Monday, September 23, 2013

The Carpe Annum Interviews: Julie Cantrell

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julie Cantrell has served as editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review and is a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Fellowship. She is the author of two children’s books as well as Into the Free, which received Christy Awards for Best Debut Novel and Book of the Year 2013 as well as the Mississippi Library Association’s Fiction Award. Cantrell and her family live in Mississippi where they operate Valley House Farm. Her second novel, When Mountains Move, released September 2013.

Novel Matters: Julie, you wrote the bestselling novel Into the Free, now you’ve followed it up with a sequel that I’m certain everyone is dying to get their hands on. What made you decide to revisit the characters from Into the Free?

Julie Cantrell: When I wrote Into the Free, the original ending was more complete. During the edits, we trimmed a lot of the conclusion and left the story in a place that might be able to support a sequel. I always wanted to tell more of Millie’s story. I was grateful David C. Cook did give me an entire second book to explore the next phase of Millie’s life, and I hope readers will enjoy seeing what happens next as she tries to deal with her broken past.

NM: Some authors write one book a year and others write a handful over a lifetime. In the beginning, did you consciously choose one of these paths over the other, and are you happy with that choice today? 

JC: I first signed to publish two books in two years, which has now been done. Then I signed to publish two more. The pace proved to be a little too brisk for me with my hectic life, and I’ve asked for more time for the third one. I hope I can somehow find the balance between publishing consistently and taking the time needed to brew a good story.

NM: Tell us about your newest novel. (Please include a short synopsis, one link where people can purchase the book, and the date of release. Also, include one personal anecdote about the writing of the book.)  
JC: The sequel to INTO THE FREE was released Sept. 1. It’s called WHEN MOUNTAINS
MOVE and so far, readers are responding with an overwhelmingly positive reaction. It was a little intimidating to try to offer readers a sequel that would connect with them as deeply as Into the Free. I’m relieved to hear many readers say they like the second book even better than the first.

Here’s the scoop:

It is the spring of 1943. With a wedding and a cross-country move, Millie’s world is about to change forever.If only her past could change with it.

Soon after the break of day, Bump will become Millie’s husband. And then, if all goes as planned, they will leave the rain-soaked fields of Mississippi and head for the wilds of the Colorado Rockies. As Millie tries to forget a dark secret, she hasn’t yet realized how drastically those past experiences will impact the coming days.

For most of Millie’s life, being free felt about as unlikely as the mountains moving. But she’s about to discover that sometimes in life, we are given second chances, and that the only thing bigger than her past … is her future.

NM: Writing careers ebb and flow—one day you’re an Amazon 5-star, the next you’re on your way to the bargain table. Always, every day, however, you’re an artist. The story must be written. How do you—do you?—separate yourself from opinions to give your creative self for another day of writing?

JC: You are absolutely spot on with your assessment of the writing life. And that’s the thing about sales figures, awards, reviews, etc. It’s all out of our hands, as authors. We really have no control over how well our book will be received. We can only do our best to share stories that come from our hearts and offer them to the world to use as needed.

I have written only two novels to date, and both were given to me, I believe, because they needed to be told. I hope the third book flows the same way, and I hope, as with the first two, the story finds the right reader at the right time and offers words that heal, inspire, or help in some way.
NM: If tomorrow were the first day of your career, what advice would you give yourself?

JC: You can’t do everything. Pace yourself. Learn to say, “No thanks,” and set healthy boundaries.

The thing about this job is that it never ends. People have no idea how hard authors work behind the scenes. It’s so much more than just writing. And that leaves very little time to do what it is we really need to do...write the book. So, I’m learning now to go a little easier on myself and accept that sometimes it’s okay to admit I don’t have time for some things.

NM: Writers debate whether to write a novel using a detailed outline vs. no outline, just go with the gut. Which do you prefer? What role does epiphany play while planning or writing?

JC: For me, no outline. I’ve tried. It doesn’t matter how much I try to plan it out, in the end, when I sit down to entirely different story and character set come to the page. I just have to give in to that creative flow and see where it takes me. It’s fun for me that way. But, I admit, it does result in heavy edits on the back end.

NM: What's the one thing (be it a technology, a notebook, a wristwatch, or pen) that you can't be without as a writer?

JC: My laptop.
NM: Who, besides the obvious agent and editor, do you turn to for advice when things are rocky on your writing journey?

