Julie Maloney is a poet, writer, and founder/director of WOMEN READING ALOUD, a non-profit organization dedicated to the support of women writers. Since 2003, Julie has guided women writers throughout the USA and across the Atlantic through writing workshops, retreats, and special literary events.
I first met Julie at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in June of this year where she discussed her debut novel, A Matter of Chance. I was so taken by her poise and demeanor, I knew I had to know her better. Hence, this interview.
A little about Julie:
BC: When did you decide to become a writer?
JM: After my career as a dancer/choreographer and artistic director of my own modern dance company in NYC, I had a big decision to make. I had been dancing for thirty years. My dance company was ongoing for thirteen years. But my personal life was changing. I had married and had three young children. And I was tired…but the decision was not an easy one. How does one transition from one passion to find another? Slowly. Carefully. Painfully. I had always loved reading and writing in school. As a child, my greatest joy was in going to the library, so I reconnected to my love for reading. I wrote poetry. I walked a lot. I thought a lot. I kept reading and writing poetry…until the decision was made for me. A writer is someone who writes. To my great amazement, my passion for writing goes far deeper than my passion for dance. I like to think I am dancing on the page.
BC: I love that – dancing on the page. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
JM: Writing gives me great energy! This is why I rarely write at night. I can’t sleep if I do. I’m too jazzed. Too pumped. I have to calm down. I write at a standing desk, so when my legs get tired, I know I need to stop and take a walk or sit down.
BC: What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
JM: A few months ago, I looked at my bookcase to grab something to take with me before I went away for a quick weekend. I stumbled upon The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls. It was published in 2013. I don’t know how long I had had it, but once I started it, I was entranced. It is an absolute stunner! However, perhaps the most under-appreciated novel is Stoner by John Williams. I’ve read it five times. Phenomenal.
BC: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
JM: I research all the time I’m writing. I know some writers spend a year or more on research, gather all their notes, then write. That’s not me. I write. I research. I write some more. I research. For A Matter of Chance, I flew to Germany to visit the Kaethe Kollwitz Museum to see her art up-close. It was an emotional experience for me because I had read about her art, collected her books, researched online, yet still I knew I had to go to Germany. Also, I was looking for an ending and I found it in the beauty of Bavaria. Kollwitz was definitely my muse for my debut novel. I just returned from visiting the second of two museums dedicated to her work in Germany. This time, I traveled to Berlin. I swell with emotion when I see her work.
BC: Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
JM: I think I’d call writing a “sacred” practice. I can go into that place where I am completely alone. I honor the work. I know it’s not all good but I’m hoping to get to that place if I keep on going. My “spiritual” practice is looking out the window in my kitchen.
I like this writing life. I like going to the library, visiting museums, eating at a counter. Writing keeps me close to knowing who I am.
BC: How many hours a day do you write?
JM: I have no idea. My life is divided into so many pieces. For example, I led two international writing retreats this summer in Greece and in the Czech Republic. While I’m teaching, I’m writing to the prompts, but I’m not usually working on my ongoing project, which now is writing novel #2. And I’ve also been known to write at the NYC Public Library for hours until I’m shaking from hunger . . . and then there are times when I should be preparing dinner, but I stop in the middle of cutting a carrot to write down something that’s popped into my head. A fragment. The opening of a poem. A new beginning for a novel . . . my head spins and I go with it. I don’t care what day of the week it is; I write.
BC: Tell us a little something about writing A Matter of Chance.
· How did you come to write this particular book?
· What did you edit out of this book?
· What was your hardest scene to write?
JM: A Matter of Chance is my debut novel, published by She Writes Press. It’s the best literary decision I’ve made to go with this hybrid publishing house. It’s been a completely positive experience.
I discovered the protagonist ten years ago in a writing workshop. She never let go. Soon, she brought in a crew of characters. I wrote. I put it down. I wrote more. I researched. I despaired. I had an agent. Then I didn’t have an agent. I revised and revised and revised. I wrote it again and again until I got it right. It just won the Eric Hoffer Book Award for General Fiction for 2019. I’ve had the most wonderful time speaking with book clubs and book lovers all over . . . libraries, bookstores, women’s’ groups, colleges, conferences . . . I am over-the-moon grateful for this ten-year journey.
One thing an editor told me was to edit out a character who was “too big and distracting” from the main story line. I loved this character, but I followed this advice and it was good advice. However, I wrote a book for her! Novel #2 revolves around the character, Tuba Schwimmer – a secondary character in my debut novel – and her daughter, Gitta. I’m so excited to give her the big “voice” she deserves.
A Matter of Chance is the story of a child who is kidnapped at the age of eight. The publishing industry wanted a “detective” story. I wanted a story of the one left behind – the mother – and how she transforms herself as she searches for her daughter over five years. She becomes an internationally recognized artist by painting her way through grief. I stayed true to the story I wanted to write.
I’m happy to say that readers have responded so well to this . . . following a woman on her journey from hope through despair to resolution.
BC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
JM: A Matter of Chance was a ten-year journey. I’m writing the next book much faster. Thank goodness! I’ve learned so much by writing my first novel. I’m planning on having a good draft to show by the beginning of 2020.
BC: What can you share about your new book?
JM: Tentatively titled The Light Table, this is a story of stolen art, the restoration of the stain-glass windows at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the coming together of a mother and daughter. Tuba Schwimmer arrives in NYC to check on her daughter, Gitta, who is a glass restorer, working at St. Patrick’s, and in trouble.
BC: Your new book sounds fascinating, and you know, as one of your biggest fans, how anxious I am to read it. Tell us something about WOMEN READING ALOUD
JM: I founded WOMEN READING ALOUD almost twenty years ago with twelve women writers sitting around my dining room table. Now, we are an international organization dedicated to the support of women writers. Writers have participated in workshops and retreats from throughout the USA, Canada, Portugal, Germany, Greece, London, Prague and Australia. It’s been amazing how everyone connects when they have a mutual passion – writing. So many programs have sprouted from WOMEN READING ALOUD (WRA). How fortunate am I to meet such talented women from all over the world! I still host writing workshops in my home in New Jersey. I am always balancing WRA with my personal writing life. I love it all.
BC: What do you enjoy most about connecting with readers?
JM: Writers need readers. I am so grateful to every reader who attends a book talk of mine or invites me to visit their book club. I love hearing their questions. I love knowing that they’re interested in the characters’ decisions. So many of the book discussions send me thinking on the way home. I’m always working on how to be better at what I do as a writer, a teacher, a speaker. You name it. I like learning.
BC: Miss Molly has an important question for you.
MM: Cat or Dog?
JM: I have a different kind of life, Miss Molly. I stare at the deer, the squirrels, an occasional fox, or a pair of geese, from my kitchen window. Although I live only thirty-five miles outside of New York City, I have a bucolic setting in my backyard. I walk in my neighborhood past a lake, down trails, and settle back on my deck to stare out at a big open sky. Even in the winter (I love snow), I’ll sit on the steps outside, all wrapped up, just to stare and think.
MM: Thank you, Miss Julie, but I still think you need a dog.
BC: Give me a hint of your personal life.
JM: I have three children, and eight grandchildren who live all over the country. I love loving them. I just celebrated my 47th anniversary. I love MYGUY.
I am aware that life is fragile.
To contact Julie:
BC: Thank you so much, Julie, for a lovely interview. Congratulations on the success of A Matter of Chance, and on winning the Eric Hoffer Book Award for General Fiction for 2019. We all are looking forward to your new book.