A Conversation With Julie Kenner

by Claire E. White
The Internet Writing Journal, July 2005
Although she was born in Mountainview, California, nationally bestselling author Julie Kenner
Photo of Julie Kenner
is a Texas girl at heart. She grew up in Austin, Texas, and graduated from the University of Texas and from Baylor Law School in Waco, Texas. After law school, she took a position as a briefing attorney on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, then took a job with a large law firm in Los Angeles. After working at a smaller firm that specialized in First Amendment and Entertainment law, and working as a production executive at a production company, she and her husband moved back to Austin, where she practiced general business litigation.

A voracious reader, Julie describes herself as a hopeless romantic. And after she met her husband, she decided that she should be writing the kinds of stories that she loved to read. Her novel, Nobody Does it Better, was released in February, 2000. She's been writing non-stop ever since, with over 20 books published since then. For five years, Julie juggled her writing with her law practice and for 2 ½ of those years with the duties of being a new mother. In 2004, she gave up the practice of law to write full time. A USA Today and Waldenbooks bestselling author, Julie is also a former RITA finalist, and the winner of Romantic Times' Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Contemporary Paranormal of 2001.

Her two latest books are Carpe Demon: The Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom (Berkley) and The Givenchy Code, published by Simon and Schuster's new chick-lit imprint, Downtown Press. Carpe Demon is a hilarious urban fantasy about a soccer mom whose demon-hunting past erupts in the middle of her first cocktail party for her politically-minded husband. The movie rights have already been optioned by Warner Brothers and Harry Potter director Chris Columbus' 1492 Pictures, in a multi-book deal. The Givenchy Code is a harder-edged chick-lit thriller, set in the world of online gaming and the wilds of Manhattan, with a fashion-loving math geek as the heroine. Both books are climbing bestseller lists and getting rave reviews. There are already sequels in the works for both books.

Julie now lives and writes in Georgetown, Texas, with her husband, daughter and a variety of cats. When she's not writing, you might find her playing with her daughter, hanging out with her husband, or blogging. In this exclusive interview, Julie talks about her transition from high-powered attorney to bestselling author and how motherhood has affected her writing. She also shares her thoughts on what does and what doesn't belong in an author blog.



What did you like to read when you were growing up?

Cover of Aphrodite's Flame by Julie Kenner
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Anything and everything I could get my hands on. Some favorites: Nancy Drew, Wrinkle in Time series, stuff by E.L. Konigsburg (like From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth), Agatha Christie, Paula Danziger, the Half-Magic author's books, Paul Zindel, Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon, Judy Blume, Greek Mythology, Shakespeare, and anything else that happened to be laying around the house! Plus, I burned through my library card!

What was the first thing you ever wrote? What reaction did it receive?

A "novel" called Kitty Claus when I was very little. The limited edition of 1 sold out immediately! After that, I honestly don't remember. I've always written, and for the most part have had a good response. I published some poetry when I was in junior high and high school, and wrote newspaper articles for the school paper since junior high.

What did you enjoy most about the practice of law?

Arguing a position, and using existing case law to back up that position, or to extrapolate a new argument.

What led up to the publication of your first novel?

Well, it's a pretty long and convoluted story, starting with me being too chicken to try to pursue a writing career (not to mention, not having a clue how one did that!) and ending up in law school. After that, I worked on a Federal Appellate Court as a briefing attorney (and wrote a play in my spare time), then worked as an associate attorney in Los Angeles and wrote screenplays as a creative outlet with a partner. Once I moved away from Los Angeles, though, dual-writing was no longer geographically desirable, so I decided I wanted to turn back to my first love, novels. I'd always wanted to write novels, but I'd never managed to finish one.

Cover of Night Moves by Julie Kenner
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Then came the catalyst: I was working at a law office in Orange County, and one of the other attorneys was reading a romance novel in the break room, she lent it to me, and I was hooked. I've always been a huge happily-ever-after fan, and the books were perfect for me. Not long after that, I learned about the category novels published by Harlequin and Silhouette. Being pragmatic, I decided that a category would be a good place to start, because surely it would be easier to write fewer pages while holding down a day job. (In point of fact, it's not always easier; it totally depends on the individual book. But my learning curve hadn't taken off yet.)

I wrote a book aimed for Harlequin Temptation (with an underwater archeologist and a documentary film maker as hero and heroine) and it was soundly rejected. But editor Brenda Chin wrote a nice note about liking my voice. So I tried again, and when I had a first chapter, I submitted it to a contest. It won first place, and that same editor requested the full manuscript. I submitted it, and it sold in the summer of 1999. It was published in 2000 as Nobody Does It Better, a Temptation.