JC: I have several friends who are also authors, and we kind of cheer and coach each other as needed. I guess the ones I turn to most are my fellow southern belles, who blog with me each week at http://www.southernbelleviewdaily.comThey are Lisa Wingate, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Rachel Hauck, and Beth Webb Hart.

NM: What advice do you give to writers who are looking to seize the year and take control of their writing career?

JC: Have no fear. Write as if no one will ever read a word of it, and allow yourself to be completely honest. Go to that emotional level that is impossible to reach when you’re worried about how readers might react. Don’t worry about how readers will react. Just write.
NM: What are you working on now, and when will it be in reader’s hot little hands?

JC: I’m not sure of the publication date for Book Three, but I’ve started it and I’m keeping the details very secret right now. I will say this...I’m very excited to see where this book takes me. It’s not a continuation of Millie’s story, so this is a brand new adventure with a colorful cast of characters. I’m enjoying the process very much and can’t wait to see what develops.

NM: The theme this year on Novel Matters is Carpe Annum: Seize the Year! Tell us about a turning-point time in your journey as a writer when you took hold of your career. What did that look like? How did that moment change you as a writer?

I guess it might be a moment in publishing When Mountains Move, when I had been struggling with the ending of the book. I rewrote it 6 or 7 times and just didn’t feel like it was perfect. I met with a dear friend who had served as an early reader. She helped me sort my thoughts. The next morning, I woke up knowing what I wanted to do with the ending, but the book had already gone through edits. I was terrified to ask my publisher to let me change the ending again, and I knew it would inconvenience lots of folks. I couldn’t sleep for a few nights, just feeling that tug. Finally, I got the courage to ask, and of course my sweet, supportive publishing team at David C. Cook gave me a few days to toy with the ending. It was a moment when I realized that yes, this is my story, and ultimately it is my name on the book, and that I do need to voice my thoughts about edits, etc. throughout the process. I think, particularly as a first time author, it’s very intimidating to challenge the folks who know more than I do about publishing. I still feel very green and just feel very appreciative that they’re even giving my stories a chance. That moment encouraged me to at least ask. They can always say “no,” but I’m so glad I asked. Today, the ending is how I want it to be, and if I hadn’t had the courage to ask...I’m not sure I’d be very happy with the final draft.

Bonnie, I appreciate you inviting me here today. I’ve enjoyed this interview and am grateful for anyone who gives this stories a chance. Happy reading!


Susie Finkbeiner said...

Great interview! Thank you for the insights, Julie.

The bit about not doing everything resonates with me this morning. I thank you for the freedom you gave to us as writers. I can say "no" to some things.

I'm so glad you shared with us today.

Cherry Odelberg said...

I like the frank admission that good books take time to brew - also the advice to write like no one else will ever read it - go deep. Most encouraging and affirming. Thank you!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Love that you were able to get the ending in there that you wanted. I loved WHEN MOUNTAINS MOVE and I'm one of those readers who liked it even more than INTO THE FREE. Looking forward to your next novel, Julie. Great interview today.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Thanks for a great interview, Julie. My book club and I gave Into the Free an A+, and we're looking forward to When Mountains Move.

Patti Hill said...

Thanks so much for the interview, Julie. I'm eager to find out how Millie grows in When Mountains Move. I absolutely loved Into the Free. You went to the hard places in a most redemptive way. And since I live in Colorado, I'm especially eager to read your new story. The mountains have been a psychological and physical barrier for those of us who must contend with their wildness and capriciousness for as long as people have lived here. I look forward to your take on mountain living.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Appreciated so many things about this interview. I have so much respect for Julie.

Favorite point = "Always, every day, however, you’re an artist."

~ Wendy

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Thank you, Julie for your gentle confirmation of the artist and our ownership of our stories. We have discussed here when is the right time to stop editing. Little edits can go on forever but something big like the ending, well! Good for you for following your instinct.

Julie Cantrell said...

Hi Y'all! Thanks so much for taking time to read and respond. Such beautiful comments have brought a big smile my way this morning. It's an honor to be welcomed here at Novel Matters. Today, the birds are singing loudly, a morning after the rain, and reminding me the sun always returns after a storm. So, here's to sunny days, happy thoughts, good friends, and... of course... a fabulous story! Cheers, julie