Bestselling Author


Daughters of Nantucket by Julie Gerstenblatt

Set against Nantucket’s Great Fire of 1846, this sweeping, emotional novel brings together three courageous women battling to save everything they hold dear…

Nantucket in 1846 is an island set apart not just by its geography but by its unique circumstances. With their menfolk away at sea, often for years at a time, women here know a rare independence—and the challenges that go with it. Eliza Macy is struggling to conceal her financial trouble as she waits for her whaling captain husband to return from a voyage. In desperation, she turns against her progressive ideals and targets Meg Wright, a pregnant free Black woman trying to relocate her store to Main Street. Meanwhile, astronomer Maria Mitchell loves running Nantucket’s Atheneum and spending her nights observing the stars, yet she fears revealing the secret wishes of her heart.

On a sweltering July night, a massive fire breaks out in town, quickly kindled by the densely packed wooden buildings. With everything they possess now threatened, these three very different women are forced to reevaluate their priorities and decide what to save, what to let go and what kind of life to rebuild from the ashes of the past.

Julie Gerstenblatt

Julie Gerstenblatt holds a doctorate in education in Curriculum and Instruction from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her essays have appeared in The Huffington Post, Grown&Flown, and Cognoscenti, among others. When not writing, Julie is a college essay coach, as well as a producer and on-air host for A Mighty Blaze. A native New Yorker, Julie now lives in coastal Rhode Island with her family and one very smart shichon poo. Daughters of Nantucket is her first novel.

In this engaging episode of Historical Happy Hour, host Jane delves into a conversation with debut author Julie Gerstenblatt about her novel “Daughters of Nantucket.” The discussion illuminates the novel’s setting around Nantucket’s Great Fire of 1846 and explores the lives of three distinct women characters who navigate through the dramatic event. Julie shares insights into her characters’ creation, the complexities of writing from multiple perspectives, and the rich historical background of Nantucket. The conversation also touches upon Julie’s personal journey as an author, the art of balancing historical accuracy with fictional storytelling, and the influence of real-life figures in her novel.

Timestamp List of Topics:

  • [00:00:00-00:01:59] Introduction of Julie Gerstenblatt and overview of her novel “Daughters of Nantucket.”
  • [00:01:59-00:02:47] Discussion about the novel’s premise set around Nantucket’s Great Fire of 1846.
  • [00:02:47-00:08:06] Exploration of the three main characters – Eliza, Meg, and Maria – and their diverse backgrounds.
  • [00:08:06-00:14:11] Challenges of writing Mariah Mitchell, a real historical figure, and the development of other fictional characters.
  • [00:14:11-00:20:16] Insights into Nantucket’s diverse community and the author’s research process.
  • [00:20:16-00:27:08] Julie’s discovery of a self-published history of the fire, which shaped the novel’s plot.
  • [00:27:08-00:31:18] Julie’s publishing journey and advice for aspiring fiction writers.
  • [00:31:18-00:35:09] Discussion about Julie’s writing process, including the balance between plotting and improvisation.
  • [00:35:09-00:41:17] Audience Q&A covering various topics, including the novel’s cover design and character development.


[00:00:00] Jane: Hello, everyone. I’m here with Julie Gerstenblatt and to talk about her debut, Daughters of Nantucket. She has a beautiful poster behind her. You’re like such a pro at this. I’ve been watching your promo stuff on Instagram. So I’m going to, I’m going to do a brief intro of Julie and then we have, I have a bunch of questions for her.

And then if anyone has questions, I can put them in the chat or the Q& A and I can ask Julie after my questions. So Julie Gerstenblatt holds a doctorate in education and curriculum and instruction from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her essays have appeared in the Huffington Post, Grown and Flown, Cognoscenti, among others.

When not writing, Julie is a college essay coach, as well as a producer and on air host for A Mighty Blaze. A native New Yorker, Julie now lives in coastal Rhode Island with her family and one very smart she shawn? Is it?

[00:00:56] Julie: Oh, yeah. She shawn who? Which I’ve been, there’s like three difficult words in my bio and as a debut author, I will do better next time.

Like simplify.

[00:01:07] Jane: But I think cognoscenti, right? Is that? Okay. Daughter, Daughters of Nantucket is her first novel. Welcome Julie. Thanks so much for doing this.

[00:01:17] Julie: Thanks, Jane. I’m excited to be here.

[00:01:19] Jane: Yeah. So I feel like we have many mutual friends and I’ve been really looking forward to talking to you for that.

