Evil Cats and Bewitched History: Interview with Jill Hand

Welcome back! For our final interview of 2016, I’m pleased to feature author Jill Hand. Jill’s fiction has appeared widely in publications including The Wild Hunt, The Literary Hatchet, and The Sirens Call, among other outlets.

Recently, Jill and I discussed her inspiration as a writer as well as her process behind crafting her longer works.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Jill HandI first became a writer when I was about five and decided I needed a pony. I wrote a lavishly illustrated little book, setting out the many reasons why I not only needed a pony, but deserved one, and presented it to my parents. The pony wasn’t forthcoming, but I got so much enjoyment out of the project that I kept on writing. (The book is long gone, unfortunately, but as I recall I pledged to be good forever if I were given a pony, and — rather cleverly, I think — proposed that I would probably be able to earn enough money to pay for the pony’s upkeep by renting it out to other children for their birthday parties.)

All writers first must learn how to read.  I taught myself to read when I was three, reading Little Golden Books with the aid of a flashlight under the covers at night when I was supposed to be asleep. That’s probably one of the reasons why my eyesight is so terrible.

Interestingly, my mother attempted to prevent me from reading when she found out from a neighbor that the teacher in our local kindergarten preferred to get her students as completely blank slates, untutored in anything except our first and last names and possibly, our addresses. She wanted to teach them the alphabet and eventually, the basics of reading, herself.

Like the oppressive fundamentalist Christian patriarchs in The Handmaid’s Tale, my mother set about preventing me from reading by removing all of my books and even taking away the cereal boxes when she found me reading what was written on the back of them. She eventually gave in and let me read again, worn out by my whining and pleading, thank goodness.

My favorite authors are, in no particular order: M.R. James, Shirley Jackson, Donna Tartt, Michael McDowell, William Thackeray, P.G. Wodehouse, H.P. Lovecraft (horrid old racist and misogynist that he was), Kage Baker, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, and Frank Baker, author of Miss Hargreaves, one of the best speculative fiction novels ever written, IMO.

There are lots of other authors whose work I like, too many to list them all. I read about one book a week. I LOVE to read.

Your story, “Home Improvements,” recently appeared at The Wild Hunt. What was your process for this piece, and what inspired you to create the protagonist’s cat Evil George?

It developed out of something I read online about a house being swallowed up by a sinkhole. It made me wonder what would happen to someone in that situation (assuming they weren’t home at the time and got swallowed up, too.)

The protagonist has a cat named Evil George who is, as she admits, a terrible cat, but she keeps him because no one else would want him. I have no idea where that came from. The cats I’ve owned were all very sweet. It just seemed funny to create an awful cat who is always biting and clawing people.

Evil George gets loose and attacks two men in the woods behind his owner’s new home, who happen to be dressed as eighteenth-century fops. After that, hijinks ensue. Again, I have no idea why fops were involved, unless I was thinking of the actor Hugh Laurie in his role as Prince George IV in Blackadder. Hugh Laurie made an absolutely hilarious fop, with his powdered wig and silk stockings and gormless expressions.

The Blue HorseMany of your stories featured speculative elements. Do you remember the first speculative fiction story you read as a child, and what in particular draws you to the fantasy genre?

Usually what I write has some element of speculative fiction, although some are horror stories, and some are fantasy and some are science fiction. The first speculative fiction I ever read was probably something by Ray Bradbury, although the argument can be made that The Cat in the Hat is speculative fiction.

Tell me about a couple of your favorite published works.

I like history, and if I can work some long-forgotten weird thing or person into a plot, so much the better. My first book, Rosina and the Travel Agency, is about time travel and mentions in passing an actual barometer that was powered by leeches. It also has an adventure in 1947 San Francisco, complete with forties slang and an attempt to run a private detective agency based on one of the characters’ admiration for Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.

The sequel, The Blue Horse, from Kellan Publishing, features a bachelor party in two very weird nineteenth-century Paris nightclubs, and a batty English lord who scandalized society by marrying a circus bareback rider. The nightclubs, the lord and his wife, as well as the one-of-a-kind blue horse were all real. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Where can we find you online?

I can be found online on Facebook as Jill Hand, and on Twitter, @jillhand1_gef. There are bonus points for anyone who knows who (or what) the original Gef was.

Big thanks to Jill Hand for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!