Rummanah Aasi
  Today I have the honor and pleasure in bringing you an author interview with Julie Halpern. Julie is a middle school librarian in the Chicagoland area and an author. While not always wanting to be an author, Julie was always writing. Her passion for writing first began when she was a pen pal, wrote short stories for her friends, and even created her own zine.
    Julie has currently written three books. Her first book is a picture book called Tobey and the Snowflakes, which tells the story of Tobey finding new friends when his best friend moves away. Her second book, Get Well Soon, is her debut YA novel where her main character Anna Bloom is sent to a mental hospital to deal with her depression and panic attacks. Her third book, Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, follows Jess as she navigates the cliques in high school while trying not to lose herself. Into the Wild Nerd Yonder was released last year and like her previous books has gained fans and acclaim alike. I read and loved Into the Wild Nerd Yonder. If you haven't read the book, pick it up! It's fabulous! Help me welcome Julie Halpern to Books In The Spotlight.

Rummanah: Julie, welcome and thank you for stopping by. I have to say that Into the Wild Nerd Yonder was an awesome book that made me laugh, think, and smile. I can empathize with Jess in her struggle to not lose herself as her friends try to join cliques in high school. How did you come up with her character?

Julie: Thanks so much for the sweet words and for inviting me by! Jessie’s character started with my own situation in high school, where I always felt like the sidekick. Most of my friends were these super punk or alternative kids, and while I was into the music, I never felt like I fit in with those groups. Instead, I sort of floated around to the punks, alternative kids, the metal-heads, and the nerdier kids. And most of the time I just hung out with my one best friend, Tracy. I wanted Jess to be an individual who also didn’t fit in with a certain group. Then there was the piece where I wanted to showcase the Dungeons and Dragons crowd. I run the Dungeons and Dragons Club at the middle school where I’m a librarian, and the kids are amazing and smart and funny, not to mention the awesomeness of the game. So I wanted to show how a really cool individual would find her way into the Dungeons and Dragons crowd. And how accepting they would be of her. 

Rummanah: I have to say that one of my favorite parts of the book is where Jess plays her first Dungeons and Dragons D game. I was lost just like her, but was amazed how passionate people are about the game. I think my vague knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons as a cartoon show in the 1980s helped me just a little in visualizing what was going on. Were you always a fan of Dungeons and Dragons or did you have to learn about the game when you wrote Into the Wild Nerd Yonder?

Julie: I watched the cartoon, too! I played a little Dungons and Dragons in high school. I have no idea what made me interested in playing, but at some point I fell in love with the concept of pretending to be someone else in a fantasy setting. Then when I went to college, I found a group of people to play with (college is perfect for Dungeons and Dragons because you can stay up all night and you all live in the same building when you’re in a dorm). Starting the Dungeons and Dragons Club with my middle schoolers allows me to play every week while passing on the game to new kids. It’s amazing what a sense of self playing Dungeons and Dragons gives these kids. You know Vin Diesel? He wrote a brilliant intro to the book Thirty Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons and Dragons about how Dungeons and Dragons changed his life.

 Rummanah: You already know that I have a huge crush on Barrett, Jess’s hot, funny, and smart brother. *Sigh* Do you have any crushes on literary characters?

Julie: I’ve been marinating on this question for a while now, and I think I have become an old, jaded person. In high school, I was in love with every book character I met, particularly Holden Caulfield (duh) and Simon from Lord of the Flies (which is just weird). As much as I love The Hunger Games, I didn’t form an attachment to any of the guys, and I’m not a Twilight fan (not a hater, either, just didn’t get into them). I guess Ron Weasley is my most current literary crush, although he’s very much a hybrid book/movie character. Barrett was pretty amazing :).

Rummanah: Like you, I’m also a librarian. I always love to hear how people got into this awesome profession. What inspired you to become one?