Like every time I see I’m like, oh, she’s with Jane Roper. Oh, she’s over here.

[00:01:29] Julie: You and I need to have our own like happy hour where we can catch up on all of that.

[00:01:34] Jane: Right? Yeah, totally. Totally. So I love I love Nantucket and one of the reasons I love historical fiction and I love the story is that it, I learned about the history of the island and some of its people in a way that I had never had before, even though I’ve lived my whole life in Massachusetts.

It’s almost embarrassing that I didn’t know some of them. Yeah. So tell me about the premise of the story.

[00:01:59] Julie: Sure. So the the book is set around Nantucket’s Great Fire of 1846 and three different women whose lives intersect in the days leading up to that event. And what I wanted to do was create, there’s so much drama in that event, and I wanted to create kind of those everyday fires and small dramas.

And emotional fires and sparks and all that kind of like me really leaning into the fire here. Yeah, yeah. Like a town where people are on edge and on different sides of, of a few issues as people in small towns. Have been forever. And have those come to and their secrets and their own desires come to a head right as the fire hits the town.

[00:02:47] Jane: Excellent. Yeah, I love. So that’s what that leads me to one of my next question, actually. So you told this from three different women’s perspectives. from three very disparate backgrounds. Tell me a little bit about these three characters, Eliza, Meg, and Maria, and why you chose to structure the novel this way, moving from different, there are different perspectives, kind of alternating narratives.

[00:03:13] Julie: Right. So as you were saying about Nantucket, that is a place I’ve been going to forever. So I knew it before, you know, I didn’t know about the fire, but I knew about at least one of the characters from real life. The other two are made up, but so I’ll start with Mariah Mitchell. She was the the first female professional librarian in America.

She was the first female professional astronomer in America, and she lived on Nantucket. So there is like a, there’s a big painting of her when you walk into the Athenaeum, and there’s a museum, and like where, from the house she was, she lived in until she was about 10 or 12, has been turned into the Mariah Mitchell Museum, and there’s an observatory in her name.

So she is a name I knew right away. But she felt intimidating to me to write about because of all that. There’s some lore about whether she saved a church from being destroyed that night. And then it’s like, was I going to touch something that was in the folklore and some other things about her that made it interesting and challenging to write about a real person.

But I decided that she’s just too good, like she’s just so ahead of her time and interesting and, you know, thinking so liberally at a time when Nantucketers were a liberal bunch to begin with, with their Quaker upbringing and their you know, early abolitionists, early suffragists, but Mariah in particular really sort of stands for all of that and Quaker girls were taught to speak up and, and so she does.

And I thought that made her sort of a, a fun and feisty counterpoint to a fairly traditional woman in my creation of Eliza Macy, who is, if you’ve ever been to Nantucket, it’s It’s the whaling, it was the whaling capital of the world for a very long time at one point. And so whaling wives are kind of famous, even nameless, faceless ones, just for that group of women who suffered their husband’s absences for very many years on end and lived in these giant homes.

that are still there today on Upper Main Street. So Eliza was really the first to come to my mind because that’s kind of who I knew about, you know, I was like, oh, let’s picture one of those, but let’s make her sort of desperate. She’s used to having money. She does not right now. Her husband’s last voyage was not successful.

He’s out again. He’s been gone for a long time. And when the book opens, she gets a letter saying he’s not coming back as planned and sorry, with no explanation. So she feels distanced from him. She feels very, very lonely. And she’s not her best self when we meet her. three daughters. And so part of the title comes from being the mother to children, but also being being a daughter of a place and of particular ideals and what it means to be so closely tied to your neighbors and to an island like Nantucket.

And then my third character came about through. I did even more research when I learned that there was a thriving black community living parallel to the white community on the island at the time. And in the 1840s, when the fire broke out, there was a huge back and forth political sort of grandstanding about whether the schools should be integrated.

And Nantucket eliminated, like, abolished slavery 10 years before mainland Massachusetts. but was late to integrate their schools. And they spent the greater part of the 1840s fighting back and forth about it and who was voted on to the, the school committee and then changing the laws and then changing them back.

And similar to the politics of today, you know, who’s in office decides what, where the pendulum swings and what belief systems we have. So Meg. Has grown up under the that system and was denied access to the high school herself, even though she passed the entrance exam and she comes from a family.

I base off of some real families where a black whaler went off to see made a lot of money and came back and built a huge you know, a home, a business bought land and became a civic leader in the city. For Nantucketers for black Nantucketers in particular, but working alongside the white ones. So Meg has a daughter in the schools and she’s fighting for integration.

