Normally when I stay up late into the night ignoring the fact that I should be sleeping (my students just don't understand what sleep deprivation does to their music teacher!) it's because I am caught in the grips of a dark paranormal romance or the intrigue of a romantic suspence. Rarely does this happen with a straight up contemporary. When it does, it is a rare and beautiful thing. When it does happen, it is with a book like Just the Sexiest Man Alive.
After reading the book and discovering that the author, Julie James, is a fellow Chicagoan, I just had to contact her for an interview. I was ever so pleased when she agreed. (Extreme understatement.) Now with her latest book, Practice Makes Perfect, fresh on the shelves she is getting ready for a signing this coming Saturday. Before I get my grabby little hands on the book (and meet Julie for the first time), she and I had a little chat...
Me: Hi Julie, welcome to What Women Read! I am so glad you could join me over here. So let's get to it! When did you first realize you wanted to write?
Julie: First of all, let me start by saying thanks so much for having me here, Shannon! In terms of when I first realized I wanted to write, that actually took me awhile to figure out. I'm a lawyer, and I spent several years practicing at a large firm in Chicago before I even began to think about writing. But somewhere along the way, I came up with what I thought was a good idea for a romantic comedy film. So in my spare time, I wrote a screenplay. Having no idea whether it was any good, I started querying agents and managers in Hollywood. The screenplay was well-received, and I signed with an agent who optioned the script to a producer. I wrote a second script, which was also optioned. After that happened, I began to think about writing as a career. I thought about it for a long time (during which I wrote three more screenplays), and then ultimately decided to quit my job to write full-time. It was a nerve-wracking decision, but happily one that I've never regretted.
Me: What was it like when you sold your first book?
Julie: Amazing!! And partially because it happened at such a crazy time-- my son was about two weeks old when my agent called and said that Berkley wanted to buy Just the Sexiest Man Alive as part of a two-book deal. She told me that they wanted to know what my second book would be, and that I needed to put together a synopsis, and here I was panicking and thinking, "Um... I have a fourteen day-old baby, I barely have time to shower..." So I came up with a rough idea, and I pitched it to my editor while I was outside, pushing my son in the stroller, because it was the only time I could be certain he'd fall asleep. And I didn't want to cross over onto any busy streets that might wake him up, or past the "L" tracks, so I basically walked up and down this one block for the entire half-hour phone call. I'm sure the people living in those houses thought I was either crazy or majorly sleep-deprived.
Me: When starting a new book, do you start with character or plot?
Julie: I usually start with the plot, but just the very basic idea. Then I develop the characters, and they tell me what they're going to do and what the outline of the story will be.
Me: Can you describe your writing process?
Julie: I'm a plotter. I come up with the basic idea, then I think about who the heroine and hero are, and after that I sit down and outline. I write detailed outlines-- like twenty pages or so-- that include plot, motives, character background, and even some snippets of dialogue. I do detailed outlines because that's how I can tell if I have enough of a story to sustain an entire book. What's funny, though, is that after drafting the outline, I hardly ever look at it while I'm actually writing the book. By then the entire story is so well mapped out in my head, I don't really need it.
Me: Since your characters work in the same profession as you have, what kind of research do you do for your books?
Me: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Julie: Whew-- what a tough question! Hmm... there's nothing that jumps out at me that I would change with Practice Makes Perfect. That being said, there were definitely times when writing the book that I thought, "Uh-oh, can I do this?" Since both of the characters are strong-willed and determined to one-up the other in their war to make partner, there were occasions when I would know what the character wanted to do, but I worried about whether his or her actions were crossing the line. But then I just decided that if their actions were real and true, that's what I needed to write--even if I was sitting at my computer going, "I can't believe he/she just did that!"
Me: What do you do if/when writers block strikes or motivation lags?
Julie: Knock on wood, I don't really get writer's block where I can't think of anything to write. But what does happen is that I'll try to write a scene that's just not working. I'll be spinning my wheels, writing and deleting, over and over. What I need to do then, as much as I hate leaving a scene unfinished, is just get up and walk away from the computer. I'll take the dog for a walk, or go get coffee or work-out, and I swear within minutes of not thinking about it, the way to fix the scene will come to me. I think, sometimes, the subconscious needs to take over when our conscious self is trying too hard.
Me: What was it like to write a book set in your hometown?
Julie: I loved writing a story that takes place in Chicago! So much so that I decided to set my third book here as well. It's great for a lot of reasons: first of all, it saves me time having to do location research. Second, and more important, I love being able to showcase Chicago because it's such an amazing city. I use a lot of actual locations and landmarks in the book--bars, restaurants, Wrigley Field, the federal courthouse-- and hopefully those scenes capture the essence of the city.
Me: What is next on your horizon?
Julie: I've just finished writing the first draft of my third book for Berkley/Penguin and I'm really excited about it! It's about a female Assistant U.S. Attorney who by chance witnesses a high-profile murder involving a U.S. Senator. The FBI agent assigned to the investigation is a man from her past that she doesn't get along with. The proverbial sparks fly as the two of them work together on the case, and even more so when it turns out that the killer might be after her. It's another romantic comedy set in Chicago, although I do sneak in a thrill or two with this one.
Me: What book are you reading now?
Julie: I'm currently reading Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock for my book club. And then next up in my TBR pile is Fragile by Shiloh Walker and Nalini Singh's Angels' Blood.
Me: Favorite color?
Me: Favorite author?
Julie: Jane Austen. I love all of her books, although Pride and Prejudice is my favorite-- I re-read it every year.
Me: Do you ever use music as inspiration while writing? If so, what songs inspired your books?
Julie: Absolutely! I come up with a playlist that I think goes with the tone of whatever book I'm writing and I listen to those songs whenever I'm having trouble getting the right feel of a scene. For Just the Sexiest Man Alive, one of those songs was "Inner Smile" by Texas (from the Bend it Like Beckham soundtrack) and for Practice Makes Perfect, one song I listened to a lot was "Tenderness" by General Public. The songs for the book I'm currently writing were a little different: because the book has this sort of noir-ish suspense subplot, I listened to a lot of Billie Holiday, and, oddly, "Disturbia" by Rihanna. Kind of a strange combination. : )
Me: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Julie: One thing I would encourage aspiring writers to do is to pay attention to dialogue. Make it sound real. Sure, sometimes characters say exactly what they're thinking and feeling, but a lot of times they don't. Oh-- and write male characters that speak and think like actual men-- not the way us women sometimes wish they spoke and thought!
Thank you so much, Julie!!! Now I can't wait until Saturday when we get to meet and I can dive in to Practice Makes Perfect. Any Chicagoans out there? Come joins us!
Saturday, March 14th
Barnes and Noble
1441 Webster Ave.