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  • Cailey Tin

Julia Turk Talks Her Debut Trilogy, Writing Dystopian Novels, and Publishing Deals [EXCLUSIVE AUTHOR INTERVIEW]

Cailey Tin: First and foremost, thank you, Julia, for taking the time to have this interview with me. Having your YA dystopian debut novel Lone Player come out this July 2023 must make you very busy, and we’re so excited about its release! Without further ado, here are 16 burning questions prepared for you–all about the writing process, book recommendations, and getting your debut trilogy through the publishing process. 

What was the core idea that inspired your debut novel, Lone Player? And its name is also super cool, where did you get it from?

J: I found my inspiration for Lone Player when I was about twelve years old. I was scrolling through Pinterest and found a photo of a playing card tattoo that I really liked. It got me thinking–what if everyone had playing card tattoos? What would that society look like? I eventually tied in population control, and after that I developed the system of Running and Chasing.

While this is what inspired the world-building aspects for me, at its core, I suppose the main thing that inspired Lone Player was the concept of a Runner and a Chaser actually knowing each other. I was really interested in this relationship dynamic. I kept thinking, how can you unlearn that kind of hate? Or is there even hate there to begin with? I wondered what would drive a person to Run or Chase in the first place, even if they knew the consequences, which is how I eventually came up with the relationship between Ren and Eddie.

As far as the title goes, it actually took me quite a bit of time to find one that I felt suited the book best. I tested out a lot of different names, but I didn’t come up with Lone Player until I was scrolling through a list of playing card terms, and that one immediately caught my eye. The term refers to an independent card player, essentially, and I thought it really tied into the overall theme of the book.

What aspect of your books do you treasure the most? Were there any scenes that felt particularly easier or harder to write?

J: The aspect that I treasure the most in Lone Player is probably the relationships between all the characters. I spent a lot of time really diving into sibling bonds, platonic friendships, and romantic interests. I wanted to reflect all sorts of relationship dynamics authentically.

In Ren and Eddie, I wanted to explore the conflict one might feel when they care for someone who may or may not be “good for them,” and the kind of bonds that are created when people go through hard experiences together.

Since I’m really close with my brothers (they’re my best friends), I also really wanted to illustrate strong sibling bonds between Ren and his twin sister Margot, Eddie and her younger brother Milo, and another sibling pair that readers will eventually get to know.

A lot of scenes in Lone Player felt really natural to write. I’ve talked about this before, but I essentially write my first drafts out of order; I’m always writing down scenes that pop into my head, and eventually I put them all in the right place like I’m doing a puzzle. The first ever scene I actually wrote was Ren completing his first assignment as a Chaser. While a lot of details have changed since Draft 1, that one flowed really naturally. All the scenes with Aaron and Eddie felt really easy to write, too.

However, there were a lot of scenes that were really challenging for me, and it took me quite a few drafts to get them right. I really struggled with Ren’s training chapters and also with some of the fight scenes. The single hardest part to write was definitely the climax, since it contained a lot more action than I was used to.

When did you know that you wanted to be an author? Did you write any books you’ve written before Lone Player

J: I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve spent my whole life planning story ideas and starting books I never finished. Storytelling is just something I’ve always done and I’ve never not been writing something.

I’ve always wanted to publish a book. However, in terms of my career, I didn’t realize I wanted to be a professional author until quarantine. I grew up wanting to be a marine biologist so I could study cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays, etc.), but after my chronic Lyme disease and co-infections took a turn for the worse in the middle of my sophomore year in high school (which was also the start of quarantine), I realized a physically-demanding job like that might not have been too realistic for me, especially after I had a couple of major leg surgeries. Plus, while I love science, I hate the math that comes with it.

So during this time, when I was about fifteen, I realized I wanted to be an author instead. Writing was the perfect solution. It was flexible enough to work around my illness and bad legs, and I just really felt drawn to it. Maybe I’ll do something else on the side someday to keep me busy— like working the front desk of some haunted Victorian-style inn or antique shop— but writing is at the center of what I want to do.

I haven’t written any books before Lone Player. As I mentioned before, I grew up writing, but I never actually finished an entire project until this book. I don’t think I would have finished it if it weren’t for the Lost Island contest, which gave me the deadline and pressure I needed to get over my fears and simply write. I still can’t believe my very first (and very rough) manuscript won, but to me, it’s an important symbol of what might happen if you do things that scare you now and then.

How long do you take to draft your books, and what does your author process look like? 

J: The amount of time it takes me to draft my books varies from project to project. For Lone Player, I wrote the first draft in 28 days because I was in such a hurry to submit it in time for the contest. After my publication deal, when it was time for me to write Draft 1 of the second book, it took me about three months to finish it, more or less.