She has another child on the way. And she’s working with her husband to own a business for the first time to own the land and the business on Main Street.

[00:08:06] Jane: Fascinating. So I you mentioned Mariah Mitchell and I, you know, I, first of all, I, I. so much. I commend you for writing from three different perspectives.

I find that like, it must be so tricky. I want to ask a little more about that. But you know, Mariah was a real person from history. The other two characters are fictional. You made them up completely. Which one was harder? Was it harder to write Mariah because she was a real person? Or was it harder to write, you know, create these characters from scratch?

[00:08:38] Julie: So I’ll start with the question you kind of didn’t ask but asked about writing three points of view because I tried a novel right before this about the first time I wrote from three points of view, and it was three women who meet up at their college reunion and confront. A, a guy from their class who is winning the award for alumni of the year, but had sexually assaulted one of them in college.

And yeah, I wrote a hundred pages of that. And then my agent was like, it was the Kavanaugh hearings. And she was like, there’s so much right now coming out about hashtag me too. And this and that, and I’m getting flooded with manuscripts. That feel a lot like this. Oh, okay. You started yours before. I’m thinking you should shelve this and work on something else.

And so I, I pitched her this historical, which I’d never done. Well, she said, I think of your choices. I think the historical is the one that’s gonna make a difference in the market. It’s gonna do something different. I haven’t heard this story. I wanna hear this story. You seem excited about it. Yeah.

So go do that. And I was like, okay. But I felt what I had learned from the hundred pages before that was I love writing from three characters. Oh, wow. Yeah. I was like, it’s so much easier because you don’t have to stay in one person’s head the whole time. You can jump around and then you can like have them.

have this layered understanding of the same, they can be in the same place at the same time, but because they’re different people, they understand something differently, or they see it different. And I found opportunities for drama just in the fact that I had three, you know, characters coming up against each other.

So I knew that much. And Then, the, it was hard to write Mariah because she’s real, except that something really did happen in that time period that we lost without giving too much away. We don’t know what Mariah’s life was like that year of the fire and the time around it. And because we don’t know and that information was lost to history, I could make it up, which gave me, you know, it was like perfect timing.

If I wanted to write about a real person, but. and had a lot about her that I could use, but also had a lot of freedom in the everyday kinds of stuff. So I was able to use that and that made it fun and free. I just had to like, take her down from like that portrait on the wall. She’s got very, very tight curls.

She’s not smiling. She looks like she’s mad at you about taking it. And I had to make her real. So once I wrote about her a lot and gave her like a love interest and Softened her up in certain ways and, and I heard she was really funny and fun to talk to so I leaned into her personality a bit and you know, so that then ended up being hard at the beginning, but ultimately really fun to write.

Eliza was hard to write because she’s not a likable character in a lot of ways. And I had to make sure, though, that people did like her in the end, or did come to understand her in the end. Like, I’ve had people, like, clutch their chest and talk to me about Eliza, or roll their eyes, or feel like Like they know her and they understand, even if they don’t agree with her, they, they came to understand her.

And also it’s kind of fun to follow someone who doesn’t always, you know, do the right thing or follow the rules. acting inappropriately. So yeah, yeah. It was hard for me because I’m like a good girl. Like, you know, mostly like I did forge my mom’s name to get out of gym class kind of, you know, like, but yeah, but you know, so that was made it interesting.

And then for Meg, I thought she really was a sympathetic character and I could picture her whole story. So she was easy to write what was hard about Meg. Was making the decision to write from the point of view of a black woman when I clearly am not one myself and whether in those conversations that the Literary community has been having about appropriation and who can tell whose story so I had some conversations with my writing group and with other people about why to do this like and The feeling of like just knowing in yourself and in your heart and for your fiction that it was an important, you know, piece of this, of the story.

And then once I had that all worked out, the confidence and understanding that, yes, I needed to do this that I could do it in a way that was sensitive and human and my, and then my publisher agreed. So then I was, that, she was easy to write after that point.

[00:13:33] Jane: Yeah, yeah, because that is that that’s a conversation that is ongoing in publishing right now.

But I think it there’s just a richness to the story when you have very free women from very, very different backgrounds, including a black woman. I didn’t understand the diversity of Nantucket at the time and then in the 1800s and so talk to me a little bit about that. You talked to talk about the New Guinea neighborhood where there was.

Islanders from Africa, Cape Verdean, some, some Native Americans and, and then if you want to dive into like your research for the book, because it must have been fascinating, and I can imagine the Athenaeum must have been a great resource for this.

