Julie Sternberg is the author of LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE, LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER, and LIKE CARROT JUICE ON A CUPCAKE, all young middle-grade novels. LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE is a Gryphon Award winner and a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist; LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER is a Gryphon Honor Book, a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Nominee, and an Illinois Monarch Award Finalist. Julie’s latest is a middle-grade series called THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE. She received her MFA from the New School in 2009.
For what age audience do you write?
My first series, the JUICE books listed above, is intended for kids aged six to nine or ten. My next series, THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE, is for slightly older kids, ages eight to ten. All of these books are realistic fiction.
I’ve also written a picture book, BEDTIME AT BESSIE & LIL’S, which is nearing publication. It’s intended for kids aged three to five or six.
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is the first in my new series, THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE. Celie is ten and hates change. But everything around her is changing. Her best friend has stopped talking to her, and she has no idea why. Her older sister is now in middle school, with all of the changes that brings. And her beloved grandmother has started acting very strangely. Celie deals with this turmoil by writing in her diary and taping in everything from emails to spy reports.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
Sitting down to draft a brand-new book can be agony. First, I’m paralyzed by the blank page. Eventually I’ll force myself to write something–anything. But I never manage to move beyond the first twenty or so pages until I’ve gotten the voice and the format just right. That can take ages.
Henry: I agree. The first draft is the hardest.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
When I was a little girl, my best friend was my elementary school librarian, Vivian Hurst. She recommended books for me to check out each week and let me open the boxes of new books that had just arrived in her office. She was the first person who ever told me I should write children’s books; and we stayed in contact even after I’d moved away, for college. I always mailed her letters to the library of my old school.
But eventually she retired, and the school wouldn’t give out her forwarding address, and I couldn’t find her contact information in phone books or online. I thought I’d never see or hear from her again.
Years later, when I finally followed her advice and became a writer, I was interviewed by a local television station. During the interview I mentioned Ms. Hurst. Her niece saw the piece; she told Ms. Hurst about it; and Ms. Hurst emailed me using the contact information on my author website. We’ve been in touch ever since.
There are many reasons I’m glad I became a writer. Finding Ms. Hurst is at the top of the list.
Henry: That is beautiful. I still remember reading WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (over and over) in my elementary school library.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I drink unsweetened iced tea, glass after glass, until I need a change. Then I switch to mugs of hot tea. Eventually I switch back.
Henry: Unsweetened tea!? Oh, the humanity! You are so gansta’!
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Mind-reading. I want an open window into the thoughts of a wide range of personalities.
But I only want to be a mind-reader if I can (1) turn my power on and off as I wish; (2) target one subject at a time; and (3) use my powers from afar (more specifically, from the comfort of my own home while drinking extraordinary quantities of tea).
Henry: Kudos to you tor adding those qualifiers, without which mind-reading could be very problematic. I love a person that takes their imaginary powers seriously.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
First, I’d invite Amy Hest, author of many marvelous children’s books, whom I know and love and who wouldn’t want to miss this.
Second, I’d invite Willa Cather. I’ve loved her writing my whole life; I’m interested in her prairie childhood; and I want to know what it was like to be a woman who dressed as a man in the late 1800s.
Third, I’d invite Larry McMurtry, because LONESOME DOVE was one of my favorite books when I was a kid and LEAVING CHEYENNE is one of my favorite books now. Also, I like his essays. And he’s a book collector and bookseller in addition to being a prolific author. That gives all of us plenty to discuss.
Henry: Wikipedia helpfully adds, “Willa Sibert Cather (1873 – 1947) was an American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, in works such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and The Song of the Lark. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during World War I.”
Per Amy Hest’s website (amyhest.com), she writes picture books and chapter books, is a three-time winner of the Christopher Medal and a winner of the Boston Glob-Horn Book Award. Plus, she likes coffee ice cream.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I like to read, swim, eat cinnamon coffee cake muffins, go to the movies, go to the theatre, sing along to classic rock on the radio, sing along to current pop on the radio, listen to podcasts of stories about real people, wonder what my daughters are up to right this second (why, oh why must they insist on going off to places like sleepaway camp?), and fantasize about becoming a producer on This American Life.
Henry: Now you combine cinnamon coffee cake muffins with Amy Hest’s coffee ice cream, and we see why you two are friends.
Where can readers find your work?
Click to Tweet: Interview with Middle Grade author Julie Sternberg at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-O1 via @Nimpentoad
This interview is also on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.