Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Author Interview with Julie Compton

Before launching into the fabulous blog chat with Julie, a few people have asked about Kathryn Magendie's radio interview and how they can hear her enlightening thoughts on writing, being an author, breaking the rules, and doing it your way. Here's the link to the the podcast the next time you have an hour to devote to soaking up the real deal, Kat style, on the novel writing journey. Interviewer Koren Motekaitis did a great job as well!


Now, in typical Gumbo Writer fashion, I wrote to Julie for a bookplate to put in my copy of her book Tell No Lies (and this will show again how old I am), and tried to lick-n-stick it to the inside cover page. How fun for me to learn that it was one of those "modern day" peel-n-stick kind?! Even after confessing to the author, she agreed to do this interview, so you can tell right off she's kindhearted, right? *grin*

Background from Internet Research:
Tell No Lies is a legal thriller described as a cross between Scott Turow and Jodi Picoult; a "whydunit" as opposed to a "whodunit."

Julie Compton writes of her publishing path, "...I didn’t use an agent, though I tried. I approached...agents, but I did so at first before it was ready – a common rookie’s mistake. I continued to work on the manuscript, revising, editing....I knew I was heading in the right direction when I started to get personalized rejections and constructive criticism. At some point I started approaching smaller publishers...and I was eventually offered a contract by a small publisher. It had been released (with a different title) for only a couple of months when an acquaintance staying at a rental property my husband and I own found a copy in a drawer, read it, liked it and gave it to someone she knew at Macmillan (my UK publisher)." [How's that for a great debut author story?]

More information, Julie's newsletter sign-up and blog links are at her website, but here's a taste:

I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, the setting for my first novel, Tell No Lies. Because I was the youngest of six children and the only girl, my parents used to tell everyone they found me in a basket on the doorstep.

I grew up in the suburbs, and as you might expect of someone living with so many boys, I was quite a tomboy. I've been asked many times why I wrote a novel from the male point of view...Most of what I write, in fact, is from a guy's point of view—I guess I just consider the male half of the species to be more interesting!

1.) What's your writing process like?

It's very organic. I'm not an outliner. I'm always a bit amazed at writers who can prepare an outline for an entire novel before they ever sit down to write. I'm unable to do that because I never really know my story when I first begin. Often I'll have a scene in my head, and I only learn more about the characters as I start to write it. Their story grows from there. This happened with Tell No Lies, my first novel. I had a scene in my head of two lawyers, a man and a woman who were both colleagues and friends, arguing about the death penalty. They were attracted to each other but weren't supposed to be. Those characters became Jack and Jenny. But other than this initial scene, I had no idea where the story would take me until a bit later, when I came across two news items that influenced the development of my themes.

The same thing happened with my second novel, Rescuing Olivia. The plot began from a short passage I'd written in response to a prompt at my writing workshop.

It's interesting, though, because even if I did know my story ahead of time, I don't think I'd outline it. I find that in the early days of a work-in-process, if I talk about it with others, I lose my energy and motivation to write it. I suspect outlining would have the same effect.

2.) Did you get a lot of rejections when querying agents/publishers? How'd you handle that stomach-knotting experience?
"A lot" is an understatement. I'm sure you've heard authors say "I could paper my walls with the rejections I received." Well, that's me. At first, I handled the numerous rejections the way many beginning writers handle them: I blamed anything and everything except my own writing. Eventually I started looking more critically at my work. It was a long process, but throughout I kept in mind something my Philadelphia writing workshop leader,
Alison Hicks, told our group: "It's not always the best writers who get published, it's the most persistent writers." I knew that if I could be anything, it's persistent! My persistence – both with respect to editing my work over and over and in pursuing opportunities – eventually paid off.

3.) When did you start writing seriously?
Like most writers, I've been writing as long as I can remember, but I didn't do it seriously until after my second daughter was born (she's fourteen now) and I left the practice of law to become a stay-at-home mom. I signed up for a writing workshop at my local YMCA (when I still lived in St. Louis) and just kept plugging away from then on. I did go back to practicing law for a time during those years, but I continued to attend a workshop at night and never stopped writing.