[00:14:11] Julie: Yeah. So learning about the diversity was new for me and that is why I felt like I had to put it in and I could either put it in like sprinkle it in and have the white characters talk about the people of color or actually have, you know, a glimpse into the new Guinea neighborhood by having a character who lives and is one of them and among them.

So yeah, it’s I think what was interesting is that yeah. Nantucket was a global destination because of whaling and merchants. So it wasn’t just whalers but also merchants who went to China for the China trade and stopped along the way and would come back with not only global wares. But sometimes people much more.

So that was true on a whaling ship and whaling was really the first and perhaps one could argue only ever perfectly egalitarian society. Microcosm in America, because whaling ships did not care, like really did not care the color of your skin. What language you spoke, what your education was, who your father was, any of that, they cared that you could do the work.

And if you could pull your weight and do the work. You were welcome, and you could advance on a ship as well, and you could make money and actually then buy yourself to freedom if you, if you were enslaved. And so that is, that was a way for, you know, that was like a way up and out. So people then would come on a ship to Nantucket and some would stay and they would marry and they would intermarry a Wampanoag woman with a man from the Azores or a black man who had been born free to a black woman who had, you know, come from slavery and, and through through New, New Bedford as a port where she landed, you know, so there, it’s a really rich and diverse And we’ve lost, I think, a lot of that in the narrative of The time, you know, if you look at Moby Dick, you will see that, but they’re really out at sea much more than they’re on Nantucket.

But yeah, it was really fascinating to me. And I, I, now it’s actually a diverse community again, Nantucket, but, there are something like 14 languages or 16 languages spoken at the high school, and for the first time, I think this year, the population is 51 percent people of color and the concern is that we need teachers to reflect that and, and people on the island also you know, doctors, et cetera, to, to be as diverse as the population.

[00:16:57] Jane: Yeah. So, so interesting. And, and so for your research, where did you start for all of this? Like, you know, I, and I mean, when you’re like a writer of historical fiction, usually you enjoy research. So I imagine you really liked that part of it.

[00:17:11] Julie: Right. As I’m sure you know, too. So I I, as you mentioned in my bio, I have a doctorate in education.

And when I thought about this and my agent said to me, I know you always write, you know, contemporary stories, but those stories aren’t getting published, hate to tell you, why don’t you try the historical? And I, and I said, no, no, no. But then I thought, I’m not afraid of research. I spent 10 years writing my dissertation.

I was like in the stacks at Columbia, pulling old, you know, policy papers off a shelf. And. reading in libraries and finding comfort in that old, you know, coming across something interesting from the past that can help me make sense of the future or the present and the future. So once I was like, Oh yeah, that actually is me.

And this story makes sense for me because I wasn’t searching for historical story. I came across it in reading Nathaniel Philbrook’s history of the island away offshore. And very early on in the book, he mentions the Great Fire of 1846, and I like sit up a little taller, like, ooh, and like turn the page and that’s it.

Two paragraphs, like little hint of it, you know, on the night of blah blah, a fire broke out, da da da da, end of story. And I was like, end of story, that to me felt like the beginning of story.

[00:18:30] Jane: Yes, yeah. It’s like when the air stand up on the back of your ear, you’re like, ooh, what else happened there? That’s such good stuff.

Yeah, yeah.

[00:18:37] Julie: That was the first so that’s how I got hooked. It was through the fire. And so I walked into Mitchell’s bookstore on Nantucket. And I like leaned over the counter and was like, give me everything you’ve got on the great fire. And they’re like, Oh, we have nothing. Wow, I get room and the Nantucket section.

And they’re like, yeah, no. Try the other bookstore. So I went to the other bookstore and they were like, you know what? We have some guys self published history of the fire. And they gave it to me. His name is VB Gowdy. VB is like a nickname. His name is Doug Gowdy. And he’s just a guy who loves to go to Nantucket.

Loves history and did all this research, like first person accounts, read old newspapers, went to city hall, did all this stuff I wouldn’t want to do.

[00:19:32] Jane: That’s such a fine, that is like, yeah,

[00:19:36] Julie: I am indebted to him and I did get to speak to him also. We had an interview on the phone, we emailed a few times, but I was like this book, Doug’s gave me everything I needed.

As a jumping off point for my fiction and for the first time, something I’d never had, which was a plot, like a beating heart of an action adventure, you know, flick, let’s say I saw it like a movie. I smelled it. I was like this fire. Yeah, you know, it’s going to be amazing. And then I knew I was going to have my three women.

