Julie discusses her instant New York Times bestseller The Last Flight, writing her first thriller, her advice for aspiring authors, the importance of the right book cover and how the cover sets up expectations for readers, and more.
Julie discusses her instant New York Times bestseller The Last Flight, writing her first thriller, her advice for aspiring authors, the importance of the right book cover and how the cover sets up expectations for readers, and more.
The Last Flight can be purchased at Murder by the Book.
Julie’s 2 recommended reads are:
book, claire, authors, eva, thriller, people, cover, read, thought, story, writing, rory, julie, felt, reader, world, title, twist, emailed, loved
Cindy Burnett, Julie Clark
Julie Clark 00:08
This is the Thoughts from a Page Podcast where I interview authors about their latest works. Listen to what inspired the storyline, how their covers and titles were chosen, their personal connection to the story and other fascinating tidbits about the authors themselves. My name is Cindy Burnett, and I love to talk about books. I recently launched a new website called thoughtsfromapage.com that contains my social media and book column links and everything about this podcast. It also has a cool feature where you can leave me voicemails, and I would love for listeners to send me questions you would like me to ask the authors that I'm interviewing. Try it out. It's a lot of fun. Today I am interviewing Julie Clark. Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Julie grew up reading books on the beach while everyone else surfed. After attending college at University of the Pacific, she returned home to Santa Monica to teach. She now lives there with her two young sons and a golden doodle with poor impulse control. Her second novel The Last Flight was published this year and was an instant New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Thank you for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show. Hey, Julie, I'm really glad that you're here to talk with me about The Last Flight. It's one of my favorite reads of the year, and I cannot wait to hear more about it. How are you today? I'm great. Thanks for having me.
Cindy Burnett 01:25
Of course, I read your book, I think it was in February. I grabbed the galley at work. I literally read it in like a day. And then I was back at work, I work at Murder by the Book part time, and was like everybody here has to read this book. So I just thought it was so so good. So I'm thrilled the pieces that you're here so we can talk all about it. Why don't we start out by you telling me a little bit about The Last Flight.
Julie Clark 01:49
The Last Flight is a story of two women who are both desperate to escape their lives, and they meet by chance at an airport and decide to trade plane tickets. So my main character Claire is married into a very powerful political family, second only to the Kennedys really, and her husband Rory is beloved the world over for his philanthropy and his charm and his just good looks and all of the above. But what they don't know is that Rory behind closed doors is incredibly dangerous. He's angry, he's abusive, and he's escalating. Claire is not your typical victim. She's had enough, and she has been working for a year to escape. She has a plan in place; she's going to disappear. She knows that accusing a man like Rory of what he's doing to her is not really feasible. She's not interested in having her name dragged through the mud and having her face splashed across tabloids for the rest of her life. She's she just wants her life back. And so she gathers a fake ID. She gets a new passport. She gets a new name. She has a new credit card. She has everything in place to disappear. And of course that plan falls apart. And Rory is hours away from discovering what she was about to do when she meets Eva in an airport bar who is equally desperate to escape her life. And so the two decide to trade plane tickets thinking that it will give them each a head start. So Claire will travel to Oakland on Eva's ticket, and Eva will travel to Puerto Rico on Claire's ticket. And they think that that will give them a chance to disappear on the ground somewhere where nobody will think to be looking for them. But when Claire lands in Oakland, she sees that the Puerto Rico Flight crashed. And she's stuck in Oakland, and the news of her death is about to explode in the media. And she has nowhere to hide. And she has just Eva's purse, Eva's wallet, Eva's ID and Eva's keys. And so she decides to go to Eva's house to hide out, and the book kind of takes off from there. And it's a dual POV from both Claire's perspective moving forward in real time. And from Eva's POV, catching us up the last six months to show us why she was so desperate in that airport bar when she met Claire and kind of what she was running from.
Cindy Burnett 03:58
Well, I just thought the pacing was perfect. Like every time you kind of got to the next step, then you learn something else that sort of continued to just suck you in. And like with Claire waking up that morning. She thinks she's all ready to go. You've laid it all out, and all of a sudden she's not headed to Michigan, it was Michigan, right, that she was supposed to be
Julie Clark 04:15
Detroit. Yeah yeah
Cindy Burnett 04:16
Detroit. Detroit, all of a sudden, she's now going to Puerto Rico and you're like, do they know? Does Rory know, does he not know and I loved it. And I think I told you this. I run an online book club that I launched during the pandemic through my literary salon. And your book was our September pick. And that was the most vigorous discussion we have had. I mean, everybody loved it. But just literally like picking apart every part, in a good way, discussing every part of the book and how you laid it out and what happened here and Eva's backstory and Claire's story. And I mean, it was great. It was the perfect book for that type of thing.
