Julie A. Swanson grew up in northern Michigan, the setting of this book. Going for the Record was named one of Booklist‘s Top Ten Sports Books for Youth and was a finalist for Foreword Magazine’s Juvenile Fiction Book of the Year Award. Julie currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.com
What made you decide to become an author?
I’ve wanted to be an author ever since I was in second grade. My favorite assignments in school were when we were told we had to write a story or a poem. I also wrote and illustrated stories at home in my free time, even then with the hope of getting them published. I’d put them together in folders, write and draw them in blank books like you buy for writing in a journal or diary, and then I’d give them my mom hoping she’d know where to send them.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
I’m most passionate about writing stories my younger self would have given anything to read, stories kids who are like I was could really use. There were main characters and topics I was looking for, but that weren’t out there (still aren’t). I like sharing things I’ve treasured or that inspired or meant a lot to me as a kid, some of them things I felt I had to keep secrets all to myself as a kid. A favorite quote of mine from Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
Though I write fiction, the ideas for my books—at least the kernels of them—come mostly from real life, my life. I try to stay true to what I want to share or tell, but then I fictionalize it.
How much research do you do before you begin a book?
I usually don’t do much research before I begin a book. That comes during the writing process for me, and it’s ongoing as I make changes and revise.
Where do you find your inspiration for new stories and characters?
In addition to the real life experiences I want to share in my stories, my dreams (at night) have been a source of inspiration for me over the years. But I have such a backlog of ideas for stories that inspiration for new ones isn’t something I find myself looking for, although I do meet new people (especially kids) who are so intriguing and unforgettable that they end up finding their ways into my characters.
What is the process of writing a book; how does it go from an idea to a finished work on sale in bookstores?
For me the writing is a really messy process. I know what my story idea is and pretty much how the story’s going to go—loosely—from beginning to end (though there are surprises that crop up). So first I write and write and write, get everything out that I want to say in the story. Then I may have to reorganize it to make it a better story, make it flow better. And I have to cut, a lot. I usually write many drafts before I’m ready to query or pitch my story to an agent or editor. Composing the query letter/email or pitching the story in person is my next and least favorite part. Revising with an editor’s input is hard, too, but at least it’s exciting because your book is on its way to becoming a reality.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I don’t remember if it was a letter or an email or a call, but hearing that Eerdmans wanted to publish GOING FOR THE RECORD is definitely a contender for the highlight of my career. But a year or two before that, I got an encouraging 3-page letter from a well-known editor at a big publishing house that meant the world to me. It gave me a lot of confidence and helpful advice that I REALLY needed at that point. It was a rejection letter, but it was the nicest rejection letter anyone could hope for. The editor basically told me she loved my story and my writing but that she’d just published a book with a similar storyline (dying, cancer), so she was sorry she couldn’t take my story on, but that if I did X, Y, and Z to it, she was sure someone else would, and to keep going and not give up—and to feel free to send her anything else I wrote in the future. That letter still keeps me going.
What do you wish you’d have known starting out as an author?
Hmm, I don’t know that anything anyone could’ve told me then would have made a difference. I don’t think I would have understood or believed what I now know. I guess I wish I would’ve known that I was going to stick with writing no matter what, so just relax and enjoy it and don’t worry that you might give up.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Again, not sure it would help even if I could whisper it in my little ear, but: Don’t be shy, don’t be afraid to tell people—someone—what you’re thinking and feeling, what you want, who you think you are. And you are not alone in thinking and feeling those things, you are not alone in who you are.
What do you hope kids learn from Going for the Record?
I wrote this story for two reasons:
1.) to share the amazingly inspirational story of my own dad’s death and let them vicariously experience it.
2.) to share some of the things that helped me cope and brought me comfort when my dad was dying—to share them with kids who might be going through something similar with a parent or loved one, in the hopes that those things could help them as well.
I hope kids can learn that while death may be a very sad thing, it can also be a beautiful thing. And that while you may be feeling guilty or crazy for feeling and thinking the things you are while you are on the rollercoaster of watching someone suffer and die, you are NOT, and other people have felt and thought the same things—you are not alone!
Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
I used to think I could fly, like Superman or Peter Pan, and sometimes I still think I can. I’ve always had really vivid flying dreams, and when I wake up from one, it still seems so real that I’m convinced I can just take off again. As a kid, I jumped from the top of the stairs, trees, snowbanks, sand dunes, rope swings… I loved windy days, umbrellas, parachutes, anything that might help me get airborne—after that, I was sure my flying instinct would take over and keep me up. I tried to fly until an embarrassingly old age!