This month’s interview is with YA dark fantasy author Julie Vohland! We discuss writing characters smarter than you on, creating awesome assassinating characters, and the struggles of querying while disabled.
You can find out more about Julie at https://julievohland.wordpress.com/
The Spoonie Authors Podcast is a podcast dedicated to exploring the lives and stories of disabled authors, published on the last Friday of every month.
Dianna Gunn: Hello, and welcome to the Spoonie Authors Podcast, a podcast where we explore the lives and stories of disabled authors with episodes coming out on the final Friday of every month. I’m your host, Diane Gunn, and joining us today is Julie Vohland. Julie Vohland is a disabled writer living in Northwest Ohio with her husband, four cats, and one Corgi named Sir Reginald—excellent name. She loves writing KidLit and has completed three YA novels and one spooky middle grade. When not reading, writing, or querying her work, you can find her playing Dragon Age for the 100th time, or inventing new ways to torture her sims. Hello, Julie.
Julie Vohland: Hello, Diana, thank you so much for having me on here.
Dianna Gunn: Thanks for joining us. I’m really excited to have you and I’m very excited for you to share your work so can we start with your novel, Bitter Magic.
Julie Vohland: Yes, Bitter Magic is a dark way fantasy about a disabled ruthless ex-assassin named Moira. She’s left killing behind to open her own bakery, and she’s grown close to the street kids that run the city. She calls them her gremlins. She’s fed and clothed them, even taught some of the leaders the right way to steal and profit off of information. Whispers of missing people and magic returning are running rampant through the gossip mill, but Moira doesn’t believe any of it, continuing to bake in blissful ignorance. When she’s hired to make a showpiece cake for the grand ball put on by the king and queen, she recruits the Gremlins, and Rosalie, a stunning no-nonsense server from the local pub for assistance, including her favorite little guy Chester, giving him the biggest, most important job of taste tester. When an explosion happens during the ball and Chester disappears, Moira reconsidered her doubt about those rumors regarding the disappearances through the kingdom. But magic returning? She still doesn’t believe in that. What she does believe in, though, is fear and steel killing her way to the culprit that stole Chester away, and in doing so, she learns the other rumor is also true, and uncovers a diabolical plot to return full-blown magic to the world. So Moira must embrace her vicious past to rescue her favorite Gremlin before all she’s worked for is destroyed,
Dianna Gunn: Amazing, I love everything about it honestly.
Julie Vohland: Thank you.
Dianna Gunn: What inspired you to write this book?
Julie Vohland: Well, I fell in love with the idea of a girl who’s trained to be ruthless, but couldn’t stop dreaming of cupcakes and frostings and yummy things. So, I pictured her like stalking her next victim or next target, all while thinking about “Ooo, that chocolate frosting might be good on that flavor cupcake because—”
Dianna Gunn: I love it.
Julie Vohland: But I also didn’t want the typical assassin, like, she’s trained for years since she was a kid. So I want that to take a toll on her body, which is something you don’t typically see in these assassin stories. So you know, her joints are a mess. She needs wrist braces to stir the batter for all her confections, and there’s definitely no magical cure either. I didn’t want to see that; didn’t want to write it.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah. That makes sense. So what was the biggest challenge of writing this book, working with this character? It’s a very unique setup you have.
Julie Vohland: The biggest challenge was most, like, tying up all of her loose ends. She’s really clever. So she has a huge secret, one that drives everything she does, so I had to keep her secret in mind every single scene, because it’s, it’s the whole reason that it drives her the entire time.
Dianna Gunn: That makes a lot of sense.
Julie Vohland: And then of course the logistics, you know, writing through flares and brain fogs. There were times where I would write and forget the scene I wrote the previous days I’d have to go back and read and reread, just to make sure that me and Moira were on the same page, especially in those bad pain days, it was easy to be ruthless,
Dianna Gunn: You say she’s very clever. Is she’s smarter than you? Because that can be a real challenge [laughs].
Julie Vohland: I definitely think she is. She, she has a million different little plots going at any given time. And for me… let’s just get through the day [laughs]. But she definitely is able to figure it all out and run a bunch of games at the same time.
Dianna Gunn: Sounds lovely. So you are in the query trenches right now. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s like and how you deal with that specifically while being disabled?
Julie Vohland: Yeah, querying’s, rough, you know, for everybody, no matter what. But especially with COVID and being disabled, it’s added a new urgency for me like, Oh man, I have to hurry up and find an agent, like, it always feels like it’s racing against the clock. Like, I’m constantly pushing, you know, constantly querying, writing, revising something, but you have to take time, especially during COVID. Especially during a pandemic, you have to make time for that self-care and that recuperation because if a rejection rolls in, whether it’s on a query, on a partial, on a full, you have to allow yourself that space to kind of grieve, before you can move on.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah. I think that’s really important too, and I think a lot of us disabled authors, you know, we’ve, we’ve learned how to work around our disability, but now we also have this layer of pandemic exhaustion, and we have no idea what to do with it, or is that just me?