So I was like, okay, let’s create them and get them there.

[00:20:16] Jane: Amazing. Oh yeah. That is such a treasure when you find something like that, like needle in the haystack. That’s so great.

[00:20:22] Julie: Yes, and I read it like 10 times. And he doesn’t have like, because it’s self published, he doesn’t have like a clear biography or anything in the back.

He has a biography, but he doesn’t have like a table of contents, sort of. Like, where do you find Mariah Mitchell in this book? You have to remember.

[00:20:41] Jane: Oh, yeah, yeah, so it’s not well organized. Yeah, a lot of sticky notes and tabs, I’m sure. Yeah. So I love this quote. I think it was Eliza, I meant to take a note.

Nantucket’s women are independent and self-sufficient creatures, and, and that really came through in the story. I didn’t realize that, you know, these whaling ships sometimes went out for years. Like, that was incredible to me. Like you think, oh, six months, maybe a year, but. But literally, these women were on their own for years at a time while their husbands were off at sea.

So so I, that’s not really a question. I just, I just thought that was so interesting for the 1800s to have these strong independent women on a little island, you know, off the coast of Massachusetts.

[00:21:25] Julie: Yeah, it created a, it created a culture of, of, of independence and also autonomy and ability to work and, you know, they were well educated.

They ran the house and also did other things, you know, run a business. There was Petticoat Row for, you know, nicknamed for the street where all the women’s shops were. They, and they also had a power of attorney that was unheard of at the time where they could sign for things and Legally move money and legally make decisions without their husband’s consent because you couldn’t get consent and yeah, it created there’s actually a poem about I don’t have it memorized and I should but it was sort of like You know, it’s, it’s like, it’s so hard when a man’s away and blah, blah, blah, but it was like, kind of like, I’d have it no other way.

Kind of like, I’m okay with it. The freedom for me, you know, is a freedom I enjoy. It’s sort of I will find it. That’s great. Yeah.

[00:22:26] Jane: I should also mention because I read your book club discussion guide and it’s great. You can download it as a PDF, book clubs out there listening and you mentioned I was really this was a surprise.

So this is the first in a trilogy. Is that right? Can you tell us a little bit about the next one?

[00:22:45] Julie: Sure. It was a surprise to my editor as well. And my agents, we were on a call and I was like, by the way, I have plans. They were like, okay, great. But yeah, so what happens sometimes when you’re writing is you have to kill your darlings.

Meaning a scene you wrote that you loved had to, has to go. Or a character if it doesn’t serve the story. So I tend to do this a lot where I have like a best friend and a mother giving advice to the main character and sorry, that’s my dog. And in, in the end, you really just need one. Person to do that job, you know, and so I had a character, an extra character, sorry, called now

[00:23:30] Jane: my cats are jumping on the desk.

It’s fine.

[00:23:33] Julie: And now Starbuck was a friend to Eliza’s. She’s friend to Eliza. But, so was Mariah, and then she also gets counseled by Alice, her eldest daughter, who’s really not her child. And who’s Henry’s child from his first marriage. And so, she was getting a lot of advice from a lot of people and going to a lot of people for comfort, etc.

And so, I realized, you know, in a later revision, I had to get rid of Nell. And then give the other two women. More more lines more role. Yeah. Yeah. And so in cutting now, I have a sentence now This is something like Nell Starbuck is traversing the globe with her merchant husband You know going to China for wares and goods or whatever I say and so the second book is going to be that it’s going to be that journey like not that one, but The next journey, it starts five years after this book ends, and people have come up to me.

One woman was like, I didn’t like the ending. And I was like, Okay, let’s talk about it and then she actually really did like the ending, but She wanted to know certain things and then realized that she didn’t know them like she knew enough to be like, Oh, well, this is going to happen. And this is going to happen.

And this, you know, it’s, it’s all there. I said, So what would I have said? And she was like, No, I gotcha. I gotcha. But there is like an open thread that I left purposefully, you know, that way. And you will see you’ll get some answers at the beginning of the second book. To that, but you’re really going on a new journey from Nantucket with these new characters in 1851 by Clippership, which is the fastest ship that ever sailed the seas, even today, and around Cape Horn to San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush, and where they meet Joseph Allen, who is all grown up and has had a situation of his own and joins them On journey, a journey to China where calamity ensues.

[00:25:41] Jane: Yeah, I read that. I’m like, what, what a great idea. And so when is, when is that slated? Do you have a pub, pub year, pub day yet?

