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Interview with Julie Jarnagin

Congratulations on your debut release, Canyon Walls. What came first…the education in journalism leading to novel writing, or the dream of a novelist spurring the journalism degree?
Thank you! This question made me think because my journey to become a novelist has been a winding one. My dream started as a dream to write. I had no idea where that dream would lead me or what kind of writing I wanted to do. After getting engaged, my husband and I both transferred to the University of Oklahoma, which is one of the few colleges with a professional writing degree that focuses more on commercial fiction. That’s where I discovered my love of fiction.

As a self-professed procrastinator, you use organized spurt-writing events such as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to complete the first draft of your novels. How many novels did you complete prior to attempting NaNoWriMo?
I wrote my first novel in 2002 as part of one of my classes in the professional writing program at OU. I still love the characters from that book, and I might revisit it someday. It would most likely be through a total rewrite instead of with a revision. I tinkered with that book for years before eventually starting my second book through NaNoWriMo in 2005. I’m a perfectionist, and it’s tough for me to turn off my internal editor long enough to get the words on the page. NaNoWriMo forced me to turn off my doubts and all my second guessing to get my next book written.

How many years of NaNoWriMo have you successfully ended up with draft one of a manuscript?
This year was my third year to complete NaNoWriMo. I’ve won NaNoWriMo three years, 2005, 2006, and 2011. The first year I wrote a young adult novel. I was still trying to figure out what kind of writing fit me best. The second year I wrote Canyon Walls, my debut novel. This year, I wrote the first draft of a contemporary romance, The Wedding Chapel.

Have you tried the ACFW’s NovelTrack and NovelTrackEditing which are monthly based writing support programs much like NaNoWriMo, but go on throughout the year?
I have, and I think NovelTrack and NovelTrackEditing are amazing programs. As you can probably tell, accountability is huge for me. I appreciate ACFW providing programs like this to help writers in every aspect of their writing. If anyone needs help jump starting their word count or, like me, needs to overcome procrastination, I strongly encourage them to participate.

Was Canyon Walls written during NaNoWriMo and how long did you wait after completing the first draft of Canyon Walls before you submitted it to Barbour Publishing?
As a classic procrastinator, I didn’t submit the novel to Barbour/Heartsong Presents until June of 2009. ACFW was a huge part of me being able to get that manuscript ready for submission. In 2007 I had a critique by our current president, Margaret Daley, at the ACFW conference, and in 2008, I worked with a great critique group I met through ACFW.

According to your website, the second book in the series, Canyon Crossing should be out this fall followed by the third book, Canyon Café next year. In light of the Heartsong Presents line closing, any news on those release dates?
I’m excited to announce that Canyon Crossing was released to the Heartsong Present book club in October, and Canyon Cafe will be released in 2012. I’m excited that I was able to complete my series with the book club. I’ve loved working with everyone at Barbour / Heartsong Presents.

How do you work writing into your day with a toddler demanding your time?
It has been a learning process on how to best focus my time. I’m discovering that the natural tendency we have, particularly as women and mothers, to multitask, isn’t usually the best solution. I’m the most productive and most plugged into my family, when I’m focusing on one thing at a time. When I’m on a deadline, I do a lot of my writing at 5 am before my family is awake. When I’m writing, working at my day job in marketing, or being a wife and a mom, I try to experience that moment to the fullest. I’m also blessed to have a wonderful husband who provides a lot of support. I couldn’t do it without him.

Are you still using the outline you mentioned on your blog back in March 2011 and are the spreadsheets still available to anyone who asks?
Absolutely. Anyone who’s interested in using my spreadsheet, can email me at I’m a little obsessed with plotting. I enjoy the process of developing the story before I begin writing. I spend more time outlining and brainstorming than I spend actually crafting the first draft. I’ve found that the more I know about the story and the less decisions I need to make about where the storyline is going, the more I’m able to turn off the analytical side of my brain and turn on the creative side of my brain.

How do your faith and spiritual life affect your storytelling?
I don’t even realize how much of my spiritual life sneaks into my stories until after they’re written. Sometimes I’ll get a content edit back from the editor and a light bulb will go off when I realize, “Oh, that’s what this book is really about.” As a person who likes structure and control, a lot of my stories come back to trusting God with His greater plan for our lives. My best, most thought-out plans can never compare with God’s perfect will and plan for my life.

Your blog contains numerous lists. What’s the zaniest thing on your bucket list and how many items have you listed so far?
I do love lists, but surprisingly, I’ve never written a bucket list. Maybe that’s something I should do for 2012. One thing I would like to do is run a half marathon. My husband runs marathons and inspired me to train for a 5k. When my three-year-old gets a little older, that might be my next challenge to conquer.

What’s your current project?
I recently finished my third Heartsong Presents novel, which will complete the series. The closing of the Heartsong Presents line has pushed me into trying something new. Now I’m working on a full length, romantic comedy that I’m really excited about, and I’m having a blast writing it. After spending this time in the world of my Canyon series, it has been fun to branch out and discover what God has in store for me next.

Any parting words?
Thank you for such a fun interview. I’d like to say that ACFW has been a huge blessing and an encouragement throughout my writing journey. I truly believe it’s the most supportive and valuable writing organization out there.

Thanks for sharing with us, Julie.

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