What people / places / objects / music / artwork do you find beautiful in unconventional or unexpected ways?

I’ll talk about this a little bit in response to your next question, too, but the desert definitely is a place that you might not expect to be beautiful, but I think there’s actually a lot of beauty in it.

As for people, I find images of happiness to be beautiful: laughter, smiles. There is nothing more beautiful to me than my children when they’re laughing. I also think older people who have allowed themselves to age gracefully and naturally are really beautiful. So many people are obsessed with trying to rid their faces of wrinkles or cover up gray hair, but I like the way these things show experience and life and personality. There are stories in there, beautiful stories; why hide them?

It feels significant that you chose to situate your novel in a desert landscape, where beauty is not as showy or as obvious as it can be in other places. Why did you choose this location for your novel, and how do you think it connects to the themes around beauty that you explore in your book?

Well, quite honestly, I chose the desert setting before I knew exactly what the book would be about. I grew up in Pennsylvania, and until this book, I set everything I wrote there. But I’ve lived in the desert for most of my adult life, and I was itching to write a book that takes place here. There’s so much unique in the desert and the landscape that I wanted to see what would happen if I took the landscape and incorporated it into a novel.

Once I started exploring the themes of beauty in the book, the desert landscape felt like the perfect backdrop. In the desert, as I see it, there are a lot of things that are brown, spiny, dry – not particularly traditionally beautiful, but if you look more closely, the beauty is there, and it’s stunning. The cacti bloom the most amazing pink and white flowers in the spring, and the empty dry riverbeds fill with rushing water in the summer. The brown mountains turn the most spectacular shade of purple just around sunset. But in the desert, you sometimes have to really look at things and understand them to find the beauty. The beauty isn’t always as obvious in the desert as it is in a place that’s green and lush with sparkling water. In a way, this mirrors Melissa, and how she might define her own sense of beauty.

How do you define beauty? How has your definition changed since you were in high school?

That’s tough! I don’t know that I can necessarily define beauty, but I will say that I’m not too easily impressed by superficial aspects of beauty. I find beauty in things that make me happy – beauty in words and my children’s smiles, and yes, those unexpected spring flowers in the desert. But I guess I would have to say I define beauty more by how I feel than anything. When I feel good, healthy, confident, I feel beautiful. I actually think there’s a strong correlation between beauty and confidence.

In high school I had so many friends who worried about their weight and how they looked and what size they wore, and so I worried about these things to some degree, too. I watched some of my friends starve themselves, and it horrified me. I wanted to be thin (which I think I equated with beauty at the time) but I also love food, and lucky for me, like Melissa in the book, I was pretty much able to eat what I wanted in high school and still be thin (not super-skinny, but normal). I think as I’ve grown older and especially since I’ve been pregnant twice and then subsequently had a lot of baby weight to lose, I’ve become more concerned with being healthy than being thin. I am a bit of a health food/organic fruits and vegetables nut now, and I also really try to exercise regularly. I always think people who look healthy and fit are really beautiful, and I cringe at the sight of people on TV or in magazines who are so thin that their bones seem to stick out in funny places.

Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog today!

My pleasure Jillian! Jillian’s complete blog tour schedule can be found at www.jilliancantor.com.

I’m also happy to pass along the details for a giveaway that’s being run in celebration of The Life of Glass.

You can enter to win free copies of Jillian Cantor’s books and cool prizes! One grand prize winner will receive two glass spirit stones (one for you, one for a friend) from Arizona, where THE LIFE OF GLASS is set, along with an autographed copy of each of Jillian’s novels: THE LIFE OF GLASS and THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS. Two lucky runners-up will receive a signed copy of THE LIFE OF GLASS. To be eligible, send an email to contests@jilliancantor.com with the subject line “The Life of Glass Giveaway”. All e-mail entries must be received by midnight (PST) on February 14, 2010. The winners will be selected at random on February 15, 2010. Be sure to include your name and e-mail address with your entry (If you’re under age 13, give your parent’s contact info). One entry per person. Good luck!

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