Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
Hello! My name is Julia and I write under the pen name J. L. Willow. I’m a freshman in college, currently studying mechanical engineering. Writing has been a passion of mine for many years and I plan on continuing it in addition to my coursework.
Although I had been writing for years, I began my debut novel, The Scavenger, during my freshman year of high school. The idea came from a play I had just performed in where I portrayed a detective from Boston. I was inspired by the way that a single event or investigation can affect people in different ways and decided to write about it. Soon after, I came up with the idea of a single investigation in New York City told from four different perspectives. The plot clicked into place almost effortlessly and the rest is history! My second book, a paranormal thriller titled Missing Her, was published this past May. I do have another book in the works, but the details are still under-wraps.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
The little moments in day-to-day life are where I find the best ideas. Funny enough, when I was in elementary and middle-school, I only read science-fiction and fantasy because I thought real life was “boring.” But now that I’ve lived a little longer, I’ve found that the craziest stories are often the true ones. Six-year-old me would be pretty shocked to hear that my debut novel was realistic fiction!
How do you deal with creative block?
My biggest recommendation for coping with writer’s/creative block is to go back to the things that first you gave you the inspiration to write in the first place. There had to be something to spark the motivation to start the book, whether it’s a movie, song, location or even another book. I often find that when I’m stuck in a rut, I put myself back into the mindset when I first got the idea. That’s usually enough to get me excited again and mentally ready to push forward.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
For titles, I always tell people not to force it. The right title will come in due time — you really don’t need to have it solidified for sure until very close to the end of the writing process, when you’re looking at formatting and cover design. If you’re really in a crunch, I recommend thinking about different lines or phrases from your work that describe it as a whole, or maybe a character’s name that says something about your story. Do a huge brainstorming session where you write down anything that comes to mind and see if any of them stick. That’s how I came up with the title for Missing Her!
Selecting a cover is a little more difficult, but I think the biggest factor to keep in mind is the target genre/audience of your book. You want to make sure you’re attracting the right people, so make sure your cover doesn’t blend in too much that it’s lost but doesn’t stand out so much that it looks like a completely different genre.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I know a lot of people who ignore their negative comments or reviews, but I’m not sure that’s the best approach. For me, I find that I learn the most from embracing criticism. Yes, if someone is giving your book a bad review and hasn’t read it all or is just being plain mean, then you shouldn’t take it to heart. And of course, hearing complaints about what people didn’t like about your work can be difficult to handle. But if someone is leaving constructive criticism or giving you tips on how to improve, then I believe it’s important to at least ask yourself if that aspect could be improved upon. Rarely does a reader hate everything about a book, and I’ve had reviewers point out ways to improve my writing that I might not have thought of otherwise. It’s important to listen to your audience to hear all feedback, good and bad. My recommendation is to read your negative reviews with an open mind and a grain of salt.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
The best thing I encountered is easy: it’s definitely the writing community as a whole. I’ve found so many supportive, inspirational, hard-working people that are constantly lifting each other up and encouraging each other to keep working. Writing used to be a very solitary activity, and it still is. But it’s truly amazing to have so many people standing behind you, pushing you to your full potential.
The worst thing I encountered during the writing/publication process is probably the legal work that comes with writing a book. I never had to deal with copyright details or even how to format a copyright page prior to publishing my debut. It was a whole new field for me, and although I was able to research a lot of the details along the way, it was still extremely stressful.
When I was just beginning to think about publishing my book, I was shocked by how many people there were out there that were just like me. I’d dreamed of being a published author since I first started writing in first grade, and I thought it would be one of those things that I kept in the back of my mind but never actually accomplished. But once I got serious about publishing and starting doing research, I found that there were so many others out there like me who had made their dream a reality. That really kept me motivated and inspired when I was just getting started.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
As an author, I believe my priority should be to construct an interesting, well-constructed story for the reader. The contents of that story is up to me, but I need to make sure that whatever I end up writing needs to be solid and worth the reader’s time. If someone reads the back of my book and doesn’t like the subject matter, that’s their opinion. But if someone chooses to read my book and I can’t provide the story I promised on the back blurb, then we have a problem. So I feel like it’s definitely a balance of both what the reader and writer wants.
Tell us a quirky fact about yourself
I mentioned it at the start of this interview, but I’m actually studying mechanical engineering! Yes, it’s completely different than anything that has to do with books, but I love it just the same. I use writing to balance my studies and keep me sane when I’ve been staring at equations and numbers all day. I hope my story inspires others to break the rule that you have to be either left- or right-brained: who’s to say you can’t do both?
What are your plans for future books?
I’m currently working on two projects, one being on the smaller side and one being very large. I’m planning on releasing details on the smaller project pretty soon, as I’m estimating that it’ll be published in the fall/winter of 2020, but this all depends on my course-load. I’m still getting used to the college-author life, and I still have some adjusting to do before I feel like I’m ready to take on my full work-load as an author again.
If you’d like to learn more about me and my work, feel free to check out my socials:
Author website: www.jlwillow.com
Instagram & Twitter: @jlwillowbooks