Julie: In college I double-majored in Communication Arts (Radio, TV, Film) and Women’s Studies. But I also worked in several libraries, both college and public. Then I moved to Australia. Libraries were so useful to me, even on the other side of the world, that when I came back I decided to get my MLIS. I think I am an excellent librarian. I have a knack for matching kids with perfect books, and I have already redesigned two libraries. It’s an amazing, fun, diverse career.

Rummanah: Did you always want to be a writer and write for young adults? If so, why?

Julie: I don’t think I ever really knew what I wanted to be. In middle school I thought I wanted to be an accountant. And with my college major I realized the film business wasn’t for me. But I have always loved to write, whether it’s letters or little home newspapers or short stories for creative writing classes or zines. Being surrounded by books, it’s hard as someone who has always written to not want to try it themselves. And why YA? Because that’s pretty much all I read. I like the directness of it.

Rummanah: What is your writing and revision process like?

Julie: I hand-write my novels from start to finish in a series of notebooks. I rarely look back while I write the first draft, so I don’t freeze up and want to change everything. After that is my least favorite part, which is typing the novel into my computer, also a huge revision piece. I then print the book out, read it, and scribble revisions all over that. At that point, I’m usually ready to send it off to my editor. I’m a pretty low fuss author; I don’t revise huge amounts, and my editor has yet to ask me for large numbers of revisions. I hope I didn’t just jinx that.

Rummanah: I know that you’re a big TV watcher. What are your top favorite shows that you can’t miss?

Julie: I have probably said this before, but I have never gotten over "Buffy" going off the air. Because of that, I haven’t been able to commit myself to any hour long dramas. So I watch mostly crap-ish reality shows, which really aren’t crap, but aren’t anywhere near replacing the quality and joy Buffy brought into my home each week. I like "Project Runway", "Top Chef", and most of the Bravo reality shows (although not really any of the Housewives anymore). I also like to watch [I say sort of embarrassedly] "19 Kids and Counting" and "Jonas LA". Yeah. And "iCarly". Oh! And I love the online show, "The Guild". Really, I could talk about TV all day.

Rummanah: Speaking of "Buffy", I couldn't help but notice that you got to meet The Joss Whedon at Comic Con in San Diego. I’m incredibly jealous. I spent this winter watching "Buffy" and I could not get enough of Spike. I know that you also love Buffy, do you have a favorite character?

Julie: Every so often, I try to re-watch all of Buffy. It’s gotten harder with a child. Part of my birth plan was to have Buffy going the entire time I was giving birth! I don’t know if this sounds generic or not, but my favorite character is Buffy. I admire her and relate to her and root for everything she does. That’s why I totally cried when I met Joss.

Rummanah: I’m always looking for the next great read, what is your favorite book that you’ve read this year?

Julie: This is such a hard question to answer because I am sitting on my couch, not surrounded by the library where I work. I kind of have to scan book shelves in order to remember anything I read. I hope this doesn’t sound snobby. I pretty much like almost all books I read because I love being somewhere else during the time I read them. I just have a crappy memory. I’m taking the next year off of work, so I won’t be of help for another year!

Rummanah: What are you working on now? Can you tell us something about it and when we can expect it to come out?

Julie: My next novel, Don't Stop Now, will be out next spring (early summer? Release date becomes official in September). It’s the story of a girl and her annoyingly platonic male best friend who go on a road trip to find their friend after she faked her kidnapping. It’s got a lot of my humor in it, but I also wrote alternating chapters from the perspective of the tragic friend. I’m really proud of it! And right now I’m smack in the middle of writing the sequel to Get Well Soon. I am at about the half-way point, and it is about the same length as Don't Stop Now was when I finished it. I’ll either have a really long book (for me), or I’ll be cutting a lot out when it’s finished.

Rummanah: You can count on me putting those on my to be read pile! Thank you so much for stopping by, Julie!

Julie: Thank you very much for having me! What a great interview!

If you would like to know more about Julie, visit her website, read her blog, and find her on MySpace
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