Sandra: Madeline Mann is your second book. How different
is this book from your first, The Dark Backward?
Julia: The two are really very disparate. THE DARK BACKWARD,
although it contained humor, had a much darker theme (hence
the title), while MADELINE MANN, actually the older of the
two books, is on the verge of being a cozy and is meant
mainly to amuse--although it does have some serious themes,
Sandra: MADELINE MANN is the older of the two? How did it
end up getting published second?
Julia: I wrote Madeline back in the 90's. I had a little
boy, a toddler, and I had lots of free time then, because
Ian took long naps. I had always wanted to write a mystery,
and I'd even written a couple of dreadful ones that were
sort of practice runs. I took a writing correspondence course
and my teacher was the mystery writer Carol Cail. She read
the first incarnation of Madeline way back then and gave
me lovely encouragement. Then I sat on the book for a while,
finally starting an agent search in the late 90s. My current
agent loved Madman, as she is called, instantly and began
sending the manuscript around, but was told that even though
it was "delightful" and Madeline was well liked
as a character, they wanted something "edgier."
So I sat down and wrote THE DARK BACKWARD in reaction to
that. And it sold relatively quickly--but then my wonderful
publisher, Midnight Ink, and their acquisitions editor,
Barbara Moore, said they would take a look at Madeline.
Barbara liked the book a great deal, and at long last Madeline
had found a home.
You'll notice I didn't say I spent my son's naptime cleaning
my house; my mother will attest to that. She despairs that
she didn't teach me better housekeeping habits.
Sandra: For your new book you went back to something you'd
written in the 90s. How hard was it for you to get back
into Madeline's head?
Julia: It wasn't too difficult. I feel like I really know
Madeline--maybe she's been in there all along. But sometimes
I'll have trouble getting to my plot--because I'm just listening
to Madeline talk and I have to make her accountable to the
story itself. That's the challenge of not outlining my mystery
Sandra: Ah, you aren't a plotter! Me either. Do you ever
wish you could outline your books?
Julia: Of course I've heard great arguments for both techniques--outlining
and not doing so. But I find that outlining just doesn't
work for me, because so many of my best ideas come to me
when I'm sort of winging it. I'll have a character say or
do something unexpected, and I'll say--"That's it!
This can start a whole new thread in the plot that I hadn't
anticipated." For me, it has the same effect that brainstorming
does, except I'm brainstorming with myself.
But having said that, I should mention that I usually have
a basic blueprint in my mind when I sit down to write a
book. However, I don't always know WHODUNNIT until I'm well
Sandra: What I like about not plotting is the organic aspect.
You do have to listen to the characters and really think
about their motivations and how they connect to the story.
There's also the thrill of discovery. It sounds like you
enjoy that aspect of not plotting, but do you find yourself
doing a lot of rewrites or going back and adjusting things
as you make discoveries?
Julia: I do adjust, just about every time I go back to the
manuscript. Thank goodness for computers and the delete
key. It's far different from the days of the ol' typewriter.
I also work with a writer's group whose opinions I have
really come to trust; if more than one of the members says
something has to go, I tend to take it very seriously and
shape my rewrites around their advice. They've all come
to know Madeline's character and they have a sense of what
I'm writing here--not quite a cozy, but certainly lighthearted,
and they know that sometimes, despite serious subject matter,
the story is more of a farce than anything. I can trust
them to understand and to give advice in that context.
Sandra: How did you find your writers group?
Julia: I had taken an evening class in our town, led by
a renowned writing teacher at Columbia University in Chicago,
Karen Osborne. It was a terrific class; when it ended, some
of us went to Karen and asked if she'd still be willing
to lead us in monthly sessions out of people's houses. She
agreed, and the group was born. Its size has fluctuated,
and right now we only have four people, but some members
go on hiatus and then return; they know we'll welcome them
back in after they finish their schooling or traveling or
whatever they're doing.
Sandra: It sounds like you have a very supportive group
you work with. How important is that to you as a writer?
Julia: It has really helped with my biggest weakness: revision.
That's very important to me, because in the past if someone
told me, this is good, but it needs revision, I'd be stymied.
It wasn't that I wasn't willing to revise, but I didn't
know what TO revise. Now when I read my manuscripts I can
hear my fellow members' voices in my head, saying "Do
you really need this dialogue?" or "Does this
advance the story?" So that's very important to me.
It gives me context, and allows me to be a better writer.
Sandra: I was going to ask what your biggest challenge as
a writer was. Is it revisions, or something else?
Julia: Lately it's getting myself to sit down and commit
to writing. I think I've become distant from my own imagination
because of all the promotion that I have to do. The only
fun part of promotion is meeting neat people--readers and
writers--but the rest is kind of a pain, and it takes me
away from what I used to do in my spare time: write. I've
always been a daydreamer, and writing is an extension of
that, but promotional hours can silence those delicate little
daydreams. Now I'm being more strict about putting my butt
in the chair and just writing.
