The Penmen Profile: Fiction Writer Julie Buntin

by Rebecca LeBoeuf

Photo Credit: Nina Subin

Julie Buntin debuted her first book, “Marlena: A Novel,” in April. Buntin explores weighty topics including love, addiction and loss in the lives of two teenage girls. “‘Marlena’ slayed me,” bestseller Anton DiSclafani said in response to the book. “Gorgeously written, with a sense of place so perfect I didn’t even have to close my eyes to pretend I was there, this novel is rich and sensuous and beautifully conceived.”

Buntin is the director of writing programs at Catapult, a publishing company in New York City. She will be on a summer long tour across the U.S. and in Scotland.

Have you always written?
I started writing poetry with a lot of melodramatic seriousness as a high schooler. So, I haven’t always written, but I have always been a big reader, really as far back as I can remember.

What’s your process in developing your storyline and characters?
Lots of messy notes! I don’t outline, exactly, but I’ll compile a ton of fragments of images and details in Word docs before starting a project. And then I write a messy draft, and almost always rewrite it, as in re-type it out and rewrite as I go, at least three times. In the re-typing/rewriting phase, I make tweaks to plot and character.

What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them? 
Getting started. The hardest part of writing is getting started. I honestly believe that. The other stuff you can overcome with hard work but the actual act of focusing in on a project requires a whole lot of mental handwriting that’s kind of painful for me, and I basically just have to trick myself into doing it or wear myself down with shame and fear that I’ll never do it, which sort of works.

What has the road to publication been like for you?
Long and paved with revisions and the forty thousand words I cut from “Marlena” after it sold.

How do you market your work?
I don’t know that I think about this exactly – I try to share news of the book on social media when it happens, mostly out of sheer excitement.

What do you wish you knew when you first started writing?
Hmm. Maybe that nothing ever gets done unless you finish it, and you’ll never finish anything by procrastinating.

Who are the authors that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
Lorrie Moore’s “Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?” was a special inspiration to me while writing “Marlena,” because it helped me understand how you might structure a novel that consists primarily of flashbacks, and it also helped me unseat some long held and very stupid ideas about whether or not girlhood was a literary subject.

If you could keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why?
This is an impossible question, and if you asked me it once an hour for the rest of my life I’d probably give different answers each time. Right now: “2666” by Roberto Bolaño, one of those giant Norton’s poetry anthologies, “Good Morning, Midnight” by Jean Rhys.

For more on “Marlena,” visit Buntin’s website.