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All the Truth That's in Me - Behind the Scenes with Julie Berry

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Judith returns to her village after disappearing two years ago, full of fear and desperation: she has lost her voice and her best friend is dead.
Ignored and reviled, she silently pours her thoughts and dreams over her love, a boy named Lucas. When the village is attacked, Judith faces a dilemma: she can recover the ability to speak and bring light to long-buried secrets or let the sleeping dog lie. Both choices may have fatal consequences – perhaps, some secrets should remain untold?
Julie Berry’s book struck me as amazingly original and fresh, filled with passion and zeal. The characters are live and convincing, described with impeccable style and flawless language.
I had the chance to speak to Julie Berry about her novel and the influence writing has had on her life. She grew up on a big farm in Western New York as the youngest of seven children. All her family were passionate readers. Some books, like Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables or Just So Stories, Julie Berry new almost by heart.

1.
Muteness rarely features in books. We often read stories where the protagonist is deaf or blind, but that they can’t talk is very unusual. Why did you make Judith mute? Is it an issue which has touched you, did you mean it as a metaphor or was it an exciting idea to explore?

A.
Muteness has not touched me personally. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’ve always got plenty to say. ? I began this story as a writing exercise, exploring what I might do with a character who addresses a book to another character within the story. Almost immediately, Judith appeared in my mind, or rather, her voice appeared in the writing. The first chapter of the book, the one that begins with, “You didn’t come,” is what I wrote that first day, almost word-for-word as it appears in the final book. All I knew when I wrote that short chapter was that Judith bore a tremendous weight of both longing and secrets, and that she was forbidden from revealing them, but I didn’t know why. I had to write more in order to learn the answers myself. Muteness was simply what had happened to Judith, if that makes sense – it wasn’t my plan for her. I didn’t set out thinking of it as a metaphor, though as I proceeded, many of the metaphorical meanings for her muteness did occur to me.

2.
You are the youngest of seven children: do you think that having many older siblings boosted your confidence or set you down? What is your source of confidence now?

A.
I was much younger than most of my siblings; my oldest sibling is 20 years older than I am, and the fifth child in our family is 11 years older than I am. So I was raised both by my parents and by an affectionate herd of older teenagers and young adults. I never knew any other kind of life; I used to feel sorry for my classmates who didn’t have such a posse of bigger people in their families, and didn’t grow up in the happy chaos of a household with so many people, dogs, and cats. My siblings adored me as a little child. They read to me and talked to me. Along with my parents, they gave me a deep foundation of self-worth. However, like most youngest children, I was always champing to be included in their conversations and activities, especially during my grade-school years. When they (very naturally) told me to buzz off, I indulged in plenty of self-pity: Why won’t they let me be a part of things, when will they treat me like I’m one of them, etc.. In retrospect, I think this was a very healthy mix of confidence-building and don’t-get-too-full-of-yourself influences. I was and am lucky to be part of such a family.

Where does my confidence come from today? I’m probably still drawing from the reservoir my family dug for me as a child. I still have plenty of occasional self-doubt, but I’ve learned there really is no choice in life but to try, to take leaps of faith, to pursue what matters most. I wouldn’t be an author if I didn’t feel that way. When my confidence needs bolstering, I have my faith, and the incredible support of my loving husband Phil to lean on, as well as siblings and dear friends who still cheer me on.

3.
Many authors, particularly those who write for YA have bad endings in their books. I always thought that that was easier to do, with it being simpler to make a reader cry than reassure them. It’s difficult to make a happy ending sound believable and not too sugary. How do you decide how to end your books?

A.
Endings are hard. Some resolutions leave room for hope, others end more painfully. The YA literature that resonates most with me is a thoughtful mixture of both. I’m a firm believer in the value of tragic literature – it makes us human, it allows us to feel, to weep, to empathize. But at the same time, when I write fiction for young people I usually want to leave a note of optimism because I believe that where there’s life there’s hope, and especially, where there’s youth there’s hope. No matter the mess someone’s dug themselves into, or the pile life has handed them, there is always the possibility of some redemption, some improvement, some legacy left, or some meaning found.