Julie Vohland: No, no, definitely not just you, I feel the same way but luckily, it seems, you know, agents, editors, and publishers, it seems like they’re all dealing with the same kind of, “What do we do now?” type thing. So, at least that’s some kind of solace that it’s, I don’t feel as alone, especially with the pandemic and all the virtual events. I’ve, you know, grown my writer group of friends, even more because now it’s okay to go to these virtual hangouts and signings and everybody’s doing it instead of it being just an accommodation.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah, I think that that’s definitely something a lot of us are thinking about—especially now that they are vaccines and things on the horizon—is what will things look like? How accessible will things be going forward? Will all of these accommodations that were made for abled people still be made after the pandemic?
Julie Vohland: Right. Yep, I’ve actually just talked to somebody that suffered from migraines, that’s exactly what we were talking about today is, you know those accommodations, even that, just writing-related, but even like doctor’s appointments where you just have to go in and check in, where usually you know it took all day to get ready and then you have to drive there. Now, I can just pop online and they say, “How you doing? Good. Okay, I’ll refill your meds.” And it’s 20 minutes of the day instead of four hours in the day.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah, it’s so much easier and on so many levels, and I know there are people who are very eager to get back to “normal,” but I also know lots of people who would like to continue working from home or schooling from home, or what have you.
Julie Vohland: Right, yeah, for sure, and not to mention when querying, like, whether you get a rejection or you get that full request, you have, you know your flares to worry about, like you know your own triggers, right? So, on those days where you get a full request… Like for me, I’m, it’s a huge adrenaline rush. So, that takes a couple hours to come down from and to, like, pace yourself to, “Okay, let’s get my thoughts together. Let’s make sure I’m nice and calm before sending this,” so I don’t you know, use the wrong name. [Dianna laughs] You have to think of a bunch of different steps instead of just clicking send. You know, it really does, you have to bring that energy level down, your heart rate [laughs] has to go back to normal before you know you click Send because [laughs] you will, you will get ahead of yourself, and you know that’s it you have to get back to stasis before you can do anything.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah. And, you know, an acceptance or any kind of full request… that is far more exciting than a rejection is disheartening really. That is like, that is like, “Okay, pause, I might need to like, go run around the block to get rid of this energy.” [Laughter]
Julie Vohland: Exactly, and that happens. I mean, I can’t run, you know, because of heart stuff, but I, I feel the exact same way. And then the rejections hurt, I mean, obviously, and nobody likes rejections, they’re just a fact of this. You just kind of factor that in, so when you do get one of those rejections that take you down, you have to, you know, kind of pep-talk yourself. That’s why it’s really important to have, you know, writer friends that understand that even if they’re not, you know Spoonies or disabled they—everybody understands rejections. So building that support group is so important. Because I honestly don’t know where I’d be without a few, especially a few of them. A few of my friends that are just like, you know, “Don’t get discouraged. Keep going.” You really need that in the query and trenches. You need somebody in there with you.
Dianna Gunn: Absolutely. You also participated in pitch contests on Twitter. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?
Julie Vohland: Oh yeah, for sure. The pitch contests, writing for them is tough because you’d have to sum up your entire book in 280 characters, and that’s including the hashtags, and the actual pitch itself whether it’s #PitMad or #SFFPit, whatever, so you have to kind of sum up everything. And for me, like with Bitter Magic I want to make sure in those 280 characters, I get the point across that this is a chronic pain story of an assassin. So you have to get all that in. And it—you have to really be interactive that day. So it’s exhausting for me, because you know there are people that you, you retweet, you talk to people, you make friends, it’s still fun no matter what, but it’s an exhausting day because you have to be right on top of it, you know. If you can post a tweet every four hours or three a day, then you have to be right up on it. And it’s nice to build the community, and when you get that agent like, oh, that is just pure adrenaline, pure bliss. You’re like, “Oh, yes, this might be the one!” And you’re, you’re ready. you’re ready to go. But even for me on those days, I cannot send the request of materials that day because it takes recuperation after you know being online for at least a few hours that day and just solid. So I always wait for at least a day, maybe the next morning, the next day, to send the materials. Just to come down and kind of calm myself down because I don’t want to get excited myself into a flare either.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah. And I think that’s completely reasonable. I’m sure the editors and agents participating in these things are just as overwhelmed as you are, if not more so, by the end of the day. So, I think that a waiting period is probably good for everyone involved.
Julie Vohland: Oh yeah, yeah. I’ve actually asked a couple times, you know, “Hey, you liked this a couple days ago during the pitch contest. Is it okay if I send it to you next week?” Most of them are—I’ve never heard, “No, absolutely not.” They’re always like yeah, “Sure, throw it on. Whenever you’re ready.” So [laughs], never had a negative experience for that.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah, that is awesome. So, what advice would you give to other disabled writers who are, you know, wrapping up their first novel and potentially looking at submitting to publishers and agents for the first time?
