Interview: Julie Buxbaum

Julie Buxbaum is one of those writers who thought about writing long before she did it. As I read the bio on her website, I could just picture her in all these different jobs thinking of plot lines and stories. It’s a lesson for all the people out there who want to be writers. Never give up the dream to do it. But write! Julie has some fabulous advice for you below, and i know you are going to enjoy reading more about her. She has two lovely books out now, The Opposite of Love and After You, which could easily be put on your Christmas list now. (I’m just saying.)

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Tell us a bit about your latest book. What inspired you to write this story?

After You is the story of Ellie Lerner, who moves to London to help take care of her best friend’s daughter, Sophie, when her best friend unexpectedly dies. I was really interested in looking at the question of how well we really know the people we love. The book provided the perfect opportunity to explore this theme, because Ellie gets the unique opportunity to actually step into the life of her best friend, and see behind that opaque curtain. And of course, Ellie (and hopefully the reader) is surprised and shocked by what she finds there.

You’ve got one of those amazing backgrounds that is going to suit you perfectly in terms of being a writer. It makes me wonder if perhaps you were always “writing,” at least in your head. Were you?

So funny that you should ask that. I never considered myself a writer, because I never wrote anything down. But you are absolutely right. I have spent my entire life “writing” in my head. I used to love to craft first sentences and paragraphs–getting them to sound exactly as I wanted them–but I don’t know what kept me from committing my words to paper. Fear, maybe.

Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?

I guess my biggest goal is to consistently improve and challenge myself as a writer. I can think of nothing worse than writing the same book over and over again. When I finished both The Opposite of Love and After You, I spent some time reflecting on what I’ve learned throughout the process of writing them, and what I liked (and didn’t like) about the finished work. The hope is to take those lessons with me and apply them to the next project.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

I am huge fan of The Secret Garden, which actually plays a central role in After You. (Sophie and Ellie read it together to deal with their grief.) I’ve read it at least a hundred times now, and each time, I discover something new and intriguing. I find the story so magical and healing and redemptive. It’s just a beautiful piece of work, as close to perfect as a novel can be in my opinion.

Favorite authors?

Both Richard Powers and Marilynne Robinson are writers who continually inspire and wow me. Although it’s cliche, I do love to sit down with a Jane Austen novel at least once a year. Really enjoy Martin Amis. Sometimes, on a Sunday afternoon, I like nothing more than to curl up with Anna Quindlen’s latest or Elizabeth Berg.

Book you’re currently reading?

I recently finished Tana French’s In the Woods. I enjoyed it so much, I went out and immediately bought her next one The Likeness. Also just read Jonathan Tropper’s latest, This Is Where I Leave You, which is hilarious and touching. And I know I’m jumping on the bandwagon here, but also loved Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.

Any type of writing ritual you have?

Not really. I like to work at home in the mornings, which is when I find I do my best work. I guess my ritual mostly involves pouring myself a cup of coffee or tea, checking some email, and then getting down to it. I like to put on classical music when I write; it’s my signal to myself that the work day has started.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?

I try not to use those words together, because they scare the crap out of me. I believe that writing can be more challenging some days than others, and if nothing is flowing, I don’t usually push it. It’s only when I’ve had a few bad days in a row that I force myself to keep going even if what I’m producing isn’t particularly good. For me, the key is not to freak out when things aren’t going as well as I would like them to. I try not to elevate it to the level of a problem. Instead, I think of it as a minor, and most importantly, temporary glitch.

In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?

What an interesting question! I don’t know. I measure my own success in terms of whether I am proud of the work that I’m putting out in the world. I try not to spend too much time worrying about sales or even reviews. All of that is out of my control, and really aren’t qualitative measurements. (And of course, it’s all subjective anyway.) I think anyone who sits down and commits themselves to the act of writing would be considered a successful writer in my book.

Advice for other writers?

Write! And I say this as someone who didn’t write for a very long time. The blank page is terrifying, but you can’t be a writer without writing. So many people tell me they think they have books in them, but it’s always interesting to see how few actually commit to spending that torturous time actually writing.

Where can we learn more about you?

You can check out my website, www.juliebuxbaum.com, which probably has more information about me than you ever wanted to know. If I’m wrong, though, feel free to email me and ask away. I’m such a little kid about receiving mail. I love it.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I guess the only other thing is that if anyone who is reading this is in a book club, I love to do conference calls with groups. I find it’s a great way to connect directly with readers, and hear what they are thinking. It always fun, and makes the writing process a little less isolating. If your group is interested, just email me through my website.

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