Here's part of the chat I did with Julie when After You first came out in hardcover, and some of these questions are recent, like from YESTERDAY, about her becoming a new mom and about her writing process!
Hope you enjoy!
After You is about Ellie and Lucy’s friendship and the lengths one will go to take care when tragedy strikes. It’s about Lucy’s precocious 8-year-old daughter and it’s about marriage, a murder and the lengths one will go to take care of a friend, putting all things aside that used to be important. It’s about stepping away from everything you’ve ever known to find out what it is you’re most meant to need.
Here’s what Amazon says of the book:
The complexities of a friendship. The unexplored doubts of a marriage. And the redemptive power of literature ... Julie Buxbaum, the acclaimed author of The Opposite of Love, delivers a haunting, gloriously written novel about love, family, and the secrets we hide from each other--and ourselves.
Stephanie: There are so many questions I want to ask you but they would give away some of the plotlines so, we'll go cryptic here! After You begins with a murder, but to me it was really a love story. What do you think are some of the themes in the book?
Julie: I was really interested in looking at the question of how well we truly know the people we love, and also who we become when we lose those who most defined us. I'm also constantly intrigued by the concept of home: what does it mean? Is it a place, a person, a feeling?
Stephanie: Good concept. So, where or what, is home for you, Julie?
Julie: Interesting question. I dedicate After You to my husband, "my home spot." So for me, personally, home has so much more to do with people than place.
Stephanie: Was it hard for you to create a character who would drop everything she had to help the daughter of her best friend? I don't know that I would be that kind!
Julie: What an interesting question. It wasn't difficult for me to imagine, because as the novel progresses it becomes clear that Ellie does not necessarily have pure motives, or to put it a better way, she is not dropping everything just out of kindness. No doubt she feels a responsibility to Sophie as her godmother, and to Lucy too, but she is also finding a convenient excuse to run away from her own life. I think that impulse, combined with her genuine love for Sophie, make her actions much more understandable.
Stephanie: Tell us about Ellie and her husband's relationship? What do you think was wrong for them to be so disconnected?
Julie: Sometimes the saddest part about a loss, is not just the loss itself, but the wedge it can create between people, especially when they grieve in different ways. I think this is what happened with Ellie and Phillip. After the traumatic experience of losing a baby, they have trouble turning to the other for comfort, and let distance creep between them. Marriage is always work, but during the worst of times, I think we sometimes forget what we need to do to stay connected, and tragedy only gets compounded.
Stephanie: The book, The Secret Garden plays a huge role in After You, and I think it's your favorite childhood book? How did The Secret Garden affect you the first time you read it, and how old were you? How many times have you read it?
Julie: I must have been about seven or eight, about the same age as Sophie is in After You. I just remember sitting on my mother's lap and begging her to let us read another chapter before bed. I can't tell you how many times I've actually read The Secret Garden since, but it must be an obscene number. I read it at least once a year, and turn to it pretty much whenever I'm going through a tough time. It's just magical and comforting. As close to a perfect book as one can hope to encounter.
Stephanie: Sophie is a very mature and complex little girl. Did you base her on someone you know? Did you have to spend time with any little girls to create Sophie? What was that like?
Julie: I didn't base her on anyone I know, but the more her character developed, the more I found that she reminded me of myself at that age. I too was a bit annoyingly precocious, and like Sophie, I remember being aware that much more was going on than I actually understood, and finding myself frustrated by what I didn't know. (I too always had a book in my hand, and loved Nancy Drew.) As for actual research, I did observe at an elementary school, just to get a sense of how kids interact at that age, of their conversations, speech patterns, that sort of thing. And from time to time, I'd check in with a close friend who is a teacher to gut check about whether Sophie's thoughts and actions were age appropriate.
Stephanie: I know your husband's name is Indy, so I wondered if Sophie's best friend, Inderpal, was based on him? Did you plan that, and why? What did he think?
Julie: I did! As a writer, it's lots of fun to put the occasional shout-outs in a book, but this was the first time I based a character on an actual person. My husband has always said that he wishes we had known each other when we were little, so as Sophie started to resemble me, I thought it would interesting to create a little boy version of him, and see how they interacted. (I should mention that little Inderpal, or "Indy", serves the plot in other ways too. I didn't only write him in for my amusement!) There are some differences between my Indy and fictional Indy, but I hope my husband enjoyed the rendering. I have to admit that I love the character; he's just so dorky and cute.
Stephanie: I adored Indy in the book as well! I know your first book, The Opposite of Love is optioned for a movie - is it still being made into a movie starring Anne Hathaway?
