Hitting the LIST!
HANK: I just read SUCH a good book. I mean--it is riveting, irresistible, and a truly--I can say this because it's just us-- annoyingly fabulous idea.
Let me fast forward. How much fun would it be to wake up and see your novel on the New York Times bestseller list?
Wouldn't it be worth all the travails, ad all the editing, and all the second guessing?
With cheers and a standing ovation, we welcome the wonderful Julie Clark to Jungle Red. Go right out and get his book. (Well, not right now, I mean, but after you read this interview.)
HANK: Okay, first things first. When and how did you hear about the NYT list? And what happened then?
JULIE CLARK: We’d been monitoring sales pretty closely over the course of the week, and I knew that Wednesday was the day we’d know for sure. I tried to stay really busy. I was at Pages: A Bookstore in Manhattan Beach, signing their stock for an event we were hosting. Then I was up at Diesel Brentwood signing the orders that came in after my book launch there. I’d been distracting myself with house chores and was actually on my spin bike when my editor called with the news that I’d hit the list at #9. And after that it was a flurry of phone calls – to my agent to celebrate with her, to some close friends and of course my family. The following morning, I was able to do a Zoom call with the entire Sourcebooks family to celebrate with the other authors who’d also hit the list that week. It was tremendous, thrilling, everything you’d imagine it to be.
HANK: So—your book is irresistible. I adored it. Did you love it as you wrote it? Or did it change a lot? Was there a time when you thought—whoa. This works! Tell us a tiny bit about the realization of plot success.
JULIE: I knew the idea was a big one, and a very compelling one, almost right away. In 2016, when I was talking with agents about representation, they all ultimately asked "what are you working on next?" When I pitched the idea of The Last Flight -- two women who trade tickets at an airport, then one of the planes goes down -- I got a gasp from every agent I spoke to. Likewise, as I was promoting The Ones We Choose in 2018, I'd answer the same question at book events, and I'd get the exact same gasp. I knew then that I'd better do everything I could to make the execution as good as the concept.
Writing it was incredibly hard, and there were plenty of times I wondered if I'd be able to pull it off. In mid 2018, I became tempted by a new idea, and wondered, after my agent had sent a draft of The Last Flight back to me once again telling me it was still not there, if I should maybe set it aside and work on something else. But I just kept plugging away, revising and rewriting for the entirety of a year before we sold it to Sourcebooks in a pre-empt in May of 2019.
HANK: How was writing this different from The Ones We Choose?
JULIE: I had to do a lot of research for The Ones We Choose, since there is a genetic subplot that required me to learn about genetics. I consulted pretty regularly with a geneticist as well, to make sure I was getting the science right. With The Last Flight, my research was centered on law enforcement and flight regulations rather than on science. Even though Eva was a chemistry prodigy, I was able to stay away from diving into chemistry and chemical reaction research for this one!
HANK: This is SUCH a brilliant premise! Was there a moment when you thought of this idea? Just--ping? Or is it an amalgam?
JULIE: I’d been fascinated by the idea of whether someone could vanish…originally, I’d thought about a person who used something like 9/11 to disappear. But then I decided to pivot to a less sinister event and instead focus on two women who trade plane tickets. But I still wanted a disaster of some kind to lead the world to believe my main character, Claire, was dead. To see what she’d do and whether she could pull it off. Eva started out as a way to accomplish that, but the more I wrote forward in Claire’s POV, the more I realized that Eva also had an important story to tell, and that it dovetailed nicely with Claire’s.
HANK: You would have been flying around the country on book tour now, sigh. But did writing this change your relationship with airport bars? Waiting areas? Air travel in general?
JULIE CLARK: The last trip I took was in January, to attend ABA’s Winter Institute, which was incredible. Even though the book was finished by that point and well into production, I paid close attention to how things worked, trying to imagine Claire and Eva among the travelers, trying to hide in plain sight. I paid extra attention to gates that felt crowded and chaotic, trying to imagine whether someone might be able to slip out of line….
HANK: What it would be like to pretend to be someone else--I thought about this a lot, of course, since it's a theme in THE FIRST TO LIE. (Though the books are fascinatingly different.). Anything that you realize about the ease or difficulty of that?
