Julie Clark - Author of "The Lies I Tell"
Michelle Brandriss: Welcome to From the Basement Up. My name is Michelle Brandriss, and today I have a two- time New York Times bestselling author. I'm excited to introduce Julie Clark, author of The Last Flight and The Lies I Tell. Julie is also a proud mom of two very lucky young men and is an elementary school teacher during the year. She has a lot of balls in the air, and I'm so glad she could make it with us here today. She, in fact, just wrapped up a national book tour for The Lies I Tell. Hi, Julie, and thank you so much for making it on From the Basement Up.
Julie Clark: I am happy to be here.
Michelle Brandriss: So great. So could you tell your listeners, before we get into some of the details, a little bit about yourself?
Julie Clark: I think you covered it all. There's really nothing else to say about me. Those are the things that I do. I wake up, I write, I teach, I parent, I go to bed, I do it again the next day, like every other parent out there.
Michelle Brandriss: Definitely. So are you in Southern California?
Julie Clark: Yeah.
Michelle Brandriss: So at least you get the nice weather, so that's good.
Julie Clark: Yes, and we get very nice weather. We get very excited when it rains here because it never rains here. So a little bit of drizzle, and it's the talk of the town for days.
Michelle Brandriss: So everyone knows, I actually knew Julie quite a long time ago, and we went to college together, so this is why I'm so happy you're here. It's so cool. And I actually called Julie, I called her Abbott.
Julie Clark: Abbott.
Michelle Brandriss: And that was her nickname, and she called me Shelly. So some of these things might be slipping out during the interview.
Julie Clark: They may slip out. I know. I kept thinking, I need to remember to call her Michelle, not Shelly.
Michelle Brandriss: No, no, no. Old friends get to call me Shelly, for sure. So I did want to know, I remember seeing you, and we were in a sorority house together, and you always had art supplies with you.
Julie Clark: I did.
Michelle Brandriss: I remember one day asking," Oh, are you an art major?" And you looked at me and you're like," No." And I'm like," Oh, I thought you were." You go," I really want to be a writer." And we were in the chapter room when you said this.
Julie Clark: I was an art major, so that was why I had all of the art supplies, but I have no recollection of that conversation. But I know I must have said it because I did always want to be a writer.
Michelle Brandriss: But I did want to ask, you have a lot going on. And you're a full- time mom, a full- time teacher, and you're now a major writer. So how do you do it all? How do you break up your day?
Julie Clark: In your intro, there's not a lot extra to fit in. I wake up very, very early to write. I wake up at 3: 45. I write from about 4: 00 to 6:00 during the school year, 4: 00 to 7:00 during the summer pretty much. And then I go about my day. And so it's getting boys up, getting them off to school, going to teach. After school, it's driving boys this place, that place, violin lessons or whatever it is they've got going on. And I'm exhausted. I'm cooking dinner and going to bed. And I want to say I'm usually asleep by 9: 00. Sometimes I drift away a little earlier.
Michelle Brandriss: Wow. So, good for you. Amazing. You must have things going on in your mind all the time, so it's got to be a drive where you just have these stories that are percolating and they're just going. And so I have so many questions to ask, so let me get going. How do you organize your thoughts?
Julie Clark: Oh, that's a hard one, and honestly I don't know if I'm very good at it. When I'm working on a draft for a book, I have a hard time remembering things, and I always think to myself," I should write this down." And then I tell myself," I don't need to write this down. I'll remember." And I think those two words, I'll remember, are the song of any single, harried mom, which is like, you won't remember. The narrator chimes in," Readers, she doesn't remember." But I think to remember things, you have to do them over and over and over and over again, and so that takes time. I have a lot of lists. I write things down on a lot of lists. I compartmentalize, which makes it easy to remember things if I'm in the right place. So if you're asking me to do something for school, but I'm in my writing space, I won't remember it. If you're asking me to do something for writing when I'm in my school space, I won't remember it. So context and location is really important for me. That's how I remember things. If you're asking me on the go, it'll be gone. It'll be gone.
Michelle Brandriss: And what grade do you teach?
Julie Clark: Fifth grade.
Michelle Brandriss: Okay. Wow. So you have a lot of homework to grade as well.