I’ve been working on my current WIP (Project Sink— the YA fantasy romance I’ve been working on when I’m on Lone Player breaks) since the end of March, and after two months I’m about 60k words in. But I have other works in progress that I’ve been chipping away at really slowly, like my young adult fantasy series, Project Spirit, which has been around for a little over a year and I’m only a few chapters in.

So it really just depends on a lot of external factors, and how much of the book I already have figured out in my head. [As for] my writing process, it’s pretty chaotic. I mentioned this earlier, but I like to write my books in pieces.

I start out with a document where I make basic bullet-point notes about the characters, setting, plot, etc. Then I add a section called “Scenes to Organize,” where I write down all the scenes that are floating around in my head so I can keep track of them and organize it all later. I usually have a chapter-by-chapter outline that I’ll sort these scenes into.

This all goes on while I’m drafting. While I do like to have the skeleton of an outline before I dive into a writing project, I’m mostly a discovery writer, and I never have a book fully planned out before I start drafting.

Are there any characters from your book that are similar to real life people you know? (And do they know that a character is based on them? Haha.)

J: I don’t usually base my characters off of people in real life. Sometimes it happens subconsciously, but not in Lone Player. However, certain aspects of my characters are definitely inspired by real life things. For example, while Margot is her own character and we’re not really that much alike, her experiences with chronic Lyme disease and co-infections and mental health are inspired by my own. I’m also pretty sure Eddie has pieces of my anxiety, and Ren definitely has a bit of my OCD. None of this is really on purpose but I think a lot of my characters each hold different aspects of my personality.

I only realized this a week ago, actually, but I also noticed that parts of Ren and Eddie’s dynamic are heavily inspired by certain people I’ve been around in earlier parts of my life. Their story is completely fictional, but like Ren and Eddie, I also had a childhood friend I pushed away because I let my fear control my life, and like them, I’ve always been too afraid to reach out and try to make amends. I don’t think this particular person knows that pieces of our story are hidden in Lone Player but it’s definitely something I included subconsciously.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk? 

J: I’d say my most interesting writing quirk is the fact that I dream in stories. A lot of book ideas come to me in my sleep. Sometimes it’s literally like I’m watching a movie. There are characters played by actors, plots, movie trailers, a soundtrack, even a credits sequence at the end. It’s really bizarre. One of my most vivid ones even has its own folder in my Google Drive as a potential writing project.

Have you ever written something and loved it at the start, then lost motivation mid-way and gave up on it? If not, how do you deal with a lack of motivation as an author?

J: I’ve definitely written things I’ve loved at the start—and then lost motivation mid-way. Although it’s really challenging, I do believe motivation is something that constantly fluctuates, and I think it’s really important to listen to your own intuition as a writer. If you’re not held down by publication deadlines or external commitments, I think it’s important to simply write what you’re in the mood for. If you’re not feeling up to writing something, that’s okay! You can come back to it later and that’s the beauty of being a writer. Just make sure you never delete any of your ideas.

Lone Player is actually the perfect example of this. Like I mentioned before, I came up with the idea when I was about twelve. I brainstormed a bit, sketched out some character ideas, and then gave up on it because I got distracted by another project (that I don’t remember). But I kept that page of notes on my Google Drive, and by the time I was seventeen, searching for an idea that felt right to work on for the Lost Island contest, I stumbled across those notes again. Now, I have a debut novel ready to be published on July 8, and publication deals for the next 2 books in the trilogy.

Another example is something I heard from Brandon Sanderson’s writing lectures on YouTube. He mentioned that it took him ten years to get Way of Kings right, and now it’s one of his most successful books, and the first in a really moving series that readers feel very connected to. It’s one of his best works.

So when you lose motivation, don’t think of it as the end of a project. Think of it as a detour. We’re meant to do things exactly when we do them, so I think if you’re drawn to other projects, that’s perfectly okay. It’s also completely fine to give up on a project if it feels right. But if you’re struggling with your motivation, maybe it’s simply time to switch things up a bit.

What is the most difficult part of being a writer for you? 

J: For me, the most difficult part of being a writer is the insecurity. Thanks to my anxiety and OCD, I struggle with a really bad imposter’s syndrome. I always feel like the things I’m writing make no sense, or that I’m upsetting people, or that I’m just not good. Another thing I worry about is that my story has already been written, or that it’s too simple.

There are so many worries a person can have as an author, especially if you’re a perfectionist like me. But by writing through the worries, I’ve learned a lot about how to handle my fears and perfectionism. The best thing you can do if you struggle with something similar is to write anyway, even if it’s scary.

Has dystopian books always been your favorite genre, or do you plan to write something else in the future? (P.S. if you love dystopian books, don’t be shy in dropping some recs hahahaha.) 

