Julie Murphy lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cats who tolerate her. When she’s not writing or trying to catch stray cats, she can be found reading, traveling, or watching movies so bad they’re good. Her debut contemporary young adult novel, Side Effects May Vary, is out from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins and has been well-received by Kirkus, School Library Journal, VOYA, Booklist, Seventeen Magazine, and Teen Vogue. Dumplin’, Julie’s sophomore novel has received glowing reviews including two stars from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Film rights have been optioned by Disney.
(This interview was conducted at the 2016 Midwest Writer’s Workshop and includes details about Julie’s writing of DUMPLIN’ as well as the impact it has had on her and the impact she hopes it has had on her readers. A separate interview with Julie about SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is available to read on Rachel Lauve’s Blog.)
AB: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
JM: I think most authors have a great story of how they’ve been writing stories from a young age and their first book they wrote when they were four years old and they were telling stories before they could walk and all these ridiculous things but that was never the case for me. I always wanted to be a boxer or chiropractor growing up, which are alarmingly different occupations, but those were the two things I wanted to be. And writing felt like a luxury. I grew up really poor and so the idea that someone actually had a job where they sat down and wrote books was ridiculous to me. I could never fully fathom that idea that someone was paid to do that job. I don’t know where I though books came from at that age. Maybe I thought they came from factories or something, like, little author gnomes living in their little gnome village author factories, so I had no concept that this was a job you could have or a job you could do.
But I was a horrible liar growing up and when I say horrible I mean I loved lying. I lied about everything I could just because I loved lying like I just got a kick out of it. I don’t know if I thought it was funny or if it was more entertaining than the truth, but I would lie to you about what I had for lunch if I could. I think in a really weird, messed up, morally depraved way, I got my start in storytelling as an obsessive-compulsive liar as a child. And I think that’s where it really started [with] the idea of alternative truths and different realities and me being the master of my own stories in my head or my own truth.
The first book I fell in love with was And Then There Were None by Agatha Christi. And I fell in love with it because I was failing my English class. And I was barely going to graduate high school and my teacher said, “if you do not write this paper about this book that I assigned you 3 months ago, you’re not going to graduate high school.” So two days before graduation I sat in her classroom and I read the stupid book from cover to cover and I would never allow her to see it in my demeanor, but I was in love with this book and totally riveted. So that was the first time I was like “okay maybe I could be a writer.” This was a really long answer to a really simple question but the answer is that I came into writing later in life.
AB: How did you get inspired to write Dumplin’?
JM: So I’ve always been the fat girl and the thing I always say in all of my events is that I was always too fat, too tall, and too loud. And those are the three things we don’t let girls be and I never saw reflections of myself in books or in TV or in magazines. The fat friend was always painted as sort of this, like, butt of the joke or like the funny, fat best friend who’s really cute but will probably never get the guy and that didn’t resonate with me. I wanted to make out with the guy. I wanted to have the adventure. I wanted to go do the amazing thing. I wanted to be the heroine of my own story and so there are a lot of reasons I wrote Dumplin’ when I wrote Dumplin’, but the real heart of the matter is I wrote Dumplin’ because when I was a teenager, I was looking for that and I was hungry for that. And if I was hungry for that, no pun intended while we’re talking about the fat book, then other girls had to be hungry for that same thing.
AB: I’ve heard about the film rights for Dumplin’ being optioned by Disney. Did you ever think your book could be a Disney movie and reach so many people?
JM: ‘No’ is the fast answer to that question. I am such a pessimist and people talk about being a pessimist as a bad thing. I actually think it’s a great thing ’cause when wonderful things happen, I’m surprised and delighted and it could be the smallest wonderful thing, but I’m still surprised and delighted. The Disney thing was a huge wonderful thing that happened in my life and I was quite surprised and delighted. There’s no guarantee that the movie will happen, but I can tell you Disney has been really involved with the screen writing and things have been moving forward. And that’s all I can really say about it. When I wrote Dumplin‘, my agent and my editor very kindly and very thoughtfully prepared me for this and said, “you know this book is very regional, and it’s set in Texas, and its about a fat girl. We don’t know if this is going to do well internationally. We don’t know if this is going to do well outside of Texas. We just want to prepare you for this.” And the idea that I could write this book about this fat girl and this tiny little Texas town and it mean so much for people in Croatia or around the world or some really good looking Disney executive, who has what you would consider a perfect life with a perfect little nuclear family, you don’t expect that, so it was pretty incredible.