4.) Do you write poetry or other things besides the novel?
I used to write short stories and a bit of poetry. But I'd never call myself a poet by any stretch of the imagination. I still love writing short stories, but I find they are much harder to write than novels.

5.) If you knew then (before the debut novel) what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
Oh, I laughed out loud when I read this question! See, the first draft of my novel was 730 manuscript pages. Yes, 730 pages. And I really didn't know much about the business. I didn't understand that NO ONE was going to publish a 730-page debut novel from an unknown writer, especially when 300 of those pages were totally unnecessary and served only to slow the pace. But at the time I was writing it, I really wasn't thinking about publishing. I was simply having a good time developing the story and living in the characters' world every day. Now when I write, I'm very cognizant of structure and length. I still tend to write too much and have to go back and cut a lot.

I also would have learned more about promotion and started developing a promotion plan many months before my novel's release. I didn't understand that those first few weeks after a release are so crucial.

6.) Any advice for new writers?
If you write because it brings you joy, then don't give up. (On the other hand, if you write for fame or money, good luck.) Don't let the difficulties of the business get in the way of your dreams. At the same time, be willing to view your own work critically. I meet so many writers who blame everyone except themselves or their writing for their inability to get published. We all do it at some point, I think. But the ones who move beyond this stage will succeed. The ones who don't, won't.

7.) What are your writing/editing pet peeves?
Dialogue between two characters in which each character refers to the other by name every time one of them speaks. People just don't talk like this! I think many writers are guilty of it (I know I am, though I've gotten better), but it's important to go back and cut. The surest way to cure yourself of this habit is to read your work out loud to yourself.

Also, when writers don't understand the difference between editing and copy-editing. Too many believe their work has been edited when they or someone else has gone through the manuscript and corrected grammar and punctuation. They completely ignore or don't see larger problems with structure, plot, pacing, etc.

8.) Tell us something juicy or funny about your writing journey.
I'm sure there are many moments I'll remember after I hit the "send" key, but one in particular stands out (I suppose because there are visual reminders). The book launch for Tell No Lies took place in St. Louis (my hometown and the setting for the novel) at a fabulous independent bookstore,
Left Bank Books. The place was packed, thanks in large part to my wonderful mother-in-law and her many friends. I gave a small talk and did a reading, and afterward the audience asked me questions. After I had answered a number of questions from various people in the audience, I saw a hand go up in the back of the room. Of all people, the hand belonged to my husband. Now, anyone who knows my husband knows that he wouldn't ask a serious question in a setting like that. He's a bit of a prankster. Sure enough, he asked, "Where did you get the inspiration for the sex scenes in the book?" or something along those lines. For the first time in my life, I had a quick response. I simply said, "I don't know. Why don't you tell me?" We generated a lot of laughs with that exchange. I think people thought we'd planned it. But not wanting to be outdone, my husband wasn't finished with me. I spent the rest of the night at a table signing books and chatting with friends and family, but unbeknownst to me, the pictures taken at that table had an "interesting" backdrop (check out the magazine rack behind me), thanks to my hubby:

9.) If you had to have a different career, what would it be?
Other than returning to the practice of law? That's a tough question. I have a lot of interests, and I've pursued most of them to some extent. (I've been told I’m an overachiever – not sure if that's a compliment or an insult!) I have a pilot's license (which unfortunately hasn't been used in quite some time), and I often think I should have made flying my career. I also love animals and thought about being a vet. But I think there's a reason I never gave up writing, whereas I let other things fall by the wayside. I truly love the thought of getting in front of my keyboard each morning. Writing is the only thing that's been able to turn me into a morning person. (Well, that and the God-awful hour my girls have to leave the house for school.)