J: I love dystopian books, but my favorite genre has always been fantasy. I was raised on sci-fi and fantasy classics, and while I love both, fantasy is my home. I’m actually a bit surprised that I chose to write a dystopian novel for my debut, because fantasy was always what came easiest to me. However, I’m only half surprised, since I came up with the idea right in the middle of the 2010’s YA dystopian era. I think my favorite YA dystopian rec is the Arc of a Scythe series. I also really enjoyed The Fifth Wave, and The Hunger Games, of course. 

I have a lot of writing plans for the future. There are a couple dystopian ideas in there— a really fun post-apocalyptic one particular— but mostly fantasy.

Did you always know that Lone Player was going to be the first book of a trilogy? And what was the feeling of knowing that you were embarking on a journey that could take a considerably huge amount of time? 

J: I think I always knew that Lone Player was going to be the first book in a trilogy. When I submitted the first draft for the Lost Island contest, I honestly had no idea what book 2 or 3 would be about, but it just felt like the kind of story that would make a good trilogy.

It’s pretty strange to think about how long this journey has already been and how long it will be. I was seventeen when I wrote the first draft, and now I’m nineteen and a completely different person. By the time the third book is out, I’ll be in my twenties, and probably someone entirely new. It’s really weird to think that this trilogy is going on a journey right alongside my own journeys in life, but it’s also very comforting to think about how much progress I’ve made. Excited for what the future holds!

Being an author while juggling it with school is extremely difficult. How did you navigate this?

J: Yes— being an author while in school is really hard.

I mentioned my surgeries and my battle with Lyme earlier. I was too sick to finish school so I had to graduate early and take a few years off of school while I was still at home, so when I wrote Lone Player, I was actually already graduated and kind of taking a gap year, if you will. This is how I had the time to write Lone Player in only 28 days.

Now that I’m in college, however, I have to be really strategic about how I balance out my writing. I make an effort to write a little bit every day. With last semester’s schedule, I had at least four hours total in breaks between classes every day, so I’d spend that time writing in the library. I also made an effort to visit coffee shops after class to get some writing done before I got home, which is when I worked on my assignments. Separating my schedule based on location really worked for me. Libraries and coffee shops were for writing, and home was for homework. It’s all about finding a balance that works for you, and being consistent with your writing habits. The more consistent you are, the easier it is to fit writing into your schedule.

Since you’re also an avid reader, I’d like to know–what books inspired aspects of your own projects? Do you read the same genres you write? 

J: Yes, I’m definitely an avid reader! Scythe, The Fifth Wave, and The Hunger Games were definitely huge inspirations for Lone Player, since I read those books in middle school (around the same time that I developed the idea for LP).

I usually read the same genres I write, mostly fantasy. But I’ve also been enjoying a few contemporary romances lately, which isn’t something I expected.

If you’re curious, my favorite book is definitely The Cruel Prince! Cardan has my whole heart. I also really enjoyed An Enchantment of Ravens and A Far Wilder Magic.

On the topic of books, who are your favorite authors and what aspect of their writing do you admire the most? 

J: My favorite authors include Holly Black of course, Brandon Sanderson, and Margaret Rogerson, among many others. I love the characters and fairy folklore in Holly Black’s work, the world-building and intricate plots in Brandon Sanderson’s, and the really immersive, almost Ghibli-esque quality of Margaret Rogerson’s writing.

What was the first book that made you cry? 

J: The first book that made me cry was probably All the Light We Cannot See. I sobbed for hours after reading that book, and I re-read it three times after and cried even more. But if you want to go even farther back, then it was probably the Puff, the Magic Dragon picture book.

What journey do you want readers to go through as they read Lone Player, along with the other two books in the trilogy? 

J: There are quite a few journeys I think readers might be able to go through while reading Lone Player, including the rest of the trilogy. I think at the heart of the story; I want people to explore the relationships they have in their own lives. I really want readers to dive into what exactly makes them love and why they do it. I also want the story to invite readers to question their own ideas of right vs. wrong.

If you could tell your younger self anything writing related—whether it be publishing advice, drafting tips, anything, what would it be? 

J: If I could tell my younger self anything writing-related, I think I’d tell myself to just write.

I know you’re afraid. I know you’re scared of getting things wrong or not being good enough. But write anyway, because there is no such thing as bad writing. You can’t edit a blank page, and you can’t improve without actually getting the words out first. Always remember that writing is healing, and writing is growth—and it’s okay to do things that scare you every now and then.

Connect with Julia online!

Visit Lone Player on Goodreads:

Julia Rosemary Turk is an author and artist based in Northern California. She loves all things creative, and she spends her days downing matcha lattes and writing stories. Julia is the winner of the Lost Island writing contest and will have her debut novel, Lone Player, published by Lost Island Press this July 2023. In addition to writing, Julia loves spending time with family, playing cozy games, and listening to indie rock. She's been battling chronic Lyme disease since childhood and considers her illness a crucial part of her identity.

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