[00:25:49] Julie: I don’t, I have done a good bit of research and I have some more. I’m going to the city in a few weeks to see a museum exhibit before it closes, because I have this idea for characters.

I have main plot. And I have a prologue written, but in the fall I’ll write. And I, I feel like a year, it’ll take me a year to write. It’ll take a year plus to come out, but I’m in good shape. I feel like I’m in good shape and I’m excited by it. And I have big plans. And then the third, and these are standalones, like you don’t have to read them in order.

You don’t have to know anything about the first read the second sort of like Alka Joshi’s henna artists. Series. Yes. For like Natalie, I just had her on last month. Oh yes. . Yeah. Yeah. And she and I have the same editor and Oh, great. Well now that editor has left, but that she was, both of our editors and Natalie Jenner her.

Three books the Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls, and now the third, which I got to read in in draft form and write a blurb for her, is an, is another example of that. So I’m, I’m, I love that, and I’m sort of taking that, stealing that idea from both of them, because it it works with my imagination and lets me revisit characters, but also really tell a different and new story.

[00:27:08] Jane: Yeah, that’s an, it’s excellent. Good luck. It sounds amazing. So you know, one of the other things I read on your website in your interview and your book club guide, you know, I think a lot, a lot of us in publishing have kind of these winding roads, right? It’s not just a straight line and, and you have just this great tail, or Persistence and so we’ll talk a little bit about your publishing journey because it was you know, it’s people I always say like publishing is persistence.

You have to keep knocking you have to keep trying and And you are certainly evidence of that. So talk a little bit about that That experience your experience Yes,

[00:27:46] Julie: I’m a walking poster child for that. You know, 52 debut at 52 is sort of my slogan. I keep saying I want to make up t shirts with that because I’m, I’m proud of it actually.

Coming to this age, also like certain things I’m so comfortable being myself that like when there was an issue with the cover art, I was like, No, you know, I’m gonna very pleasantly push for what I want, which is something I might not have done in my thirties, maybe forties. So I’m happy to be here with this book now, and I, but I wouldn’t say like it all worked out perfectly, but it did work out.

It did work out perfectly for me looking at it now. But I started writing, I wanted to write. From I wrote in college. I wrote short stories. I wrote poems. I think everybody writes poems in college. If you’re an English major and Then I wanted to write right out of college and my parents were like you can’t that’s like not a job you can’t write, you know, so I started teaching and I wrote in my spare time and I wrote my children were little and I wrote when I was in between drafts of my dissertation, and my sponsor was reading for six weeks well that gave me six weeks to work on a novel like cheat on my dissertation.

So I wrote three or four novels I had three agents and. Like I alluded to before, they were all contemporary. One or two were YA, because I was teaching middle school at the time and reading tons of YA and I loved them still. I think that YA’s are, you know, really cutting edge and do things that sometimes trickle into adult fiction and or should.

And So some YA, some books about a woman in her thirties, a woman in her forties and suburbia, blah, blah, blah, but I didn’t really have, I think, compelling plot or anything different. They were funny and sweet and cute. And, and had, you know, had some commentary about life, but they weren’t doing something different in the market.

And so the feedback was constantly, and it wasn’t anything that I could change either. They were like. This was good, like the feedback and within a month a manuscript would go out and then be dead. Dead on arrival. Nothing we could do. No one else to send it out to.

[00:30:05] Jane: I feel it. ’cause I’ve been through it. I, and I have friends going through it now and yeah.

But, you know, but you, you kept going and that’s the, that’s the lesson, right?

[00:30:13] Julie: Like Yeah, I think the lesson is to keep going but also. You know, it’s like do it something different. Honestly, for me, I don’t know if I had written another book like that if I’d finished the perhaps if I’d finished the one about the college reunion, because it had a sort of different angle in that it would be talking about you know, women and men in college campuses and all that kind of stuff.

But this This book being historical and telling this story made the difference. Me having a writing group found final, like finally founding a writing group that finding a writing group that really. Helped me shape plot and like learn things that I didn’t know. Not that I didn’t know, but I didn’t sort of carry through in terms of plotting and creating an arc for everyone and outlining a little bit more than I like to do.

But I now see how that really can play out in a compelling turn, turning, you know, of the pages. Yeah, yeah.

[00:31:18] Jane: So on that note, what is your best advice for aspiring fiction

[00:31:23] Julie: writers? I would say get a group, get, get feedback from people who are not your mother. Yeah. You know, and I, my mom reads everything I write, so I would say in addition to if you have a trusted friend or something, but they just don’t, they’re not going to give you the hard truth.

