Author Chat With Julia Lee, Author Of The YA Novel Seven Stones
It has actually been quite a while since I have had an author chat on Book Journey. Lack of time to do them is mainly the reason you don’t see them anymore. Occasionally, an author comes along that you can not pass up a chance to chat with, and that is exactly what is happening here with Julia Lee. Julia is passionate about writing. What she has done in her book Seven Stones with racial differences is truly brilliant. I have the pleasure of knowing her and I am excited to feature her here today to share with you about her book that is being released this Saturday, Seven Stones.
Please welcome Julia Lee.
Hi Julia! I know you are not so much of a coffee drinker as a tea drinker but I think we can still get along. 🙂 When did you first know you wanted to write?
Telling stories has always been a big part of my life. My parents were my first inspiration. My dad is an amazing storyteller and would tell us bedtime stories every night. I started writing because I wanted to tell stories the way he did. My mom is a prolific reader and always encouraged us to read everything we could get our hands on. Between the two of them, I developed a deep love of the written word at a very young age. I started writing short stories in kindergarten and never stopped. Besides writing, I’ve always adored reading. As a kid, I’d happily spend most of my day reading books or at the library. I would often dream about seeing my own book on a library shelf.
Bonus points for mentioning the Library! Seven Stones is your first book. Have you any others books that you have been working on prior to Seven Stones?
Seven Stones is my first full novel. I wrote several short stories in college, but never anything longer than twenty pages or so. Since completing the manuscript however, I’ve began working on several very different projects that I’m really excited about. Of course, my main project has been writing the sequel to Seven Stones and hope to have the first draft finished by September.
My other projects include a futuristic dystopian series about human survival after the earth can no longer support life (also Young Adult) and a book I’m writing with my husband that revolves around the life and struggles of a fictional baseball player. However, my heart really belongs to Celtic folklore and culture, and I know I will be returning to those elements again.
Overall, I feel like I am just beginning to stretch my wings as a writer, and look forward to writing many more stories!
Seven Stones is unique to anything I have read before. How did you come up with the idea for Seven Stones?
It was a long process. Inspiration for the original story began in high school. Back then, it was going to be a fantasy novel that focused solely on Celtic culture. I wrote about 150 pages, and then put it aside during college. After graduation, I returned to my original manuscript and scrapped about 99% of it. I still wanted to write a novel about Celtic culture, but I needed a different story.
After we moved to Minnesota in 2011, I began learning about Ojibwe culture for the first time. The more I learned, the more similarities I saw between my own Celtic heritage and Ojibwe culture. I was fascinated that two cultures with seemingly nothing in common, could have such amazing parallels. One day, I thought to myself, “Someone should write a book about this.” Then it hit me: why don’t I write it? With a totally new vision, lots of research, and more chocolate than I’d like to admit, I started working on what would eventually become Seven Stones.
Can you explain the steps you took to finding a publisher?
Well, I started out in the traditional way: sending out hundreds of queries to agents…and getting rejected hundreds of times. I did get several requests for partial and full manuscripts, but no offers for representation.
How I actually found my publisher was a mixture of serendipity and persistence. In April of 2012, I attended a publishing conference. Chip and Jean of RiverPlace Press were among the publishers speaking at the event, and I remember thinking that I had to introduce myself to them. After all the publishers on the panel were finished presenting, I approached them and did just that. I told them how much I loved the sound of their independent press, asked them about publishing tips, and told a little about myself as an author. To my great surprise, they asked me if I’d like to meet them for coffee sometime and talk about the publishing market.
A few weeks later, I met them at a local coffee shop with my synopsis in hand. When they asked me, “What is your book about?” I was ready. I gave them a copy of my synopsis and my elevator pitch. They loved it! They asked me to send them the first few chapters. After a few weeks, they asked me to send the whole manuscript once it was finished. Fast forward a few months: after an initial edit, I sent them the first draft of my completed manuscript. They loved it, and we have been working together ever since!
What did that feel like when you actually knew you were going to be a published author?
I don’t know if I can accurately describe the feeling I had as I left the publishing house the day they presented their offer to publish. As soon as I got home, I danced around my apartment and sang, “I’m going to be an author! I’m going to be an author!” It was the most incredible rush, and completely overwhelming. To have a life dream become a reality, to know that your story is going to be a real, physical book that other people are going to read. It is beyond wonderful and incredibly humbling. I still can’t believe it sometimes!