JULIE: It’s really hard today with technology that tracks our every move. Claire had all of Eva’s bank cards, but it was challenging for her to use them because authentication is so inconsistent. Sometimes I need to show my ID when I use a credit card. Other times I don’t. Likewise, the old days of slipping a photo into a driver’s license and laminating over it are long gone! A person who wants a new identity will need to pay a lot of money to some very shady people in order to get one, and even then, there’s no guarantee it’ll be good enough to live without constant fear of discovery. I also was fascinated by the idea of identity…how well do people really know us, and I loved pushing Claire to become more and more immersed in Eva’s life the longer she lived in her house.
HANK: Oh, yes, so perfectly psychologically insidious. Did you know the ending before you started?
JULIE: Yes, I typically know how my books will end very early on. I might not know how I’m going to get there, but I like to have that last chapter/last scene in my mind to work toward. With The Last Flight I knew, almost from the beginning, how it would resolve.
HANK: Have you always wanted to be a writer? How did that happen?
JULIE: I’ve always written for myself. Not just fiction but journaling and lists and ideas…it’s very therapeutic for me, and something I do every morning immediately after waking up with a large mug of coffee. I didn’t start writing seriously for publication until I was well into my forties though, and didn’t publish my first book until I was 48!
HANK: Got to love that. (I was 55!) So where did you grow up? What books did
you read as a kid? Do you still think about them now?
JULIE: I grew up in Santa Monica, California. At that time it was a sleepy beach town, and I had a lot of freedom as a teenager. I'd pack a beach bag every morning of summer vacation and walk down to the beach, where I'd hang out with friends, swim in the ocean, and read. I absolutely loved the Trixie Belden mystery series. Anne of Green Gables was also a beloved series I read and re-read over and over again. But I pretty much read everything I could get my hands on.
HANK: Yes! Trixie! And there was one series about Donna Parker—maybe be she was student body president? I learned a lot from her, inI fact. About the benefits of planning ahead. Anyway--How are you? How has this hideous pandemic changed your life?
JULIE: It hasn't changed my life too much, other than limiting my ability to grocery shop on a whim. I'm a dedicated introvert, so most of my free time has always been spent puttering around the house, reading, cooking, working on projects. My kids are the same way. So for the three of us, we're just doing more of the same, while being a little extra mindful when we leave the house. It's really impacted my promotion life though. Releasing a book in the middle of a pandemic is not ideal. My book tour was canceled. I lost out on a trip to New York for Book Expo. I am slated to appear at several book festivals throughout the fall, which have all moved online. So it's been a big adjustment, not only in scheduling, but also expectations. The lovely thing about it, though, is that it's allowed people from all over the country (and world) to attend events that never would have been possible had they happened in person. So I see that as a benefit.
HANK You are so wise, and brave--and there's no question they'll ALL invite you back. (And hey, you DID make the Times list. Hurray!) And we're delighted you're here today! Finally: What’s the best or worst advice you’ve ever heard? Or—what would you tell to a new
writer? Or—what have you learned through this?
JULIE: It's cliche, but to publish a book, you really need to write every day. Even if it's only for a couple hours. Staying in that world in your mind every day is so critical. I read somewhere that the best way to publish is to 1) Think of yourself as a worker and 2) Show up at the job. It's literally that simple. And read read read. You don't need an MFA to be a successful novelist. What you need is an ear for how language must sound on the page, for dialogue and pacing. You can get all of that if you read widely, outside of and within your genre. Read brilliant books, but also read the bad ones. That way you can tune your ear for what doesn't work, which is as important as knowing what does.
HANK: Yes! So agree. (Once you know what doesn't work--just don't do that!) Reds and readers, SO much to still find out from Julie--so ask away. She's West Coast..so she'll be here soon! And let's all congratulate her. And, reds and readers, remember air travel? What was the last flight you took?
And a copy of THE LAST FLIGHT to one lucky commenter!
Julie Clark is the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Flight. It has earned starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, and the New York Times has called it "thoroughly absorbing". It's been named an Indie Next Pick, a Library Reads Pick, and a Best Book of 2020 by Amazon Editors and Apple Books. Her debut, The Ones We Choose, was published in 2018 and has been optioned for television by Lionsgate. Julie lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches and writes full time.