Merow! Today my guest is author Julia Buckley!
Julia Buckley is a Chicago-area mystery writer. Her new book, A DARK AND STORMY MURDER, debuts in July. Find out more about her at JuliaBuckley.com
- Welcome Julia! Tell us a little about your background
Okay ROCCO! I was born in the suburbs of Chicago. My mom is from Germany and my dad is the child of Hungarian immigrants. I grew up loving to read and write, and I’ve really been writing, in one form or another, since I was a kid.
I am also a high school English teacher, a job I find particularly rewarding. However, it is challenging having two jobs, and some days it can be stressful!
- Tell us a bit about your latest release, A DARK AND STORMY MURDER. How did the idea for this new series come about?
I had already created a series for Berkley Prime Crime, but I told my agent that I wanted to write a different one. She called me and we batted ideas around over the phone. She had seen on my website that I loved all the great Romantic Suspense novelists of the mid-20th Century, including Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt. She suggested a series with a sort of Gothic spin as an homage to those names.
So I came up with the idea of a young woman who gets to live with her writing idol, a Mary Stewart type, and to become her writing partner. And, of course, they find a dead body.
- You also write the Undercover Dish mysteries. Tell us about those.
The premise of these is that Lilah Drake, a young chef, has a secret business making food for people who want to take credit for making food themselves. This becomes complicated when one of Lilah’s dishes is poisoned.
This was also a clever idea from my agent, Kim!
- How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I don’t really do any of those cool writer things like interviewing my characters or keeping a diary for them. I really just embroider them as I go along.
- How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
Both. I’ve always been a “let’s just start writing and see where this takes us” kind of writer, but my publisher does require a full outline at some point, so I do a bit of the first until I have to give them the second. J
- Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
Character. But that’s based on my own requirements as a reader. In some books, I don’t care how stupid the plot is if the character has an entertaining voice. Hopefully my plots aren’t bad, but I do think character is important for maintaining reader interest.
- What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
I’ve had a lot of deadlines in the last few years, and I’m glad to have them, but some days this was super challenging, especially as deadlines approached, or when the writing stalled. I don’t get writer’s block too often, but when I do, it can be painful.
- Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
I’ve had agents before that, for one reason or another, weren’t the right match for me. And as you and your readers may know, it’s not that easy to find a new one. However, I would advise your readers that persistence does pay off. I told myself that I would query at least 70 agents, and out of those I hoped to get about five who were interested (these odds seemed about right). So if I got a rejection, I would just say, “Hey, I haven’t sent out my seventy yet.”
So I kept sending out my query and three chapters of a recent novel, and guess what? I eventually did get interest from several agents. Kim was the one who said that the book wasn’t quite right for the genre, but that she would be willing to work with me on writing something else. And that’s what happened. It was a neat collaboration, and I’m glad she gave me a chance.
- What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I’m finishing the sixth book I contracted with Berkley. I do not yet know if either of my series will be extended, so after that I’d like to polish a YA novel that I wrote, and perhaps work on a thriller.
- What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
I teach, as I mentioned, so I am that job from 7 30-3:30 each day. It can be exhausting, so sometimes I just have to come home and decompress, along with doing dishes or folding laundry or making dinner.
So my writing time has to be found in between my other life obligations. Some evenings, weekends, and school vacations. I also teach in the summer, but these are shorter hours, so I get more writing done.
- If you could take only three books with your for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
Wow. It’s REALLY hard to narrow down. Today I would pick
1. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoevsky (not a boring classic at all, but a compelling thriller that is a novel of murder, redemption, faith, detection, suspense).
2. HAVE HIS CARCASE by Dorothy L Sayers. All of her Peter Wimsey books are great, but my favorites are the ones with Harriet Vane, and this one just had a tremendous plot from which a person could learn a lot about plotting.
3. SOMETHING BY P.G WODEHOUSE because his writing is so funny, especially when read aloud, that it would keep me amused all year.
- What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
The advice I gave above about being persistent. But also, hone your craft. I’ve met some people who care only about the idea of selling or being famous, but don’t care at all if their writing needs work. They want the accolades without the work. So I would also say, work on your writing. Go to classes and keep trying to make it better.
- What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
I’m not that crazy. I’m a stay-at-home kind of gal. I also don’t drink, but once in my college days a friend challenged me to drink what he called “a German shot” of whiskey. Since he and I are both part German, I took this as a challenge to my heritage, and drank the thing down, having no real tolerance for alcohol. It was so stupid, because I really could have died. It was like a tall juice glass full of whiskey.
Instead of dying, I simply lay down and went to sleep immediately—out cold. While I was unconscious, my friends carried me in a very obvious way back to my room, and the R.A. was alerted to my drunken state. The next morning I woke up and asked my roommate if SHE was in trouble, not realizing that I was.
And it’s so funny to contemplate, because I wasn’t a drinker then or now, but I did get in some serious trouble for that German shot.
- What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I have tons of phobias, including heights, bugs, storms, planes. I am afraid of just about everything. J
- What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
Interesting question! I guess it would be nice if people said “What are your other creative outlets?” Because I do love to paint in watercolors (and I have some art teacher pals at the high school who have been helping me build my strengths). I also love to sing.
- Where can we learn more about you and your books?
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day, especially morning.
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Both! I have a big Lab puppy named Digby, and three cats named Pibby, Panther and Mulliner. My son and I are already kind of longing for a new kitten. They all bring something special to our lives, although Digby is trying the patience of my husband. It’s kind of like having a horse in the house, and his idea of playing is to jump on my husband and “bite” him in play. Jeff is not very fond of that. J
Beach or Pool? I have never been a swimmer—I actually FAILED swimming in college. But I do love to walk along the beach because it is scenic and restful.
Steak or salad? Salad. Not a red meat person.
Favorite Drink? Diet coke.
Favorite Book? Crime and Punishment.
Favorite TV Series? So hard to pick! For comedy, probably 30 Rock or Arrested Development. For Drama, Broadchurch or Happy Valley or something.
Favorite Movie? The Bourne Identity.
Favorite Actor: Past—Cary Grant. Present—Harrison Ford.
Favorite Actress: Past—Hayley Mills Present—Melissa McCarthy
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Pina Colada!! I like to have at least one every summer on my patio. I favor the sweet drinks, when I imbibe.
Hawaii or Alaska? Hard to choose! But Hawaii.
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be Mary Stewart (which is what my book is about!!!)
If I had just one wish, it would be –Good health for my family and friends.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be Some singer—maybe someone like Sheryl Crow—so that I could sing the folksy songs I love. Or Tina Fey, who gets to write, be smart, open doors for women in male-dominated professions.
Thank you Julia! Folks you can find her at:
Facebook: Julia Buckley mystery novels
Pinterest: Julia Buckley
Instagram: Julia Buckley
Berkley has donated a copy of “The Big Chili” for one lucky reader to win!
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