Julia and I go way back…as in all the way back to high school wherein everyone who knew us couldn’t quite figure out how we managed to be such good friends. It certainly appeared that we would be a poor match. She was a very well behaved teenager who dressed nicely, usually followed the rules, got stellar grades in everything, practiced her music and thus played flute beautifully. I behaved outrageously at every chance, smoked and drank and swore like a sailor on shore leave, surreptitiously broke as many rules as I thought I could get away with and rarely practiced my music and thus I played poorly. Yet when you stripped all that away we were both smart and funny and mischievous and daring and even though most people couldn’t figure it out we knew we had found in each other a partner for our adventures. We fell out of touch in college and it’s only been recently that we’ve rediscovered each other (thanks Facebook!) and what do you know…it turns out we are both writers! No one would have seen that coming except maybe the two of us.
I asked Julia to answer a few questions about her writing process and she generously agreed.
How did you get from the world of finance/business to writing fiction?
Purely by accident. I was driving down the street with by friend Marjorie when she said she was afraid to stay at home at night if her husband wasn’t there so he gave her a gun…and it was an elephant gun! I laughed and said, “Marjorie, if I ever write a book that’s what I’m going to call it: Marjorie and the Elephant Gun!” The very next night I started writing the story. Soon I knew it was longer than a poem, then longer than a short story, and before I knew it I was drowning in a novel and I didn’t know how to write. That’s when I started attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. I learned how to write by writing a novel…there must be a better way!
I know you talked about participating in various Santa Barbara writing workshops and classes. Can you talk a bit about your experiences with workshops/writers’ groups?
The Santa Barbara Writers Conference was great. That’s were a met Leonard Tourney who was a professor at UCSB. I thought how can I get into his class without having to enroll in college again? It turned out that he did a weekly writers workshop practically in my backyard in Santa Ynez. When I moved over the hill to Santa Barbara I joined Leonard Tourney and Shelly Lowenkopf in a work shop at the Montecito Library. We called it the “Lion’s Den” for good reason. Later, I started a workshop at my home which I called that San Ysidro Writers Workshop. We would read one chapter a week out loud and then comment on each other’s work. Occasionally I would hire a visiting instructor and we would all pitch in to cover the costs. It’s a very valuable experience to get feedback from other writers and to have to produce a chapter on deadline.
Geneva is a pretty complex mystery/thriller. Can you talk a bit about your plotting process, any tips or tricks you use to keep track of it all?
Although I do keep a chapter and scene outline, I usually don’t have a problem keeping track of the plot. In my mind, it plays like a movie and I am just writing down what is there. What I have learned (by mistake of course) is that I need to write down and keep handy the character development details, so I don’t in chapter one write that he has green eyes and then in chapter ten write about his brown eyes!
I know you have a full time job and a very active teenage son. Balance is a challenge for just about everyone I know. Would you tell us about your regular writing schedule and how you manage to stay true to it while living a pretty demanding life aside from writing novels?
I don’t wait for my muse to show up! I schedule a time to plant my tail in the chair and write! If I sit in the chair and don’t know what to write (which rarely happens because I am always, while driving etc, thinking about what I am going to write) I will do stream of consciousness writing to loosen up my brain. I simply write whatever work pops in my mind; blue wall green glass door free grass light sky etc) for a few minutes. I also follow the advice of Hemingway – to stop while I still have something to write (which is easy because I always run out of time first!)
You have done extensive research into the financial and technological aspects of publishing and selling books in today’s market. This has led you to start your own publishing/media company. Can you tell us a little bit about what led you to do that and what you hope to do with your publishing/media company?
I decided to do this when I read the traditional publishing contracts and learned how little the writer actually keeps when they sign away all the rights to their work. Today’s options for printing are remarkable – you don’t need to order thousands of books. Digital publishing allows the writer to keep the lion’s share of the sales dollars. As in any business, you have to spend money to make money. No book will succeed (with a major publisher or self-published) unless there is a marketing budget behind it. When I realized that I have, through my work experience in public speaking, print, and television, all the skills needed to promote a book – I took the jump. I spend all the money I make from writing my column on marketing the fiction.
I know you have another book either in editing or almost ready for publication, would you tell us a bit about that novel?
Nairobi – A Novel of International Intrigue is the second book to be published. The protagonist, Avery Sumner, is a minor character in GENEVA. It takes place after GENEVA when Karen returns to her native Africa for some R & R – which of course she doesn’t get much of!
Most writers are passionate readers. What do you enjoy reading and who are some of your favorite writers and why?
I love reading auto-biographies about really dynamic, powerful, and adventurous women. Needless to say there aren’t many of these around – yet! West with the Wind by Beryl Markham is my favorite book. Beryl was a safari pilot and the first person to fly East to West across the Atlantic. I also loved Daughter of Destiny by Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Mister of Pakistan and Personal History by Katharine Graham (publisher of the Washington Post.)
Now just for fun…I tend to listen to music while I write, and this will often lead to chair dancing while writing, also if I get stuck I tend to get up and pace, sometimes I juggle while pacing. I KNOW…how geeky can I get, but it works. So what’s the goofiest thing you do while writing or to break things loose if you get stuck?
If I get stuck, I print out what I have written that day, move to the other side of the room and read out loud. (Usually only to my cat – who yawns) then can more easily see what it needs.
There you have it folks! Thanks so much Julia for taking the time to share your process with us here at SBI! I’m looking forward to Nairobi.
Julia also writes regularly about polo for a Santa Barbara paper and other publications as well.
JULIA MICHELLE DAWSON BIO: Adventurous world traveler, Julia Michelle Dawson is a veteran of Wall Street. Pilot, mountain climber, scuba diver, and polo player, she uses her interesting life experiences and her knowledge of the financial world to bring the reader excitement, adventure, danger, and romance from the board room to the jungles of Africa. A world citizen, Julia calls Santa Barbara, California home.