Julia Watts shares with YEM that her books often depict the lives of LGBTQ+ people in the Bible Belt to make readers in that situation feel less alone

Julia Watts is the author of Needlework. Needlework follows a 16 year old boy named Kody who prefers to spend his time quilting with his grandmother (“Nanny”), watching Golden Girls reruns, and listening to old Dolly Parton albums. The novel explores  prominent themes of addiction, family, faith, and racism. YEM was able to speak with Julia about what sets the character of Kody apart from any other character she has written, something she hopes that readers can learn from Needlework, and what her writing process looks like.

Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

Julia Watts: I’ve always written, so I don’t think I ever made a decision to “become” a writer! My parents have some really embarrassing notebooks filled with my crayon-illustrated handwritten stories starting from when I was eight.

YEM: What can you tell us about your book Needlework?

Julia: Needlework is about a teen boy growing up gay in rural Kentucky, living with his fundamentalist Christian grandmother and trying to help his mom, who struggles with opioid addiction. It’s about identity and family and hope.

YEM: What sets the character Kody apart from any other character you have written?

Julia: Well, Kody is my first time writing from a teen boy’s point of view, so that makes him special to me. Kody has a huge heart, and he’s innocent, but he’s insightful, too. He is also, to his credit, a huge Dolly Parton fan.

YEM: Your books often depict the lives of LGBTQ+ people in the Bible Belt, why did you choose to start writing about this topic?

Julia: I grew up queer in rural Appalachia, so representing Appalachian LGBTQ+ people was and is important to me. Also, there are special struggles those of us who grew up in the Bible Belt have, and I wanted to make readers in that situation feel less alone.

YEM: Is it your goal to write books that readers can relate to and that deal with real life issues, or is that just something that happens organically?

Julia: I think it happens organically. I’m a very character-driven author. But if those characters end up helping readers with real-life situations, I’m happy with that result!

YEM: What is something you hope that readers can learn from Needlework?

Julia: I think the novel is about acceptance but also about healing the pain and the prejudices of one’s personal and regional history.

YEM: What are some of your favorite books that you have read?

Julia: Too many to name in a Tweet! Right now I’m loving Colson Whitehead’s “Harlem Shuffle.” Recent YA faves are Malinda Lo’s “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” and Kelly Ann Jacobson’s “Tink and Wendy.”

YEM: What does your writing process look like?

Julia: I write out the entire first draft by hand. Then I revise as I type it into my laptop. There’s one more revision after that, and then I show the novel to a few trusted readers and revise again according to their feedback.

YEM: What is some advice you have for those who want to become writers one day?

Julia: Ernest J. Gaines answered this question better than any other writer I’ve ever heard. He said he had six words of advice: “Read read read. Write write write.” A writer who doesn’t read is like a chef who doesn’t eat.

YEM: What is the best part of the writing process for you?

Julia: I love it all. I really do, from the first burst of inspiration in the beginning to the fussing over tiny word choices near the end. Regardless of where I am in the process, I’m at my happiest when I’m writing.

YEM: What have you learned about yourself as a writer while writing Needlework?

Julia: As I said, Needlework was my first time writing from a teen male point of view. I learned that I can inhabit a male character just as fully as a female one. Of course, that being said, Kody’s not that butch. 🙂

YEM: How long does the writing process usually take you?

Julia: It depends on how much other stuff I’ve got going on in my life, but generally for a YA novel, I can go from concept to completion in around a year.

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