Julie: All signs still point to yes. But please keep your fingers crossed for me! It would literally be a dream come true.
Stephanie: There are characters in both of your books who have lost their mothers. I know your own mom passed away when you were young. So you must have personal feelings that you know how to weave into your stories, but it must also be very hard to bring this to the surface. How do you do it? Is it sad to write what you write?
Julie: Sometimes I get sad when I write, if only because I am putting my characters, whom I've grown to love, through heart wrenching things. But unfortunately, as a writer you don't have a much a choice about doing this. We need to torture our characters for plot! One thing that has helped is that both Ellie and Emily, the main characters of After You and The Opposite of Love, are both very different people from me in so many ways, and so I was able to keep my distance from their grief. Even though Sophie in many way resembles me as a kid, she loses her mother at 8, while I lost mine at 14, an age gap which I think renders the experiences very distinct. (Though come to think of it, I may have had a tough time if I had chosen to write the book from Sophie's perspective, because it may have hit too close to home.) Since the book is more Ellie's story (and even Lucy's) than Sophie, After You, I think, is more a meditation on loss more generally--not just of a mother, but of a best friend, a baby, a marriage.
Stephanie: You recently became a mommy to a baby girl named Elili; how old is she now?
Julie: Elili is five months old. At this age, I feel like I can practically see her growing. Every morning she looks different--bigger, more alert--than the day before. It's crazy.
Stephanie: What's the most important lesson you want to teach your daughter?
Julie: This may sound silly, but I think I learned one my most valuable life lessons from reading Nancy Drew as a kid: Life is much more fun if you are curious. I very much hope to pass that on.
Stephanie: I completely got goosebumps from this concept of yours on lessons! I hope that’s the case too! What do you want Elili to know about the author in you?
Julie: I am not sure that it's important for my daughter to know the author in me, but I do hope to show her what a blessing it is to pursue something you love. I have no idea what my daughter will one day be passionate about, but whatever that is, I hope she is not afraid to pursue it. I do hope I pass on my love of reading, though, not only because it will be something we can share, but because books have been such a reliable companion for me over the years. I would be happy for her if she could have that too.
Stephanie: Have you done a bunch of traveling with Elili? I know you just got back from Egypt. How has traveling with a baby been? What's the unexpected motherhood stuff you've experienced?
Julie: Egypt was our first trip, but next month I have four flights planned with her, two of which are international flights, and will involve an eight hour time difference. I'm clearly either a delusional optimist or a masochist. Egypt was great though. On the flight there, she was a dream. On the way back, I considered putting her up for sale on eBay. I'm kidding of course, but the flight was a bit of a challenge.
As for the unexpected motherhood stuff, I never thought there would come a time in my life where I would be spit-up on, pooed on, peed on, and not even blink.
Stephanie: How has becoming a mother changed you for the good. For the bad?
Julie: I am not sure where this falls--good or bad--but now I can never imagine living without Elili. I think becoming a mother increases your capacity to love exponentially. I just have to think about her and I smile. As for the bad, becoming a mother has tipped me over the neurotic scales straight into crazy territory. With this new love has come this incredible capacity for anxiety. The stakes just feels so much higher than anything else I've ever done.
Stephanie: Do you ever sit down and read your own books?
Julie: When I'm in the editing process, I read and read and read and read my work until I can't see straight. After publication, though, I never read my own books. Maybe one day, years and years from now, I'll be nostalgic and take a look, but for now, I'm just too critical. I think the urge to edit would be too painful.
Stephanie: I know you're working on your next book; can you tell us a little about it?
Julie: I'm basically still in the research stage at this point, but I can tell you that the majority of it will be set in the ‘50s. I've been immersing myself in books, movies, television set during that time period. I love that my job allows me to spend the morning watching Father Knows Best, and then call it work. By the way, if any of you have a favorite ‘50s book/TV show/movie set in the ‘50s email me (firstname.lastname@example.org.) I'm looking for suggestions.
OK, you all heard the gal! If you wanna enter the contest, leave a comment on a favorite '50s book, TV show, movie, or ANYTHING that you know about the fifties that you think might help Julie with her research for her next book! Even if it's about cute POODLE SKIRTS and GREASER boys! If you can't think of anything, that's OK too, you can just comment on how much you love Julie and how you really want to win a signed copy of AFTER YOU!
Oh well, fun stuff like giving away incredible books from authors I love keeps me from having breakdowns and crying my eyes out!
Winners will be picked RANDOMLY probably either Friday or sometime over the weekend, because OH MY GOSH! I have less than a week now until the freaking moving van comes to my house to pack up all my stuff and there is sooo much to do. What am I? INSANE!?!?