Julie Clark: No, I don't give homework. I don't believe in homework. So the only thing that my students have to do is read every night. They must, must, must read. That's their only homework.
Michelle Brandriss: Good for you. And actually good for those kids. I love your characters. And I was looking, and I love how they're female, and they're anti- heroes in a way, or the Me Too movement. And I'm just curious, where do you come up with the characters? How do you do it?
Julie Clark: It depends. So for The Last Flight, which is a story of two women who meet in an airport, they're both on the run from something, and they decide to trade plane tickets as a way to disappear. With that one, I really was interested in figuring out or imagining a scenario in which a person could disappear in our tech- saturated world. Can it happen? Can you do it? And so at that point, I created a character who had a lot of money and a lot of access and a lot of privilege and still was in a really bad situation. And so how would she go about disappearing, getting a new identity, getting new papers, figuring out a way to disappear? And of course, that falls apart. And then with The Lies I Tell, I was more interested in the idea of a female con artist, and I didn't want to write a sociopath. I think most con artists or sociopaths. They're not good people, and I didn't think that would be very compelling reading. I am a firm believer that the women that I write on the pages of my books are going to be strong, smart, savvy, reliable, to the extent that they want to be reliable. But they're not suffering from mental health problems, they're not suffering from substance abuse. I feel a responsibility to put real people on the page, but also I feel a responsibility, as a mother and a woman and a teacher, that the women that I portray are capable and have agency and aren't locked behind a door playing the victim or being a victim, because the women that I know in my life aren't that way. We all have our struggles, and we all have things. And I do have friends who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse, but they have agency and they have a lot to contribute. And I didn't want to write weak female characters. So with that, I wanted to write a female con artist who was going out there, sick and tired of the men in the world getting away with all of the bad behavior, and she wanted to be able to take some of that power back. I think that we all have people in our mind who maybe deserve some serious consequences, and we're all a little tired of waiting for it. And so my main character, Meg Williams, goes out and makes that happen.
Michelle Brandriss: I loved her. Love her.
Julie Clark: Yeah, me too.
Michelle Brandriss: Absolutely. So then my question was, how did Julie find out how to do all this stuff? This is some sneaky stuff. I'm like," Wait, where did she figure this out?" So how did you do that?
Julie Clark: I don't know. You just go down a rabbit hole of all right, what could she do? When you start letting your mind think about things, like how could I con people, you start really making a list of things that would need to fall into place in order for whatever con is to work. And so my goal was really for Meg to not steal anything from anybody. She worked to convince them that they needed to give it to her for whatever reason. And so whatever it is I wanted her to have, I needed to figure out a way for her to be given it by somebody, so that they couldn't go back and report her to the police. Because the first question the police would say was," Did she have your permission to use that credit card or bank card?" And the answer is," Ugh, yeah." So okay. Hard to prosecute. That's what I was going for. Hard to prosecute.
Michelle Brandriss: No, and I love that. So you just show the reverse engineering here.
Julie Clark: Yes.
Michelle Brandriss: Did you give any consultation from a lawyer on any of these things?
Julie Clark: I did. I talked to attorneys about, especially when she starts using fictitious business names as a way to shield herself, which is something that people do a lot of. There was a con artist down in Orange County, a woman who said she was a CPA, but she wasn't a CPA, who did the books for a lot of different small businesses. And she set up a DBA called Income Tax Payments. And so she had them writing checks to Income Tax Payments and depositing it into a Bank of America account. And yeah.
Michelle Brandriss: It happens.
Julie Clark: It happens. So DBAs were something that I definitely wanted to use and exploit. And so I had to consult with some attorneys about how they work specifically in California because that's where the main story takes place.
Michelle Brandriss: So how many books have you written?
Julie Clark: Four. Three of them published. One in a drawer.
Michelle Brandriss: One in a drawer. And then which one's your favorite?
Julie Clark: Oh, that's hard. That's like saying which child is your favorite. You like them all for different reasons and better or worse on different days, depending.
Michelle Brandriss: Okay. The one in the drawer, is that still being worked on?
Julie Clark: No, that was my can- I- do- it book. And I think every author has one that is sort of like, I want to write a book. I don't know how to write a book. Can I do it? And so you figure out you can. You can get 80,000, 90, 000 words, 300 pages, and you realize, okay, yeah, I can do this. Now I really want to do it for real.
