The Inspiration for "The Black Velvet Coat"
Written by
Jill G. Hall
October 2015
Written by
Jill G. Hall
October 2015

It’s been a long journey but my first novel, The Black Velvet Coat was just published by She Writes Press! After a twenty-plus year career as a public school educator, I turned to writing. With my background, I thought I’d compose a children’s book or a classroom memoir, but that’s not what happened at all. To learn how to write I began to attend a weekly prompt based drop-in writing group. Writing in community helped keep my pen to the page and continue going even when I wanted to stop.

Months later I tried on a coat at a yard sale, loved it, but thinking it was too fancy, passed on it. That night I dreamt about it and early the next morning I knocked on the neighbor’s door; then it was mine. Shortly thereafter, the coat showed up on my writing practice pages with Anne, a San Francisco artist, in search of collage fodder, buying it at a thrift shop. The Black Velvet Coat was born. I’m also an artist, and carouse resale boutiques to find found objects and old magazines to use for my work.

I continued to intuitively write, and Sylvia, a beautiful blonde heiress from an earlier San Francisco era, appeared visiting Tiffany’s looking for something special to wear on her own black coat. She found a sparkly snowflake pin “…about the size of a silver dollar, it was almost as light as a real snowflake might be, but this one certainly wouldn’t melt. She squeezed it in her palm, the permanence comforting.” I then rushed out to antique malls and hunted until I found a snowflake pin to add to the collar of my own coat.

Both of these female characters from different generations kept showing up week after week, time and again, as if they were haunting me to tell their stories. Soon I was hooked. I kept attending the drop-in group, but at home I worked to develop my daily writing practice. I then spent over ten years on it, rewriting many drafts with the guidance of expert novelists who led read and critique groups and professional editors.

For a long time I knew exactly what my dream cover for the novel would look like. My original yard sale coat with a snowflake pin on its collar would float on it. Brooke Warner, She Writes publisher, liked the idea of using the original coat and had me ship it to Julie Metz, the cover designer on the East Coast. A week later I received a draft attached to an email and a chill went up my spine. It was exactly what I had dreamed of! Julie had hung the coat on a wooden hanger and put it on an old door with peeling paint, complete with an old brass knob. Just how I had imagined Anne’s run-down San Francisco studio apartment looked. The stars at the top could have been right out of the Northern Arizona desert sky that Sylvia had gazed at during her redemptive journey. And at the bottom, clouds reminiscent of an angry sea reminded me of the “scene of the crime.” The cover exactly captured the magical feeling of the novel. They say you can’t tell a book by its cover, but if one could this certainly was it. And now that my novel is out I’m excited to make presentations and visit book clubs wearing the coat!

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