When you meet Julia Claiborne Johnson (and I really hope you do), you will be instantly charmed. She is authentic, humble, and though she hates speaking in public, she pulls you in with her humor and vulnerability in a way that makes her unforgettable. The same can be said of her debut novel, BE FRANK WITH ME, which launches today. If you are fortunate enough to attend a book event, please go. You’ll make her so happy, and you’ll be smiling all the way home, too. Meet Julia:
What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?
What I have learned from parenting is that I know nothing, though I thought I knew everything. I mean, once you’ve been a kid, you think you understand exactly what it must be like to raise one. So I was an idiotically confident parent in my twenties, when I didn’t actually have any children. Flash forward to my forties, and having kids, and feeling absolutely incompetent when it came to raising them. That’s why there’s an older mother and a younger woman helping her temporarily parent the kid in my book. They’re the two versions of me as a parent, the idealist and the exhausted.
Where do you write? What do you love about it?
My very favorite place to work in my house is our guest room. There’s a guest in it more often than there isn’t, but when it’s empty, man oh man, my whole family fights over it. For one thing, it has the most comfortable bed in the house. That’s my husband’s favorite place to work. For me, I like the desks. There are two of them—a big one where I can spread out papers, and a little one where I can put my computer. I sit at the little desk and look out my window at the fountain in our garden where the birds come to drink and bathe. I love it there. It’s also very tidy, because it’s the guest room, and all the furniture is nice, because it’s the guest room. It has its own bathroom. Sometimes I pretend it’s my studio apartment, and I live in it all alone, in Manhattan. I realize all this is crazy since there would be no birdbath outside my studio apartment in New York since when I was young and living by myself I always lived in some dangerous not-Manhattan neighborhood of New York and cried every night when I came home from work because I lived by myself and was sure I always would. No birds, no birdbaths, just stray cats fighting in the yard all night and waking me up so I could cry some more. That thing Fitzgerald said was right: “In the real dark heart of the soul it’s always three o’clock in the morning.”
If you had a motto, what would it be?
“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” The thing I’m going to have engraved on my gravestone is “I had a coupon.”
Who inspires you?
You know who inspires me? This is a horrible thing to say, but it’s all the bullies and the popular mean girls in grade school, who laughed at me for being clumsy and chubby, for having to eat food that was different from everybody else in school (allergies) and who picked me last for every team and never invited me to slumber parties. I’ll show them! Clearly, in my heart I’m still nine years old. Some scars don’t heal, I guess.
What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?
I just read The Expatriates, by Janice Y.K. Lee. Guess what it’s about? Expatriates in Hong Kong. It was fascinating. Then I went back and read her first novel, The Piano Teacher. Also terrific. My favorite book on earth is Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. I also love I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. And one of the best and most helpful books for me as a writer was the biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. I learned so much from that.
Julia Claiborne Johnson worked at Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines before marrying and moving to Los Angeles, where she lives with her comedy-writer husband and their two children. Connect with Julia on Facebook and Twitter. See her Book video or read an excerpt from Be Frank With Me.
BE FRANK WITH ME on Amazon or Indiebound