Monday, January 17, 2011

Pamela interviews our own Julie Kibler

By Pamela

Julie and I met a few years ago when she discovered my personal blog. She contacted me, we met for lunch and became fast friends after realizing we had much in common—similar upbringings and former careers, sons who are musicians, daughters who keep us on our toes and in hysterics, and a love of women’s fiction.

Today I’d like to share with you a little more about Julie—an insight into her fascinating mind and generous heart.

Q: When we met, you were finishing up a story with a deaf main character and I had completed one with a paraplegic character. Both of these ideas just showed up on our pages. Explain how it happened for you.

A: First, thanks for that bit about “fascinating mind and generous heart.”

In my last manuscript, I don’t exactly remember making a decision that this character would be deaf. He just was. In fact, at one point, I decided it would be easier if he were not. I was feeling extremely inadequate about writing a deaf character, considering my experience with the deaf world and Deaf culture (yes, with a capital D) was almost zilch. But it was almost as if I’d given birth and this was my kid and he was deaf. I needed to learn everything I could about deafness to help him succeed. If I’d given birth to a deaf child in real life, I wouldn’t be able to change him or her, so why should I change my character just because it was hard work?

I can’t believe how much I learned about this fascinating subculture, and I barely scratched the surface. I have online friends now I might never have known as a result. You just never know where your writing will take you!

Q: What can you tell us about the manuscript you’ve just completed?

A: Here’s a short blurb from my tentatively titled (because things change) manuscript, ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE: Dorrie and Isabelle make an unlikely pair, but when the black hairstylist's elderly white client persuades her to drive her halfway across the country to a funeral, their journey turns into more than just a road trip. Along the way, 88-year-old Isabelle divulges a story of forbidden love and heartbreak, and Dorrie realizes Isa's journey across seven decades and a thousand miles could shed light on her own parenting struggles and her inability to trust – even when a good man comes along.

It’s been a little terrifying writing these characters, too. They are nothing like me and everything like me. I really enjoy writing point-of-view characters who make me stretch, and I certainly didn’t skimp on choosing these ladies! The story riffs off lore from my own family vault, but we know very little about what truly happened, so it’s 99 percent made up. The photo on the left is my grandmother, and I always wonder if that was her dreaming about what might have been. I think that’s how most stories begin – we writers see something in “real life” that jump-starts our imagination, and off we go.

Q: After that initial seed is planted, where do you go from there?

A: My process has changed with each manuscript. I used to be a dedicated “pantser” – getting an idea and running after it by the seat of my pants, madly, writing furiously, and hoping I’d end up in the right spot with a complete story. Then I began to morph into a “plotter.” I did the smallest amount of planning, just making a list of five or six things that could happen next in my story, but still writing mostly by the seat of my pants.

With my current manuscript, I succumbed to the idea that being a plotter makes perfect sense for me after all! I find that structure keeps me focused, though I still allow myself flexibility where needed.

First, I spent a lot of thought and research time on my story before I ever began putting much on paper, thinking about my characters, my setting, the conflicts, listening to music that felt appropriate for the story, and so on, mainly while I was working on a previous project (which I eventually set aside because it just wasn’t working).

Then, I spent a whole month writing a detailed outline using a modified version of Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. I created a one-sentence logline for my story, then expanded it to a short paragraph (more or less what you see above in my blurb, though it’s been refined over time), then expanded that to a several-page synopsis, then broke that down into a detailed sketch of each planned chapter.

Last April (2010), I participated in a Backspace writing marathon and completed the first 30 thousand words on the story. Each following month, I wrote another 15 thousand words or so, taking a break during the summer when I was vacationing and then unexpectedly ill. I finished my draft this fall, and now I’m working on revisions. This method worked well for me and I plan to use it again, modifying it as needed. I hope to start a new manuscript this April as the timing seems perfect.

Q: What do you consider to be your strengths as a writer?

