Julie L. Cannon is the author of the award-winning Homegrown series, published by Simon & Schuster and described as ‘Southern-fried soul food.’ Titles include; Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes, Mater Biscuit, and Those Pearly Gates. Her latest release, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Summerside Press Sept. 2010, was chosen as a Top Pick of Fall 2010 Releases by CBA Retailers & Resources magazine, and named a Nielsen’s Top 50 Inspirational Title. In addition to writing, Julie teaches creative writing workshops. She lives in Watkinsville, Georgia, with her husband, Tom, and their youngest son, Sam. Visit her website at juliecannon.info for more information.
Hi, Julie! Welcome to The Borrowed Book. Did you see yourself becoming a writer as a child? If not, what did you dream of being?
Mama says I was born telling stories, and bless her dear heart, she has saved all my little hand-made books from grade school on. However, when I went off to college, I was told to pursue a degree in Advertising because writing stories was not a practical (viable) way to make a living. I went to the University of Georgia and got my degree in Advertising from their School of Journalism in 1985. But, I remained a closet writer, penning things in my journals, and writing short stories, poems, and novels.
How long did you write before you sold your first book?
Well, I was born in 1962, and as I said, writing practically all my life, but it was not until 2001, when I was 39 that I sold Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes.
Many of the people who follow our blog are aspiring writers themselves. Can you share your favorite writing tip with them?
I read, read, read, read, read, and read some more. Typically I’m in the middle of several different books – both fiction and nonfiction. Also, I have a well-used collection of books on the craft of writing, and even now, after writing nine novels and an untold number of short stories, I study them. I mean, I highlight, underline things, make notes in the margins, and try to absorb them by osmosis. I treat my writing like a job. Though it is generally a joy to me, I sit my behind in my chair for at least five days a week and I write a minimum of 1,000 words a day. I don’t usually keep all those words, but I find they are necessary in the process to uncover the story I want to tell.
Now for the readers…many times, it’s easy for them to connect with the characters in a book, but not so much the authors themselves. Share something about your day-to-day life that might help a reader to feel as though they know you a little better.
I’m smiling because it’s taken a long time for me to accept just who I am and how I work best. Seems I’m the methodical type (maybe that’s why I’m a member of the Methodist church?) and so, after I wake up, make really strong coffee, I sit in ‘my chair’ and I pray and read my Bible and meditate. I ask God to ‘Give me a heart to write stories about His goodness and the language to speak it well.’ Then, I sit myself in my chair and add my perspiration to His divine inspiration.
Now that you are published, do you still experience rejections? If so, how are these rejections different or similar to the ones you received before becoming published?
Oh, yes. I’ve got two novels, dear to my heart, unpublished and sitting in a drawer of my desk. They were rejected many times. I’ve been rejected many times – by agents and publishers and editors. My rejections are different now because they’re focused more on content than on craft. My agent will say, “I don’t think there’s a market for characters on the fringes right now, Julie,” or, “Maybe it’s time to write something more urban.” Used to be, I was told, “Stay away from dumping your character’s backstory in the first 50 pages of your novel,” and “Flashbacks slow your story down.”
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Here’s the copy on the back of the book jacket of I’ll Be Home for Christmas – It’s Christmastime 1944 and Maggie Culpepper finds herself far from home and those she holds dear. With the U.S. at war and Maggie’s heart reeling from the death of her saintly mother, she had impulsively stumbled into a recruiting center and enlisted in the U.S. Navy WAVES. Anger at God and fear of the out-of-control feelings that accompany love caused her to run from the marriage proposal of William Dove, her boyfriend and longtime neighbor. Though a childhood bout with polio left William physically unfit for military service, he wages an all-out battle to recapture Maggie’s heart. Will Maggie ever be able to open her heart to love again . . . and find her way home for Christmas.
If you could only share one line from I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which one would you choose and why?
I would pick a line said by Tyronious Byrd, my favorite character in the book:
“God use the dark and the light. He the divine artist workin’ to create Hisself a masterpiece fit for heaven.”
This is meaningful to me, because it shows me that even the hard things, the valleys in my life, are for a purpose.
Writers often put things in their books that are very personal—like a funny story that happened to them, a spiritual truth they learned through difficulty, or even just a character trait that is uniquely theirs. Is there something in I’ll Be Home for Christmas that only people close to you know is about you or someone you know?
What Tyronious Byrd has been through, the loss of his wife and children, is much, much more difficult than the things I count as my ‘hardships.’ In college, I suffered a serious brain injury from a bicycle wreck, and thus, I cannot drive and have occasional neurological issues. But, writing his story, his ‘soul travail,’ I used a lot of things gleaned from my own spiritual ponderings about what I’ve been through, am going through.
Readers often talk a lot about the hero and heroine of a story, but today I’d like to know something about your villain. Does he or she have a redeeming quality? Why or why not?
Seems the villain, at least in my heroine’s eyes, is God. Maggie’s furious at God because of her mother’s untimely death. Yes, He has a ‘redeeming quality.’ Many of them.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book? Can you share some articles or website links you found particularly helpful?
I did a ton of research on WWII, as well as on the lifestyles and society of the 1940’s here in Georgia. Also researched black dialects for Tyronious Byrd, as well as Christmas tree farms. On-line I found a woman’s journal from when she was an active member of the Navy WAVES.
Tell us what new projects you’re working on.
I have finished a novel called Twang which is coming from Abingdon in the fall of 2012. Here’s the ‘pitch’ for it that I taped to my notebook and read repeatedly as I was writing: Haunted by a dark past, country music diva Jenny Cloud pours her pain into the autobiographical lyrics of one hit song after another until finally the soul-wrenching aspect of her art gets to be too much and she wonders if the price of fame is worth the cost.
I’m in the middle of writing a novel tentatively titled Scarlett Says.
The most common thing I hear when people learned I’ve published a book is, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Faced with this statement, what advice would you give to someone just starting out in this business?
I would tell them to buy and study writing ‘How-To’ books, to attend writers conferences, join some on-line communities about writing, and read, read, read in the genre they’re aspiring to, and of course, to write, write, write, write, and write some more.
What is the one question you were afraid I would ask…and how would you answer?
Hmmm . . . Perhaps it is this; What aspect of being a published author do you like least? My answer would be the marketing, hawking of my own books. You may have heard it said that ‘Writers write, and authors speak.’ I hear a lot of authors say they’re uncomfortable selling their own wares, because they’re artists. Back when I first began this, personal author book tours were the norm. The internet was not such a huge place for marketing yet. I went on extensive (and expensive in terms of time and money) book tours all over the place! The hard things was, I was struggling with Laliaphobia - the fear of public speaking. Thanks to God, I’m over that now, and even teach numerous writing courses. Some advice about overcoming Laliaphobia: PRAyer and PRActice. I had to do hundreds of speeches/literary talks, while continually praying for help.
Great advice! Thanks for stopping by, Julie.
Julie is giving away a copy of her book, I'll Be Home for Christmas. Stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!