Julie Tells JC Lillis Dirty Penguin Jokes And About Her Books
TODAY’S BREW: Friggity French Toast blend, baby. Kristen gets the good stuff for me.
I got to do this interview with one of the most refreshingly hilarious and talented people on Twitter, Jen Lillis. Now that RUNNING AWAY inches ever closer to your dirty little hands, here’s a bunch of random stuff about me, including a dirty joke.
Okay, full disclosure: Julie Hutchings is one of my favorite writer-types on Twitter. Whenever she tweets I’m all like
so when I interviewed her I was afraid I’d be all like
“Remember that time you were in the Beatles?”
I briefly considered conducting the entire interview as Ali G. since Julie and I recently discussed our mutual obsession with that one episode where he calls farms “rubbish zoos,” but then I’d have to ask all sorts of rude and oblivious questions about her awesome book, Running Home, which totally deserves better. So I asked her 17 questions as my regular self, and much like Bon Jovi in “Wanted Dead Or Alive,” she ROCKED THEM ALL. (And, unsurprisingly, told a spectacular dirty penguin joke.)
Here’s the interview, followed by my review of Running Home!
Hey Julie—thanks for joining me. Let’s start with some questions about Running Home and the writing life:
Q. Can we talk about Eliza first? SHE’S SO GREAT. Refreshingly low-key, funny, antisocial in a relatable way. So much of her character hinges on this feeling that no matter where she is, she doesn’t quite fit in. Does that come from personal experience, or did you have to stretch to put yourself in her shoes?
A. Ahhh, thank you! I had plenty of time being the odd girl out, the one with the huge boobs and weird hair. It was after I accepted that I wasn’t like anybody else that I found my strength and knew I had somethingelse. Still not sure what it is, but it’s in there. A lot like Eliza, yeah.
Q. I loved the female friendship in Running Home and I kinnnnnda want to write Kat/Eliza femslash, just a little. Since the book is from Eliza’s POV, I’m curious: what did their friendship mean to Kat, and how did she really view Eliza’s whirlwind relationship with Nicholas?
A. Kat always felt a little like a pinup poster and Eliza was the first person to really see Kat for the witty, trusting, generous woman she was. For that, Kat loved her and even though Eliza was a little of everything she wasn’t—self reliant, resourceful, never needing anybody, not wantinganybody—Kat was never jealous. She only wanted Eliza to feel the openness that she felt all the time. So when Nicholas showed up, Kat really wanted Eliza to let herself feel, no matter what feelings he brought on.
Q. This is a vampire book with a difference—you draw on Japanese Shinigami mythology, so your vampires are bound by fate to lead certain people to predestined deaths. What’s the hardest part about writing a romantic lead who’s fated to kill?
A. You know, I never want my characters to be all likeable. Nobody is all likeable all the time. So even though fate picks these victims for him, Nicholas still enjoys the kill. He may have mixed feelings about it, but at the end of the day he’s resolved to stand behind who he is. Insecure, but strong. I think knowing when to turn off the sarcasm with him and turn on the emotion was the hardest thing. His first response is snark all the time. Letting Eliza in to his feelings when he didn’t expect it was tough.
Q. Smell is such a vivid part of Running Home—totally agree with the reviewer who said it should be scratch & sniff. Why did you choose to focus so intensely on smell, and how did you pick the special scents associated with Nicholas and his awesome cabin?
A. Scent is the sense that’s strongest with people. One whiff of something and it can transport you to another time, someone you wish you were, someplace you wish you never left, a moment of longing and happiness all at once. This, to me, is what vampires should stand for, all of these dichotomies and intensity. The smells of home were what I wanted for Eliza, warm things—peppermint brownies, hot chocolate, cloves, all the things that make you want to crawl under a blanket and smile that you’re there. Because she doesn’t get that feeling any other time.
Q. Eliza’s bond with Nicholas gets really intense, really fast (and later in the book it’s obvious why). Do you believe fate has a hand in real-life relationships, or was that just a theme that meshed well with the Shinigami myth?
A. I think there are soul mates, absolutely. People that are meant to be in our lives. I think if I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t be able to write it convincingly. Having someone fated for you isn’t all roses. Sometimes it feels suffocating. Sometimes you can’t get enough of them no matter how hard you try. And no matter how you feel on the surface, you never feel RIGHT unless they’re next to you. And yes, I speak from experience. J
Q. What piece of writing advice has helped you/influenced your work the most?
A. “Write the book you have to write or everything breaks.” (A.M. Homes) Don’t worry about whether it will sell, or if it makes sense, or what genre it fits into. If it’s so powerful that you have to get it out of your soul, it will feel that way regardless of any of these things. Write the book because you’re a writer, not because of what anybody else thinks. Write it if it hurts, or if it takes 12 years.
Q. I love that advice. I need you to cross-stitch that for me, okay?
So I gotta ask, because none of us actually want our books to take 12 years: When you hit a wall and don’t want to write, tell me what happens in your brain to get you past that. How do you talk yourself out of a motivation dead zone?
A. I am such a militant bitch. First, I drink like a sonofabitch. Then I sit my ass down and I force myself to write something, no matter what it is. The only reason I’m not motivated is if I don’t try. It’s a vicious circle. Forcing myself to write just one damn sentence, literally with zero idea of what was going to come out was how I wrote the first line of THE ANIMAL, the book I pray my agent will like after editing.
Q. Forcing it is so hard, but you’re right – sometimes it jumpstarts some great ideas you never would’ve had otherwise.
One more writing question. As a fellow mom, I gotta ask: how on earth do you balance the writing life with motherhood? Any tips for the inept jugglers among us?