About the same time, I'd been working on a full length novel, and I'd gone through the same process. It had also placed first in a contest and the editor had requested the full. Since I didn't have the full, I sent the first 7 chapters. That book (The Cat's Fancy) sold on proposal a few weeks later.

Obviously, I'm a big fan of using contests to get your work in front of editors. But you have to be smart about the process. Enter contests where an editor you're targeting is a final judge. And enter smaller contests, if you can. Less competition, more chance your entry will end up on the editor's desk.

Before you left the law last year to write full-time, how did you balance your work, your family life and your writing? Rumor has it that you have some time management secrets.

I wouldn't call them secrets so much as guidelines. The bottom line is that I knew how many pages I had to get done each night, and I was relentless in making sure that they got done. (You don't have to work on a nightly schedule. Having a weekly page count is probably a much saner way to go!) That's still how I work: I plot out how much time I have, how much time it will take me to write and revise a book, and that's how I schedule my time and "book" future writing commitments.

I'm actually cutting back a bit now. I want to spend more time with my family. Before, when I was working full time, my husband was in graduate school, which meant there was no guilt associated with working late into the night, since he was studying.

After our daughter was born, I had writing time while she slept (as babies do a lot!). But now that she's older, I've trimmed back on my work day (9-3:30, and then after she and my husband -- who gets up before the crack of dawn for work -- are asleep).

Essentially, time management is all about priorities. I have an article on my website that addresses the time management concerns associated with writing multiple books. You can find it under the "Articles" link from my home page, http://www.juliekenner.com.

I'd like to talk about Carpe Demon. How did this book come into being? Are you a Buffy fan, by chance?

Cover of Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner
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Interestingly, I am a Buffy fan, but I didn't consciously note the connection until I'd plotted out the book and completed the proposal chapters (I can be a little dense and tunnel-visioned sometimes!). Also, for the record, I'm only familiar with Buffy, The High School Years. I tried to watch after she went to college and didn't care for a number of things about the storyline. People I trust have told me that it got better and that I'd really enjoy watching through to the end, but so far I haven't, though I do plan to. The length of each episode is the perfect length for riding the exercise bike!

The book actually came into being because I was trying to come up with an idea for a paranormal romance series to pitch to one of my editors. I was also trying to think of a chick lit idea, but I was more interested in writing mommy lit (which at the time really didn't have a name).

At any rate, I was brainstorming with my critique partner (the incredibly talented Kathleen O'Reilly) and one thing led to another, and suddenly I had this idea for a paranormal mommy lit: A demon-hunting soccer mom.

After that, I sat down to write a "TV Guide blurb" (which is how I start all my books; if I can't do that, there's not enough meat to the story) and Kate was born. If you're curious, here's what I wrote on that first sit-down (which ended up in the synopsis, essentially verbatim):
Kate Connor is your average, everyday mom with two kids, a husband, and one very big secret ... she used to be a Demon Hunter. Now retired, she's more interested in the domestic than the demonic. So when she catches sight of a demon in Wal-Mart, she tells herself it's some other Hunter's problem. But when that demon attacks her in her kitchen, retirement is no longer an option. Now Kate has to kick a little demon butt, figure out why the creatures are trying to take her out and take over her home town, and at the same time care for her 2 year old, deal with a hormonal 14 year-old, and try to keep her past a secret from her daughter and her husband.
She's a little out of practice, but hey ... if she can juggle two kids and an impromptu dinner party, ridding the town of demons should be a piece of cake. Like the saying goes, Carpe Demon ... and Kate intends to do just that.

The heroine of Carpe Demon is Kate Connor, a full-time mom who is retired from demon-hunting, until she's called back into action. What was the greatest challenge in writing Kate? How much of Julie Kenner is there in Kate?

"From a more authorial standpoint, I think the Catholic Church has been the subject of a lot of bashing in books and the media lately, and although the book has nothing overt in it religion-wise, at the same time I consciously tried to show the Church in a good light (though not blindingly so; there are definitely some chinks in the system and the bureaucracy.)"
I absolutely love Kate, and, honestly, she wasn't much of a challenge at all to write. I think I channeled her! How much of me is there? Well, my sense of humor is there, as is my fierce passion for my kiddo. And there are other bits and pieces in there, too, of course. It's hard to create a character and not give him or her pieces of yourself. But Kate really is her own woman. She's in much better shape than I am and certainly had a more ... colorful childhood! Rather than being a reflection of me, I think of Kate more as someone I'd really like to have as a friend.

