Q&A With Julie Cantrell

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Q&A With Julie Cantrell

Today I have the honor of doing a Q&A with New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author Julie Cantrell. Julie has written historical fiction, contemporary fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. Some of her many books are Into The Free, When Mountains Move, The Feathered Bone, Perennials, & Crescendo. On top of being an author Julie is a TEDx speaker, ghostwriter, writing instructor, & editor. Julie’s work has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, Real Simple, Literary Hub, Huffpost, Southern Living, redbook & Parents Magazine. 

Q: Julie what drew you into writing contemporary fiction, historical fiction, children’s books and non-fiction? 

A: I’m an avid reader who reads all sorts of genres, so I tend to be the same kind of writer. It all started with a children’s picture book when my children were young. Then I shifted to historical fiction for an adult audience. I was grateful to find a wonderful readership hungry for more of my historical novels, so I was given the opportunity to write a sequel. 

After such a positive response to those first two novels, I imagined I’d stay in that genre. However, when I sat down to write my third and fourth novels, contemporary stories surfaced instead. Thankfully, my publisher was willing to take that chance. I spent a few years in that arena and really loved writing in that space too. 

Lately, I’ve been publishing nonfiction essays, creative nonfiction, another children’s picture book, and some poetry.

But now I’m circling back to a VERY deep historical novel. Truly, I love exploring all sorts of writing, and I’m always up for a new challenge. I hope to never have to limit myself to just one thing.

Q: For your contemporary fiction do you use bits and pieces of real people and places to create your characters? 

A: I never want anyone to feel guarded around me or be worried that I’m going to write about them, so I’m careful not to base any of my characters on anyone I know in real life. It’s also a lot more fun to open myself up to the creative process and be surprised by the various characters that come to life when I get out of the way. Imagination is a beautiful gift! 

Q: For your historical fiction and non-fiction, how do you choose a topic or does it come to you? What is the research process like? 

A: I usually start with curiosity. For example, with INTO THE FREE, I wanted to know more about Kelly Mitchell, the Queen of the Gypsies, who was buried in Meridian, Mississippi in 1915. Reports suggested that as many as 20,000 Romani people traveled to her funeral, and I wanted to know why. The history of the Romani Travelers had long fascinated me, and I learned a TON about this intriguing group of people. That one question sparked the entire coming-of-age story about a fictional girl named Millie Reynolds. 

WHEN MOUNTAINS MOVE continued Millie’s story but I took it to Colorado where I wondered what a young girl’s life might be like in the Rockies during WWII. I learned a lot about the homesteaders during that era and how open and free that part of America really was at that time, even for women. I’m particularly drawn to strong female characters and nature will always play a key role in my stories.

With THE FEATHERED BONE, I wanted to explore my greatest fear. As a parent and an educator, I was terrified of losing a child/student during a school field trip, so I asked myself What if…? And then I let the story unfold from there. These characters took me to places I never imagined I’d go as a writer, but I always try to follow the muse and not interfere with the creative process.

For PERENNIALS, I wanted to examine family estrangements, and the various ways families can hurt or help one another. I knew I wanted to set a story in Oxford, MS., and a place near and dear to my heart, and I wanted to shine a light on the rich literary history of Mississippi. But the story sparked from a vision of a mother in a flower garden with her two young daughters. Then, I just had to write my way through the story to discover who those three people were and what they wanted to tell me. 

I tend to focus on issues that are important to women and girls, while also exploring healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. Research is so important to me, and I usually spend more time researching than any other part of the process. I read everything I can find about the issues I’m tackling, and I interview as many people as I can who are involved in the various fields I’m writing about. I really enjoy meeting new people and learning new things, and I greatly appreciate the way every book offers me a wonderful opportunity to expand my knowledge about interesting topics. 

Q: How do you juggle being an author, a speaker, an editor, a writing instructor, a ghost writer and an author? What advice do you have for anyone wanting to pursue those careers? 

A: Goodness. The truth is … I never sleep! But seriously, I absolutely LOVE every single project I ever get to take part in and I’m very grateful to get to do work that makes my soul sing. I consider it a blessing that I get to help other people shape their stories, and I am incredibly honored when anyone wants to read my work. I don’t take a single second of these experiences for granted. I’ve worked many different jobs since the age of 9—most of them far more difficult than this—so I’ll never complain about getting to do what I love for a living. 

Q: Which celebrities have you ghost written for? 

A: Ghostwriting involves helping to co-write or write stories for other people. Some of my clients are celebrities/professional athletes or musicians who want to write a memoir. Others are business or community leaders who want to organize their best practices or personal stories into a book. I also work with families who want to capture their legacy for loved ones. While I can’t disclose my clients’ names, every project is different and they’re all wonderfully fulfilling for me on a personal level. It’s a fun job!

Q: Are you currently writing a book right now, if so can you reveal any details? 

A: I am wrapping up DRAFT ONE of a historical novel. I’m keeping the details close to my heart for now. This one is very special to me and has been brewing in my head for more than 15 years. It’s been wonderful to finally sit and write this story, and I can’t wait to share it with readers. 

Q: Since you’re an editor, if me or someone else wanted you to edit our stories before they’re published would you look at them?

A: Of course! I love to help people edit their stories. I work with a broad range of clients across fiction, creative nonfiction, memoir, and non-fiction by offering developmental and/or substantive line edits. 

Some of my clients are debut authors while others are seasoned professionals. Some aim to publish traditionally but others plan to self-publish. I usually have a wide range of projects going at any one time. 

I contract work through several publishing houses/literary agencies/vendors, and I also accept freelance work from individuals. I tend to stay booked 6-9 months in advance, but I’m always happy to help as many writers as I can fit into my schedule. Writers seeking editorial services can learn more at or email me: 

Q: What’s it like teaching writing courses since you’re a writing instructor? 

A: I teach courses through Story Summit as well as through Drexel University’s low-res MFA program. I also teach workshops online and in person for various events each year. And I offer mentor-led small groups on a quarterly basis. It’s a lot to juggle, but I truly enjoy teaching and find the entire process incredibly rewarding. It’s wonderful to be able to Zoom with writers all around the world and connect with one another through the power of story.

Q: What’s it like having work featured in The New York Times, USA Today, Real Simple, Literary Hub, Huffpost, Southern Living, redbook & Parents Magazine? How would someone go about submitting topics for these famous publications? 

A: I got my start freelancing for non-profits, magazines, and corporate marketing channels, but a lot has changed since I was writing regular columns, etc. Because so much happens online now, most editors are always looking for fresh content and new voices. 

It’s a good idea to research the outlets you’re hoping to pitch. Follow the directions carefully and watch for “call-outs” from various editors. Twitter used to be a wonderful resource. Unfortunately, that landscape has shifted tremendously and it’s a little trickier now to find a “one-stop-shop” for editors seeking content. Time will tell if that magic flows over to Threads. 

Q: Since you’ve written non-fiction, fiction, historical fiction and children’s fiction, which other genres would you like to explore writing in and why? 

A: Screenplays! I’m a huge fan of film, but I’ve always been interested in all mediums of storytelling. I’d actually love to explore oral storytelling (The Moth) and songwriting as well. I have so many ideas and so many artforms left to explore. Thank goodness I’ve never been afraid of failure. If only I could find more hours in the day to do all the things I’d love to do. Life is wonderful, but it’s just so dang short!!