Julie Clark 04:48
Oh, wonderful. I'm so glad to hear that.
Cindy Burnett 04:51
And you hit the New York Times list in the middle of a pandemic. That's pretty impressive.
Julie Clark 04:56
I know no small feat. Exactly.
Cindy Burnett 04:59
How did all that come about? Like, how did you hear?
Julie Clark 05:01
Oh, my editor called me. We were hoping for that. We had had really strong pre-orders leading up a lot of buzz around the book. The book got a lot of really great review opportunities. And so we felt like we had a chance of hitting it. It was Book of the Month for June. And so it had that also going for it. It got a great review in the New York Times. So that really helped. And so my editor called me that afternoon when the list came out and just said, we made it, we hit number nine. So we were over the moon, really just it was an incredible, like incredible feeling.
Cindy Burnett 05:38
Also to come in at nine, you know, somebody who will kind of go into 15. And then that's it. So that's just great. Well, I've been so excited to follow the success of it. And thrillers are tricky to me, because most of them start strong, but whether they can kind of stay that way, the whole time, is very iffy. And I was just thrilled to pieces that yours made it all the way to the end. And I was like, Oh, what a great ending, like, I just loved it.
Julie Clark 05:59
Cindy Burnett 06:00
How did you come up with the subject matter for it?
Julie Clark 06:03
Well, I really was interested in writing a story about somebody who wanted to disappear. And I wanted to see if it was really possible to do in our sort of our tech saturated world, right? Like, is it possible? Can you really, can you really walk away from everything and not leave a trace? And obviously, I think the only way you can actually do that is to shed your identity, literally shed it and become someone new. And aside from the witness protection program, I just kind of was trying to figure out like, could a person do that? Would a person be able to get a fake ID and a fake passport and a new social security number and all of that. So I called up a friend of mine who used to work at the FBI, and asked him, and he said, Well, you could I mean, really the only game in town is the Russians. The Russian mafia apparently is very, very good at doing these things. And so I thought, Okay, well, I guess I better figure out a way to get my main character, kind of not affiliated with that sort of particular group of people, but just adjacent to it enough so that it would be reasonable for her to be able to get something really good because I wanted her to have something really good and really quality. You want these things for your character, and then you have to take it all away from them.
Cindy Burnett 07:14
But you want it to be believable. And I guess that's what I was trying to say before is that I feel like that's where I get hung up in thrillers sometimes is I was like, there's no way that would happen. And it is hard. I mean, I fully get that. It's a bit of an oversaturated market. I think it's part of the thriller part of it, not yours. But I mean, some of the others, like domestic thrillers, there's just kind of a lot of that happening right now. And so it's hard to have something that's gonna stand out.
Julie Clark 07:36
Yeah. And I think the thing too, is that when you are a thriller reader, you have to go in with a level of understanding that you're going to have to suspend some belief along the way. I mean, there's a ton of stuff that happens in my book that people would be like, I would never do that. And that's kind of the whole point of a thriller is that people are saying and doing things that we would never do in real life. That's why I think people are drawn to them is that it gives them the ability to take risks that they wouldn't normally do in real life. Would I ever trade plane tickets with somebody in an airport bar that I didn't know? Absolutely not? No way! I probably wouldn't even talk to some stranger in the airport bar, let alone trade plane tickets with her. But would I do it if I was desperate enough? If I was really literally running for my life, and knew that it was that or face some really dire dire consequences? Maybe?
Cindy Burnett 08:28
Well, I guess that's what I'm saying. Like I agree with you. You have to suspend your own belief, like would I do that or not. Where I get hung up is thinking no one would ever do that no matter whether they're in these dire situations or not. And so I guess that's the difference is yes, because thrillers are fun, and that's why you pick them up to have this thrilling ride that you wouldn't normally have. But I guess I could just get hung up sometimes. And I'm like, there's just no way that could ever happen. And I did feel like your story could happen. You just had to have the right circumstances.