Michelle Brandriss: So for listeners out there, if someone wants to get published, I'm sure this is the million- dollar question you get asked all the time, how do you do it?
Julie Clark: First, you need to decide what kind of published you want to get. There are lots of different ways that you can become published. So you can go the traditional route, which is what I did, and go with a big traditional publisher who's going to pay you in advance and pay you royalties and pay for all the marketing and pay for all the promotion and pay for the book tour and pay for the cover art and advertising and all of those things. And that's hard. That's really, really hard to get there. You have to get a literary agent who's the gatekeeper between you and the publisher, and getting a literary agent is very, very hard. That can be years, years and years in the making. And then from there, once you get a literary agent, then your literary agent submits your manuscript to publishers and editors at some of the big houses. But a lot of people don't really want to do that, for whatever reason. You can self- publish, where you pay for everything yourself and you maybe pay for a certain number of books to be printed. You pay for cover art, you pay for marketing, you pay for promotion, you pay for all fees, you keep 100% of the profits. I don't. But the difference is that my numbers are bigger, and so I keep a percentage of bigger numbers versus 100% of smaller numbers. It's really hard, I think, to break out in self- publishing. You have to really have a niche in your writing. I think romance is a big self- publishing genre that a lot of people do pretty well. Sci- fi probably as well. So it just depends. And then there's hybrid. There's a blend of the two. So you have to figure out what path you want to take, what type of author you want to be. But if you want to be in independent bookstores, Barnes& Noble, those big box stores, Costco, all of those, then you need to go with a traditional publisher.
Michelle Brandriss: And will you work with them for a number of years? Is that how that works?
Julie Clark: It depends. You can do a multi- book contract where they buy a certain number of books, and they don't have to be written or even imagined yet. They can just say," It's a five- book deal or a three- book deal." And whatever those books end up being, you can decide between you and your editor. I have only done one- book deals because I like to work on one book at a time and then come fresh with a new contract. My publisher gets right of first refusal of whatever it is I come up with. And so it's not like I'm shopping around, but that's just how my agent and I like to work.
Michelle Brandriss: And so I'm just curious, writing these books, and you're now into, gosh, three published books, so I don't know if you're working on the next book. So now you have all these ideas. Do you just find yourself, now that you've done it, you've got this stream of book ideas piling in? No?
Julie Clark: No. Some authors have little notebooks that they keep with all of their ideas. I don't do that. I get my ideas one at a time, and I usually get them about midway through whatever book I happen to be working on. I start getting an idea for the next one. Something will happen, a story in the newspaper, a podcast that I'm listening to something somebody says. And it will catch me, and I will snag on it. And I will be like," Oh, that's interesting. I wonder if that could be a book." And I may think about it for a while. If it keeps coming up, if it keeps occurring to me, if I keep coming back to it again, I know that's probably going to be my next book. And I don't really worry about it. Right now, I'm working on a book, my next book, I have no idea what I'll do after this one, but I know that I will get an idea at some point, and so it'll come.
Michelle Brandriss: Creative mind. So you just wrapped up a book tour, and I'm just curious, what was your favorite part of the book tour? Because the first one, weren't we going through COVID?
Julie Clark: Yeah. I didn't do a book tour with The Last Flight. So this one was I went from zero to 60. I was all over the place. I think I counted up 11 cities, 16 days, nine flights. Honestly, all of it was so much fun. It was such a fun experience. I think every author has a dream of going out on a book tour and traveling all over and talking to readers and going to bookstores. And you have a little bit of a fear of, will anybody even show up? And it's very typical when authors go out on the road for nobody to come. In- person book events can be tricky. They're often during the week. People work, they have traffic, they're tired, they've got kids, baseball or whatever it is. And so it's hard for people to show up to book events. And so you always do have that fear of, is it just going to be me and the bookseller? And luckily I didn't have that. I had a good turnout pretty much wherever I went, and that's not always a guarantee. Just talking to readers is really fun. Honestly, too, as a single mom of two boys, I've been a single mom for 13 years, hotel rooms were really nice. You know what I mean?
Michelle Brandriss: Yeah. You get to decompress too after meetings.
Julie Clark: It's not terrible.
Michelle Brandriss: Yes. I'm just curious, what has writing taught you about yourself?
