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My Interview with Dumplin’ Author Julie Murphy

I recently read and loved an advance reader’s copy of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, a gem of a book that has since gone on to become a number one New York Times bestselling young adult novel. As an avid YA reader and a registered dietitian nutritionist who was raised by an overweight mother and became an overweight teen with body image issues, I was immediately drawn to Willowdean aka “Dumplin” and her story. Here’s a description of the book from Murphy’s website:

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’ by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.  

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

And something I especially love from the back cover of the book:

There’s something about swimsuits that makes you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.

Although I don’t love the fact that Willowdean labels herself as “fat”—I reserve that word to describe food rather than people—I love the character’s spunk and the fact that she represents so many typical teen girls who, despite their confidence about so many things, struggle with bouts of insecurity. That happens to all of us no matter what our size. I believe that girls and women alike will relate to Willowdean and her story, and finish the book not only feeling happy for and more empathetic toward her, but feeling more empowered themselves. Like Willowdean, my hope is that readers will also feel worthy of love, not just from others (boys or men included) but from themselves. We all should and can love ourselves, even if we don’t fit a certain mold about size, shape or appearance created by and reflected in media images of girls and women.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Murphy via email. Here are the highlights:

EZ: As Dumplin’ was your second novel, how was the process of writing it different from writing your first novel?

JM: Well, since Dumplin’ was sold on speck without a full manuscript, it was a different kind of pressure. For the first time, I had to learn how to write without waiting for inspiration first. It was a growing process, for sure.

EZ: Do you have a formal book writing process?

JM: Just a few months ago I started writing full time, so I’m still working on creating good habits. When I’m not traveling, which has been more often than not lately, and if I’m drafting, I try to draft about 1.5-2k daily. As far as revising, I’m normally on a pretty tight deadline and just try to go as long as I can without my brain breaking.

EZ: Do you read novels while writing novels? And if so, how do you balance your reading and writing?

JM: I actually don’t read much when I’m writing. I especially try to stay away from YA, but find myself delving into adult and nonfiction. I definitely treasure those gaps in between drafts when I can gobble up all that great YA out there.

EZ: What sparked Dumplin’?

JM: Dumplin’ is the type of book I’ve wanted to read my whole life, and when I finally had enough faith in myself to write, I knew it had to tell this story. It took a while for the plot to come together, but there was no real spark. Dumplin’ is a story something that’s been brewing for a long time now.

EZ: Do you ever worry about creating characters similar to friends and family or do you write without abandon and create characters that feel true to you (or some combo of both)?

JM: Maybe when I was just starting out, but I don’t rip any one person from real life and put them into a book. I’m inspired by the various threads of people’s personalities and circumstances. So a finished product for me is a patchwork of experiences from people I meet to shows I watch to traveling.

EZ: What has been the biggest surprise to you from Dumplin? Did you expect it to be as successful as it is?

JM: I think just the overall reception has been a welcome surprise. Growing up as a fat kid, you never expect that so many people could possibly relate to a story that feels so personal for you. I was also surprised by other things like when it was picked up by Target and the film rights to Disney, of course. It’s been quite an unexpected whirlwind of a year.

EZ: What’s next for Julie Murphy?

JM: Well, I just announced a companion for Dumplin’, which will be out in 2018. But even before that I’ve got another book coming out currently titled Ramona Drowning. That one will be out in 2017.

Have you read Dumplin’? Would love to hear your thoughts.

To learn more about Julie Murphy and her work, visit her website here.

Here’s a link to a great review of Dumplin’ and a positive message for all moms and daughters from book blogger Karen Jensen.

Finally, here’s a link to my interview about Fat Shaming in Books with Book Riot editor Kelly Jensen.

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About The Author

Elisa Zied is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist, author, speaker, and spokesperson. A trusted source of food, nutrition, and health information, Elisa has garnered millions of media impressions, lending her expertise and real-world perspective to dozens of TV shows, web sites, news organizations and magazines. She’s the author of four nutrition books and is currently working on her first novel. You can find her previous Food, Fitness & Fiction posts here and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook.

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