Mormon Artist

Julie Berry

Julie Berry grew up in western New York. She holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. She now lives in eastern Massachusetts with her husband and four sons. All the Truth That’s in Me (September 2013, Viking) is Julie’s first YA novel. It has earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, BCCB, and the Horn Book. It’s been named a Junior Library Guild selection and Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults title by YALSA, and a Top Ten TAYSHAS title by the Texas Library Association. It’s been nominated for the Whitney Award for Young Adult Fiction, the Edgar Award for Young Adult Mystery, and Australia’s Inky Award for teen literature, and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal for fiction in the UK. It is also a Horn Book Fanfare title, a Kirkus Best Teen Book of 2013, a Boston Globe top YA for 2013, and a School Library Journal best of 2013 selection. It will be published in twelve international countries and territories. Julie is also the author of The Amaranth Enchantment and Secondhand Charm (Bloomsbury) and the Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys series (Penguin Books for Young Readers). A forthcoming middle grade release is The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (Fall 2014, Roaring Brook). Julie’s works appear in audio and international versions worldwide. Website
Photo courtesy Bruce Lucier

Have you always envisioned yourself as a writer? Or was there a particular instance that put you on the path to a writing career?

I think on some level I always dreamed of being an author, and hoped it would be possible. On other levels I doubted my ability and my discipline. Even if I could muster both, I doubted whether authorship was a valid career goal. Would it pay the rent? It took me until I was thirty to realize how much I wanted to write, and to find the courage to pursue it professionally. I’ve always felt that the birth of my fourth and youngest son was the catalyzing event in my writing career. It doesn’t make any logical sense, but soon after he was born, I felt led to start writing. Doors of opportunity began to open, and ideas and motivation came. I like to say that my youngest brought it as a gift to me.

You write both young adult and middle grade novels. Do you prefer to write one over the other?

I enjoy both. Young adult and middle grade fiction present different opportunities, and I enjoy seizing both because variety keeps writing interesting. I enjoy the whimsy that sometimes seems more possible in middle grade, and I enjoy the romance and danger that can be, perhaps, more fully expressed in young adult literature. Of course, young adult lit also has room for whimsy, and middle grade can be romantic and adventurous as well.

Image courtesy Julie Berry

What motivates you to write?

I love to do it. I’m always happiest when I’m making progress on a draft of a new book. Not just happy; joyful. But life has a pernicious tendency to get in the way of writing, even though it’s what I love to do. So that’s the struggle. Having contracts and deadlines to write helps cut through the obstacles, at least in theory.

Tell us about your writing process—do you have a specific routine or time you like to write?

Oh, how I wish. I used to write at night when my children were younger and went to bed earlier–and, in truth, when I also was younger and more energetic. Now that I have three teenagers with later schedules and earlier alarm clocks, I write during the day when they’re in school. But much of my work time is occupied by the business side of authorship, so that’s a challenge. I don’t have any special routine. Flip open your laptop, find your document, frown at the last few pages you wrote, then dive in.

Where do you typically draw your storyline inspiration from?

Storyline inspiration comes very differently for each project. Some, including the idea for my latest novel, All the Truth That’s in Me, come from a stray idea I snagged out of the ether and did something with; some come about with some deliberate intention and planning, such as my Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys series. I have learned to be much more attuned to unpredictable bolts when they come from the ether. You just never know when one may pay rich dividends.

Image courtesy Julie Berry

Can you tell us more about writing All the Truth That’s in Me?

I’ve never felt a clearer, surer sense of a character than I felt for Judith as I wrote All the Truth That’s in Me. There was never a real question in my mind about what she would do in a given situation. I knew. Sometimes you hear authors say that the characters are in charge or that the characters wrote the story, and it may, perhaps, sound contrived, but that’s how this project felt for me. After all she’d suffered, I agonized over how I might help her find a victory, but I need not have worried. Judith pulled it off all on her own, with surprising elegance, I thought. I felt and feel so lucky to have found her. She’s the kind of character writers pray to discover.

All the Truth That’s in Me is written in a second-person narrative. As such a foreign concept to even the most avid reader, why did you choose to write it this way?

It was foreign enough to me that I wanted to give it a try. I was writing an essay for graduate school at Vermont College of the Fine Arts, and I read some material in a craft book about point of view. After reading the discussion on second-person voice, and why it was so rarely used, I wondered if I ought to attempt it. That’s how this project began. I realized not far into it that I wasn’t really writing true second-person, where the “you” persona is the reader himself or herself, but rather a form of first-person address to another character. Even so, I liked the groove I’d gotten into, so I stayed there.

What do you hope your readers take away from your books?

Marvelous entertainment; a thoroughly engrossing escape. That’s enough for me.

Have you ever toyed with the idea of writing for the LDS market? Or do you enjoy publishing in the broader, mainstream market?

I have toyed with the idea, but only briefly. My hope and goal was always to write books that would be found in libraries and bookstores around the world.

Photo courtesy Julie Berry

What advice would you give to Young Julie as she embarks on the path to becoming a published author?

What I’d give for that time machine! I would tell Young Julie not to worry if her early stories and poems fell flat or weren’t impressive. I would tell her that writing, like any other skill, develops with time and patience, and not to let her frustration with the poor quality of her best efforts deter her from believing in her potential. I would also tell her to write freely, boldly, without fear of whatever her creativity might produce. This is the message I try to share with students today.

How do you see fiction fitting in with the gospel?

A fascinating question. If Christianity is a religion of the book, just as Judaism and Islam are, then Mormonism is a religion of the book, squared. We’ve got extra books. Deep and thoughtful reading is part of our recommended daily devotional practice and part of our Sunday worship. How can it help but follow logically from such a tradition that many of us would become thoughtful readers in general, and from there, writers? We’re encouraged to keep journals, and that, for me, was excellent training. I formed a habit in childhood of capturing my daily experiences and feelings in writing. My early journals are mundane and infantile, but I maintain that they groomed me for my present career. We’re taught to prize education, to set goals, and to use our talents. It makes sense that some of this energy would percolate into fiction. On a deeper level, I believe God loves stories. He encodes truth in stories, and shaped us as storytelling creatures. Jesus, the teller of parables, made storytelling sacred, and that means a great deal to me.

What are you currently working on? Can we expect any future books to be released this year?

You can indeed expect a new release this year. Roaring Brook will publish The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, a wry and irreverent Victorian murder mystery for middle graders, in September. I’m very excited about this one. Right now I’m writing a young adult historical novel for Viking, due out in Fall 2015 if all goes according to plan. It’s set in medieval France, and I hope to take a trip, if I can figure out how to arrive in medieval times. :) ❧

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