Dumplin’, Murphy’s sophomore novel, was a #1 New York Times bestseller and a “Best Book of the Year” pick by Amazon. Film rights have been optioned by Disney, and Michael Costigan is signed on to produce while the hunt for a screenwriter is ongoing. Dumplin’ is currently sold in more than twenty-five foreign territories. In 2017, Murphy is set to release her third novel, Ramona Drowning. She took time from a jam-packed schedule last week to talk to us via email.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Julie, I’ve read that you spent your formative years in Connecticut and then moved to Texas. What brought you to the Lone Star State?
JULIE MURPHY: I did indeed! My parents actually moved here for work and just for a fresh start in general. No one in either of their families had ever made such a drastic move, but I wouldn't take it back for anything.
Did Texas surprise you? Have you explored the state extensively?
As a kid, I expected dirt roads and horses everywhere. We initially moved to San Antonio and instantly fell in love with the laid back and festive life style. The first thing we did when we got off the plane was get nachos at Taco Cabana. They say to start how you intend to continue and I would say that statement accurately reflects my love affair with Tex-Mex. Now I live in the Fort Worth area, but I have explored quite of a bit of the state and have even spent some time out in Marfa. I would love to explore a little more of the southwest and Palo Duro Canyon. I also have a quite a few swimming holes I'd like to visit.
As arguably one of Texas’s hottest new stars in Young Adult fiction, how would you describe your adolescence?
I was always a little too confident and outspoken for my own good, but this benefited me in the long run. It gave me this fearlessness to always try new things and demand a fair shake. I was always the chubby kid in the class, and I was very aware that people were already staring at me. I always figured, why not really give them something to look at? So I was always the loudmouth joker. As an adult, I've let that defense mechanism drop and have found that a more introverted lifestyle really suits me best.
In 2010 you graduated from Texas Wesleyan University. In 2015 you gave the commencement address. What was that like?
It was quite surreal and I still can't believe they asked me to do that. I remember sitting on the request for a while, because I felt so terribly underqualified. In the end, it was an experience I will always treasure and it actually helped me build quite a bit of confidence in my public speaking abilities. I always did theater and public speaking in high school, but as an author I spend so much time alone that it's easy to forget what you’re actually capable of and what you've accomplished. That experience was a meaningful reminder.
What was the turning point in your writing career? How did you get “the call” or “the email message”?
You know, finding my agent and selling my book was relatively painless process and I know how truly lucky I am to be able to say that. Of course, it was all special and unforgettable, but my career since then has really felt more like a slow build for me. Nothing changed over night, and I think I like it that way. My first book did well, but it wasn’t a blockbuster or anything. Still, the experience primed me for the process of releasing my second book, which has undoubtedly seen more of a spotlight. No single publishing journey is alike, and I'm quite thankful for how mine has played out.
For our readers not familiar with your two books, tell them what they’re about — in your own words.
Side Effects May Vary follows the story of Alice and her childhood best friend, Harvey. Alice is terminally ill and only has so long to live, so she creates a bucket list. But this list is not your average list. Alice wants to have the final word in many ways, so while there are a few nice things on the list, some of her last wishes are to carry out revenge on those she feels have wronged her. Alice, with the help of Harvey, completes her list by any means possible. And then the thing she least expected happens- — Alice goes into remission and must face the consequences of all she’s said and done.
Dumplin’ is the story of Willowdean Dickson, a confident, Dolly Parton–obsessed, fat girl who lives in small East Texas town with her former beauty queen mother. Willowdean takes a part time job at a local fast food restaurant, where she meets Bo, a cute ex-jock, and immediately finds herself falling for him. She is pleasantly surprised when Bo seems to like her back. They embark on a secret summer fling with stolen kisses behind the drive-thru and lots of flirting. As their relationship progresses, Willowdean's confidence is shaken. She’s not sure how she feels about someone touching her and what their relationship actually is. To restore her confidence, she enters the small town beauty pageant run by her mother. With a few other unlikely suspects Willowdean learns what it means to truly love yourself.