Julie Vohland: Be patient. This is a game of patience, and if there’s one thing that I have learned with my disability is, we’re always in limbo, whether it’s waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for test results. Get used to that limbo, because that’s just another aspect of your life that you’re going to be in that limbo. Don’t rush it, make sure you fined… find that group, find that cheerleader that you can exchange first pages, first chapters with, because that’s really important to have. You don’t want to turn something in to an agent where there’s a typo on the very first page. So you want to make sure that it’s polished and perfect as you can get it before you send it out. And just make sure that to have that buddy or two, because they will come in handy for even beta reading, for venting, they’re so important. And also keep sharing them, keep writing like, don’t, don’t get discouraged because like I said earlier, rejections are a part of this. But your stories are needed. The stories from disabled points of view, they’re so desperately needed, and just casual representation can do so much for somebody with your disability or with your condition. And, you know, a kid reading especially in KidLit, “Hey, that person has POTS or that person has, you know, scoliosis,” or anything like that, it’s so, it’s such an amazing feeling to be able to do that and to bring that to the world, so keep sharing them, even if you’re discouraged.
Dianna Gunn: Absolutely. You know it’s funny the first thing you mentioned is patience, which obviously is a huge part of it, and also I’m self-published [laughs], but it never occurred to me, I guess, you know, a lot of disabled folks have actually trained really well for this because we spend all these years in limbo waiting for diagnosis. It’s good practice for querying.
Julie Vohland: It is, it really, and I call it my, my second limbo, because it’s, you know, when you’re getting a diagnosis, when you’re going for testing, all the stuff we have to deal with literally all the time, it’s, it’s just transferred over. That that patients you feel, and especially if you get those venting buddies. Take… vent to them, that’s what they’re for, you know, and especially Spoonie ones, they’re just, they’re worth their weight in gold.
Dianna Gunn: Where would you recommend people go to find this community, do you have any suggestions? Where did you find yours?
Julie Vohland: I found mine actually on Twitter during pitch contests. There was also one recently called Writer Team, where they, it’s, you put hashtags about what your story was. And you know, there’s constantly, things like that. Like find a CP, find a beta reader, but this one, you posted what your story was about, and with a couple hashtags. So then they knew what you were looking for: were you looking for a beta reader, were you looking for an alpha reader, were you looking for a critique partner, or just a cheerleader. And you could, you know, put that in the post. And I actually, I made sure to write that mine has disability rep, so somebody found me saying, “Hey, I have the same condition, I’d love to read your pages.” So, it’s putting yourself out there when you do see these, these events going on, it’s nerve racking, I know, but you will find, you know, people that want to read your story through them. So, if you see these events going on and you’re anxious, I understand, I’m right there with you. But put yourself out there, and you will find a friend or maybe two, three, who knows? But the one that I found now, she’s reading my stuff, I’m reading hers and we go back and forth, and we’re support people for each other because we have the same condition. It just happened that way, so I’ve been really lucky. Just put yourself out there and you will also—it will happen.
Dianna Gunn: Yeah, that’s awesome. I do want to add, for our listeners that there is actually a Spoonie Authors Chat that happens most Sundays at 1pm EDT. The hashtag is #SpoonieAuthChat. And that is Spoonie A-U-T-H chat. And that is a really great way to connect with other disabled writers, if people in the audience would like to do that, that is run by the Spoonie Authors Network, which this podcast is part of. So, yeah it’s a great community, and we are always welcoming new faces.
Julie Vohland:: That is awesome.
Dianna Gunn: All right, Julie, where can people go to find out more about you and your work and maybe some agents listening to this can email you.
Julie Vohland: Well I do have a website, it’s just julievohland.com just general, but you can find me on social media. And I’m @ladyvoh on Twitter and Instagram. I’m a lot more active on Twitter, and if you need that Spoonie friend or, you know Spoonie author friend, I always love making new Spoonie author friends, so do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Dianna Gunn: Awesome. And just to clarify, for people who are wondering Vohland is spelled V-O-H-L-A-N-D.
Julie Vohland: Yeah.
Dianna Gunn: All right, thank you so much for joining us, Julie. It’s been lovely and good luck with all of your projects.
Julie Vohland: Thank you so much and thanks for having me. This was really fun.
Dianna Gunn: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Spoonie Authors Podcast. The Spoonie Authors Podcast is part of the Spoonie Authors Network, a community initiative devoted to sharing the stories of disabled authors and educating abled people about what life is like for disabled creatives. Transcripts of this podcast are also available on the Spoonie Authors Network. To learn more, or become a contributor, visit spoonieauthorsnetwork.com. And of course, if you enjoyed this podcast, make sure to leave a five-star review on your favorite podcast streaming platform.
[Transcribed by https://otter.ai. Edited for clarity by Cait Gordon.]
This is so very insightful! I never thought to include my own disabilities into my writing. I was always told that we need “the perfect character” and was always made to believe that disabled heroes don’t meet that standard. 😦 I’m so glad to read works like this and to see that there are others like me who use their own experiences and “disabilities” as inspiration. It’s truly amazing!
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I’m so glad you found this insightful! I hope you write some badass disabled characters into your next story ❤