In 1985, Julie L. Cannon earned a Journalism degree from the University of Georgia, but various jobs and raising children delayed her writing career. In 1998, her husband saw an ad in a local magazine for a short story contest co-sponsored by Hill Street Press. Julie entered and won.
Hill Street published Julie’s first novel, Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes, in 2001, and it became a southern bestseller. Paperback rights were then sold to Simon & Schuster, who purchased the rights to Julie’s second and third novels. Her books, subsequently published by Penguin, Summerside Press, and Abingdon Press, have been included on several bestseller lists.
Any career path can be fraught with twists and turns—and often a detour or two. Have you ever dealt with an unexpected detour in your professional writing journey that turned out to be positive?
Most terrifying was the realization that an author does not just write a novel and send it out into the world while she stays in her cozy writing cave. Books don’t magically fly into readers’ hands.
When my first publisher sent me a list of public appearances back in 2001, it was almost enough to make me stop writing! From childhood I’d battled the fear of public speaking.
I’ll make a really long story short and tell you that two things rescued me, moved me past my battle with laliaphobia and allowed me to become a paid, professional speaker who can talk to huge crowds, who can help promote her books, who leads writing workshops.
Both things begin with PRA; PRAyer and PRActice (can you tell I love words?). I believe in the power of prayer, and I pray before all my public appearances, but I also believe that I must do my part, and practicing makes me feel confident. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to say when I go to do a ‘book talk’ and I rehearse in front of the mirror.
How does your faith play into your work?
My agent calls my work ‘spiritually organic’ and I believe my faith naturally comes through when I write. However, I do bow my head before I sit down to write. I pray, “Lord, give me a heart to tell this story about Your goodness, and the language to speak it well.”
Merle Haggard said something about his music that struck me as how I feel about my writing. He said, “Music is a positive vibration we all need. It comes through me and I believe it comes from God. The Lord is just using me as an instrument and I’m just doing the best I can to respond to what He wants.”
Here’s the elevator pitch that I kept on my desk as I wrote: “When the ‘music calls her home’ one too many times, country music diva Jenny Cloud fears she cannot deal with the dark memories that her autobiographical lyrics evoke without losing her sanity.”
When Jennifer Clodfelter arrives in Nashville, she wants to be a country music star. She wants to leave her painful past behind. But her manager convinces her that powerful songs come from life’s valleys. Those dark experiences. He tells her she must dig up those painful things and write about them. Jenny’s beautician, Tonilynn reassures her that there are cathartic effects of looking painful things in the eye and transforming them into art when you do it the right way, which is asking God for help.
But, this thing called faith doesn’t come easy because Jenny doesn’t trust a God who would allow the things that have happened to her. She doesn’t know if she can find a way to redeem those awful things.
What was the main creative catalyst for your characters (and/or plot)?
I thought about the quote by Conway Twitty, “A good country song takes a page out of somebody’s life and puts it to music.” My main character, Jennifer Clodfelter, is passionate about writing songs and performing for crowds, but she’s also passionate about keeping her painful past hidden. From herself and from her fans.
God often uses our stories to teach us when we’re writing them. What did you learn (about life, faith, and/or even yourself) in the process of writing this book?
Well, at close to fifty years of age, I was already well acquainted with the grace of God, how He redeems the unredeemable if we allow Him to. But as I was writing Twang, and following Jennifer Clodfelter through the ups and downs, I saw anew how the memories of things done to us can really cripple our spiritual walk, can infect every relationship.
Jenny thinks her brokenness is just the way it will always be. She feels she’ll never be whole, never be what she could have been if her father hadn’t done what he did to her. It takes a natural disaster to make Jenny realize God’s ear is open to her cry; that His mighty power will reshape her past and make her scars part of His exquisite design—one of beauty.
What’s next for you?
I’m putting the finishing touches on a novel called Scarlett Says which will be released in October of 2013 by Abingdon Press. Here’s the elevator pitch: “Lonely, yet nervous in social situations, Joan Meeler is the secret hostess of a wildly popular blog called Scarlett Says. When a fan travels to Atlanta, Joan prays she can channel enough of her heroine’s feistiness to be able to come out from behind the keyboard.” Scarlett Says shows how powerful words are; that they can transform, in both good and bad ways.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
When I need comforting, or if it’s time to celebrate, I run for the fried onion rings or the warm gooey cinnamon rolls slathered in icing.
This website features musicians as well as writers. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
Ha! As a young girl in the early 70’s I dreamed of being a country music singer. I made pretend microphones and sang “Delta Dawn” out in the front yard while picturing my fans. But, alas, I did not get the gift of the voice for that. Also, my parents wasted a lot of money and time driving me to piano lessons over the years. I just didn’t ‘get it.’ Maybe that’s why I wrote Twang. To live vicariously!
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
I’d be a country song. Probably bluegrass. A twangy one that tells a story.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
Hmmm. Guess that depends on where I am, when it is. At home, I like to think I’m a major chord, but out there in the big world? Well, I have to say I’m a bit part, a minor chord in God’s big plan.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
Like a lot of people with vivid imaginations, I can turn into many different people. At the beginning of my marriage, I felt like the strong, female lead, the super heroine making her way in this world. Then came the children, and I needed my mama to come help me because the children didn’t come with how-to manuals. They got older and I was the super heroine again. But, when I first began writing novels, I was that little girl wearing high heels while walking on ice.
I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
I’m the mother of three children and three pets. My older two have flown the nest, but left their animals in my care. Iris got married and left her kitty Roxie, a tiny kitten we adopted in the parking lot of a shopping center, who looks like a possum mixed with a Siberian. Gus, my middle son, went off to college and left his cat, Mario, a big American shorthair with a gray M on his forehead, who is so totally relaxed he spends most of the time flat on his back, his eyes closed and his legs splayed apart. My only kid at home, Sam, reassures me constantly that Jake, a very hyper Australian Shepherd mix dog we adopted, is ‘Really a nice dog, Mom.”
Thanks, Julie! It’s great to have you as a guest at DivineDetour.
Thank you, Kathy, it was a real pleasure!
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