One of the real joys of my job is meeting other writers. Several years ago I had the opportunity to speak at a book festival in St. Louis, and Julie Compton, was on the same panel to promote Tell No Lies, her first novel. I liked her immediately. Beautiful, intelligent, witty and warm. Really, all in one package. She was delightful.
Julie and I have stayed in touch ever since. With Rescuing Olivia, her brand new book on the shelves, I thought you would enjoy getting to know her, too. Julie graciously agreed to this interview. Stay tuned for what else she agreed to, as well.
1–Lawyer to novelist, why and how did you make it happen?
It’s a toss-up which came first, my love of writing or my love of arguing. I do know I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had stories bouncing around in my head. But I’ve always loved to argue, too (and still do). Especially when I feel like I’m championing the underdog. So even though I earned an undergraduate degree in English literature, law school seemed like a natural progression. Interestingly enough, what I loved most about both law school and the practice of law was the writing.
I didn’t stop practicing law with the goal of becoming a writer, though. After I had my second daughter, I decided to become a stay-at-home mom. After a few months, I realized I needed to be involved in something more cerebral than changing diapers and watching Barney. It dawned on me that if I was ever going to try to write seriously, that was the perfect time. I signed up for an evening creative writing workshop at the local YMCA (taught by a then struggling writer, John Dalton, who went on to publish the award-winning novel Heaven Lake – I highly recommend it!). I haven’t stopped writing since, even during the few years I went back to work.
But no answer to this question would be complete without mentioning my husband. I give him the most credit because he has willingly taken on the role of the sole provider for our family so that I could pursue a dream.
2–I have to laugh. That’s “my” bio, too. I wonder how many of us began our careers when we chose to take a hiatus from our original career and raise our children?
Next, how would you describe your novels? Are they thrillers, romances, women’s fiction, mysteries?
My novels are difficult to categorize. When I was writing my first, Tell No Lies, I thought I was writing what would probably be called women’s fiction. It’s a story about an assistant DA who sacrifices his principles (both professional and personal) in his quest to be DA. It’s a story about ambition, and it’s a story about obsession. The professional, romantic and familial relationships between the characters and the motivations behind their actions are what intrigued me. But – and this is a big ‘but’ – the characters are lawyers, the protagonist is a man, there is an unsolved murder, and plenty of suspense, so my publishers decided I’d written a legal thriller. I’ll never forget my first interview. I was asked why the murder occurred in the middle of the story. I was a bit dumbfounded and didn’t know how to answer. I thought, why wouldn’t it be? It didn’t occur to me that the interviewer asked this question because my book had been shelved under the mystery/thriller category, and most mysteries put the murder right at the start!
By the time I wrote Rescuing Olivia, my second novel, I knew that I was considered a thriller writer, even though I didn’t necessarily think I fit neatly into the genre. I remember warning my editor that while Rescuing Olivia would be suspenseful, it didn’t have lawyers in it. I even offered to try to work some in. LOL! She said, “Just write what you want to write, we’ll worry about categorizing it later.” I feel pretty fortunate to have an editor like that. Like Tell No Lies, the relationships and the motivations of the characters in Rescuing Olivia are paramount. My first review for it came from Kirkus, and I think the reviewer aptly described it as a hybrid between a modern-day fairy tale and a contemporary thriller.
3–You’re in the midst of writing an “unplanned” sequel, something I end up doing repeatedly. Were there questions you just wanted to resolve, or was this by popular acclaim? And how do you like revisiting former characters? Oh, and can you write faster so I’ll find out what happens next?
Yes, I’m currently working on a sequel to Tell No Lies, tentatively titled Keep No Secrets. And yes, it was unplanned. (Interesting how we talk about writing and publishing books as being similar to giving birth, and here we’re calling one in particular ‘unplanned’!)
Tell No Lies has a surprise, and slightly ambiguous, ending. Many readers have written to ask about a sequel. But I didn’t write the ending the way I did as a set-up for a sequel, and frankly, I never thought I’d want to do one. Yes, it could be a vehicle to answer the “unanswered” question, but I knew it would also have to have its own, new story. I finally decided that if I came up with a good idea, maybe I’d try it. I’d been away from the characters long enough that reentering their lives appealed to me. I had briefly begun my third novel when it occurred to me that the idea for that novel – with a few tweaks – would fit seamlessly into a continuation of Jack’s (the protagonist of Tell No Lies) story.
4–I love that new title. I hope you keep it. With two growing children at home, how do you manage your writing schedule? Can you write on the fly, or do you need a quiet place and a long, peaceful day?
I’m fortunate because my girls are teens and they now attend the same school. They both leave the house by 6:15 a.m., and I’m usually at my desk with my cup of coffee by 6:30 a.m. They don’t arrive back home until 3:00 p.m., so I have a long, quiet day to write. Even with so many hours, the day still flies by. What’s the saying? Do what you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life? That’s me. I get so much joy from writing. It never feels like work.
I would say that I need quiet for the actual writing, but I get some of my best ideas on the fly. I do a lot of thinking in my car, in the shower, while exercising, and lying in bed at night (just like when I was little!).
5–You’re in the midst of a very ambitious book tour, which has to be exhausting and exhilarating. Have any funny experiences to share? Humbling? Joyful? Thrilling? Will you do it again?
All of the above. And a huge learning experience, to boot. I traveled a lot in Florida, since I live here now and a large part of Rescuing Olivia is set here. I also did a launch in St. Louis, my hometown, and a few events in the Philadelphia area, because I lived there for five years. I’ve had the joy of meeting so many new people and also seeing old friends. In St. Louis, the father of a childhood friend from many, many years ago surprised me when he showed up at my launch. How cool is that?
Something I did this time around that I didn’t do for Tell No Lies is travel to Texas. I’d heard so many great things about the Murder by the Book bookstore in Houston and wanted to go. Another author friend, Carla Buckley, and I planned a mini-tour throughout Texas. We hit Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and finally Houston, where we not only promoted our books but ate our way through the state. Texas might just be the friendliest state in the Union – everyone we met welcomed us with open arms and delicious plates of food. J
Julie has graciously offered to send an autographed copy of her first hardcover novel, Tell No Lies, to one reader who comments on this blog by April 15. One name will be chosen from all non-spam comments using random.org. Having read and enjoyed it herself, Emilie says, don’t miss this chance to enter and win. And why trust to fate? Visit your local bookstore and buy a copy of Julie’s newest novel, too.
Thanks to Julie, for taking the time to join us at Southern Exposure, and Julie, good luck with the rest of the book tour.