They’re not going to know it because they’re, unless they’re also a writer So you need a community that could be like Grub Street in Boston, which is where we started our group. It could be Sarah Lawrence in New York, which has creative writing, which is where I met Annabelle Monaghan and we did a workshop together.

And so even if it’s just a small group, but write consistently every day or every, you know, as much as you can within the confines of your real job and feedback from trusted sources. Yeah.

[00:32:15] Jane: Excellent advice. And yeah, I, I mentioned Grub Street to people around here all the time. The Women Fictions Writers Association is another like national organization that has some good resources.

They can team you up with a critique partner online and things like that, which is

[00:32:28] Julie: really good. Right. Second story in Chicago. Yeah.

[00:32:31] Jane: Yeah. That’s another one. Yep. Really good. So what has been the most surprising aspect of your debut novel coming out? What was the biggest surprise? Yeah.

[00:32:42] Julie: The biggest surprise was people were reading it.

[00:32:46] Jane: Yay! That’s great!

[00:32:47] Julie: Yay! I mean, really, it’s sort of like, that’s the contract. You know, as a writer, I’m going to write something that I think readers will like. And they seem to be reading it and liking it. So, it’s a really it’s a yin and yang. It feels like it completes, for years I’ve been just writing for myself.

Yeah. And I would continue to do that as a writer in my office, but to be able to become an author and have conversations about the book with readers and have people tell me like, Oh, I love this book so much. And it really is. It’s overwhelming and, and moving. And Just has, you know, so far surpassed anything that I’d hoped for it and yeah, and I’d like, and then people were like, I just saw it in an airport that I was like, Oh my God.

So I went to O’Hare last week and I found it nice signed copies.

[00:33:52] Jane: So great. Yeah. I mean, it’s all the things you think about when you’re like, By yourself in the corner of a cafe, like, will this ever happen? Like, that’s amazing. I love hearing those stories. So I have one more question and then there’s lots of really lovely comments and questions in the chat and it looks like in the Q& A that I’m going to ask you.

But my last question is, how best can readers stay in touch with you and do you do virtual book club visits?

[00:34:20] Julie: Yes, I do virtual book club visits. Absolutely. And the best way to stay in touch with me two things. If you go to my website, a little thing will pop up to invite you to, to sign up for my newsletter.

And I I write about once a month. And I make it entertaining. So join my newsletter and you’ll be up to date with some information and you’ll be reminded that I have a website and you can always check for what I’m doing there. And then on my website, there’s a form, a contact me form. It looks sort of like.

Boring and official and you’re like where where’s this info going to but it goes right to my gmail account So if you say hi, I’m so and so we have a book club Ken bubble. Can we meet with you? I will write right back to you, you know within a day or two and we can set something up. So awesome

[00:35:09] Jane: Awesome. I have to I’m laughing because I said like we have all these mutual friends including I did not know You know, Hank Philippi Ryan who is also here Oh, thanks.

[00:35:18] Julie: Hi, Hank. I didn’t wear my glasses. So I, if I didn’t see. Oh, there’s Hank. Hi. And your mom.

[00:35:25] Jane: I think your mom’s here.

[00:35:26] Julie: My mom’s here? And Sharon. My mom. My mom’s on vacation, so I don’t know if she’s here. And Sharon person.

[00:35:35] Jane: I know Sharon and Christine Mott and Mandy. Did I see that? Yeah, Mandy. I did mom.

Yeah, people are so lovely with these comments. So a couple of questions from the audience. To both of you are wearing colors that match your book covers. Sharon says, was this planned? I didn’t know how that happened.

[00:35:56] Julie: I planned it. I totally planned it. Yeah. Yeah. It’s this Rent the Runway sweater that I got in like February because it goes so well with the book cover and it’s, it’s cotton, but it’s kind of heavy.

So I was like, Oh, I’ll, I’ll stop wearing it. Stop wearing it. But the weather has been comfortable in my office that I’m like, I’ll still wear it and I’ll send it back eventually, but yeah, I’ve been holding it hostage.

[00:36:22] Jane: Very nice. Speaking of the cover, Christine Mott asks did you have any input into your cover?

You said that you pushed back a little because I, yeah, I love, I love the cover. It’s like beautiful and whimsical and it fits with the themes and yeah yeah, I think it’s such a, it’s, it totally, they nailed it.

