Monday, September 07, 2015

Interview with Julie Timmer, Author of Five Days Left

Today I'd like to welcom Julie Lawson Timmer, Author of Five Days Left (click to read my review), to This That and the Other Thing.

I don't often reach out to authors and ask for interviews and I can't explain exactly why I decided to ask Julie if she would visit with us, but I did and I'm glad she responded positively.

One of the major characters from Five Days Left has Huntington’s Disease. Why did you pick that condition? Do you have any personal familiarity with it?

No, I didn’t have any familiarity with Huntington’s Disease (“HD”) before I started writing Five Days Left. I was inspired to write the book after a friend died of incurable cancer. I hoped that writing about someone dealing with a fatal, incurable disease would be a way to explore the fear and anguish my friend might have experienced. I hoped, too, that it might be a way for me to honor her, even if the book was never published. I chose Huntington’s rather than cancer because I didn’t want to write my friend’s story. Five Days Left is not biographical.  

As noted in your book, one characteristic of Huntington’s Disease is that if one parent has it, their children have a 50% chance of developing the disease. In Five Days Left you make both Mara and her daughter adopted, removing that issue of Huntington’s from the story. Is there a reason you made that choice?

That was just happenstance, actually. When I started making notes about Mara, she came to me almost fully formed. I knew her profession, and I knew she had traveled to India to adopt her daughter, and that her parents had done the same decades earlier, to adopt her.

I discovered you and Five Days Left on the Women’s Fiction Cafe Week group on facebook.  Do you think that Five Days Left only, or largely appeals to women and not men?

I think Five Days Left appeals to both genders.

You and Mara are both lawyers. Besides that, do you share any traits?

Yes. We’re both driven, Type A women who fiercely love our husbands and our children. Beyond that, Mara really is her own person and not a reflection of me. I have often said I would have liked to meet Mara. She and I attended the same law school (there’s another commonality) and in some parallel universe, it would have been nice to attend school at the same time, and get to know her.

Both Five Days Left and your next novel, Untethered, deal with children who are adopted or otherwise not living with their biological parents. Is this an area of law in which you practice?  f you could change current laws by waving your magic wand, would you change them relating to adoption or child custody?

No, I don’t practice this kind of law. I’m very interested in the question of what makes a family--is it biology, a piece of paper, an emotional connection?--so I like to write about situations that raise that question. 

I’ve been a paralegal for over twenty years and have seen a lot of women, particularly those in their childbearing years, leave jobs as attorneys. Are you still practicing? If so, how do you manage that, writing and kids?

Yes, I still practice law. I was a litigator early in my career, but for about 15 years now, I’ve been in-house counsel. I wrote Five Days Left from 4am-6am every weekday and 4am-10am every weekend day, for over two years, because that was the time in my day that wasn’t taken up with work or kids. Now, I’m working part-time, which gives me a few days each week when I can write during the day. It’s been such a pleasure to be able to sleep past 4am!

Your bio says that you were born in Canada but live in Michigan. Did you move to the US as an adult? If so, what would you consider to be the major differences between the US and Canada?

Yes, I moved to the United States after undergrad, in 1989. For a decade, I lived in Texas, and that was very different from Canada. Now, I live in Michigan, and it’s very similar, and also, of course, very close, to Canada. I think the major difference I notice these days is the political system. I’m no expert here, but the three-party system in Canada seems to make things less polarized there than the two-party system we have here.

In Five Days LeftScott sounds like the kind of teacher most parents want for their children. Did you have a special teacher who made a real difference in your life? Did your kids? 

What a terrific question. I didn’t have a teacher who made as much difference in my life as Scott made in Bray’s. But I’ve been fortunate enough to have teachers and professors who have inspired me in some ways, or made me believe in myself in an area where I might have had some doubt. I know my son and daughter would say the same. 

Did you set out to write a novel to publish, or did personal scribblings take on life of their own? Can you give us a short “conception and birth” story, if you will about your baby Five Days Left?

I did set out to have a novel published--it has always been a latent dream of mine. I let my career and family obligations take over though, and always kept the dream on a back burner. But in 2011, I was about to turn 45, and for some reason that birthday made me take stock of my life like no other birthday had done. I realized that the one regret I would have at the end of my life was that I had never tried to write a novel and see if I could get it published. I decided I couldn’t let myself live with that regret. I would be happy if I could look back and know that I had tried and failed. But I wouldn’t be happy if I looked back and admitted I had never tried.

So, in February of 2011, before my May birthday, I told myself I would have a draft finished by my birthday. I did it--although it was a terrible draft. I pitched the book at a writer’s conference in the summer of 2011. Those pitches went nowhere but I met some great friends at the conference, and through those friendships and their advice, I figured out that the book needed huge revisions, my query needed a great deal of refining and I needed to learn things about the publishing business that I should have learned before pitching. 

For several months after the conference, I revised the book, which really involved completely gutting it and rewriting it, and when I finally had something better to query in the spring of 2012, I got a few requests for partials and fulls. I received plenty of rejections, but I also got a revise & resubmit request from an agent, and she even took the time to speak with me on the phone about the changes she thought the book needed. She ended up giving me two chances to revise and resubmit (which means she read the book three times--very generous!). She ultimately passed, but because of her, I had a much more polished manuscript, and I am forever grateful to her for that. 

By the end of the summer of 2012, I had sent close to 100 queries and hadn’t landed an agent. I announced to my husband that Five Days Left would be my “practice novel.” I told him I was shelving it, and I wrote two others, and started to think about querying one of those. Over the following few weeks, rejections from outstanding queries for FDL would trickle in and I’d laugh--I was over Five Days Left, and the rejections no longer stung. Then, I got a revise & resubmit on Five Days Left from a different agent. I actually told my husband, “I’m not even going to respond. Five Days Left is my practice novel. I’ve moved on.” Thankfully, my husband urged me to sleep on it before I deleted the email.

I have learned to always follow my husband’s sage advice, and of course, by the next morning, I realized I hadn’t “moved on” from Five Days Left at all--I still loved it, and because of it’s connection to my friend, I was still just as eager to see it published. I agreed to revise and resubmit the book, and I spent the next six months revising it significantly--again, a complete gut and rewrite.

I sent it back to the agent and five days later, she called to offer representation. Twenty-one days after that, she sold it at auction, to Amy Einhorn. So, it was a long, slow, two-year lead-up with lots of rewriting and lots of rejection, and then Bam!--everything happened quickly.

Do you write anything besides legal briefs and novels? Magazine articles? Short Stories? Poetry?

I write daily texts to my children -- does that count? I identify as a novelist above all. I’ve written a few articles for online magazines and newspapers (HuffPo and the like) but I’m not a journalist and am not trying to be one. The idea of short stories is intriguing to me, but in the end, I think the long form suits me better, as it allows me to really get to know my characters, and to see them change, and I love that aspect of writing novels.

I'd like to thank Julie once again for joining me here to talk about Five Days Left. She has generously agreed to provide an autographed copy Five Days Left to one of my readers. If you would like to win a copy, check out Julie's webpage about her books and leave a comment about which one you would prefer to read and why.  


  1. Both books sound like ones I would enjoy. I already had Five Days Left on my TBR list;will be adding Untethered

  2. I've been so, so behind on my blog reader. I finally logged in this morning and found almost 2000 posts waiting. I'm sorry I missed this post when it came up! Some really interesting things I didn't think to ask Julie when she was on the café.


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