AB: Body image has had a negative effect on many lives, including my own. Do you think Dumplin’ can change the negativity associated with people’s views of body image?
JM: I don’t know that it can change everything, but I hope that it brings it into a spotlight. I hope it starts a conversation or that it’s a step on the very long staircase to change, you know what I mean? I think that we’ve got to have these conversations. We’ve got to start talking about our bodies and we have to start understanding that the body that you live in today is the body that you have in this moment and all that you have is this moment, so you have to respect that body and I can’t tell you to love your body. I can’t tell you you’re super hot and should walk around in a bikini even though I think everyone is super hot and everyone should walk around in a bikini, but I can tell you, like I said, the body that you have in this moment is the only body you have. There’s no reason for you to limit yourself or for you to stop yourself from doing anything or being anything because you think your body, in any way, stands in the way of that.
AB: I’ve read in a previous interview that you’ve had some issues with confidence growing up. How would you say writing Dumplin’ has changed you?
JM: So my very first job, when I was in high school at the age of 16 was working at this store called Torrid. I worked at one of their very first stores and it was the first time in my life when I acknowledged that I didn’t fit the norm, that I needed something different from what everyone else shopping in the mall needed. I needed different sized clothing, that I didn’t fit into what they were selling at Wet Seal or whatever other store was open. So it was the first time I acknowledged, and very visibly acknowledged, that I’m different, my body’s different, my body requires different things than your body. And that was kind of weird and scary. I remember hiding from my friends that Torrid was a plus sized store for a while and trying not to make such a big deal of it. I mean I worked at a store with only fat people and I was trying to hide this from my friends. I mean all they had to do was open up a pair of pants and see that, okay, these are a size 22, these aren’t a size 4. But it was the first time that I was really visibly accepting my body or forcing myself to. I didn’t really know if I was ready to, but that was the first step in my shift, my mental shift, in what I thought I deserved and what I thought I could say my body needed. So for me that journey started a lot earlier than it started for a lot of people I know who have come to accept their bodies and it’s just the way they are. So by the time I wrote Dumplin’, I was really at home with my body, but I was also battling with this stupid thing that happens when you start publishing books and you start sitting at desks for, like, 12 hours a day and you start to gain more weight. So I was dealing with this the same time I was writing Dumplin‘ because I was sitting on my ass all day and I was sort of going through this thing with Dumplin‘, or Willowdean, the same time she was going through it and I had to separate myself from her and say, “Julie, you’ve already done the work. You’ve already come to the point where you love your body and you’re okay with your body.” So I actually had to disassociate myself from the book for a little while for my own sanity and so that I could say, “you’ve done the work. You love your body. Everyday you wake up is going to be a struggle” and it’s just the way it is. It’s just the price of living in a human body.
AB: What made you want to write Willowdean as this open character for readers to interpret in a way they could put any face to her name?
JM: When we talk about diversity and we talk about representation in kid lit, I think that those books are just as important for the people who need to see themselves reflected as they are for the people who need to see reflections of other people. So Dumplin’ is, I hope, just as significant for a fat girl as it is for a person who knows a fat person. So that’s one side to the coin, is that it’s important for non fat people to see a fat narrator and a fat main character having a great life so that we can start to break that stereotype even if its just in fiction. Fat people can have great lives, fat people can fall in love, fat people can enter beauty pageants. The other side of the coin is that I was really deliberate when I wrote Dumplin’ that there were really specific things to fat people in this book, but you could also take the word ‘fat’ and you could put any other word there. You could say someone with bad acne or someone with bad teeth. You could replace any type of thing whether its a mental disorder or any type of mental health or anything that makes you feel other, you can replace the word ‘fat’ with that thing and hopefully find solace in this book in some way.