Julia, which do you like writing best, the historical romance, or the contemporary romantic comedy?
I like them both very much! They each have their challenges, but because I switch back and forth between books—one in the morning, a break, and one in the afternoon—it keeps me fresh in each genre. If I ever get bored with castles and lords and ladies, I can write about modern women, and vice versa.
When did you decide to try writing as a career?
When I determined that a life as a bureaucrat was just like it was in the movies—dull, boring, and really, really dull. And then one day I found an Iris Johansen book that had a guy on the inside cover who was to die for. I had no clue that it was a romance, but I loved that book and went through a period of a few weeks where I read every book like it that I could find. And when I had completely saturated myself with dozens of them (remember: really boring job), I got the bright idea to try it myself.
How did you go about selling your first book? How long did it take?
Well here’s the funny thing. I must have lived right somewhere along the way, because I was one of the lucky ones who happened to be in the right place at the right time. The first book I wrote was a medieval romance. It was too long and too rambling, but I discovered an awful lot about sustaining a story over dozens of chapters. So I threw that into the closet and wrote Devil’s Love, my first book, then went and got a book (How to Get Published, or something like that I found at the bookstore) and followed the instructions. I sent a query to four agents simultaneously, and landed one within a week. I had a contract for two books with a real New York publisher two weeks after that. I knew nothing about the industry or even the romance genre, and everything happened so quickly that I wondered if perhaps it really wasn’t very hard to get published. I was very ignorant (please refrain from snorting all over your computer screen). Fortunately for us all, I am little wiser now and I know that my work hit my agent and the market at exactly the right time. I am truly humbled by my great dumb luck and eternally thankful for it.
How long does it take you to write a book?
About nine months from concept to delivery of the draft manuscript to my publisher. When I started, it took about six months, but now it takes longer. Each book is harder to write than the last, I think because I want to improve and expand and flourish with my writing, even though I don’t always know how to do it. Or, alternatively, it might be taking longer because I am taking way too many naps. Some in my circle (not Hugo and Maude) have made remarks about that.
What can you tell us about your writing process?
That I absolutely despise writing that first draft. I am filled with tremendous self-doubt with each new book and draft. It’s very frustrating—I can see the characters, I know their story, but it seems impossible to get what’s in my head down on paper. But I know I have to do it, and I can’t type or work fast enough to suit me—I want it all to magically appear on the screen in front of me so I can start what I like best—the process of turning that horrible first draft into a true story. That is the most exciting part of the creative process for me—improving and expanding on the original idea, adding depth, and watching the story and characters take shape before my very eyes.
Who is Lucy?
Lucy was this silly little girl with freckles and hair so red that blackbirds attacked her once! Okay, there is a little inside joke here. One of my sisters (the one, coincidentally, with the red hair) got mad at me for naming a pig Lucy in Wicked Angel. Apparently (and this was something I supposedly should have known all these years), Lucy had always been her favorite name and she thought it was deserving of a better character than a pig. She was really mad at me! So to make up for my slight, I started putting a Lucy in every book. She is always a different character or object, depending upon my whim, and it is a source of great amusement for me to see how long it takes my sister to find Lucy. It’s sort of like looking for Waldo. But I think there is a lesson here to be learned by all of us—never, ever, reveal intensely personal things about yourself to people you love because they will make fun of you.
If you could give one more piece of advice, what would you say to an aspiring novelist?
Keep at it, never stop, and believe. For every published author, there is one that could have, would have, should have, had the stars aligned just so. It’s not just a matter of talent—it’s also a matter of chance and opportunity. And until the stars align for you, just keep writing and improving your craft. That is truly the key—hard work will eventually be rewarded. Unless you want to be a singer. That seems really hard, no matter how hard you work. I think you have to win American Idol.