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July 28, 2017

Attending the Book Launch for ROSIE GIRL by Julie Shepard --- Guest Post by Teen Board Member Rachel D.


South Florida local Julie Shepard is the author of the newly debuted young adult novel ROSIE GIRL. ROSIE GIRL was one of my favorite books of the year, so I was beyond excited to have the privilege of attending her book launch on July 15th to celebrate the release of her first novel. Read on to learn all about Julie, ROSIE GIRL and the fantastic event.

At 7:00 p.m. sharp, I stood in front of Books and Books, a cozy bookstore in the heart of Coral Gables. The store, built around a courtyard, was the location of Shepard’s launch. I’ve never been invited to a book launch before, but I’ve attended a few panels. Shepard didn’t read her book, nor did she give away any of its main plot, yet I saw how she captivated the attention of her audience, leading a Q&A session. After a raffle, she sat down to sign books, striking up small conversation with those coming up to her at the table.

When I came up to the table and asked to get my book signed, Shepard recognized me as soon as I said my name! She had read my review and invited me to come to the launch to begin with, but nothing feels more gratifying than seeing the impact your writing has on others. She gave me an extra signed copy, and I gave my first copy to one of my best friends who came along with me.

Attending this event as a teen who aspires to be a writer one day was incredible. When Shepard was describing the way she researched and found inspiration for her characters, it entirely inspired me, leaving me reassured that I will find a way to create a story that will captivate readers in the same way.

After the event ended, I had the opportunity to send some questions her way: I’d like to start by reiterating how much I loved and recommend ROSIE GIRL. One aspect of ROSIE GIRL that I loved was in its varying themes: from social issues to substance abuse, a variety of issues important to teenagers were covered while still retaining its exhilarating pace and poignancy. If you could describe your novel in three words, which words would you use?

Julie Shepard: Wow, this is a super hard question! about: dark, disturbing and surprising ;).

TRC:  You mentioned this at your launch --- Rosie’s voice is innately unique to ROSIE GIRL and clearly sets it apart from characters who may seem otherwise similar to her. Where did you find inspiration for her character?

JS: Hmm, this is an interesting question. I'm not sure where the inspiration came from, or where it ever comes from. It's not like my imagination is sparked by a character in another book or movie or from meeting a friend's daughter at a barbecue. It's none of that. My characters come to me foggy at first, and it takes a long time for me to see them clearly. Rosie was no exception. At first, she was just hard and tough. But then, as I began to tell her story, I found the soft spots.

TRC: Without giving away too much, mental health is huge in ROSIE GIRL. What was the driving factor behind that ending? Were you always writing the novel with that ending in mind?

JS: I always knew the end of the story and that the ending WAS the story. With all of my books, while I may not know how I'm going to get there (I'll know points A, E, J, etc., but not every other letter, so to speak), I usually know where I'll end up. That helps guide me. I'm going to point Z --- a point I know --- and I just plod along until I get there.

TRC: Let’s talk about the editing process. I read on your blog that a lot of details were changed in the editing process (although I think this may just be standard). Do you have any scenes, characters or details you wish you had or hadn’t changed? If you were to rewrite your book, what would you do differently?

JS: I will say (with great respect to my editor) that I wanted less "hints" about what was happening in the novel. My editor felt very strongly that the reader should know something is "off" about Rosie, while I didn't. So, we did butt heads on that. I probably would've left out a lot of the *wink winks*, but I had to trust that she knew best.

TRC: How would you say your experience as a teacher shaped your writing? Were you able to better relate to your characters because of your experience?

JS: Well, I've been out of the classroom for quite a while now, but it did. Always some sort of drama. Tears behind books held in front of faces. It was hard to watch terrific young women suffer over being excluded from cliques or failing to gain the attention of a boy they were crazy about. But I also learned plenty about teachers, too. A lot of power trips :/.

TRC: Several, if not most, characters likely required some research in ordered to be portrayed accurately. What was the research process like for you?

JS: The research process kind of snuck up on me. It was also something I had to keep revisiting, especially because it took several years to finish the manuscript. I was lucky to find people who were willing to share their expertise and continue to indulge me. I'm sure there were several times they opened their email and thought, "Really? More questions?!" But I had to make sure the information was accurate.

TRC: Many of our readers are dabbling into writing on their own. What are some resources that you would recommend to writers wanting to write YA?

JS: Basically all books on craft will help writers, regardless of genre. Two of my favorites are 38 MOST COMMON FICTION WRITING MISTAKES by Jack Bickham and HOOKED by Les Edgerton. But YA is unique in the sense that it's primarily about voice. So definitely read a lot in the genre and by multiple authors so you see the range of styles and content. For instance, Elizabeth Scott's LIVING DEAD GIRL is super dark. And then you have Susane Colasanti's SOMETHING LIKE FATE, which is light and sweet. But you should definitely read some of the biggest names in YA and analyze their work to see why they're so successful: Nicola Yoon, John Green and Jandy Nelson to name a few.

TRC: How did you turn your dream of publishing a book into reality?

JS: HARD WORK!! Sorry, but that must be screamed. Work hard. Study the craft of writing. Read across genres. Share your work with other writers whom you trust. Network. Enter contests. Attend a conference or two. Put yourself out there. An agent or editor is not going to come knocking on your door. It's up to you to make connections, to query, to nudge, to be your own strongest advocate.

TRC: You’ve made it clear that ROSIE GIRL will be a standalone novel. However, do you see yourself publishing another book anytime soon?

JS: Well, it could be a while as the wheels of the publishing industry turn very slowly. Believe it not, this whole process starts all over again with every new manuscript (aside from finding an agent, thank goodness!). So I'll be submitting my current manuscript to her soon, which I'm sure she'll make me revise until she thinks it worthy of submitting to Penguin who has the right of first refusal to my next book. Fingers crossed!