Our latest Fly on the Wall installment has authors Julia London and kc dyer chatting about all things writing, quarantine and comfort foods. They truly embraced the conversational aspect of this post and I definitely felt like a Fly on the Wall watching this come together! Thanks for taking the time Julia and kc!
Julia London is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of more than sixty romance and women’s fiction novels. She is also the recipient of the RT Bookclub Award for Best Historical Romance and a six-time finalist for the prestigious RITA award for excellence in romantic fiction. She is the author of A Royal Wedding historical romance series, The Princes of Texas contemporary romance series, and the upcoming You Lucky Dog. She lives in Austin, Texas.
kc dyer loves to travel. When she’s not on the road, she resides in the wilds of British Columbia where she likes to walk in the woods and write books. Her most recent novel– an Amazon #1 Bestseller in romantic comedy — is Finding Fraser, published by Berkley, and which US Weekly called a “humorous but relatable self-discovery tale,” and Bustle named “a Must-Read for Outlander fans.” For teens, kc’s most recent work is Facing Fire, a sequel to the acclaimed novel, A Walk Through a Window, published by Doubleday/Random House. kc is represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency.
Let’s Get This Party Started
JL: Hi KC! I am so happy to meet you in what seems a perfectly pandemic kind of way – at an acceptable distance. I honestly never aspired to be a writer, but I was always a big reader. Before I started writing full time – before I started writing at all – I worked at the White House as a senior policy analyst. But events brought me back to Texas where I am from, and I took a job as a public administrator in the county that is home to Austin. It was a good job, but it was, for me, a stressful and boring job. So I decided to try my hand at writing – I’d read an Iris Johannsen book and thought maybe I could write a book of my own. I don’t know why I thought that – the confidence of youth, I guess. But it seemed like a challenge that would take my mind off my job, and honestly, Well, it did take my mind off my job, and it turns out, I could write a book. My first novel came out in 1998. I quit the day job in 2002. I’ve been hacking away at some version of the great American novel ever since. 🙂.
kcd: Hi Julia. Lovely to meet you! I’m a full-time writer with a part-time brain, at least these days. A long time ago, in the dark ages, I started off as a teacher, and I still like visiting schools and working with grown-ups, too, especially when it comes to talking about writing. After that, I edited a newspaper for almost a decade, and wrote as a freelance journalist, too. Wordsmith of all trades! I wrote my first book mostly after midnight, because I had small kids and it was a quiet hour, then. These days, the kids are grown up, so I only have canine distractions.
It looks like you and I have been writing — novels, at least — for about the same amount of time. My first book came out in 2002, and it’s been slow but steady since then! In my case, tho’, it’s the great Canadian novel!
JL: I, too, have a canine distraction in the form of one big old dog. He’s become more distracting as he gets older. First, there is the constant licking and chewing – something on his body needs his attention all day long. And then – this is new – he seems to keep forgetting he’s eaten and is constantly wanting a treat. Or maybe that’s just a pandemic coping skill we’ve both learned. I’m not sure. All I know is that everyone in this house is getting bigger.
kcd: Ha! I have two golden retrievers [if you don’t count me] and one old rescue boy who is part wolf. All of us shed too much.
Writing in the Time of Covid
JL: In the beginning of quarantine, which started mid-March here, I was so distracted that I couldn’t work, I couldn’t think, and I couldn’t tear myself away to step into another world. And of course I had a deadline because deadlines are never when it’s convenient. All that chaos and not knowing really dragged me down. Plus, I had the prospect of home school to deal with, and that wasn’t fun. But after a few weeks of it, something changed in me – I wanted and needed to escape from the news and the lockdown. It so happened I was working on an historical romance at the time, which was great. There was no Covid in Victorian England. No political folderol, nothing but princes and castles and amazing ballgowns, right? Everyone freely touched everyone else, and danced at masquerade balls and ate from the same plate. I mean, maybe they shouldn’t have done that in Victorian England because there was the problem of cholera, but I DIGRESS. It was wonderful to escape into another world again. And then I had the copy edits come back to me for You Lucky Dog. That was the first time copy edits were a delight for me. I had forgotten what a jolly little world I had created, filled with dogs and good-looking people and a normal world. Plus, my book made me laugh when I read it again. I was excited and happy to be someplace else entirely in my head.