10.) What are you working on now?
Rescuing Olivia comes out in the U.S. on February 2, so I've been putting together my promotion plan. I'm also well into the first draft of a sequel to Tell No Lies. I never intended to do a sequel – after finishing the original, I was ready to move on to new characters, and I simply had no idea what the plot for a sequel would be – but so many readers have asked me whether there would be one that I finally started considering the possibility. And by the time I finished Rescuing Olivia, I had been away from Jack, Jenny, and Claire long enough that I thought it would be fun to jump back into their world. The first line popped into my head one day when I was driving home from my daughter's school. As usual, I didn't know where it would take me, but I loved the line, so as soon as I got home I started writing. I'm now about two-thirds of the way into it.


Debbie said...

This is one of the best interviews I've read. I want to have lunch with her. And her relationship with her husband - you know I love that kind of silly. I'll definitely check her out.

Stacy Post said...

Great interview, Angie! I'll have to pick up one of her books. Her husband was so funny. I hope there's not a secret author-spouse network...she handled his question brilliantly! Thanks for sharing.

Julie Compton said...

Debbie, if you're ever down near Orlando, let me know! We can talk books over our favorite tropical drinks. :-) Truly, I'm amazed at some of the friendships I've formed that started with an email from a fan. I talk about this a bit on my own blog. Angie is another good example, too. I hope I get to meet her in person someday.

Stacy, that was the first time I've EVER had a quick response, whether to his quick wit or to anyone else. I think I just got lucky that night.

Lori said...

Wonderful interview. I especially liked reading about Julie being an organic writer, not an outliner.

Rosaria Williams said...

This was fun and informative.

Unknown said...

This is a great, down to earth, interview. Somehow it made me feel like publication is something that can be achieved. YAY!

Suldog said...

Swell interview. Thanks to you both.

I especially liked the bit about the 730 manuscript pages. Very funny!

Deb Shucka said...

I can hardly wait to read Tell No Lies. This was a fun, funny and inspirational interview. What a great team the two of you are. Thanks, Angie, for another great job.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Debbie - Julie gave great interview, hunh? And for the dinner date...that would be a hoot!

Stacy - glad you enjoyed. Poor Julie had to do all the hard work. :)

The best thing about blogging is the connection factor, Julie. I love all these great people - writers and readers alike. Thanks again for doing the interview. (And I see you really do have a special way with words...just look how you told your beeswax about getting "lucky" after your signing.) hehe

Lori - I liked that too. Shows everyone can do it THEIR way and still succeed!

So glad you enjoyed, lakeviewer.

Suzanne - ditto and yes!

SulDAWG - it was def my pleasure. :)

Aww, Deb, if I could blush, I would. LOL

Karen said...

Wonderful interview. I'm so glad to hear Julie doesn't outline for a book. I don't either, I like to surprise myself. teehee...

Thanks for sharing that funny with your hubbie's question. Enjoyed this, very informative and entertaining.

Julie Compton said...

Thanks everyone! I enjoyed doing the interview. Angie asks some great questions; she makes it easy for her guests.

If any of you happen to read Tell No Lies, write and let me know. I love to hear what readers think of Jack. He's quite a lightning rod. ;-)

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Great interview Angie. Love the pic of you in front of the magazines. Very funny stuff.

Julie, my first manuscript was over 800 pages. I met an agent that wanted me to turn it into a script for a mini series! Live and learn. Love the pic of you in front of the magazines. Very funny stuff.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Karen - glad you liked it!

Julie - thank YOU. I can't wait to finish the book. :)

A mini-series, Elizabeth? How cool is that?

Anonymous said...

This was very helpful. Thanks to you both!

Becky said...

A sequel to Tell No Lies!?!! I cant wait! I havent finished the first yet though. I was reading last night and I just couldnt put it down, next thing I know its 2am and I had to be up for work 5 hours later... Im tired today, thanks Julie ;-) lol I loved the pic above, that seems like something my boyfriend would do. Unfortunately I have to wait until May for Rescuing Olivia as I'm in the UK :-( Great interview, I look forward to reading more from you. Thanks!!

Colleen Richardson said...

I have had the pleasure of meeting Julie in person (at our child's soccer games), overhear her talking about being a writer, (I love to read!)so I asked what she had written, my husband went out and bought "Tell No Lies" right away for me, I started reading it and couldn't put it down. I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel and also to read her new book "Rescuing Olivia". This interview was great. I love the story about her husband and can picture him saying that!! I wish nothing but the best for Julie, a real genuine great person!

