The Writing Life of: Julie Lawson Timmer
Julie Lawson Timmer
This week on ‘The Writing Life of:‘ I am thrilled to be interviewing author Julie Lawson Timmer. Julie will be sharing with us detail of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book ‘Mrs. Saint and the Defectives’, which was released on 1st August 2017, and answering a few fun questions too.
So without further ado I’ll hand you over to Julie
Julie Lawson Timmer grew up in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, and earned a bachelor’s degree from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. After that, she moved to the United States and earned a law degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
Julie lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her husband and children. She is a devotee of hot yoga and CrossFit, and is the author of Five Days Left (Putnam 2014), Untethered (Putnam 2016), and Mrs. Saint and the Defectives (Lake Union 2017), and Every Drop of Water (Lake Union, coming 2018).
1) As a child what did you want to do when you grew up?
So many things, including a vet, a writer, an architect, and an Olympic swimming coach. By high school I had a bit more insight into my abilities and chose lawyer as another option, and that’s the one I ended up pursuing.
2) Who were your favourite childhood authors?
Enid Blyton – I adored the Mallory Towers books and the Adventure series with Kiki.
Pierre Berton – The Secret World of Og
John D. Fitzgerald – The Great Brain series
Donald J. Sobol – the Encyclopedia Brown series
3) At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote stories constantly when I was little. My mom likes to talk about a series I wrote one summer in which every story ended in death and each one was completely devoid of vowels.
As a young person, I didn’t know any career authors personally, so it’s not something I seriously considered as a viable option. So, I went into law, which allowed me to read and write, my two favorite things. Only after I had been practicing for several years and was in my forties did I decide to give writing a serious chance. I realized one day that if I reached the end of my days, my greatest regret would be that I hadn’t tried to write a novel and get it published, so I decided that day that I needed to give it a shot.
4) How did you go about following that dream?
It was a day in March when I had the realization that I would forever regret it if I didn’t give writing and publishing a novel a serious effort. My birthday is in late May. I decided, that day in March, that I didn’t want to sit around talking about writing a novel “one day”–I wanted to put that dream into action. So I made a commitment to myself that I would have a draft of a novel completed by my birthday.
Starting the following morning in March, I woke up a little before 4am, and wrote from 4-6am while my family was sleeping. At 6am, I went to work. I repeated that every day and on my birthday, I had a completed draft. It was a terrible draft, so I kept up the routine for another 1.5 years while I revised the novel and sent query letters to agents.
5) What is your writing day like? Do you aim for a certain amount of pages or words before you stop for the day?
I change my strategy with every project, it seems, and sometimes I change it within a project if I feel that would help. Often, I set a word count goal and am very regimented about it, not stopping for the day until I have met or exceeded that goal. Other times, I have used chapters as my benchmark, requiring that I complete a certain number each week. Still other times, I’ve required myself to write for a certain length of time. I find I respond to these different goals differently over the length of a project, so switching them up helps.
6) Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I don’t use a pseudonym and haven’t given it much thought. I suppose if I were to switch genres, I would consider this.
7) Do you have any strange habits before starting, or whilst in the midst of writing?
I try not to get too set in my ways. I don’t want to end up only being able to write in a certain location, or at a certain time of day, or with certain music/noise/silence, etc. When I started writing, I had 4 children at home, so I needed to be able to write with noise, or in the car at a child’s practice, or in a stable at a child’s riding lesson, or on the bleachers at a child’s track meet, and so on.
8) Do you write longhand, typewriter, or on a computer?
Again, I like to stay versatile and not get too tied to any one regimen, so I switch between laptop, longhand, dictation into my phone, etc.
9) How many books have you written? Do you have any unpublished work?
I have written four and am lucky enough to have sold four, so nothing unpublished yet.
10) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
100% plotter. I blame this on my legal training and the emphasis on outlining we learned in law school and as young lawyers.
11) Do you read all the reviews left for your book(s)?
No, I don’t. I sometimes think I will one day, perhaps starting with my oldest book so the sting won’t feel so sharp, but I have yet to actually do it.
Concerning your latest book:
Publisher – Lake Union Publishing
Pages – 336
Release Date – 1st August 2017
ISBN 13 – 978-1477819968
Format – ebook, paperback, audiobook/CD
Markie, a fortysomething divorcée who has suffered a humiliating and very public fall from marital, financial, and professional grace, moves, along with her teenage son, Jesse, to a new town, hoping to lick her wounds in private. But Markie and Jesse are unable to escape the attention of their new neighbor Mrs. Saint, an irascible, elderly New European woman who takes it upon herself, along with her ragtag group of “defectives,” to identify and fix the flaws in those around her, whether they want her to or not.
What Markie doesn’t realize is that Mrs. Saint has big plans for the divorcée’s broken spirit. Soon, the quirky yet endearing woman recruits Markie to join her eccentric community, a world where both hidden truths and hope unite them. But when Mrs. Saint’s own secrets threaten to unravel their fragile web of healing, it’s up to Markie to mend these wounds and usher in a new era for the “defectives”—one full of second chances and happiness.