kcd: That’s the best thing about being a writer, isn’t it? We can just fully escape into these magical worlds! I have to say, though, that this question really speaks to me. I’ve got a book coming out next month called Eighty Days to Elsewhere. It’s the story of a young woman who takes on the job of recreating the literary journey from “Eighty Days Around the World” in order to save her family’s bookstore. Last year I took a research trip all the way around the world to make sure I got the details right — or at least, as right as I can make them. I’m working on the follow-up right now, and it’s been BRUTAL not being able to go out and find the fresh, serendipitous moments that on-the-ground research brings. I miss travel SO much!
Like you, Julia, I also have a deadline [working on the follow-up book to Eighty Days]. It’s a travel story, too, called An Accidental Odyssey, and while not a true sequel, it’s another story in the ExLibris universe. As it turns out, I’ve had to start this book all over again, because I conceived the idea in the Before Times, and so much has changed.[And, I should add, in spite of my whinging, I really feel that this kind of all-encompassing change is a good thing. The world might be on fire, but hopefully some of the stuff that burns needs to stay gone. We have a chance to start things again, here. I hope we don’t blow it.]
JL: That is amazing! I can’t wait to read this. I miss travel, too. My last big trip was last summer to Scotland. My friend and I rented a hunting lodge in the Highlands for a writing retreat. I was writing an historical novel at the time and it was magical. I keep thinking about that lodge and that scenery. It almost feels like I dreamed the whole thing. It’s starting to feel like I have never left my house. I feel so hemmed in. But, in the silver-lining category, I invested in some new patio furniture so I would spend more time out there, and now it’s like I have a whole new room.
kcd: I’ve set at least three of my books in Scotland — I love it there. My daughter was married in the Highlands, and lives in Fife. Edinburgh is my favourite place in the world, after my own home. So I get the whole magical vibe of the place!
JL: My ancestors are Scottish and I feel it in my bones. It is my very favorite place in the world.
kcd: Me too! Maybe one day weâ€™ll meet there on the street. Stranger things have happened!
JL: For me, at this stage of my career, success is now all about longevity. I’ve known a lot of talented authors get out of the game with all the changes publishing has experienced in the last twenty years. When I was a bright, shiny new author, and was making all the bestseller lists, and my audience was growing in leaps, I considered that great success. It was different times, and growth was possible because there were so many physical places – bookstores – for books to be discovered. But now? After so many stores have disappeared and distribution has shrunk and digital books with much lower price points have dominated segments of the market, my definition of success has changed. Now, I am happy and feel successful if someone still wants me to write a book for their company, and I am proud of the book I have written for them. It’s gravy to be able to put a roof over my head while I am doing it, but true success is that every book I finish is something I want to read, there are people who want to read it, and there is an opportunity to do it again.
As for Imposter Syndrome, please. I struggle with it every day!. I am sixty plus books into this career, and I still have that niggle with each book that this will be the one where people find out I’m really a talentless hack. Maybe self doubt helps to make a better book? I don’t know, but I wish I could cut myself a break. Fortunately, I have made some outstanding friendships along the way and those people are always there to remind me of what I’ve accomplished, and how most talentless hacks don’t see as many books published as I have. There is some truth to that.
kcd: Ugh! I hate Imposter Syndrome, too. And I am nowhere near 60 books, and likely never will be, but I agree that self-doubt is a good thing. I really believe questioning ourselves is healthy — the people I meet in this world who are completely sure of themselves are rarely my sort of person. Perhaps one advantage of being well into a writing career is that the books get better, as we get more practice. We can only hope, anyway!