Julie Compton said...

Elizabeth, you have to tell us -- did you go on to turn your behemoth script into a mini-series??
Thanks TTWC, I'm glad it was helpful. :-)
And Becky, I'm sorry you didn't get much sleep . . . That happens to me all the time. Love the book, hate the author for keeping me awake! ;-)

T. Frohock said...

Thank you, Angie and Julie!

I haven't read Tell No Lies yet, but I'm going to put it on my "to read" list. I'm starting to notice a lot of really good books are being published by the small presses.

What a relaxed, informative interview!

Good Luck, Julie!

Julie Compton said...

Thank you, Colleen! (What Colleen doesn't say is how she tapped me on the shoulder and said "I didn't mean to be evesdropping, but I heard you talking. Are you a writer?" LOL! Because in general, I'm not the best salesperson for my own work. I have difficulty with BSP . . . I must have been talker louder than usual that day!)
Teresa, thank you! I hope you enjoy it!

Helen Ginger said...

Great interview. Reading it, you feel like you got to know Julie, as well as her writing. Congratulations on your success!

Straight From Hel

Cheffie-Mom said...

I enJOYed reading this interview! Thank you for sharing!

Faith said...

If you haven't read "Tell No Lies" what are you waiting for? Treat yourself ... and I defy you to read the last paragraph and say you saw it coming. I love it and so did everyone I gave it to for Christmas last year.
The picture of Julie in front of the magazine rack is a classic ... "Beauty and the Beast" or "Beauty and the Feast" or something. I love the innocent, unsuspecting smile!!!!!!

Julie Compton said...

Thanks Cheffie-Mom! FYI, it's "Five for Fighting" and that song is sung by John Mayer. ;-) (You know what I'm talking about, don't you?)

Faith, you are such a sweetie. (Faith is one of my biggest and most tireless supporters.)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Wonderful interview, but what a teaser at the end. Julie, I want to know the first line!!

Carrie Wilson Link said...

I always enjoy author interviews, thank you, Angie!

Jessica Nelson said...

What an awesome interview! I'm glad you left it up Angie because I didn't realize I'd missed it!
I love the persistence quote, and overall, this is just a great story! An LOL
Congrats Julie!
Thank you. :-)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Becky - Isn't it great when you find out there's gonna be a sequel to a book you really love?

Colleen - Julie seems like the kind of person you hope gets to the top of the heap!

The fun was all mine, Teresa. :)

Thanks Helen.

So glad you enjoyed, Cheffie.

Good thoughts on the book; thanks, Faith & Eileen.

Jessica - really glad you caught the interview today!

Julie Compton said...

Thanks everyone. This was so much fun! It's like having an ongoing conversation.

Eileen, I really would like to tell you my first line, but I'm stopping myself for two reasons: One, if I talk about a WIP too early, I lose that little bundle of energy inside me that keeps me inspired and writing. Two, for all I know, by the time the final draft is done, it may not even be the first line anymore (or any line for that matter). I hope that's not the case, but you never know . . . Things change so much during revisions.

Jessica, writer friends always ask me, only half-jokingly, "Oh, so I have to buy a place and rent it out to get published?" There's no question that I definitely got lucky when that woman found my book at our rental place (and yes, it makes for a great story!). But my response is always, pray for luck to come your way, but keep working away at making the product the best it can be so that when/if luck arrives, you're ready. I have no doubt that if she'd come across my 730 page manuscript, she would have never mentioned to me that she found it! ;-)

K. said...

Great interview!!! I really enjoy these!

Uma said...

What an interview! I have read TELL NO LIES and I couldn't wait to get online, look up Julie's website and tell her how amazing it was! To all out there who haven't read it, GO GET A COPY... NOW!

Steve Jones Snr said...

Loved the answers to questions 1 and 6, I can really identify with what was said about the writing process, very similar to my own!
As a new writer, I find the advice to not give up is encouraging, thanks for that.

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