12) How long did it take you to get from the idea’s stage to your date of publication?
About 2 years.
13) How did you come up with the names for your characters?
Names often just come to me from nowhere – I start writing about a character and instantly, a name attaches. I often find it impossible to change character names later because they stick so hard. It’s been a surprising thing, actually. Rarely do I struggle to find a name and when I do, I often use names of friends or family in an effort to honor them in a small way.
I named four teenagers in one book after my then-teenage nieces and nephews, and they got a kick out of that. I’ve also named a character after my godson, who appreciated it.
14) Can you give us an insight into your main character(s) life?, What makes them tick?
One main character is Markie, a fortysomething divorcée who has suffered a humiliating and very public fall from marital, financial, and professional grace. She moves, along with her teenage son, Jesse, to a new town, hoping to lick her wounds in private. But Markie and Jesse are unable to escape the attention of their new neighbor Mrs. Saint, the other main character, who is an irascible, elderly New European woman who takes it upon herself to identify and fix the flaws in those around her, whether they want her to or not.
Markie, determined to be left alone, tries her best not to be curious about Mrs. Saint and her house staff, whom Mrs. Saint refers to as her “defectives,” but Markie soon realizes that Mrs. Saint is keeping many secrets about herself and her staff, and her curiosity threatens to overcome her determination to refrain from getting engaged.
15) Which was your hardest scene to write?
I’m not sure if any one particular scene was hard to write, but Mrs. Saint keeps many secrets, all of which are revealed only at the very end of the book. It was a challenge to keep the secrets alive throughout the chapters in a way that would keep readers engaged and curious while not making them feel frustrated or manipulated.
16) How did you come up with the title of your book?
The title, MRS. SAINT AND THE DEFECTIVES, comes from the story itself. Although it’s really Markie’s story, her life is so interrupted by her neighbor, Mrs. Saint, and the neighbor’s household help, that through Markie’s eyes, Mrs. Saint and her defectives end up being a main focus.
Also, I wanted “Mrs. Saint” in the title because the character of Angeline St. Denis (“But you will call me Mrs. Saint, if you please”) was very loosely inspired by a neighbor whom I dearly loved. Our neighbor was a wonderfully generous, caring person with a last name that began with “St.” and she told us to call her “Mrs. Saint.”
There is a low wooden fence that separates our two properties, and with regularity, Mrs. Saint would step over the fence to see us. Our beloved Mrs. Saint died suddenly about five years ago, and although I didn’t realize it until this book came to me, I have for some time, subconsciously, wanted to write something that would honor her. I dedicated the book to her, and because I knew from the beginning I would do that, writing the novel felt like a labor of love from the start.
17) Did you get a family member/friend to read your work before sending to the publishers?
I always have my husband and a few fellow authors read my work. I also have a cousin who reads my drafts, and as she’s fluent in French, she also helped in an additional way with this book, corrected all of Mrs. Saint’s French dialog and broken English. Also, my literary agent reads my work before she submits it to editors.
18) What process did you go through to get your book published?
Having a literary agent makes this part of the process very streamlined–once I get a final draft to my agent, she takes care of the entire submission process, including deciding which editors might like the project.
19) What did you do once you had written the final word in your book?
I’m *supposed* to say, “I start writing the next one immediately!” Many authors do that. I’ve never been able to manage it, though; I always need a lengthy break between projects. So, I usually take a month or more, during which time I “refill the well” by reading as much as I can, both novels and any non-fiction that might end up being research for my next novel.
Each of my novels involves an issue that is heavily researched, so once I’ve had my month of well refilling, I transition into a few months of research. After that, I start drafting.
20) What’s next for you, writing-wise?
I’m working on my fourth novel, provisionally entitled EVERY DROP OF WATER, which is scheduled to come out in October 2018. It tells the story of a group of friends, neighbors and quasi-relatives who live in Flint, Michigan, each of whom is facing a challenging life event, and all of which plays out against the backdrop of the Flint water crisis.
1) What’s your favourite food?
Hmmm. It often depends on the day but I’m pretty much always up for Thai food.
2) If you had a box of crayons and you could only choose one, which colour would you choose?
3) What movie could you watch over and over again?
4) What would be the top song on your playlist?
“I Will Fix You,” by Coldplay. I tell my kids this is my song to them. Also “Step” by Vampire Weekend. It reminds me of my son, who has grown and moved away, so hearing it makes me feel connected to him.
5) If you won millions on the lottery, what would be your first purchase?
Sorry to be deathly boring, but I have enough things, so I would send it straight to my retirement account. If the rules are that I must spend it, I’d arrange a three-month stay in each of England, France, Italy, and Greece.
6) A talking duck walks into your room wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, whats the first thing he says to you?
“Hope it doesn’t offend you that I’m not wearing any pants?”
You can find out more about Julie’s by visiting the website/social media sites below.
I would like to say a big thank you to Julie for sharing with us details of her writing life, and for a wonderful interview.