Julie Clark 08:55
Yes, I think so. I mean, I Yes, I think so.
Cindy Burnett 08:59
How did you plot it out? So Well, I think that's what makes it such a standout thriller. It just wraps up perfectly, and just is paced so well.
Julie Clark 09:10
A lot of luck and a lot of revision, just a lot of thinking about it constantly. So I wrote the book straight through from beginning to end, going back and forth between the two POVs. And then I spent a lot of time with just the Claire chapters and revising those and rewriting those and making sure that her story arc and emotional arc was really complete. Then I did the same for Eva, spent just several months just on Eva, and making sure that her story arc and her emotional arc were all kind of complete and made sense. And it wasn't until we sold the book to Sourcebooks, which was in May of 2019. And my editor Shana said, we're thinking we might need one more twist at the end. And I was like, what are you talking about? Another twist? You're killing me right? So there were a couple things about the story that were still bothering me. And I won't say what they are because I do think that it will spoil it for people who haven't read the book. But there were a couple things that I felt, they were sort of nagging at me. You know how you're trying hard not to think about it. You're trying hard to be okay with it. You're thinking, it'll be fine. It'll be fine. Nobody will notice, right? And yet, you're still waking up at three in the morning thinking people are gonna be bummed. That's not gonna work. And you really don't want to deal with it. But I ended up feeling like I needed to deal with it. And one of the twists that I ended up giving to her at the end, took care of one of those nagging problems that I was having at the very beginning. That felt like people aren't going to maybe be able to make that leap in the way that you were talking about. And so there's a twist at the end that I didn't put in until, like I said, after the book was sold. So most people when I get emails and messages on Facebook, and Instagram and Twitter about the book, most people say, I never saw that coming. And I always reply, I didn't either! You know, that was sort of the last twist that sort of tied the beginning and the end together in a way that I felt like, okay, now I can sleep at night. Now I feel okay. But it really does, really does take a lot of time and a lot of revision, a lot of really tough readers, your writing friends, my agent, people who work at CAA, with her all read, it all gave me tough, tough, tough, tough critiques that were hard to swallow at times where you're like, I don't think I can do this. I think in January of 2018, I was like, I don't think I can write this book. And you just have to stick with it.
Cindy Burnett 11:40
Also, when you're doing it over a period of time like that, like you're talking about in the middle of the night, you can kind of cogitate on things and say, You know what, I didn't even thought about doing it this way, or somebody gives you an idea that maybe sparks another idea. So that over time, it all comes together versus just sitting down at once and being able to put all those twists and turns in.
Julie Clark 11:59
And you kind of have to trust that that will happen. When you're writing a book, you don't see all those twists and turns right away. But as soon as you start revising, and people start reading and making suggestions, they start pointing things out that you're like, oh, that Oh, that would work. You get this little zing of recognition of like, That's it. That's it, that's the solution. And so one leads to another leads to another. And so you're right, they don't happen all at once. I mean, when I sit down to write a book, it's very, very sort of cardboard, kind of writing. It's just literally moving people around, like on a stage like you're blocking out stage directions. Okay, everybody walk over here and say some stuff. Okay, now everybody walk over there and say some stuff. And it isn't really until I get into revision that I get a real sense of what is the book really about? What is it the characters really want versus what do they really need? And hopefully, those two things are different.
Cindy Burnett 12:52
And what really needs to be included? And what maybe doesn't. In the beginning you thought, Oh, I really like this idea for Claire, and then at the end that doesn't even make the final cut.
Julie Clark 13:00
It doesn't work. Exactly. Yeah. How did you come up with the title for this one? That was challenging. I'm terrible at titles. I'm not good at thinking them up at all. And so I had, I think I started calling this book When I Knew You, which every person who read it was like, great book, but I don't get the title. What's the title mean? And it's like, I don't know, stop bothering me about the title. When I was ready to go out on submission. The book was ready. My agent was like, we need a title. And I was like, do we really? Can't we just, can't we just let them pick one? And she said, No, no, yeah, no, you need a title. And so she and I went back and forth, probably for about three months, trying to come up with a good title. And I would send her a list of things, 15, 20, 30 title ideas, and she just emailed back, nope, keep trying! And so finally I, she said, You know, I really want to have the word flight in it, because I think that it could sort of be a play on words. And then she said, so then I just started playing around with the word flight. And I said The Last Flight, she said, that's it.