Julie Clark: I think writing has taught me that whatever it is that you dream, you can do it. Being a published writer, it's not something that... People tell you," Oh, it's very hard to do. Not very many people can do it." And I don't disagree with that. But I also know that it taught me that I can stick with it and stick with it and stick with it. And if it's an enjoyable thing to do, which it is for me, it's fun, that it's not wasted time.
Michelle Brandriss: I just keep thinking of you with your blue art bin.
Julie Clark: Yeah, I still have that blue art bin.
Michelle Brandriss: And I just remember just such a positive vibe always. You always did. And I really am a true believer that if you just keep trying and have that positive vibe and problem solve, you can make things happen.
Julie Clark: I do believe that. And I do believe also that the universe will put in your path the things that you need in order to do what you need to do. I do believe that if you can figure out a way to work with the hardships that come your way versus resist against them, things will pass a lot easier. You may not always get everything that you want, but you have to trust that the universe is giving you exactly what you need exactly when you need it. And it might not be what you want, but if you can just trust that everything will keep moving forward if you keep a positive mindset, I think that goes a long way.
Michelle Brandriss: And I'm curious about the book that's in the drawer. So did that one get rejected, and if it did, how did you rebound?
Julie Clark: I used that. I wanted to get an agent, and I tried to get an agent with that, and I just couldn't. I queried a lot of agents. I sent them sample pages. Several requested a full manuscript to read, and ultimately they passed. It wasn't something that they thought they could sell. It taught me that I knew how to write a book. So obviously, as a writer, if you want to be a writer, you need to write a lot of books. You can't just write one book and be like," This is my book. This is the one book that I can write, and this is the one book that I have to publish." That's just not how it works. And so I had to figure out, okay, well if nobody wants to publish that book, I better write a different one then.
Michelle Brandriss: But see, I love that because that is tenacity, and you just came back. I love that, the consistency there, just to keep moving forward. You made an alternative ending to The Last Flight. And I was curious about this because I really like the ending, and I don't want to give anything away.
Julie Clark: I got messages from readers asking me why I had made the choice that I made, and I like the ending too. I'm very partial to it. And I think that readers fell into two camps. They loved it, or they were really, really not happy with the ending. And so I haven't come across a reader who was neutral about it, so you're either one or the other. And so I believe that I ended the book in the truest way that I could for the characters for the story. And I stand by that and will stand by that. But my marketing department at my publisher said," How about if we write the alternate ending as a pre- order campaign for the next book?" And I thought hmm, that could be interesting and so let me try it and see. And so I did, and it was really fun to write and really fun to imagine an alternative ending for my character. Something that I didn't really want to do for the original book, but was absolutely fun to do as an exercise and a free giveaway. So we offered it to independent bookstores because those are the stores that we feel passionately about supporting, and they were able to offer it to readers.
Michelle Brandriss: For authors, when you're buying a book on Amazon versus your local bookstore.
Julie Clark: The royalty setup is a little bit different. I could get into the weeds about it. What I believe firmly is that when you go to an independent bookstore, you are talking to people who are passionate about books. And if you go to the same bookstore and build a relationship with your local bookstore staff, they get to know you as a reader too. And so you'll walk in and they'll say," Oh, Shelly, we know you loved this book, so this one just came out, and you should try it." They hand sell books. They know their market. They know their product, and they know their clients. They know their customers. My first thing is read the book however is comfortable for you. If it's a physical copy, buy it from a bookstore, if you can. Buy it wherever you can buy it. If you need to go to the library, go to the library. Check it out from the library. That's my plug for independent booksellers is that they are the heart of the book selling industry, and authors couldn't do our job without them. If you can buy from an independent bookstore, do.
Michelle Brandriss: I'm a binge watcher, like most of America, on Netflix and Amazon. And you must. This is perfect for binge watching or a movie. You must be contacted. Have you been contacted yet?
Julie Clark: Yeah. We've optioned both of the books. I can't give much more detail than that, but all three of my books have been optioned, but definitely The Last Flight and also The Lies I Tell, yeah.
Michelle Brandriss: Good. And I can't wait, It's so exciting. So I'm reading it, just going," This is so good. This has to be a TV show." It's funny because I feel like it's kind of like when someone becomes a movie star overnight or something. You've been writing for a while. You've been doing this for a while, but now it's just taking off, and it's gaining momentum, and it's like a rocket ship taking off. So what does it feel like when this starts to happen?
