Julie C. Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.
Welcome to PubCrawl, Julie! We love Julies around here (shout out to our original and longest-running contributor, Julie Eshbaugh!). Tell us a little about yourself: what do you write, and do you have any preference with regards to what you’re called?
Thank you all for having me! I am thrilled to be joining the PubCrawl family after years of following and loving your wonderful blog posts and podcasts! In my opinion, this is one of the best publishing resources out there, and I look forward to lending my voice and continuing to learn from all of you.
Most people call me Julie, but I also go by my nickname, Jules.
I write both young adult and middle-grade books. Wattpad is currently featuring my MG fantasy PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS, which follows the adventures of a teenaged fairy godmother. And my debut novel, FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS, is a YA reimagining of Snow White’s evil queen in a fantasy Asia. It’s the first book in a planned duology and is releasing October 10, 2017 from Philomel Books/Penguin!
I can’t wait for FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS! Fairy tales? High fantasy set in an Asian-inspired world? Did you write this book just for me???? Tell me a little about the publication journey for this incredible book.
Thank you so much! And yes, it’s for you and anyone who wants to see more diverse fantasy out there! I wrote FOTL for the kid I was: Asian-American, a lover of fantasy, and a reader who longed to see herself represented in books. I’ve been writing since I was 8 and I knew when I grew up that I wanted to write characters who went on epic adventures, fell in love, reached impossible dreams . . . and also happened to be Asian.
I turned 31 recently, so as you can see, it has taken me a long time to reach my own dream. I stopped writing in high school because my parents told me it wasn’t a smart career choice. I majored in pre-med biology to please them, but after four miserable years of studying something I didn’t love, I returned to my true passion.
But I didn’t get an agent until age 29 or a book deal until 30. The years in between were rough, but I spent the time learning, improving, and maturing as I wrote (and shelved) five manuscripts. Those years are documented on my blog, failures and all, to encourage writers embarking on their own publication journeys. I remember how much reading authors’ blogs helped me when I was first starting out!
I also spent that time growing a massive support network of friends and readers who became my writing family. I’m thankful to have them by my side as I embark on this new adventure!
What was the most surprising thing about the entire process? (From writing to querying to submission?)
I honestly did not expect getting published to take as long as it did. I came into writing with a bit of a big head – in school, I pulled straight A’s in English, won writing contests, and was reading at a high school level in the fifth grade. At age 22, a story I posted anonymously online won multiple awards, out of tens of thousands of entries. So after having had my ego stroked for so long, I thought I had this in the bag and I’d snag a book deal right away, no problem.
Basically, reality bitch-slapped me in the face. And I NEEDED IT.
Those eight years of trying to get an agent taught me about humility, perseverance, and gritty hard work. They taught me that I wasn’t going anywhere unless I proved myself first, unless I struggled for every scrap I got. There is always so much more to do and learn when it comes to art. There’s no coasting on raw talent if you don’t also put in the work.
In craft terms, there is a point on the character arc called “the dark night of the soul.” It is the definable moment for a protagonist when they are at their lowest emotional state and must decide whether to keep fighting, even when all seems hopeless. I needed to experience the dark night of the soul, because it taught me that things that are worthwhile take time and determination.
Do you have any advice for writers who might be in your position/going through a similar journey?
Find your people! Make friends with other writers who understand what you’re going through. Writing can be lonely. You are the one onstage performing; you are the one on the field playing the game. So, you need to fill the bleachers with friends who can cheer you on and watch with genuine pride and joy as you achieve your dreams. This is especially important if your family, spouse/partner, non-writer friends, etc. aren’t as supportive of you as you need them to be. I’m not sure I would have gotten here without such an incredible, tight-knit network of writer buddies who care about me.
Right, so moving on from the serious to the silly: you’re on a pub crawl with your fictional friend crew. Who’s in it?
I’d bring Merry and Pippin from The Lord of the Rings, because they seem like they’d be a lot of fun to drink with. Luna Lovegood would come too, because she’s cool and we’d be friends, and I feel like Katniss Everdeen would be really good at pool and darts. I’d invite my crush Haku from Spirited Away, because bonus: he could turn into a dragon and give us a ride home if cabs were scarce. I’d also bring my book boyfriend Ronan Lynch, even though he’d probably be sullen and broody and his pet raven Chainsaw would poop everywhere.
Uh-oh, your pub crawl has suddenly turned into a pub BRAWL. What fictional weapon are you wielding?
The Elder Wand. I may be mostly Hufflepuff, but I know what it takes to win a brawl!
Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview, and I am so excited to have you on board!