Success for me is that I get to do the job I love. I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I feel so lucky to be in this position. I do hope the feeling lasts, as there’s not a great retirement plan for writers. I figure I’ll work until I drop!
JL: But probably the biggest change for me was more of a global change – the rise of self-publishing. I only dabble in it, a book or novella here or there.The indie publishing model requires as much business acumen as it does writing talent, and I figured out long ago the business side of this job is not my strong suit! So I have been and still am a traditionally published author. What indie publishing did was change the landscape of publishing all together. It changed publication and pricing models. For a time, it even influenced what traditional publishers wanted to buy – remember the big surge in erotica? It changed Amazon and other platforms and bookstores, too. And it changed the careers of many authors, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. It’s remarkable just how much it transformed the romance novel industry. I feel very fortunate to have hung on during that seismic shift.
kcd: Funny! I was just talking about this with a young writer this week. I sold my first book in 2001, back when query letters were done by snail mail. I think that first story was rejected twenty-six or twenty-seven times before it finally got picked up. Since you had to include a SASE with each query, each rejection letter arrived back to me addressed in my own handwriting. You still have to persevere to succeed in this business, but at least the turn-around time is a little quicker [and less depressing] than reading your OWN writing on the wall.
JL: Right, and they edited the manuscripts on a printed copy, and by the time that copy went to print, the pages were so worn and soft from the handling. Knock on wood, I never had any great disasters, like a book being lost in the mail. But it was not efficient!
JL: My stress management involves two inextricably related activities: eating and exercise. Okay, three: there’s a lot of wine in there, too. I’ve always been pretty active – I like to bike or run in the morning, which helps with the blood pressure. And I like to eat at night, which helps with the anxiety, LOL. I was just thinking about this today – what is it about night that makes me want to nibble so much? I can’t seem to stop and I don’t, so hence the morning run. Exercise should not be punishment! But I am hard-wired to punish myself when I’m bad, and that’s really the way it has to be or I’d be the size of a bus. As for reading, I am always reading. It’s not so much a comfort to me as it is a necessity. I must breathe, I must sleep, I must read. And I have read like a fiend these last few months.
kcd: I’m a runner, too! Not far, or fast, but it entirely helps my mental health. Stress is my most constant companion these days. I’m a slow writer at the best of times, and for a few months there my pace was entirely glacial. I live in British Columbia, and we have had some tremendous leadership through the COVID crisis, but I was spending WAY too much time at the beginning trying to keep on top of the numbers, and the responses, and all the latest medical info. Exhausting! My other stress release is my dogs. I have a long walk in the woods every day with the two younger ones, and a leisurely stroll up the road with my old fella. All of us benefit! [And of course, it means I’m terribly excited about your new book, Julia!] Also, if I can put in a word for audiobooks? I’ve talked to so many people who’ve been unable to read due to anxiety. I too am a reading fiend, Julia, but I also listen to audiobooks at night, to help me sleep.
JL: Yes! My reading consumption has gone way up because of audiobooks. I like to listen to them when I run. But I have not tried it to help me sleep. Hmmm…thanks for the tip!
kcd: Oooh! Any recommendations? My FAVE audiobook narrator is Kobna Holdbrook Smith, who narrates Ben Aaronovitch’s marvellous “Rivers of London” series. [Police procedural set in London — plus magic!] He just nails Peter Grant, and I think I might have a thing for Inspector Nightingale — when Kobna is reading, anyway! I’m always looking for new listens.
JL: I don’t have a favorite narrator, but I’ve rarely had a bad one. Right now I am listening to The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett and it is so good.
