The first time I read Julie Murphy's Dumplin', I knew I had a situation on my hands. A book about a fat protagonist going up against the town beauty pageant, first love, and a shimmering Texas landscape? Yes please. Apparently I wasn't the only one, because the book, due out in September, is getting tons of critical acclaim — including translations into multiple languages and a film deal at Disney so we get to see Willowdean Dickson on the big screen! Lesley, Marianne, and I all got a chance to meet Julie at BEA this year, where she was every bit as fantastic as we all knew she would be.
She was gracious enough to chat with me about the book and the secrets of her sordid past, and she's also offering a Dumplin' giveaway: An advance reader's copy so you get to brag that you read it first, along with some thematically appropriate items...like, of course, a tiara. Sadly, it's limited to the U.S. because overseas postage is prohibitive and Julie doesn't want your red lollipops to melt. So put on your best #dumplinpose and let's dive in (and she'll take cake, not pie, if you please).
Murphy didn't actually start out being a writer. In fact, she told me, "My BIG PLAN FOR THE FUTURE was to become a legal librarian or even become a speechwriter and finally put those rhetoric classes to use. Since the librarian path had a little more career stability at the end of the rainbow, that became my plan. After graduation, I would get my MLS and then my JD, but soon after sending out applications I felt that crippling weight of OMG I’M GOING TO BE IN SCHOOL FOREVER. So I took a year off after finishing my BS and decided to try do the thing I always thought was impossible: I wrote a book. And then I wrote another one, because that first one was really shitty. I’m still writing shitty books, but now I’ve got a strong handle on the editing process."
Notably, all sorts of writing luminaries from Stephen King to Ray Bradbury to Marion Zimmer Bradley agree that you have to write a whole lot of shit to get to the good stuff. Writing takes practice!
So of course she had to celebrate, in a way that I think is pretty excellent: Commemorative tattoos. "After signing my first book contract," she explains, referring to Side Effects May Vary, her debut novel, "I was in awe of the fact that I had done this thing that had felt so impossible for so long. Writing and publishing a book felt like something worth commemorating, so I decided to get a Where the Wild Things Are tattoo on my right arm. I chose that because it was the first book I remembered really identifying with. Max was mad and misunderstood, and I felt the same way. For Dumplin’ I got a purrrmaid on my left arm. Half cat, half mermaid and with scepter and crown. She’s this contradiction (a swimming cat!) and so is Willowdean (a fat beauty queen!) and I think she’s my favorite at the moment. I do work with the same tattoo artist and she’s fantastic. If you’re in North Texas, give her a shout!"
We also chatted about the growing level of engagement between young adult authors and readers, the inevitable trip-ups on social media, and her own perspective on interacting with readers and how this more immediate connection could be working to the benefit of everyone — and fiction in general. "The young adult world has become hyper self-aware in the last two years and we’re seeing our flaws as a community in a way we hadn’t recognized in the past. This can be a great thing in the long run, but we’re definitely in the ugly growing pains stage at the moment," she said, and indeed those ugly growing pains are sometimes on full display on Twitter, Tumblr, and elsewhere, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The We Need Diverse Books campaign, for example, arose from outspoken commentary and a drive to improve representations in fiction, and we're starting to reap the rewards.
She's also been interacting with youth from a young age, as she told me when she relayed a delightful story about trolling her campers when she served as a counselor during a summer theater camp. After a day of kids being messy, she said, "We threw our clipboards on the ground and told everyone we were quitting. We proceeded to turn all the lights off (there was still lots of natural light, I swear!) and tell the campers to find their own damn rides home. We snuck around back and listened from backstage as the lunch scene turned into Lord of the Flies. Campers were screaming and crying and panicking until we turned the lights on and were like 'LOL! JK!'"
Names have been changed, she assured me, to protect the innocent, "but hey, most of those kids have gone on to do really amazing things like sing in world famous acapella groups, work at Good Morning America, perform on Broadway, and become news anchors." Trauma: It's good for the soul! Either that or theater kids are made of tough stuff (as a former theater rat I think it's the latter).
Naturally, we had to discuss what she's been reading lately. Louise will be pleased to hear that she loves Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, by the amazing Caitlin Doughty (I agree with Julie's fine taste). Julie's also really enjoying Beware the Wild, a book recommendation I definitely second — if you like Southern gothic, spooky swamps, and sultry, languid prose. She also speaks highly of Bethany Hagen's Landry Park Duology ("think futuristic Downton Abbey and great social commentary") as well as graphic novel This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. "It perfectly captures the nostalgia of summer, but without the rose colored lenses," she says. "And the illustrations are just right and compliment the writing in a way that not all graphic novels do."
Ultimately, she says: "The hardest thing for me in all of this was making Willowdean more than the stereotypical fat girl. As a fat person, I contain multitudes. I identify many ways — as a woman, a wife, a friend, a writer, etc. — and fat is only one of those things. And perhaps the least important of them all? I wanted to reflect that in Dumplin'. I strived for Willowdean to have a full life beyond the weight of her body, because the 16-year-old version of myself deserved a protagonist like that."
"I’m so excited to see my fat girl story be published," says Julie, "but now I’m ready for more. Dumplin’ isn’t THE fat girl story. It’s one of millions waiting to be told."
You can follow Julie on Twitter and Instagram, where she's reliably hilarious (and loves chatting with fans!). And if you're interested in getting a head start on your Dumplin' reading, drop a comment below — we'll pick a winner on the 21st via the delights of random number generation!