A. Oh holy Jesus. Sometimes I suck at being a mom. I just don’t want to play Legos. I just don’t want to do crafts that we’ll all be bored of in 5 minutes. And sometimes all I want to do is play with the kids or screw around outside with them. But I remind myself every day what the two most important things in my life are: My babies and writing. (The husband is in there, I couldn’t do any of it without him.) It may mean that I write in 15 minute intervals, or a sentence here and there as I run around the house, and it often means I get my ass out of bed at 5 to have those 3 solid hours to myself to write. And I’m always tired. But it’s a happy tired. There are days of such overwhelm I can’t breathe, and I take anxiety meds every day, but this is the life I want, and I try to remember that when the kids are climbing on me as I edit. I also schedule like a bastard. I give myself a quota, not a goal, of what I want written, and I don’t let myself slack. End of story. It’s non-negotiable.
Q. YES. Writing moms are superheroes. I’m convinced.
Okay – so since you love answering “weird shit,” I have some rapid-fire oddball questions before we go:
Describe your favorite pair of shoes.
A. Oooooh, I love these patent leather nude stilettos that I just want to lick.
Q. Tell me a dirty joke.
A. It’s long, so get ready. (That’s not the joke.) A penguin’s car breaks down, so he walks to a garage. The walrus mechanic says, “this is gonna take a while, why don’t you go to the diner across the street and come back in an hour?” The penguin is starved, so he orders a huge bowl of ice cream, but penguins don’t have hands, so he flips into his mouth like crazy, getting ice cream everywhere. An hour passes, and he goes back to the garage, still wiping ice cream off his penguin face. The walrus says, “well, it looks like you blew a seal.” The penguin says, “no, it’s just some ice cream.” J
Q. What movie makes you angry?
A. Eraserhead. It makes me dizzy, which makes me angry.
Q. What book makes you cry?
A. THE INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison. Ugh. *kicks feelings*
Q. If you had to write a short story inspired by a song, which one would you pick?
A. UGH AGAIN. Waiting for the Miracle by Leonard Cohen.
Q. What do you think about at night when you’re trying to fall asleep?
A. The coffee I shall drink in a mere 8 hours.
Q. When you meet someone new, what’s the first thing you notice about him/her?
A. Their laugh. Then their hands.
Q. What do you think Oscar the Grouch does on trash day?
A. Eats a shitload of cake.
Q. As a fellow Ali G fan, I must know: Does you believe in mahogany?
A. I DO believe in mahogany because of all the fairy tales and things about it.
Thanks, Julie, for stopping by and painting this blog with amazing. Here’s my review of Running Home:
First things first: is Running Home a good vampire novel? Does it bring something different to the table? Yes, and here’s why. It was an incredibly smart decision to spice up the Original Recipe vampire tale with elements of Japanese Shinigami mythology. It adds depth and shading to what’s usually a pretty straightforward obstacle to romance. In this universe, a vamp who wants to sidestep a human kill has to fight more than just hunger and base instinct – he has to fight fate itself. It’s a powerful, agonizing dilemma that really bears fruit in the second half of the novel, when [SORT-OF SPOILER ALERT] romantic lead Nicholas learns he’s fated to kill someone close to Eliza, the girl he loves.
That brings me to Running Home’s secret weapon—the thing that sets it apart and makes it a hugely appealing read even if you’re not into vampires. Eliza is a great narrator with a specific voice that resists cliché or easy categorization. She can be sullen and withdrawn, but she’s also capable of great tenderness and vulnerability. She’s wry and smart (how can you not love a character who warns her best friend not to dress her “like a human cupcake”?), but she never comes across as a cookie-cutter snarky heroine. She has a quiet strength, but Nicholas is her weakness, and Running Home has the guts to fully explore all the beauty and ugliness of a first love that starts to snowball into obsession. There’s a very good reason Eliza and Nicholas fall for each other so hard and fast (which I won’t reveal here), but even if you take out the vampire element, there’s so much to relate to here: the insecurity and maddening uncertainty of a relationship’s early stages, the almost palpable joys of discovering someone who really gets you. Those relatable parts really anchor the story and keep us on Eliza’s side, even as we facepalm at some of her decisions (hooray for heroines with realistic flaws!).
The deliberate pace of the book’s first half is somewhat surprising, but I actually found it refreshing, especially since the writing is so strong and vivid. I liked that the character development wasn’t perfunctory; we spend a nice stretch of time really getting to know Eliza and her best friend Kat (great female friendship, by the way) and seeing her relationship with Nicholas develop before the plot amps up in the second half. If I didn’t know Eliza so well before the plot started twisting and turning, those twists and turns might have been much less affecting. Plus Hutchings seeds the first half with just enough mystery and small-scale horror, so it’s still a page-turner that builds smoothly to later events.
Also: the end. There’s a development in the final chapters that made me gasp and put my Kindle down for about five minutes. I hated that it happened, but I knew exactly WHY it had to happen, and I respect an author who follows a plot thread to its logical end, even if it devastates the reader. What happens at the end raises a ton of fascinating questions, and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out in the sequel, Running Away. (I hope we don’t have long to wait!)
To sum up: recommended for fans of paranormal horror-romance, unusual heroines, love affairs with equal parts passion and nuance, and richly evocative writing. It’s got a five-star average on Amazon and costs less than a latte. RUN AND GET IT.
And also, follow Julie on Twitter (@HutchingsJulie). You won’t regret it.