JL: I did a purge of all useless toys and distractions a couple of years ago, so my office is pretty clean. But I do have a large quartz crystal. I took a trip to Canyon Ranch with my sister and niece a few years ago and learned that quartz crystals supposedly draw out the creative energy. So I charged in the light of a full moon (I googled my crystal instructions), and now I keep it on my desk. I pick it up and hold it when I’m thinking. People, let me have this. 🙂
kcd: I love that! I have to admit to having a fondness for interesting objects myself. I suppose the mummy is the oddest item in my house, now that my son has taken possession of the bastard broadsword I brought back from Scotland. The mummy came with me on my initial tour for Finding Frasier, as he wore the kilt that appears on the cover [of the earlier editions, anyway]. If people came to the signings or the talks dressed in a kilt, we would have a “Who Wore It Better?” competition with the mummy. He rarely won. He was, however, once the victim of a successful (if short-lived) kidnapping, so since I ransomed him back, he prefers to remain pretty much a homebody these days. Just lies there in his kilt and hand-knit tam, peaceful as the dead!
JL: KC, I think you win the interesting object contest. A mummy? LOL!
Thank you, Next
JL: I am writing a second book in the Lucky Dog series, It Started with a Dog, and I am writing another historical romance. What is next for me is hopefully a return to normality and maybe even Scotland.
kcd: Okay,well I’ve just startedYou Lucky Dog, and I am laughing my head off already, which means I can’t wait for the next one! In my case, I’m madly trying to finish An Accidental Odyssey, which is a contemporary romantic comedy, in which a young food blogger chases her ailing father around the Mediterranean, as he retraces Odysseus’s journey home from the Trojan Wars. I’m having a ton of fun writing it, as it’s filled with All The Crazy: secret siblings, buff sirens in the form of surfer boys, a hot archeologist, a one-eyed giant, sketchy mushrooms and a colossal squid. As for real life — I can’t say I’m convinced that normal is coming back any time soon, but I will for sure be making a trip to Scotland this fall, as my daughter is having a baby. I guess I’ll be the one all masked and gloved up on the airplane, sitting next to a kilted mummy!
JL: This also sounds amazing. I’m going to put the colossal squid with the mummy in the “things I don’t think I need to see” category. How exciting that you are off to see your grandbaby. I’d fly through corona for that, too. Safe travels, KC!
Eighty Days to Elsewhere by kc dyer, Out Now!
Born and raised in New York City, Ramona Keene dreams of attending photography school and traveling to Paris, but her reality never quite catches up with her imagination. Instead, she works at her uncles’ quaint bookstore, where the tea is plentiful and all the adventures are between the covers of secondhand books. But when the new landlord arrives with his Evil Nephew in tow, Romy’s quiet life comes crashing down. He plans to triple the rent, something her uncles can’t afford.
In order to earn the money to help save the bookstore, Romy applies for a job at ExLibris Expeditions, a company that re-creates literary journeys. Romy snags the oddest internship ever: retrace Phileas Fogg’s journey from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days and plan a suitable, contemporary adventure for a client. The task is close to impossible; sticking to the original route means no commercial aircraft permitted, and she’s got a lot less than eighty days to work with. Shaking off her fear of leaving home, Romy takes on the challenge, only to discover she’s got competition. Worse, Dominic Madison turns out to be the – unfortunately hot – nephew of her family’s worst enemy.
Can Romy win the race and circle the globe in time to save the bookstore? And what happens when she starts to fall for the very person who may just be the death of her dreams?
You Lucky Dog by Julia London, August 25!
Carly Kennedy’s life is in a spiral. She is drowning in work, her divorced parents are going through their midlife crises, and somehow Carly’s sister convinces her to foster Baxter–a basset hound rescue with a bad case of the blues. When Carly comes home late from work one day to discover that the dog walker has accidentally switched out Baxter for another perkier, friendlier basset hound, she has reached the end of her leash.
When Max Sheffington finds a depressed male basset hound in place of his cheerful Hazel, he is bewildered. But when cute, fiery Carly arrives on his doorstep, he is intrigued. He was expecting the dog walker, not a pretty woman with firm ideas about dog discipline. And Carly was not expecting a handsome, bespectacled man to be feeding her dog mac and cheese. Baxter is besotted with Hazel, and Carly realizes she may have found the key to her puppy’s happiness. For his sake, she starts to spend more time with Hazel and Max, until she begins to understand the appeal of falling for your polar opposite.