Interview with Gillian Murray Kendall, author of The Book of Forbidden Wisdom


Inside the Book:

Title: The Book of Forbidden Wisdom 
Author: Gillian Murray Kendall 
Release Date: March 8, 2016 
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy 
Format: Ebook/Paperback

In a world of blood and betrayal, love is the only redemption…

But that knowledge can only be reached by means of magic and a journey, by way of a confrontation with feelings that are hard to understand—or bear.

On Angel’s sixteenth birthday, her younger sister, Silky, wakes her to prepare her for a marriage to Leth, a man she likes but does not love. Trey, her oldest childhood friend who is secretly in love with her, watches helplessly.

But Angel’s brother, Kalo, interrupts the wedding ceremony. He wants her dowry, and he also believes Angel can lead him to The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. In a world where land is everything, this book promises him wealth. In the night, Kalo goes to Angel’s room to threaten her, but Trey has rescued both Angel and Silky, and the three of them—joined by an itinerant singer—themselves seek The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. While Kalo believes the book contains land deeds, they believe it harbors great power.

Always just a step ahead of Kalo, Angel, Silky, Trey, and the Bard finally arrive at the place of The Book. But things have changed now: Angel knows her own heart at last. Confronted by evil, at the end of the known world, Angel and her companions turn and fight. Together. And in so doing, they find that love contains a power of its own.

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The Interview

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Gillian Murray Kendall. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing? 

 A: I’m an English professor at Smith College, where I teach Shakespeare. Teaching Shakespeare is like being constantly schooled in the art of writing—and made to feel humble. But his poetry and prose contain a vast energy that gets me going on my own work. Outside of work, my life has seemed to work in chapters. While in graduate school at Harvard, I spent summers catching fish in Africa to help my spouse with his research. Later, for many years, I competed in horse shows—my horse, Miss Kitty, and I would leap over increasingly high obstacles at sometimes outrageous—if perhaps lacking in complete control—speeds. Now I spend most of my free time writing fiction. I’ve been writing fiction seriously since participating in the Stanford Creative Writing Workshop. I also write academic prose—my most recent work is on fears of bodily dissolution in Shakespeare’s play A Comedy of Errors.

Q: Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it? 

A: I couldn’t help myself. I had written a large portion of a very different manuscript, and one day I found myself scribbling the first scene of The Book of Forbidden Wisdom on the back of some typed pages. The book begins as Angel’s sister, Silky, wakes Angel up on her sixteenth birthday—the day of her wedding—to prepare for the marriage ceremony. Angel is lukewarm about the marriage, but willing to go through with it. By the time I finished writing the complete scene and has launched Angel into her wild adventure, there was no turning back. Events in The Book of Forbidden Wisdom challenge all of Angel’s notions of the value of land, of caste, of propriety—she learns, too, that all along, despite her almost-marriage, her heart is a fortress that allows only her little sister, Silky, in. By the end of the book, Angel not only learns what it is to be in love, she finds love a transformative experience, a way through which to reimagine the way her social world should function.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing it? 

A: Time and plot. I’m a Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College, and I’ve learned that if I’m to write at all, it’s going to have to happen in the interstices of life. I grab twenty minute blocks. If I waited for hours in which to write—I wouldn’t. One of my colleagues calls this “Guerilla Writing.” For Valentine’s Day, my husband made up new business cards for me that read “Gillian Murray Kendall, Guerilla Writer.” My other challenge was plot. While I took solace in that fact that Shakespeare wasn’t big on plot—he borrowed plots for all but two of his plays—I still had to manufacture the bones of a plot on which to hang imagery, theme, characterization. I finally just kept writing and outlining, only to discover that the plot had been there in my head, almost fully formed, all along.

Q: Have you either spoken to groups of people about your book or appeared on radio or TV? What are your upcoming plans for doing so? 

A: I’m going on a blog tour—in fact, I’ve already begun—and it’s a fascinating journey. I feel as if, when I write a guest post or am featured on a blog, that I’m dropping in at someone’s house for a chat with friends and family of the host. The schedule is fairly tight, and I feel as if I’m making whistle stops (does anyone know what whistle stops are anymore?), giving stump speeches about The Book of Forbidden Wisdom and hoping to garner votes for my deserving characters. I love my characters: Angel of the hard heart, her sister Silky, who, my agent says, is “everyone’s little sister” with her emphatic (picture that word in italics) certainty and her unwavering and sometimes uncomfortable habit of speaking the truth. Then there’s an attractive itinerant bard, who’s both dark and funny and seductive, as well as Trey, Angel’s long-suffering loving best friend—who would do anything for her. The villains are deliciously evil in an all-to-believable way: they’re not devils, they’re greedy, grasping aristocratic snots who slowly move from desiring land to being willing to murder in order to get it.

Q: Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/she is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one? 

A: Richard Curtis, of Richard Curtis Associates, is my wonderfully wise and canny agent. He told me to cut 100 pages from the final draft of The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. So I did. It was as if a beautiful statue had stepped forth from a block of marble—and as if Richard had seen it lurking there. But his role as agent is far more comprehensive—he shows the book around; he nudges editors; he’s got my back. Not all agents work at his level, of course (did I mention his sense of humor?), but I find it hard to imagine navigating the world of publishing without one.

Q: Did you, your agent or publisher prepare a media blitz before the book came out and would you like to tell us about it? 

A: Camille Collins, a publicist at HarperCollins, organized my blog tour, and she and my editor, David Pomerico, encouraged me to use social media—twitter, Facebook, my website ( to increase the excitement surrounding the launch of the ebook on March 8 (there will a print run in April). I don’t find it easy to self-promote, but this is not a time to be shy—The Book of Wisdom will not disappoint.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books? 

A: I’m at work on a book called The Genius Project. The genre is speculative fiction—it’s set in a future where the seas have risen, and California has fallen to anarchy. Beyond California to the east lies the Great Midwestern Desert. New York City, however, with the help of climate control, is holding out against infection and chaos. Saskia Cress, on the other hand—the seventeen-year-old heroine of the book—sees the weaknesses in the system—and the price that New York citizens must pay for order. Is the price too high? She has to live long enough to find out.

Meet the Author:

When Gillian Murray Kendall was a child, she spent multiple years in England while her father researched his biography of Richard III and her mother wrote children’s books. She thrived. She had stumbled into a wardrobe, and her enchanted world was England. That sense of belonging-in-the-strange shaped both Gillian’s life and her writing. In the 1980s, the months and months she spent in Africa waiting in lines for kerosene and milk and rice or camping while being circled by annoyed lions was a new normal, while Gillian found the once-familiar Harvard, with its well-stocked grocery stores, alien and unknown. She saw things in a way she could not before. Recently Gillian spent two years in Paris, where learning a new culture, a new strangeness, resulted in the writing of her first book, The Garden of Darkness, and the beginning of The Book of Forbidden Wisdom. She heartily recommends being knocked off one’s feet by the world. Gillian teaches English literature, primarily Shakespeare, at Smith College and is married to biologist Robert Dorit. She has two sons, Sasha and Gabriel.

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