Sandra: Promotion is becoming more and more of an issue
for writers. Is that part of the reason you started a blog?
Julia: The huge advantage of the blog is that it's free.
I'm a fairly little fish in the pond, and it's advantageous
to me to be able to put my message out there for anyone
to read. I think I've earned some readership because of
it. Not to mention the fact that I have "met" some
really great people in cyber world. As you know, Sandra,
I'm not big on travel, and this has been a wonderful way
to connect with people I might not otherwise have met. Indeed,
I think the blog is a good promotional tool, but I'll be
the first to admit that sometimes I just waste time playing
on it, and then I'm not giving attention to the craft of
Sandra: Why did you decide to start blogging? Also, you
do a lot of author interviews on the blog. What made you
decide to go that route?
Julia: I'm glad you asked. :) First off, it was my publisher
who suggested I start a blog, I assume for promotional reasons.
I was reluctant. I thought "blog" was a stupid,
trendy word and it bugged me. I started very tentatively,
posting things that I couldn't imagine anyone would want
Then I decided I would interview a couple of people so that
at least I'd have something to discuss within the world
of mystery. It went well, and I found that the Q and A format
was one that I enjoyed, and it earned me some readers. So
I continued in that vein, asking writers via DL if they
would like to be interviewed, and I got a wonderful response.
And that is how it all began. I still think "blog" is
a yucky word, reminiscent of the sound my dog makes after
he eats grass. I blogged about it once. With a photo of
Sandra: You’re also part of a group blog, Poe’s
Deadly Daughters. Why did you decide to do this? How does
group blogging differ from solo blogging?
Julia: I was invited to the group blog by Lonnie Cruse,
who had been an online pal and who I have since met at a
Chicago area conference. I thought it might be a neat way
to reach a different blog audience, and I was excited about
working with Lonnie and Sandra Parshall, both of whom I'd
met at conferences, and also Deb Baker, who was a member
at the time. I have yet to meet my fellow "daughters" Liz
Zelvin and Sharon Wildwind, but they write some terrific
posts. And I was very proud when Sandra won the Best First
Mystery Award at Malice Domestic. Now that I think of it,
Sandra, I met both you and Sandra Parshall at the Madison
Sandra: And isn't it ironic that I've known Sharon Wildwind
for a few years but you blog with her and haven't met her!
Julia: Yes--that is ironic about Sharon! I think you need
to come on Poe's Deadly Daughters and guest blog about it!
Sandra: Actually, Sandra Parshall's interviewing me about
Spinetingler. Not about Sharon! Or our adventures sharing
a room in Madison. Which is probably for the best.
Julia: It became very clear in Madison that I am the old
woman of the two of us. As I've said before, you are an
effervescent personality, a woman with boundless energy!
A woman who rises like a robot at the crack of dawn while
I look on in disbelief
Sandra: Oh, not when I'm at home. Only when I have stuff
to do. But it's amazing how the blogs have added a dimension
to our community. We feel we connect to people. And yet
it's a bit of an illusion at the same time, because the
blog world isn't the real world. Someone once connected
themselves with three degrees of separation to director
Peter Jackson, through me. That's the weirdest thing I've
seen about myself on a blog, and it's very surreal. Any
bizarre 'is this for real?' moments for you?
Julia: Well, I haven't encountered anything that interesting.
I have had several lucky experiences in terms of "meeting" someone
via the blog and then meeting them in person and finding
that they were JUST as I expected them to be, in both looks
and personality, so it really was like meeting an old friend.
That's a terrific by-product of the blog. But you're right--there's
a danger, especially for a writer with an active imagination,
of creating identities for people that go beyond their online
dialogues--whether it's done intentionally or not. But I
can see the lure of it. I totally understand why some people
get married after e-mail romances. The question is, will
the marriages last?
Sandra: I think that danger exists on listservs like DorothyL
as well, as we've seen from time to time where people presume
into posts, but it's interesting you mention marriages,
because I met my husband online.
Julia: See? And yours has stood the test of time.
Sandra: This comes up in the interview this same issue with
Steve Mosby, who also met his wife online. I think we're
moving into a different state of connection. The internet
has made the world much smaller. However, going back to
something you said earlier, it can be a huge distraction.
Do you find it necessary to turn it off to focus when you're
Julia: Yes. I often leave the room entirely and go in a
different room to try to write on my laptop. There's also
the problem of competing for said computers with both of
my sons, who want them for video games or Strongbad e-mails
or whatever. I may end up having to drive somewhere with
a notebook and do it the old fashioned way. I have nothing
against writing longhand, except that I type twice as fast.
Sandra: And revisions on a computer are easier!
Julia: Absolutely! I could not go back to a world without
computers; at least that's what I tell myself.