A: I think I’m able to come up with unusual premises. I’m good at the mechanics, but I have to be careful not to be too concerned about “the rules” as a result. I can suck the life out of my writing trying to do it “right.”

I’ve been told I’m good at getting into the heads of characters who aren’t like me, which obviously makes me very happy. I’ve been an avid people watcher my whole life. I’m also probably a little too nosy at times when I have conversations with people I don’t even know. But maybe that has made all the difference. I find it almost easier to talk to complete strangers than people I’ve known for years. Must be that journalism degree …

I believe my biggest strength is I just refuse to give up. A few years ago, I took a writing voice class with Barbara O’Neal (formerly Barbara Samuel), who was our guest at What Women Write recently and has been a mentor to me even when she doesn’t know I’m watching. Near the end of the course, she said something that stuck with me. It felt so right, yet I had never really considered it a strength before. In fact, it honestly worried me a little. Barbara said, “It is plain that you have vast, deep ambition, which cannot be underestimated in this business.” She went on to say (and of course, this didn’t hurt my feelings a bit!), “Your writing is very polished and you can do anything you want to do with it – honestly.”

I have held onto those words since – both parts – in the moments when I feel like throwing in the towel and in the moments when I get that fluttery feeling in my tummy that says, “Okay, Julie, I think you might really have something here!”

Q: Many writers admit they always knew they wanted to be a writer. Are you among those?

A: Look at that baby picture of me. Doesn't it look as if I'm already dreaming about my first manuscript?

Seriously, though, I like to think it was always in the back of my mind. I was always a voracious reader and always scribbling in journals or writing terrible poetry or short stories from the time I can remember. Of course, I thought I needed to have a practical plan. After a few unproductive experiments with classes in other fields in college, I majored in English and journalism. My big plan was to work as an editor for a magazine. I graduated from college in Abilene, Texas, and needed to stay there for a few more years while my then-husband finished school. The magazine business was obviously limited in Abilene, so I ended up with a ten-year career as a welfare caseworker – a job that traveled well as we moved frequently.

I eventually transitioned to customer service with an ophthalmic company. While there, I worked on my master’s degree in library and information science. And I mean worked. I was a full-time mother of three, a full-time student, and a full-time customer service representative, all at the same time, for almost two years. It was rough, but somehow, I survived and so did my family!

I thought I’d eventually work in the company’s now defunct research library or – my new “big dream” – as an independent information professional doing research for organizations or individuals. I did do that to a certain extent, but eventually found myself working at my original dream as well. I was editing on a contract basis, and eventually was managing editor of a public policy think tank’s journal.

It took all that time to get back to where I always thought I’d be. In the meantime, I’d started writing fiction in my spare moments (not many). I loved it so much that eventually my husband and I pared our budget down to where I could devote myself completely to writing for a time to see where it would take me.

That’s where I am now, though I do small editing jobs here and there, and I still love it. I hope I never have to get a “real job” (said tongue-in-cheekily) again. I’m so excited I’ve found my passion. It’ll be nice to be paid to do it one day!

Q: How do you think your background in library science has influenced your writing?

A: As far as the writing itself, I have killer research skills, which is obviously helpful. From a publishing standpoint, I have a huge appreciation for librarians and the unbelievable services they provide for authors: promoting their books, fighting for acquisitions in a shaky economy where libraries usually get the leftovers, and following eagerly alongside new technologies as we’ve morphed into the age of electronic books.

I know that when I’m finally published, I better be talking to librarians first, because they will have a critical influence on who gets to read my books.

Q: You’ve been a fan of Backspace for some time. And I joined recently on your recommendation. Tell us a little about what you’ve gained from the site.

A: Backspace has a huge membership (more than 1000 published and unpublished writers and publishing professionals), but the writing forum included with the membership has the feel of a much smaller community (complete with our occasional squabbles – ha!). I know if I have a question that can only be answered by a published author with lots of experience, I can go to Backspace and post that question and within hours, I’ll probably get the answer I need.