As for my own process, when I’m writing I usually have only a very loose sense of how the ending will go. I usually only know one thing: So-and-So will end up (doing, having, gaining, losing) Such-and-Such. As I approach the end the outcome comes into clearer focus, but even so, the ending always catches me by surprise. I’ll be writing along and realize, “Oh! I just finished. That was the last line. There’s nothing more to say.” I love that experience.

4.
In what way do you think the birthplace of an author influences their books’ settings?

A.
Many authors seem to have lived colourful, well-travelled lives, and their exotic experiences add appeal to their storytelling. I am very much the opposite. I was born and raised in a small farming town in upstate New York. I lived there until I graduated from high school. I used to fret about that, especially given the mantra to “write what you know.” (This advice has limited value, I find.) I was sure that what I knew was negligible, given my lack of cosmopolitan experiences, so I would have little of interest to tell.
The truth is, I loved growing up in the country. I rambled outdoors for hours in all seasons. I felt and still feel a deep spiritual connection to nature, to the wind, the soil, the sounds of the creek, the smell of fallen leaves, the night sky. When I wrote All the Truth That’s in Me, I found those deep sensory memories from my childhood waiting for me.


5.
It’s very common for teachers to start writing for teenagers as they think themselves as being aware of the teenagers’ problems and familiar with their interests; you, however, studied communications, a field not very closely linked to teenagers’ world, so what drew you to this path?

A.
Perhaps, in book terms, I never grew up. I always loved reading books for children and adults. I never outgrew that. When I chose to seriously pursue authorship, I never had another path in mind but that of writing for young readers. It wasn’t the result of a conscious decision process, or a weighed comparison between writing for adults and for teens. I remember how much the books I read as a child and a teen shaped my life, filled me with delight and wonder and every rich feeling worth tasting. I hope to offer something back to readers at the stage in their life where books can still leave a mark on their hearts.

6.
If you could somehow go back in time and meet your teenage self, what advice would you give yourself for preparing for the adult life?

A.
A year ago a friend at church asked several women to write letters to themselves at age 16. She compiled and shared them with the teen girls in our youth group. I wrote a long letter, and I won’t bore you with it here, but I can list some of the essential points.

1.
Enjoy school and being a full-time student, and squeeze all the learning you can out of it. You’ll miss school one day.
2.
Enjoy your friends, and make the effort throughout life to keep in touch.
3.
Enjoy your parents. They change, they grow old. One day they’re gone. Forgive their human failings and hold them close.
4.
Don’t worry so much now about how to make life’s momentous choices. You’re a good chooser. Trust yourself, and relax. When the time comes to make big decisions, you’ll have the smarts and the judgment you need.
5.
It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life, but do spend time thinking about it, imagining career and family possibilities. Don’t be afraid to make daring plans. Do not assume you’re innately unqualified to pursue a goal. That will only waste precious time.
6.
Avoid debt! You’ll need some to get through school, but keep it minimal. Trust me on this one. Be money-savvy.
7.
When it comes to romance and love, never settle for anything less that someone you respect completely, someone who inspires you to want to become a better person. They, in turn, must respect you completely, and love you wholly. Love never wounds, belittles, intimidates, or competes with you. You deserve a partner like this. Never tell yourself, “This is the best I can do.”



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JordanButt said...
May 1 at 11:03 pm:
Individuals who are interested in horrifying, moving, depressing, books should consider reading All The Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry. Beginning this book with a young girl’s thoughts was excellent.  This tactic engages me and makes me feel like I am at the edge of my seat.  However, as I kept reading, I felt that the story was getting longer and longer, and I could not bring myself to find time to finish the book.  Although the ending was heart-breaking... (more »)
 
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