Jillian Medoff’s most recent novel is I Couldn’t Love You More, which came out this past May from Grand Central Publishing. She is also the acclaimed author of Good Girls Gone Bad and Hunger Point, which was adapted into an original Lifetime movie starring Barbara Hershey and Christina Hendricks. You can find her on facebook and twitter.
Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
Jillian Medoff: I drank my first beer with Leif Pederson, Hara Axelrod and Gregg Smith in the alleyway behind Authon Drive in Dallas, Texas. I was a very busty 14-year-old, wearing too-tight jeans, a face full of make up and, incredibly, very high heels. Hara and I had snuck out of our respective houses to meet Leif and Gregg, much older, freaky boys who’d brought two six-packs of Budweiser. It was a hot, humid night, and although my first sip was ice cold, it was also kinda disgusting–metallic and loamy with a rancid aftertaste. The four of us, a double date of sorts, had nowhere to go, so we walked up and down the alleyway for hours, drinking. Actually, Leif, Gregg and Hara drank; I only pretended. I didn’t like the beer but I didn’t want to be a goose, so after every fake sip, I’d “stumble” on my stupid high heels and spill beer out of my can. Leif, Gregg and Hara got wildly drunk; I stayed stone sober.
How did/does your family treat drinking?
In my lower middle-class Jewish family, food was our religion, and by food I mean dieting. Everything my sisters, my mother and I (and on occasion, my father) put into our mouths was quantified, cataloged and then discussed. Alcohol, full of empty calories, was far less important, and although my parents kept a few bottles in their 70’s-style wet bar for company, they were never big drinkers, or even drinkers. If we went out for dinner, my father might order a scotch, and my mother a glass of wine or white liquor, which was less fattening than, say, bourbon. Also, Weight Watchers allowed a glass of wine in exchange for a fruit, a bread and a floater (this was long before points). My parents were sippers, not gulpers, and I can’t remember either of them ever ordering another round. In the past few years, though, they’ve become wine drinkers, and will both have a glass or two in the late afternoon and maybe another with dinner. What’s funny is that these two non-drinkers are suddenly obsessed with Shiraz. All they want is Shiraz. Shiraz! Shiraz! Like it’s some kind of holy water. “Do you want a glass of wine?” they’ll ask me. “We have Shiraz!” I don’t get it, but maybe I’m not supposed to.
How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?
I don’t think about alcohol at all. If I’m in a social situation, I’ll have a glass of wine, but only one, maybe two. Occasionally–and I can think of maybe a handful of times in the past year–I might have a third, although that will make me want a fourth, along with nachos and eight or nine tacos. If I have more than one glass, I’ll feel it the next morning, and I’m a novelist with a corporate job and three kids, so every moment of my day is accounted for. In general, I’m like a guitar string pulled tight. I mean, I am wound up. Even when I was younger, and had no husband or kids, I was this way: determined, full of plans, with a laser-like focus. So as much as I love the buzz of a third glass of wine–and don’t get me wrong, I love that lazy, hazy, who-gives-a-shit release–I can’t tolerate the sick stomach, foggy head, and nausea the next day.
Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?
I drank a lot in college, especially as a freshman and then again as a senior. I was always counting calories, so I usually drank my dinner. Despite my initial distaste of beer, I eventually got used to it, largely because it was available. I’d get drunk fast, then fade out equally fast. I wasn’t a girl who could hold my liquor. I always wanted to be able to keep up, but alas, I was–I still am–uncool. On the other hand, I was a cheap, and often easy, date. Ironically, if I was drinking, we’d go out afterward and eat massive quantities of French fries, so I ended up consuming twice as many calories than had I eaten a decent dinner and had a beer or two. Similarly, the next morning, I’d wake up so sick, I’d eat my body weight in cinnamon raisin bagels to settle my stomach.
I went through another drinking phase right after I sold my first novel. At the time, I was thirty-one, and working four days a week at a corporate job while writing books, so my life was very regimented: I worked Monday through Thursday and wrote two nights a week, all day Friday and all day Saturday. One night, I was at a party, and met a wildly handsome man who asked if I wanted a drink. When I declined, claiming I had to be in the office early the next morning, he looked at me like I was crazy. “You just sold your first novel!” he said. “You should be getting drunk and having sex with strangers in stairwells.” It occurred to me that this was his way of asking me to have sex, and although I didn’t (that night), I did wonder if maybe he was right, if I was too uptight and not enjoying myself enough or living the way a writer should.
So I started going out more and staying out late, and having that third then fourth drink, trying to play out this supposedly romantic idea of being a writer. I was miserable, though, and the experience was short lived. The hangovers and foggy head didn’t lend themselves to a successful writing day, much less a successful working day followed by a writing night. And forget about a successful writing weekend. The truth is, there is no romanticism when it comes to writing; there is the harsh light of day, the blank page, and eight long hours alone. And when you consider the splitting headaches, the vomit, the missed deadlines and sick days, there’s even less that’s romantic about drinking.
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
It depends on the situation. Usually, I’ll order chardonnay. I’d rather drink cold than hot or room temperature, and I love a chilly glass of cold wine. In the summer, I love vodka and tonic, especially sitting by the pool. My all-time favorite, though, is a margarita on the rocks with chips and salsa.
My favorite times to drink are when there’s good news to celebrate. Engagements, new babies, new jobs, new agents, book deals, even an amicable divorce–what better time to call a group of friends and raise a glass?
What about the worst time?
The worst times I’ve had drinking are when I start out in a nasty mood, which is then made worse by a few glasses of wine. I will snap at people, create drama, demand attention, and put a damper on what might have otherwise been an enjoyable evening. Knowing how sharp-tongued I can get, I try to abstain when I’m moody.
What do you like most about drinking?
I love bars. I love the drinking culture–the clink of glasses, the first sip, the toasts, the big laughs, the camaraderie. When I’ve had a drink or two, I feel more present, more lovable, funnier, sexier, more audacious, less uptight. I’m more me; rather, I’m more a “me” that I like and enjoy being with–at least up until the point when I say something horribly inappropriate and fall into a shame-spiral. The better me is an illusion, of course, but there’s a lot to be said for letting go, even if only once in a while.
If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?
We’re very casual about alcohol. My three kids are fairly widespread in terms of age–nineteen, fourteen, and nine–but we’ve spoken with them together and individually about alcohol, positive and negative, and the importance of moderation. I think they’re lucky that their lives haven’t been touched by alcoholism in either my family or my husband’s. They haven’t seen any negative fallout from any type of substance abuse, actually. However, I don’t know if this will make them more or less inclined to drink in college. I do know that they understand the dangers inherent in abusing alcohol, but this may only be on an intellectual level, not on an emotional or experiential level. My husband drinks more often than I do. He’ll have a glass or two of wine after dinner every night, so the kids understand that you can enjoy wine and not become an alcoholic, or even behave irrationally or irresponsibly.
On the other hand, my younger daughters are very impressionable, especially my middle girl, who I often fear is most inclined to succumb to peer pressure, or to lead her friends on misadventures. We’re fairly open about most subjects, so hopefully, we’ll be able to discuss these issues when they arise, which (again, hopefully) will be long before either girl needs rehab.
Author Photo Credit: Marion Ettlinger