Julie Clark: It's surreal, and you don't really want to count on it. That's the thing with books is that every book you're starting over. Every book you're starting from square one. That my other two books have hit the New York Times Best Seller list is really, really great, but that doesn't mean my next book will. We have had really great sales so far, but that doesn't mean the next book will. And every book you start over, you have to start grinding again for media and publicity and placement in magazines. And it helps to have some best sellers behind you, but it's not a guarantee. And so I think most authors try not to get complacent. I think if you're Stephen King, you can be pretty complacent. I think you can be pretty sure that... or John Grisham or Elin Hilderbrand, I think you're pretty good. But the majority of us are still like, it's no guarantee. So you have to get up every day, and you have to approach the book as I've got to up my game. I've got to keep my foot on the gas and all of those cliches and metaphors.
Michelle Brandriss: I love how you are supporting other... I watch you on Instagram, and you're always supporting other women authors and read this, this is a great read. And I love that collaboration, and it's just all ships are rising together. And that support that you're giving other authors was really inspiring. And I love how humble and how you approach things, just working hard every day. Waking up long before the sun comes up to write, and that really is your craft. It's your craft. It's your art. It's what you care about.
Julie Clark: The writing community is a small community, and it's best to collaborate and work together. We need each other. There's plenty of space on the shelf for everybody. You've got to support other people because that's how you build a community.
Michelle Brandriss: Absolutely. And one thing as well, you have a website, julieclarkauthor. com. If there's one big lesson you could share with the listeners, what would that be?
Julie Clark: About writing or just...?
Michelle Brandriss: Just anything.
Julie Clark: I think no is a complete sentence. I think that as women, we are preconditioned to be people pleasers. We don't want to let anybody down. We also are the ones that manage all the behind scenes 90% of the time. We do all the emotional labor for our families a lot of the time. And so we have a hard time saying no to people. We have a hard time letting people down. We have a hard time not contributing to this or that or whatever it is. And I think that you have to learn how to say no. You have to learn that no is acceptable and to know your limits, that whatever your priorities are, you have to be able to say," I can't do that." And you don't have to give a reason why. That's the other thing. You don't have to justify it with a lot of reasons and a lot of rationale. Just" I can't do that, and I'm really, really sorry. Please think of me again next time."
Michelle Brandriss: Good advice. Definitely. As far as words to live by, a mantra, anything, do you have just a little snippet that you'd like to share that you look at every day or think of?
Julie Clark: Yeah, I have a card on my wall, and I think it's Lennox Lewis who said it, but I can't verify, but it just said," It may go unnoticed by many, but there is a ton of work between very good and great."
Michelle Brandriss: Excellent. Julie, I am so amazed with everything you're doing, and your books are so fun to read. I have just really enjoyed it. I have my little lounger on my front porch, and I get your book, and I go out there, and I just hang out with my dog. It is my happy place. So everybody out there, just when you get a chance, go to julieclarkauthor. com and sign up for the newsletter. Thank you so much for coming on. It is so good to see you. It's been such a long time.
Julie Clark: I know. This was a treat. I'm so happy.
Michelle Brandriss: Absolutely.
Julie Clark: All right.
Michelle Brandriss: Thank you. Thank you to our listeners for joining us for today's episode. And thank you to my amazing producer, Emily Flanagan. She deals with all my shenanigans. Julia Augustino, thank you for the amazing composition that you have made for the podcast. And listeners, feel free to check us out on our social media channels. Don't forget to give us a five- star review, and you can also visit us on fromthebasementup.com. Thank you so much.
Author of "The Lies I Tell", Julie Clark shares her entrepreneurial story of early mornings, hard work, and dedication. Julie manages to juggle a lot while maintaining her dreams of pursuing writing, and she makes it look easy.
Michelle invites onto the show author, Julie Clark. This episode is unlike any other From the Basement Up story. The tenacity, grit, commitment, and ability to bounce back stronger than you were before are all necessary components of being a successful author in this case. As we hear from Julie, we learn that becoming a published writer isn't easy- unless you make some great relationships along the way.
Join us for this episode.