Writers on Writing: An Interview with Julie Buxbaum
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The following post is from Food, Fitness & Fiction Contributing Editor Josh Flores.
Julie Buxbaum, author of the YA romance, Tell Me Three Things (Delacorte Press, April 2016), has created a story that speaks to loss, young love, and the significance of relationships. Based on an anonymous email she received and a loss in her own life, Buxbaum tugs at readers’ emotions and expertly illustrates what it’s like for a teen to go through one of the most devastating experiences in life: losing a loved one (specifically a parent). Told with both humor and brutal honesty, Tell Me Three Things is a novel about hope and the painful path to letting go of the past.
I was honored to have the opportunity to talk with Julie Buxbaum (we’re pictured below) at Pasadena Loves YA, a gathering of authors, aspiring writers, and book lovers of all ages. Below is our conversation that covers Buxbaum’s experience as a writer, her life away from writing, and what’s next for her.
FF&F: How did you first come up with the idea for Tell Me Three Things–specifically, the idea of a girl getting an anonymous email?
JB: About fifteen years ago, I received an anonymous email; it was during a rough time in my life and it fundamentally changed the course of my life. Mostly, it changed how I saw myself. It was one of the most magical and wonderful things that ever happened to me and losing my mother was also something horrible that happened to me, so I wanted to marry these two things together.
FF&F: Have you ever talked to or met the person who anonymously emailed you?
JB: We exchanged maybe three or four emails and I’ve saved them of course. But that was it, he wasn’t asking for anything. I’ve never met him and never want to meet him. I really, really hope he doesn’t show up at a reading one day. That is one of my worst nightmares. I guess it would be dramatic [for him to show up at one of my signings], but he’s a fantasy and in my head he can be perfect. If I met him, there’s no way he could live up to that. In my head he’s [George] Clooney and Brad Pitt mixed together, so why would I ever want that fantasy to be destroyed?
FF&F: How was writing Tell Me Three Things different from writing your adult novels?
JB: It hasn’t been that different. It’s sort of going back and exploring a different time in my life, but I haven’t approached it any differently. I didn’t change how I wrote it. Most YA readers are really sophisticated readers, so I felt like it would be a disservice to them to change my writing style. The only difference was I had to inhabit the mind of a sixteen-year-old. The only thing that I would admit is slightly different is that I thought a little harder when I was using a curse word. I felt like I should be a little more careful when using them. In my adult books I’m a little heavier handed with them, but there is really no difference.
FF&F: Can you tell readers three interesting/funny things about yourself?
JB: 1) I’m wearing heels right now, but I did wear sneakers for the entire day; I have them in my bag and I will switch into them as soon my [next] panel is over; 2) I have two children and they are ridiculously adorable and huge pains in the ass; 3) I have the world’s worst handwriting. I have never learned how to hold a pen properly.
FF&F: What authors or books have inspired your work the most?
JB: I can’t think of a particular writer. I feel like every book I’ve read has contributed to making me a better writer, especially because I read like a writer now, opposed to a normal reader. When you declare yourself a writer you read differently, so I read everything incredibly critically. Anything that turns off the criticism for a while I think teaches me, but I’ve never tried to emulate any particular writer, only because it will never work. We all have our own voices.
FF&F: If you could only have one book to read for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?
JB: I want to say The Secret Garden because it has sentimental value and it’s a beautiful story and it is [also] a story of hope and redemption and healing; it really speaks to me.
FF&F: What were your biggest challenges while writing Tell Me Three Things?
JB: Tell Me Three Things is a story about a girl who loses her mother and I lost my mother at the age of fourteen; this was the first time that I went back to being a teenager when the loss had just happened. I think it was tough to go back to that place, a place I didn’t even want to think about for a long time and not want to remember what it felt like. I forced myself to reopen that box and feel it again. That was definitely the hardest part.
FF&F: Where do you write the most and why?
JB: I wrote Tell Me Three Things in a coffee shop near my house. It was great, but [the coffee shop] had a horrible bathroom situation, and very recently a writer’s room has opened up [near] my house. So [now] I write there. And it’s this room that has desks and a kitchen and free coffee and a beautiful bathroom, which is key for me. And it’s lovely. I go there everyday and I write.
FF&F: What ways do you #moveitorloseit (stay active) during your busy writing schedule?
JB: I’m someone who hates to exercise, but I’m trying to get over my hatred of exercise. I recently joined Orange Theory Fitness, which kicks my butt, so I go there a couple times a week. I hate to run, but I force myself. Running after my kids [also] keeps me busy. They are really active kids.
FF&F: Are you currently working on any upcoming books? If so, what details can you share with readers?
JB: I have a book coming out in July 2017 and it is called What To Say Next. It’s about a boy and a girl who unexpectedly connect when they both need it the most.
FF&F: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
JB: Two things: One, read everything you can get your hands on and read critically like a writer. [Two], identify as a writer.
Here are some other reviews of Tell Me Three Things:
You can learn more about Buxbaum and her other work on her website.
Joshua Flores, a junior from Tustin, California is currently an editor for the Beckman Chronicle and enjoys both reading and writing. He spends most of his free time writing, and coming up with weird characters for the novel he is working on. You can follow him on Instagram at @booklover41899.
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