Cindy Burnett 14:04
Titles either seem to start at the beginning and stick with the book all the way. Or they're very hard. Like they're never is somebody that's like, Oh, we try two and then we got it. It's either we had it from the beginning, or we tried 40, and we finally landed on it.
Julie Clark 14:17
Right. And it felt like every other author was coming out with a book that would have been a perfect title for mine. So everyone else had these titles, and I was like, that would have been a great title for mine, but somebody already took it. And what about the cover? How did that come about? Because I just think the cover is stunning. They hit it right out of the park, right from the beginning. Most authors have cover approval, which means that the publisher puts a cover together, and the author says I love it or hate it, or I kind of like it, but can you do this. And they try really hard. Most publishers try really, really hard to keep make the author happy, sort of like the clothes that your book will be wearing out in the world and you want to feel good about them. And so publishers work very, very hard to get the cover right. So when my editor emailed me the cover, I was nervous, you know, gosh, am I gonna like it? Is it gonna be what I want it to be? And I opened it up and it was just this red, this woman like an X-ray, heading down an escalator with the words seem to be in motion. It was just perfect. I mean, we had no, we had no notes on it. We had no, we loved it was great.
Cindy Burnett 15:19
So you didn't give them any suggestions or anything? And that's what they came up with. That's amazing.
Julie Clark 15:24
That's what they came up with. Yeah, yeah.
Cindy Burnett 15:26
Well, red is my favorite color. So I'm always drawn to anything red in the base case, but I thought it was the perfect cover for the book. And it's very eye catching. And just perfect, represents the book well.
Julie Clark 15:36
Cindy Burnett 15:37
So are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with me?
Julie Clark 15:40
I am, It's still early days. I am working on a book about a female con artist who targets kind of corrupt men or men who are behaving badly. And she tricks them into sort of taking themselves down, basically. So it's a story of revenge. But I think it's also a story of second chances and redemption as well. But that's what I'm working on.
Cindy Burnett 16:05
Sounds like a fun read and very relevant for today's world. Well, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Julie Clark 16:13
I think the best advice I ever got was that in order to publish, it's not so much about talent, as it is about just persistence and sticking with it and hanging in there through all the rejections. And there are lots of them, and just keeping on going. And so somebody once said, in order to publish your book, you need to do two things, really. You need to think of yourself as a worker, and then you need to show up at the job. That's all you have to do. And you have to do it every day. People say write every day, write every day. And it really is true, because you gain momentum. When you put too much time in between writing sessions, you forget what your character has said or done, or you forget the ideas that you had. And you really do need to have that kind of momentum. And it's different for everybody. For some people, it's writing 100 words every day, which isn't a lot. And for other people, it's writing 1200 words every day, or 2000 words every day, depending on how much time you have. But the trick is to really do it every day. And I know that that's like a we've heard that before come up with something new. But it really, it really is the trick, I think is that you just once you get too far into a story, you just don't stop, just don't stop.
Cindy Burnett 17:28
So I think that's interesting, because I find that as a reader, if I have started a big book, especially a book with a lot of characters, and I read for like an hour, and then I put it down for three days. And I come back to it, and I read for another 30 minutes. You know, if I read it that pace, I probably never finish that book, because it's the same thing you're describing that I can't ever spend the time getting invested in it all. And then I forget who everybody is that I have to go back and figure it all out. And so I'm sure that's even more the case on the writing side. That's an interesting perspective. I like that advice.
Julie Clark 18:00
Definitely. Because you're inventing the world as you go. I mean, I forget from one day to another. I was writing something this morning, and I couldn't remember the person's name. And I just were writing I was writing about them yesterday. So I just had to put a couple x's in the in the manuscript and keep going and figure out figure that out later. I know I named her, but I don't remember what I named her
Cindy Burnett 18:18
(laughs) I hate that because I've done that occasionally with books that people are raving about. And I was like, I don't think it was probably that I didn't like the book, it was just that it wasn't the right time for me to read it. I couldn't focus enough on it.
Julie Clark 18:27
Yes, I definitely think that's true, I definitely think that there are books where the time is right for you to read it. And the time is, or the time is not right for you to read it. And so it's always good to go back and give it another try before you say this book isn't for me.