The Catholic Church plays a large role in Kate's life. What went into your decision to include Kate's faith in the story?

Well, I knew that I wanted Kate to have been part of an organization, and it just made sense to me that the Church would have that kind of ancient system. That part felt almost organic. Having been raised by the Church, and having spent her life fighting on the good side, it also made sense that she'd continue to participate in the Church, volunteering, going to mass, etc.

Those are the character reasons. From a more authorial standpoint, I think the Catholic Church has been the subject of a lot of bashing in books and the media lately, and although the book has nothing overt in it religion-wise, at the same time I consciously tried to show the Church in a good light (though not blindingly so; there are definitely some chinks in the system and the bureaucracy.) The priest who essentially raised Kate cares for her deeply, and she him. Her faith is important to her. The history of the Church (and of Forza Scura within the Church) is long and rich. All those things add color and depth to the story (or, at least, I hope they do!)

Let's talk about The Givenchy Code. I recently read an article debating whether The Givenchy Code is a parody or an homage to The Da Vinci Code. What are your thoughts on the subject?

Well, I know the article you're talking about and it's a little confusing because there's another book out there with the same title, that explicitly states that it is a parody of The Da Vinci Code. In fact, I think the full title of that book is The Givenchy Code: An Homage and Parody. In a press release that was issued on behalf of the author of that book, mine was also mentioned and I think someone simply made the assumption that mine's a parody, too. But it's not!

Mine is not a parody or an homage or anything vis a vis The Da Vinci Code. It's chick lit suspense, and while there is humor in the story, it comes from the voice of the heroine who is narrating her journey through this terrifying maze! Like The Da Vinci Code, the characters in my story solve a series of codes, one leading to the other until we reach the ultimate climax, but that's where the similarities end.

The title, of course, was perfect because the heroine is a math and history student who is fascinated with codes and ciphers. She has to interpret a series of clues to stay alive! She's also very much a New York girl, and her favorite designer in the entire world is Givenchy. My original title was Rules of the Game (boring!) and when my critique partner thought of The Givenchy Code, we jumped all over it! (The next two in the series are The Manolo Matrix and The Prada Paradox). Had Dan Brown's book never existed, though, I would still have jumped all over the title. It fits the book to a "T".

The heroine of the story is Melanie "Mel" Prescott, a math whiz with an obsession for all things Givenchy. How did you create Mel? Were there any characteristics you were particularly trying to avoid with her?

Cover of The Givenchy Code by Julie Kenner
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I try not to analyze too closely how characters are created. I guess I’m afraid that if I look too closely, that whatever magic makes them come alive will fade. That being said, though, I did know that I wanted Mel to be a strong character – someone who had aced the game in cyberspace and had the brains to do it in real life, too. I wanted her to be someone who was used to taking care of herself. She’s also in her mid-twenties and living in Manhattan, so that means that probably she’s either a wannabe fashionista (too broke to buy everything) or doing the opposite and buying clothes in thrift stores. I liked the idea of a pretty, blonde fashionista also being absolutely brilliant. And I liked how that would (at least at first) confound Stryker. I love Givenchy and the whole story about Audrey Hepburn and how she wore Givenchy’s designs. So the combination was perfect.

Mel and a handsome ex-Marine named Matthew Stryker are forced to play the online assassin game PSW (Play. Survive. Win) in the real world, with Mel assigned the unenviable role of Target. Are you interested in online role playing games yourself? Do you play?

I’m interested in that I find the existence and the logistics of online gaming fascinating, but it’s not something that I do myself. Not so much because I’m not interested, but I simply don’t have the time. That's the joy of writing novels, though. You can do so many things that you don't do -- or don't have time to do -- in real life. I've had characters flying bi-planes, creating bombs, running bookstores, being superheroes, being cats, and so much more. It's fabulous!

Mel longs to work at the NSA as a cryptologist but, terrified of rejection, she's not following her dream. Why is the theme of "follow your dream" important to you?

I think it’s a theme that should be important to everyone, actually. After all, life is short. At the very least, you should love what you’re doing!

Can you give us a sneak peek into the next books in both of these series?