Sandra: Now, these days you juggle being a wife, mother
to two sons, who no longer need naps, a full-time teaching
career and writing. How do you do it?
Julia: Badly. I always feel like I'm neglecting something--if
not my children, then myself. I'm really out of shape. My
mom will also attest that my house is slovenly, and she
was always the most meticulous of housekeepers, so it's
a personal shame to not be able to live up to my mother's
standards as a homemaker. Remember on DorothyL when people
were sharing their mother's criticisms of them? My mom is
like that with my writing, too--my toughest critic, but
a fair one. When she read my manuscript (before it got published)
she said, "You're getting closer." Later an editor
actually offered me money for it, but I think my mom would
have advised them to hold off.
As for my sons, they're in a stage now when I am mostly
playing referee all day long. Even as I type this, I am
having to yell, "Cut it out! Go into separate rooms
RIGHT NOW!" These are not pleasant times, but then
there are times when they are the best of friends, with
their little blond heads together over some book or toy,
just like angels.
Sandra: Does your mom ever lecture you about admitting you
didn’t spend naptime cleaning house?
Julia: I'll be honest--my parents, who are both European
and I think probably scrubbed and polished their own cradles
as infants--are really proud of my writing success, but
when they come to my house to babysit, I come home to find
that they've been cleaning it all day--literally scrubbing
things on their hands and knees. They look at me with these
despairing faces, as if to say "How did we raise such
a child?" And the worst part is I never think the house
looks that messy.
Here's a tale from my youth: once I was lying on my bed
reading a book, and my mom came in on her chore rounds to
put some folded clothes on my dresser. She said, "Julie,
your dresser is so dusty I could write 'pig' in it." Not
looking up from my book, it was good, I said, "You
do that, Mom."
Later, when I left the room, I saw the word "Pig" written
neatly in the dust, in my mother's beautiful German script.
Sandra: Do you ever worry your sons will find this admission
and use it against you when you ask them to clean their
Julia: Oh, don't get me wrong. I do have high standards
for my sons' cleanliness, which my eldest, Ian, is telling
me all the time. My parents think MY standards are low,
but the boys are several rungs below that. If I ask them
to put away clothes, they interpret this to mean "lob
this across the room." Then, when they are made to
re-fold them, Ian says bitterly that no one could possibly
meet my standards, which is of course laughable. Neatness,
I have found, is relative.
Sandra: I think that critiquing an author, especially if
they haven't asked for your opinion, is a bit like criticizing
someone's parenting. Would you agree?
Julia: Hmmm. I've never thought about it that way before.
Do you mean in reviews, or just two authors chewing the
fat, and one launching in on what's not good about the other's
Sandra: Not in reviews. More in, if another author just
emailed you up or sat you down in a bar and told you all
the mistakes you made (in their opinion) with your latest
Julia: I do not think anyone would take kindly to that.
We are a sensitive lot, we writers; it's what makes us able
to wring tears from the eyes of our readers (or so we would
hope). Constructive criticism can't be very constructive
if it's an ambush.
Sandra: I agree. And we all have our moments we face criticism.
How do you deal with it?
Julia: Well, in the case of reviews, I don't deal with it
very well, but I do take my lumps in silence. But I have
to tell you: reading that first line in which a reviewer
might say something unflattering or even downright mean?
You know that huge machine at the dead car yard that smooshes
the cars right down to little tubes? That's how it feels
to me. I need to develop a tougher skin.
Sandra: Has book 2 been any easier than book 1?
Julia: A little better. The new book is getting more reviews
than the first one did, so I almost feel like it's a debut
novel. All but one of the reviews have been good, so in
general it's been easy to deal with. But even if it were
book ten, that one negative comment will probably still
feel like a smack in the face. Maybe not. Some writers have
told me that they've just learned to tune them out, or not
read them at all.
Sandra: So, tell us about MADELINE MANN. What's the premise
for this book?
Julia: Madeline is a young reporter in fictional Webley,
Illinois. She tends to act unpredictably based on the "vibes" that
she feels in any given situation. If the vibes are strong,
Madeline feels the need to take "vibe restoring action," and
this is often difficult to explain to friends and family,
which is why her brothers call her "Madman" for
short. Sometimes she wonders if she doesn't deserve that
In any case, Madeline begins her first mystery looking for
an old high school chum, and this is how she encounters
her first murder.
Sandra: Why have you decided to use fictional settings in
Julia: I initially toyed with putting Madeline in a real
setting, but my writer's group responded better to her in
a place of my own creation. I think in an odd way I'm better
at fictional details (which I can paint myself) than I am
at trying to depict realistic settings and scenery; this
can often evoke the "you didn't capture a sense of
this place for me" comments, while if I have a fictional
setting readers don't feel the need to determine whether
or not I've "captured" the real Webley--only whether
or not it seems believable as a town.