[00:36:38] Julie: Thank you. Yeah. So it started with a one. The problem was really the title. They called it daughter of Nantucket.

I had a different title. Don’t ever ask me to give your book a title. I’m very bad at it. And it was a great fire. And then it went to a tiny spark and we sold it with that title where my My friend, writer and teacher, Jenna Blum was like, Tiny? You can’t have a title with Tiny. You have to be big. Best seller.

Big book.

[00:37:10] Jane: Big, big. That’s very, that’s so Jenna. That’s perfect. So Jenna. So

[00:37:14] Julie: Jenna. So, clearly the editors agreed and they, they were like, we’ll come back to you with the title. And then, since you know Jane Roper, Jane said, Oh, they’re going to come up with, let me guess, The Whaler’s Wife. That’s what they called it, Jax, the trailer’s wife.

And I was like, no, no, no, that’s only one character. And then it’s in relation to a man. And we don’t want to define a woman in relation to a man. So they scrapped that. And then they said, it’s going to be daughter of Nantucket. And they put one woman on the cover. And she was young. And she was standing on a field with a barn in the background.

And I was like, Where are we in Idaho?

Just didn’t I was like, she’s younger than anyway, we fought back about we kept pushing back about the title. And once they changed the title, they realized they couldn’t do that same concept with like three women on the cover, and it got very busy. And so then they came, they gave the artist Alita Siradopoulou, she did the cover art for Sarah Penner’s The Lost Apothecary.

Oh, yeah, yeah. I love that one. Yeah, it’s like a saturated hue with the drama and hers is more purple. Mine’s more blue, but they have these gold touches and I just knew I was thrilled the minute I saw it. The three women are now up here on the. On the whale’s tail, riding on the whale’s tail, and the three men, I say, are, you know, not their three men, but there’s three sails, so it’s like three men out at sea, and the waves have movement, and the whale has Yeah, and here you can see like the background is flower like the mask wallpaper.

It doesn’t. Yeah, it’s much more subtle on. Yes, it’s more subtle.

[00:39:13] Jane: Yeah. And yeah, this, I didn’t even notice the three women at first. person and like, Oh my God, what a cool idea. That was really cool. Yeah. It looks a little like the Hamilton outlines, you know, like it reminds me a little.

[00:39:26] Julie: They actually gave me two covers when we got to this point, it was this one and it was these three women.

Blown up, and it was red, white, and blue, and it looked like Hamilton. It was like I, oh, I held it up to like my friends and I started singing the beginning of like the Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I was like, oh, no, no. It was, yeah. So, but the, I, but the, but the hinge of them up there like that is great.

[00:39:56] Jane: Yeah, so good.

Okay, one more question and then we’re going to wrap it up. And I, Christy Lynch asked, and I, I usually ask this one. I can’t believe I didn’t ask this one. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plot out your novels or do you write by the seat of your pants?

[00:40:10] Julie: I do a combination. I need to know. like big scenes and touch points along the way so I know where I’m going.

And that keeps the writer’s block at bay, but I don’t want to have to, I feel like there’s something not fun about just filling out an outline and writing off of that. Where like the spark and the mystery and a character taking over, you know, I need to leave room for that. But I like to sit down every day going, today I’m writing this scene, or completing that conversation.

So so that I don’t, so that I’m always excited to get into the chair.

[00:40:48] Jane: Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. Like a little bit of both. Yeah. A lot of writers I’ve talked to on this, they have a similar process like that. Kind of a combo. Julie, this was delightful and I, I know you were able to see all the comments so I’m going to send you them in like a text file after because people have been just lovely and had so many great things to say about your book.

And I’m so happy for you as someone who has gone through that whole process and rejections and everything else I’m just so I couldn’t be more thrilled, and I hope we can have coffee someday in person. So,

[00:41:17] Julie: I hope so too Jane that would be great. I am. Thank you so much and I am seeing the comments about my newsletter.

People do enjoy the newsletter, so, you know, I’m gonna, I’m gonna plug that keep going. Awesome. And yeah, and so I’d love to stay in touch with everybody. So write to me after you read it and all the things, and yes, the audio book is good too, so people who like to do that can do that.

[00:41:43] Jane: Excellent. Well thank you for your time and I will post this for people who missed it.

I’ll post it on YouTube and as a podcast too and I’ll share that with you when it’s right. Alright, have a good night, Julie. Thank you everyone for being on tonight. Take care. Bye everybody.


Hosted by Jane Healey, Historical Happy Hour is a live interview and podcast featuring premiere historical fiction authors and their latest novels.

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