Dumplin’, your second novel, is a #1 New York Times bestseller and is a “Best Book of the Year” pick by Amazon. Film rights to Dumplin’ have been optioned by Disney. What’s that been like?
It’s been a whirlwind. I'm excited and a little overwhelmed, too. But mostly I’m just overjoyed to see a heroine like Willowdean get the star treatment. It's something I wish I could tell my teenage self about.
With Dumplin’ you’ve taken on size issues head-on. If you could give one message to young people, not comfortable in their own skin, what would it be?
I think you’ve got to look around and first realize that everyone feels the same way. Whether our differences are visible or not, we all live in a society that has alienated us from one another. And then you’ve got to make the conscious effort to be kind to yourself. Every day it’s a new struggle, but I’ve learned that treating myself the way I would like to be treated by others has changed the way I look at the world and the way the world looks at me.
The relationship between YA authors and their fans on social media is very different from the world of adult literature. I’ve read where some YA authors say they spend 50% of their time writing, and 50% of their time on social media. How large a role does social media play in your writing career?
For me, I wouldn't say it's 50% social media, but instead miscellaneous. Half of my time is spent writing and the rest is social media, marketing (including interviews like this), contracts, managing finances, maintaining my travel and tour schedule, and reading. For a while there, I had let myself forget that reading was a part of my job. It almost felt frivolous, but how could I expect myself to create new art if I wasn't allowing myself to also consume art?
Tell us about your next book, Ramona Drowing, coming out in ’17.
Well, the first thing I can tell you is that we’re almost definitely changing the title, though we have yet to settle on anything yet. The book is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and follows a too-tall blue-haired girl named Ramona as she’s entering her senior year. As a young child, Ramona survived Hurricane Katrina and though her memories of it are distant, it's been a shadow that’s followed her family ever since. Ramona lives in a small FEMA grade trailer, which is falling apart in every way, along with her father, her pregnant sister, and her sister’s slacker boyfriend. She's also finding that she has feelings for a childhood friend who has recently returned to town. That wouldn't be a problem, but Ramona is a lesbian and this friend happens to be a straight boy. So everything Ramona knows about her life is changing. Her home is too small, her sister isn't prepared to be a mother, and Ramona worries that she’s abandoning a part of herself if she is in a relationship with a boy. The book is still in edits, but that’s what I know for know. Mississippi, trailers, blue hair, post-Katrina, and sexuality. We’ve also got a companion to Dumplin’ scheduled for 2018.
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Praise for Julie Murphy's work
Praise for Dumplin':
“Will’s singular voice compels readers to think about all that goes into building-and destroying-self-esteem...Splendid” —Booklist (starred review)
“Murphy…successfully makes every piece of the story…count, weaving them together to create a harmonious, humorous, and thought-provoking whole.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[A] richly enjoyable novel...a clever and funny book to please lovers of thoughtful romance and secret pageant fans.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Genuine, romantic, and with a dash of Texan charm, this is a novel that celebrates being who you are while also acknowledging that it’s incredibly difficult to do.” —The Horn Book
“Portrays and challenges sterotypes about beauty pageants, size issues, and women’s concerns...Powerful.” —Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
Praise for Side Effects May Vary:
“Honest and unflinching, this is a compelling story of one teen’s struggle with cancer, love, and living. A worthwhile addition.” —School Library Journal
“Readers will turn the last page wanting to know where the next chapter leads.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Alice and Harvey’s relationship is raw, honest, moving, and unapologetic in its depiction of their individual, and collective, pain.” —Booklist
“A tale of unlikely romance, impossible obstacles, and mortality, this book is a must-read.” —Teen Vogue
“It’s equal parts fun, cringe-worthy, and totally fearless!” —Seventeen Magazine
“An unexpected twist on the typical cancer story.” —Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)