Sure! In The Manolo Matrix, Mel’s roommate, Jenn, is drawn into the game, and discovers that she’s been assigned to protect a near-suicidal FBI agent. It's just as action-filled as Givenchy, but even though the underlying game is the same, the story is not, so readers definitely won't be bored or know what's coming. In California Demon: The Further Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom, Kate faces some ghosts from her past while fighting a band of demons who have infiltrated Allie’s high school. It has the same humor as Carpe Demon and we learn a lot more about Kate and her family.

What are your thoughts on love scenes in novels? Do you find love scenes more or less difficult to write than other types of scenes? Are there any things that you specifically try to avoid?

I think it entirely depends on the novels. So long as a love scene is organic to the story and the characters, I’m comfortable including it. My romance novels all include love scenes of varying degrees of intensity depending on the nature of the story and the characters. It all depends on the nature of the stories and the characters themselves. I don’t consciously try to avoid anything, but there are probably things that I wouldn’t be inclined to put in a book in the first place.

Let's talk about the day to day creative process. Take us through a typical writing day for you.

Well, let's see. My daughter is 3, so she attends day care during my writing time. Unfortunately, that's a necessity for me because I really couldn't keep up with my writing commitments otherwise. Or, if I did, then it would be because I'd parked my child in front of Kim Possible for days on end.

So, the day usually starts with me mainlining coffee as I try to wake up while my daughter gets her television fix (the aforementioned Kim Possible). We usually play a little in the morning or read a book or something, and then after much wailing and gnashing of teeth about getting dressed (from both of us) we get her off to school.

Then I come back and settle into my office, which consists of two desks that form an "L," one with my computer and the other (ostensibly) a work table. It, however, is piled high with paper (at the moment it has the manuscript of a friend's book, one of those alphabetical filing things shoved full of paper, an accordion file with receipts, a stack of filing, and a pile of miscellaneous and unanswered mail). My color printer sits on two filing cabinets and my laser jet on a little table. I have a dry erase board above my computer with pending projects, money that's coming in (yay!), and contracts that are coming in.

Then I procrastinate by answering emails and surfing the web until I realize that the large, heavy object hanging over my head is labeled "deadline" and I really have to get cranking. I try desperately to get through the pages that I need to get through without becoming distracted by email or surfing the net. Usually I fail. (If I'm really under pressure of a deadline, I take the laptop without the wireless card and go write elsewhere.)

After that, time permitting, I'll do other business-related, but non-writing stuff. Like mailing promo packages or answering fan mail or working on any new proposals I might have going. I try not to do too much house stuff during the day (laundry, etc.) because I figure this is my job. (And, frankly, I don't like housework, so this is a really fine excuse!). I will do fun house stuff with no guilt, though. The human mind's ability to rationalize really is an amazing thing.

If I'm not in a deadline crunch, I usually get my daughter around 3:30 and we'll do errands or go feed the ducks in the park or walk around the square in Georgetown.

My husband usually gets home before six, so we have an early dinner and then hang out. Sometimes we play games (Candyland and Hi-Ho Cherry-O are current favorites), sometimes we have movie night (Fridays), sometimes we play basketball or blow bubbles or play superheroes until the munchkin's bedtime. After she's down, I hang out with my husband until he goes to bed (early, since he works at an elementary school). And then I usually stay up a bit longer to write, or play on the computer or update my webpage or whatever. (If I'm on a tight deadline, the "whatever" is more pages.) I'm a night person, so that feels natural. Unfortunately, I'm a night person, so when morning rolls around again, it usually requires some major effort to get me up.

And then the alarm clock (or the child) wakes me up and we start over! Pretty standard fare!

We know about your aversion to thongs from your blog entry entitled "Is Thong Underwear an Invention of the Devil?"; what are some of your current beauty product and fashion favorites?

"I don't feel comfortable blogging about how my current manuscript is going or how I'm developing a plot or a character; that simply doesn't work for me. Mundane life stuff? Sure. That I can handle! I'm still not sure if I'm contributing, but considering the length and breadth of cyberspace, I don't suppose it matters so much. Plus, I do like the feedback I get from folks who visit the blog."
Oh, man! See, now my mystique has to be all shot to heck (as if I had any mystique to begin with!). Because I don’t really pay a lot of attention to beauty products and fashion stuff. I buy clothes because they fit, they’re made well, and I like the way they look, and I’m just as happy if I buy them at Nordstrom’s as if I find them in a second-hand shop. (I have a lot of treasures from Goodwill!) I have a few favorites (some Givenchy scarves and jewelry, Prada purses -- purchased on eBay! -- a leather jacket I bought in Paris) but for the most part my wardrobe is eclectic. As for beauty products, I wear very little make-up. I always read about cool products in magazines, plan to buy stuff, and then end up buying the same old same old at HEB or going on a splurge at Sephora and buying whatever the saleslady tells me I need. The only thing I’m consistent on is Clinique Stay Neutral powder. That stuff I swear by!