Cindy Burnett 18:44
I agree, especially when you know you have some time and you can actually sit down and read it. But also, I think my reading habits have changed a lot during the pandemic because I just don't want anything that's too heavy. Because what were you know, living is so heavy. So I think also that can make a difference where you are in your life. Your children are young, you don't have children, your children are older. It just depends on kind of what you're living through to.
Julie Clark 19:04
Cindy Burnett 19:05
Back to the thriller conversation, because I was thinking a little more about that. Some people really gravitate to certain genres, too. And I think that makes a big difference. I've listened to authors say it's frustrating to me when somebody picks up my romcom and they're like, well, there was a lot of romance in that book. Certain people gravitate to certain genres. And the genres that appeal to you the most are probably the ones that are going to resonate the most.
Julie Clark 19:26
Well. And I think cover plays a big part in that too. Because people pick up a book and they recognize certain elements of the cover. And they have certain expectations for the book that's inside of that cover. And sometimes there's not a match, sometimes what's on the cover doesn't match very well what's inside. And a lot of times what's on the cover is determined by marketing and art departments and sales and shelf placement and metrics and all of these things that readers and authors don't really know about and maybe don't really want to know about. But the truth is that there is a lot more to a cover than just catching your eye. And so sometimes a publisher might choose a cover based on some of those things. And unfortunately, it doesn't always match what's inside the book. And a lot of times, art departments can't always read every book they design covers for. They can't they just, it's literally impossible for them to do that, especially the bigger publishers where they're publishing hundreds of books a month. They can't possibly be reading all of those books to know exactly what the tone and what the theme, so editors communicating to art departments is really important. Authors offering feedback is really important. But there have been scenarios where authors have said, the cover doesn't look like my book at all. And the sales and art department have said, this is what we're going with. So it can go either way. But the cover, the cover does determine a lot of what a reader expects to find. And you hope that there's a good match.
Cindy Burnett 20:54
We hosted an author through our salon for a book that I absolutely loved, but the cover didn't really match the story. And that was the number one feedback we got from readers afterwards was I did not expect the book to be like that. Based on the cover, I thought it was going to go a different direction. And so I think you're right that it is important to listen to those people because that is their job. I mean, they're doing the marketing and the sales. But on the other hand, if someone's not making sure they have a very good grasp of what the story's about, there can be a disconnect.
Julie Clark 21:22
Yes, no, I knew I was in good hands when my editor emailed me to say the art director came to my desk in tears because of something that I can't really reveal. But it was at the end of the book, and I thought, Oh, she read it. That's awesome.
Cindy Burnett 21:37
William Morrow and Sourcebooks, I think they just really do an amazing job. When I was BookExpo last year, 2019, the way they had their whole display set u,p and I said at the time, like they won the cover award, hands down. So they, they really do a very thorough and creative job.
Julie Clark 21:53
They're really good at what they do. Really, really good.
Cindy Burnett 21:56
They are so well before we wrap up, what have you read recently that you really liked?
Julie Clark 22:01
Ah, okay, so since we're talking about thrillers I would definitely recommend And Now She's Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall. She is a master plotter. You're talking about plot and pacing. Rachel knows how to do it. Phenomenal book. And then Goodnight, Beautiful by Aimee Malloy. She has this way of turning twists upside down inside out and backwards. You don't see them coming. And then you have to go back and read to figure out how in the world she pulled it off. So those are the two that I would definitely recommend.
Cindy Burnett 22:37
And the cover on her book is stunning.
Julie Clark 22:39
Yes, they have an amazing cover artist. Yes.
Cindy Burnett 22:42
Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Julie. I really enjoyed speaking with you.
Julie Clark 22:47
Thanks so much for having me. It was fun.
Cindy Burnett 22:49
Thank you so much for listening to my podcast. If you like this episode, and I hope you did, please follow me on Instagram and Pinterest at @thoughtsfromapage, tell all of your friends about the podcast, and rate it wherever you listen to your podcasts. I would really appreciate it. Word of mouth has been a great way to expand my listenership so I really appreciate it when you talk it up to others who might want to listen. Julie's book can be purchased at Murder by the Book where I work part time, and the link is in the show notes. Thanks to K.P. Regan for this sound editing, and I hope to see you next time.