I was impressed when I read Seven Stones to discover that your protagonist and her family were Native American. You tied in a lot of history and culture into your book. As you are not Native American yourself, I am curious as to why you decided to write a book with characters outside your own culture.
I read once that, until an author specifies otherwise, most readers will assume a main character is white and thin. I’m not saying that is true for everyone, but that statement really troubled me because my original main character was white and thin. Why did I make her that way? I didn’t even think about it until then. I was simply writing from what I knew. After I moved to Minnesota and learned so much about Ojibwe characters, a new idea started forming. Once I decided to make the book about both Ojibwe and Celtic cultures, it seemed natural to make Keilann Ojibwe.
I gained so much from this decision. Through the research I’ve done, I have gained a new appreciation for the beauty of both cultures. Writing this novel only emphasized to me how superficial racial differences are. To me, that is the true goal of reading and writing: to learn about and empathize with people around the world. Literature has the power to break down barriers and introduce ideas and perspectives in ways we can understand. Culture is a beautiful representation of humanity, and I wished to bring to light both the beauty and similarities of the two cultures explored in my novel.
Was it difficult to write about a culture outside your own?
It was intimidating. No matter how much research I did, I was afraid that it would never be enough. I wanted my novel to be an accurate representation, and I was terrified that I would make a mess of it. At first, I was also afraid that my writing about Ojibwe culture would anger people. A few times, I was almost abandoned the project because it just seemed too big for me.
Ultimately, what kept me steadfast was my belief that reading books changes how you view the world around you. Confining people to restricted perspectives goes against what reading and writing are all about—and is a slippery slope. If a white author is only allowed to write about white characters, then should a white reader only read books about white protagonists?
Of course, ensuring my work was authentic and accurate was always top priority. I undertook years of research and learned so much more about Ojibwe and Scottish culture than I ever would have otherwise. I am truly grateful for the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met along the way. Writing from a cultural perspective other than my own was one of the best decisions I could have made.
I understand that Seven Stones is not going to be a stand alone book. Can you share a bit of what will happen in a second book?
Actually, I hadn’t intended to write a sequel until the meeting with my publishers. Toward the end, they asked me what I was currently working on. I excitedly rattled off my projects. When I was finished, they asked, “Have you thought about writing a sequel?” I answered that I hadn’t. “You should.”
Say no more!
Though I hadn’t really considered a sequel prior to this, I had toyed with some ideas. It has been wonderful to return to the world of Seven Stones and the characters that are like old friends. This next chapter of Keilann’s journey will take her back to the States to the reservation where her mother grew up. While learning more about her heritage, Keilann’s dreams will take a new twist and she’ll have some big decisions to make as she grows from girl to woman.
Because of graduate school, the writing process has been a bit slower for the sequel. However, it is my goal to have the first draft finished by September and begin working with my editor immediately.
What advice would you give first time writers?
Meet people. Make as many friends and connections as you possibly can—especially in the writing world. If there are any writing conferences or workshops in your area, go to them. You never know when you’ll meet someone who can help you with your writing in some way.
Write every day—even if it’s only for five minutes. Enjoy every minute of your writing process. And eat lots of chocolate.
Most importantly: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!
Sounds like excellent advice. It has been a long-standing tradition here that when I do author interviews I ask them to share a little known fun fact about themselves. Please share with us something unique and fun about you.
Many people know that I do yoga to relax. Not many people know that I used to be a Muay Thai (full contact Thai kickboxing) fighter and hold a black belt in Kenpo karate. Back in 2005, I injured my knee during a kickboxing match and the subsequent surgery ended my fighting days. Now, I do yoga to keep in shape because it is low impact for my knee and also requires the same discipline and focus as martial arts. I’ve grown to love it as much as I loved being in the ring.
Awesome. Thanks Julia for hanging out with me here and chatting about Seven Stones. I am sooooo excited for you!
Seven Stones is available for pre-order now at RiverPlace Press. Her book will be available on Amazon soon. Secure your copy today and be ready to dive into a book that will keep you reading long past your bedtime. 😉