Ever since Bridget Jones' Diary came out, chick lit has really been on a roll. But it seems to be changing over time. How do you see the genre changing in the future?

Oh, how I wish I knew! What a coup that would be, scooping the changing tides of the market! But seriously, I think the trend is toward more suspense and more paranormal. Oh, wait! I’ve already done those. Seriously, though (no, really), I don’t know how the market will change other than that it will. But I think that’s true across the board in all forms of fiction, of which women’s fiction is simply a small slice. The market changes, as it has to, in order to keep the readership engaged. Without that growth, you’d reach a saturation point in books of a certain type, and have nowhere to go from there.

How did you and your husband meet? What's your idea of the perfect romantic weekend?

Well, the first time we met, I don’t remember him. I was living in Los Angeles in an apartment next door to two friends from high school who were roommates. One of my friends, Steve, had a Super Bowl party in my apartment since I had a big television, and he didn’t. Not being interested in football, I went shopping. I bought a table, and all the guys helped carry it in. Don (now my husband) was the only guy who didn’t help carry it in (he’d thrown out his back), but even then, I don’t remember him.

Next Steve and I went to see the opening of Jurassic Park, and we went with one of Steve’s friends and his roommate (who turned out to be my husband). That was in June. Don and I hit it off, and I later invited him to a July 4 pool party I was having. We went on our first "date" after that, and got married that October!

As for a romantic weekend, a nice dinner, a beach, a bed and breakfast, and a bottle of wine!

How has being a mother affected your writing?

Lots of ways, I’m sure. Certainly from a logistical point of view, being a mom has meant that I can’t just plunk myself down in front of my desk and write any time that I want to. That’s both good and bad. Good, in that it requires me to be more disciplined and plan my time better. Bad, in that it requires me to be more disciplined and plan my time better. From a thematic standpoint, I think being a mom has affected my writing as well, though probably in more subtle ways. I certainly think that Kate in Carpe Demon is a more realistic mom than I could have written before I had a daughter (and quite a few of Timmy’s traits come straight from my daughter!).

Bottom line for me is that being a mom and being a writer are my two favorite things. And since I write full-time now, I have a lot more time to do mom-things; certainly more time than when I was practicing law full time. So that’s definitely a plus!

What's your advice to someone who is hoping to make writing a second career?

Be persistent and patient!

How did you get started blogging? What do you like about blogging?

Cover of The Bridesmaids Chronicles: First Love by Julie Kenner
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for ordering information.
I have a love/hate relationship with blogging. I got started because I ran across www.blogger.com, and my webpage is my favorite form of procrastination. So I thought I'd see what went in to creating a blog. I soon realized, though, that I wasn't really up to or interested in keeping an online journal. If I was going to be at the computer, I wanted to be working on a book, not a blog entry. And there are so many talented bloggers out there that I didn't really feel like I was contributing anything to the noise in cyberspace. So I reformatted my blog to make it simply the News and Announcements page on my website. That worked for a while, but then I would have the urge every once in awhile to post something leaning toward blogginess and utterly unrelated to news or announcements.

So more recently, I've gone back to posting blog entries, life tidbits and the like. I'm also trying to focus a lot on books that I've read or am reading and mommy stuff. I don't feel comfortable blogging about how my current manuscript is going or how I'm developing a plot or a character; that simply doesn't work for me. Mundane life stuff? Sure. That I can handle! I'm still not sure if I'm contributing, but considering the length and breadth of cyberspace, I don't suppose it matters so much. Plus, I do like the feedback I get from folks who visit the blog. That's always lots of fun. (I also realized that I'd like to have a blog without the related work, and I created one dedicated to guest bloggers coming in to gripe about their personal demons. That one's a lot of fun, too! And I participate in a group blog called Out of the Blogosphere. Also fun because there's no pressure to be the sole focus of the blogging attention!)

What do you wish someone had told you before you published your first book? What's the best advice you ever received?

What I wish I'd known before I published? That's easy! That things move at a snail's pace ... except when they move really fast! Of course, that's a lot like litigation, so it was an easy enough adjustment! As for the best advice: don't follow trends. Write what you want to write and don't try to write to the market.

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