In the case of my first book, THE DARK BACKWARD, I wanted
it to seem as though the corrupt governor could be ANYONE'S
governor. I certainly didn't want to link him with Illinois,
which has been plagued by its own scandals of late. So I
put him in a vaguely identified city on purpose.
Sandra: Did you do research for her job as a reporter?
Julia: Not extensively. I've written some freelance articles,
and I took journalism courses in college which involved
some real-life observations. In addition I've been inside
some newspaper offices and even got to sit in once on an
editorial meeting at the Chicago Tribune; I pulled what
I learned from these events into painting Madeline's workplace.
Maddy works at a weekly paper, though, with a sort of eccentric
history, so I'm able to manipulate things a bit.
Sandra: What's next for Madeline Mann?
Julia: In LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP, Madeline is approached
by her old high school English teacher, a Catholic Sister,
who asks her to look into the death of a nun--a woman who
died "accidentally" ten years earlier. Sister
Moira thinks it's murder, and Madeline's vibes tell her
Moira is right.
Sandra: Sounds intriguing! What's next for Julia Buckley?
Julia: Perhaps a Diet Coke. Oh, you mean the career plan?
I'm hoping to finish another Madeline book this summer,
but I'm also playing around with a mainstream fiction piece,
and even a young adult novel that I put on the back burner
about a year ago. I'll continue with the blog, and I hope
to be doing some promotion this summer. The MADELINE MANN
launch party is at Centuries and Sleuths bookstore on August
4th. Can you come, Sandra?
Sandra: I won't make any promises, although it would be
a lot of fun! Now, the tough questions. How did you decide
you wanted to be a writer?
Julia: Oh, I knew that when I was very young. I used to
write short poems that my mom collected for me in a notebook.
Things like "God is in my basket." That was composed
while I was riding my little pink bike to Catholic school.
It begins, "I'm riding on my bicycle with nobody else
but God--God is in my basket; isn't that odd?" Hey,
I was six.
Sandra: Who are your biggest writing influences and current
Julia: Well, I've made no secret of the fact that my all-time
favorite writer is Mary Stewart. Love her. I've been accused
of being a little old-fashioned in my writing, and I think
this is partly because part of me froze in time with the
Stewart suspense novels and I'm still longing for the sixties
when they were popular. (Although I only discovered them--and
devoured them-- in the seventies).
Other influences are a motley group: Ross MacDonald, Margaret
Millar, Sue Grafton, Sparkle Hayter, Jonathan Gash, Joan
Hess, Dorothy Cannell, Patricia Wentworth, P.D. James, Ruth
Rendell, Phyllis Whitney, Daphne DuMaurier, Raymond Chandler,
Martha Grimes, M. M. Kaye, Dorothy L. Sayers, Patricia Moyes,
Velda Johnston, Rex Stout, Joan Aiken. And those are just
off the top of my head. I'm sure I forgot someone really
important and influential to me!
Sandra: So, now an easier question. Name three books you
wish you'd written, and tell me why.
Julia: Oooh. That's actually harder, at least to narrow
it down. Okay, here goes: something by Dorothy Sayers, maybe
HAVE HIS CARCASE. She was great at plot and characterization,
and she was sophisticated as well. Then there would have
to be something by Ross MacDonald. I'm reading THE BLUE
HAMMER right now, and it's just one perfect metaphor after
another, not to mention the carefully constructed plot and
the growing feeling of unease. Last, because I just read
this and thought it was awesome, would be THE COLD DISH
by Craig Johnson. What a triumph of characterization in
a perfectly-rendered setting. It's a wonderful read. Oh,
and can I add REBECCA, by DuMaurier? I'm a rule breaker!
I'm a rebel! So I'm giving you four.
Sandra: That's okay, I'll forgive you! Very interesting
choices, by the way. Okay, the fun stuff. If you were a
method of transportation what would you be and why?
Julia: Easy. I would be a horse and carriage. Very stately,
and not fast. I tend to be frightened of everything that
achieves high speeds--I'm sure I'm on the verge of major
agoraphobia. I will drive my car on the expressway, yes,
but I don't care for it. And I have yet to venture onto
a plane, as you know, and I'm 42 years old. People laugh
at this, but I've actually met many other writers who quietly
share my airplane fear.
I might also consider being a rickshaw. Again, nothing fast,
and it uses honest human fuel, which does not contribute
to Global Warming.
For more information about Julia Buckley
and her books, The Dark Backward and Madeline Mann, visit
her website (http://www.juliabuckley.com/), her blog (http://juliabuckley.blogspot.com/)
or Poe’s Deadly Daughters, where she participates
in a group blog. (http://poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com/)
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Sandra Ruttan’s debut suspense novel, Suspicious Circumstances,
was released in January, 2007. For more information about Sandra visit
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