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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Julie Klassen ~ Author Interview

Julie Klassen is a fiction editor with a background in advertising. She has worked in Christian publishing for more than twelve years, in both marketing and editorial capacities. This is her first novel. Julie is a graduate of the University of Illinois. She enjoys travel, research, books, BBC period dramas, long hikes, short naps, and coffee with friends.

Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, visit Julie’s website at

Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

My first novel, Lady of Milkweed Manor (December 2007, Bethany House Publishers), which is a romantic women's drama set in early 19th century England. My publisher describes it as "in the tradition of Jane Austen." I can only hope!

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific “what if” moment?

The idea for Lady of Milkweed Manor was sparked by a film I once saw. The cast included a wet nurse--a stranger who lived with a couple and nursed their infant. Although this woman was only a minor background character, she intrigued me. I found myself wondering, what would it be like to have a strange woman living in your home, nursing your child? My resulting research into the private lives of women in the 18th and 19th centuries fascinated me and provided the backbone for this novel.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out your manuscript was accepted and what went through your mind?

My road to publication was a bit convoluted. Since I work as a fiction editor and knew some of the people who would be reviewing my proposal, I submitted it under a pseudonym so that if it was accepted, it would be done so objectively. Of course, this also allowed me to cower under the protection of anonymity in case it was rejected! Still, as is likely the case for many closet writers, finding out my novel would be published was a life's dream come true. That was over a year ago. Since then, it has been an eye-opening experience to be on the other side of the desk—and on the receiving end of the red pen!

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I go for a walk. I can almost always "see a scene" while walking.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters, or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you or what was when you first started on your novel journey?

It is a challenge to create complex yet plausible plots. Also, creating living, breathing characters does not come easily to me. I guess I am not the champion creator God is!

How did (or do) you overcome the problem?

I'm still learning to simplify plots and complicate characters. I have found the "Character Circuitry" grid in The Fiction Editor by Thomas McCormack to be very helpful in fleshing out character goals and conflicts.

Where do you write? In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I have written in coffee shops, hotels, and libraries. But mostly I write in my corner of the living room, surrounding by toys, boys, and television. I hope someday to have the proverbial "room of her own."

What does a typical day look like for you?

Help hubby get the kids on the bus in the morning, work at my "real job" as a fiction editor during the day, make supper, make myself workout, help hubby put said kids to bed, then sit down to write from about 9:00 to 11:00. Unless I have a BBC drama from Netflix. Then all bets are off...

Some authors report writing 5 to 10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

Dialogue comes quickly for me. I "hear" it (my husband is a little concerned about the voices in my head…) and type as fast as I can to keep up. Then I have to go back and fill in and flesh out with narrative, which is more arduous for me.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

I have found nothing brief about this process! Once the idea comes to me, I spend time visualizing key scenes and characters, researching the setting (I like to use old maps and Google earth) as well as customs, dress, language, medicine, and more. Scene ideas do not come to mind in chronological order, so I keep an ongoing Word file with quick descriptions and snippets of dialogue that will jar my memory when I come back to them. A lot of what I write initially I know will need to be trashed or at least revamped, but I try to just keep writing all the "fodder" I can. Once all the raw material is there, I know I can go back and fix it. I am, after all, an editor.
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Here are two favorites not written—nor edited—by me:

Hidden Places by Lynn Austin—romantic, poignant, funny, and filled with memorable, quirky characters. The movie didn't do it justice. Not even close.

The Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark by Lawana Blackwell—What is a Louisiana girl with a sharp sense of southern humor doing writing about Victorian England? I don't know, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Less input. More output. (Sometimes you need to lay aside the research and WRITE.)
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I didn't have a clear outline for my first novel, and while it was fun to discover where the story led, in the end, I no doubt wasted plenty of time. I have a more detailed synopsis for my second book (of course, I also have a deadline!)—but even so I have left myself room for changes and surprises.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

I wish I had time to do more. Besides the skilled marketing that my publisher does, I have a web site and I have my mom—who is busy telling everyone she's ever known…or met once…or passes on the street…

Do you have any parting words of advice?

If you're a wishful writer, do what I finally did (when I got desperate enough)—stop talking about wanting to write and write already. Tough it out, stay up late, write that first book to show yourself (and future potential publishers) that you can. Have a literary friend with a spine read it and give it to you straight. Then go back and rewrite, chop, and revise. Although some authors may say otherwise, most of us don't have our prose dictated to us from on high. We all need an editor. Or five.


  1. I LOVE THIS BOOK! Great interview, thank you, Julie. I hope you have another novel coming out soon. :)

  2. Julie,

    Your book has intrigued me. I shall get me a copy. Thanks for the interview!


  3. And what a gorgeous cover, I meant to add. *s*

  4. The cover is beautiful. I am impressed you can write with your boys playing around you!

  5. I haven't read your book but it comes highly recommended. There is a review at Novel Reviews for the curious.

  6. Love the cover and the context sounds like a different thrill to read. I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of this book! cherryblossommj(at)gmail[dot]com


  7. I thoroughly enjoyed your book and look forward to your next one. Please hurry!


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