Little Willow: Congratulations on the release of your new book, My Best Frenemy!
Julie: Thank you!
Little Willow: What were you like when you were Ida May's age?
Julie: I was quiet, shy and artistic - a lot like Ida herself. I had a few close friends and many imaginary friends.
Little Willow: How many books will be in the series?
Julie: We have three books out now and I've written a fourth book which is scheduled to release Summer 2011 from Dial. The title is My Forever Friends. My editor and I are talking about what we want to do next with Ida and her friends. A fifth book? A different series altogether? Stay tuned. :)
Little Willow: Did you write the second and third books due to sheer inspiration - you felt compelled to write more about Ida and her family and friends - or did you get a book deal which inspired and set up the series?
Julie: I didn't come into this with any idea that my publisher would make the books into a series. I wrote one book and thought, "Now my life is complete." Then my editor asked, "Would you like to write another one?" So I did. Same for the third. The fourth book was the scariest because I received the contract based on a synopsis. But, now that it's done, I very much enjoyed writing the book in that way. And knowing that my editor fully believed in my ability to get the job done really boosted my confidence as a writer.
Little Willow: When did you decide to call the line Friends for Keeps?
Julie: My publisher branded the series last year. I really didn't get to decide. I just nodded a lot and butt-hopped a little.
Little Willow: At your website, you've shared deleted scenes from your first book, My Last Best Friend. Roughly how much of your manuscripts hit the cutting room floor during revisions?
Julie: A big chunk. I create a "scrap folder" when I start a new project and put all the stuff I cut from the manuscript into it while I'm revising. The scrap folder is my security blanket. I tell myself, "I can always put that scene (or character or story thread) back into the story." But I rarely take anything back out of the scrap folder even though many pages go into it.
Little Willow: What was the hardest part about writing a sequel?
Julie: Worrying that it will somehow be a disappointment to my young fans.
Little Willow: The easiest part?
Julie: Having extra room to really get to know my characters.
Little Willow: Ida and her friends have a "daremony" in My Best Frenemy. When asked, "Truth or dare?" which option do you usually select? (Don't worry -- I won't ask you to reveal a truth or take a dare now!)
Julie: I usually choose truth over dare because I've always been a scaredy-cat. I didn't learn how to ride a bike until I was thirteen mostly out of fear that I might fall or get my toes caught in the spokes. Don't even get me started on my fear of somersaults.
Little Willow: I don't know how to ride a bike, but I do love somersaults! In 1980, you were crowned queen at your senior prom, as seen here. Have you attended any high school reunions?
Julie: Yes, my 25th class reunion, five years ago
Little Willow: Did anyone surprise you by being or acting differently than they were in school, or how you remembered they were?
Julie: There were only 43 kids in my class (which probably explains how I got voted prom queen), so you'd think I would have been able to recognize everyone at the reunion. But I kept having to ask, "Who are you?" Then they'd tell me and I'd slap my forehead and say, "No way! You used to have hair!" or some such. I couldn't get over how much we had all been altered by time and circumstance. Not just physically. Our stories had changed too. We were a "rough around the edges" class, to say the least. We knew it. Our teachers knew it. So did the local police department. Our graduation motto was: "Face the sun and the shadows will fall behind." Our reunion motto was: "Yea! We're all still alive." So that's what we celebrated. Life. And the discovery that time and circumstance aren't necessarily bad things. They can give you room to grow and change, on the outside and on the inside too.
Little Willow: How do you think you have changed since high school?
Julie: Everyone at the reunion told me I had changed the most, even though I still had all my hair. I think they were referring to my personality, though. I'm more outgoing now than I was in high school. I feel more at home in my own skin and more willing to share who I am with others.
Little Willow: Have you or would you ever write a book for an older audience, be it teens or adults?
Julie: I love writing for young readers. It never feels like this is somehow a "stepping stone" to some other kind of writing. It's a hard, multi-faceted rock all on its own. Someday I might like to try writing for older teens. I don't think I know enough big words to write for adults.
Little Willow: How did your parents' professions (or work ethics) inform your childhood, and then your own chosen profession?
Julie: I grew up on a forty-acre farm where my dad raised sheep. He also worked full time as a cabinet maker at a small church furniture factory. My mom raised four kids, kept a big vegetable garden (which I often had to weed), and worked at various jobs throughout my childhood. My parents put in long, hard days and then drank a pot of fully-leaded coffee to unwind before going to bed at night. So, hard work and perseverance and strong coffee certainly informed my childhood and influenced the way I approach my work/life today.
My parents were also very social. They often invited family and friends over for a meal or a game of cards. The grown-ups would linger over their desserts and tell stories about the old days, share their opinions about politics, and debate the latest innovations in farm machinery. I would stay and listen to them talk – sometimes hiding under the table so I wouldn't have to help my siblings with the dishes. In listening, I learned the rhythm of storytelling and the importance of timing – what made people laugh and what created a pause in which they could ponder. All of that has shaped my writing and who I am today.
Little Willow: I love the image of you hiding under the table! What makes you want to write?
Julie: Usually I see or hear something that sparks an idea for a scene. That scene then grows into a story. For example, my second book, My New Best Friend, came about because of a spooky mermaid nightlight. We use such a nightlight as a gag prize for youth group games at my church. One day I wondered, "What if Ida found a spooky mermaid nightlight in her attic? What would she do with it?" After that, I very much wanted to write a story that would answer those questions. So I did. :)
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