It’s also a fun place to commiserate (in a mostly positive way) with other aspiring writers as we keep trudging along the long road to getting published. In a nutshell, Backspace is a microcosm of the world of publishing. If I’m limited on time, I go there to find out what’s happening fast. I believe my membership dues, inexpensive at just $60 a year, have been worth every penny. When I finally get that agent and book deal, I know I’ll have a built-in contingent of fellow authors who will pay forward the help they received in navigating the process and promoting their own books.

Q: A little bird told me you got a Nook Color e-reader for Christmas. Like it? Has it changed how you read?

A: Not particularly, yet, but I feel sure it will. I am in the middle of reading my very first Nook book, Reflection from Diane Chamberlain’s backlist not otherwise available in print. It took me a day or two to get into the groove, find my preferred settings, etc., but now I’m really enjoying reading this way. I can’t tap the page turn fast enough, and don’t feel any different mentally than when I’m reading a print book, though I believe I will always love the feel and smell of a “real” book in my hands. I have enough printed books still in my to-be-read pile that I can’t give them up any time soon, at any rate! I also read the last 70 pages or so of my first draft of ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE last week and loved not being able to edit as I went along.

The Nook is also kind of a mini-tablet, so I have found it useful for quick check-ins on Facebook, which is obviously critical … or not. Also email when I don’t feel like booting up my laptop but want a screen bigger than my tiny (not iPhone) phone. I think I’d eventually like to purchase one of the e-Ink readers, too, because I am not crazy about the glare of the Nook Color screen and would like to be able to read outside whenever I like. The battery life is also not as good, and I got a little panicky when I realized my battery was going to die before I could finish what I wanted to read the other night. The cord is not quite long enough to reach my bed. That would never happen with a print book, right?!

But overall, I’m loving it.

Q: If one of your children came to you and said, “Mom, I want to be a writer, like you,” what would be your advice or reaction?

A: Start now. My son is a gifted songwriter, and I am incredibly proud of him for taking the bull by the horns and jumping in with his whole heart so young. I wish I’d found and followed my dream a long time ago, but I also know that often, life experience is what makes us unique as writers. So I’m okay with the delay, too.

But to them, I’d say, “Start now.”

Thanks, Julie, for taking the time to share your background, goals and current project with us. I can't wait until I'm up to read ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE. I'm sure I'll enjoy it as much as I did the last story you wrote.

And if you're in the Dallas area tonight, stop by Richardson Public Library at 7 p.m. and hear us share the story of how we met, how the blog came to be and other dying-to-know information.


  1. Wow! Thank you Julie and Pamela. I learned a lot at your presentation last evening and now, even more. Thank you for your insightful questions, Pamela, and thank you, Julie. I’ve learned much from your answers—especially the Backspace tip.

    Cindy Wright

  2. So glad you could come, Cindy. We loved being there. I joined Backspace on Julie's recommendation. Just haven't used it like I should but will, I promise!

  3. Wonderful interview and so interesting to find out more about you, Julie. And how amazing to have Barbara O'Neal as your mentor (what a fabulous comment she made about you). Everybody needs a mentor - I'm still looking for one. :) And I agree with you about your son jumping right in with songwriting at a young age - that's my one regret - that I didn't start younger and that I let others lead me to places I didn't really want to go.

  4. Cindy, thanks for reading. So glad you got to come out last night! Hope you'll enjoy Backspace if you join.

    Hey, Kathy, good to see you! Barbara is probably as much a mentor to all the lucky folks who have taken her classes as she is to me -- I just continue to follow her writing and blog, etc., and take notes wherever I can and pick her brain whenever I have a really good excuse because I admire her so much! (See interview last week, for example. ;-) Hope your own writing is going really well! Congrats on The Tom Jones Club!

  5. Thanks, Julie. The other cool thing about Barbara is that she is our official "Wise Woman" for the RWA Women's Fiction chapter - it's great to have her there. She really mentors the whole group (sorry I was so late getting back to you).


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