In 2018, the movie adaptation of Dumplin' (starring Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston — oh, and with original music by the Dolly Parton) sashayed successfully onto Netflix. But before that, the book earned a spot as a New York Times bestseller when it was released in 2015. Since then, author Julie Murphy hasn't stopped. Now, she isn't just blazing a trail in the young adult world, but also middle grade and adult romance. This year, Julie is set to release three (yes, you read that right) novels, including Pumpkin, the final companion novel in the Dumplin'-verse. We had the honor of talking to Julie about the importance of all of these stories, fat superheroes, and writing characters that really resonate with readers.
Hi, Julie! This is Farrah with BuzzFeed. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I’m so excited we could make this happen. How are you doing?
Hi, Farrah! I’m so delighted to be chatting with you today. And I’m good! How are you?
I’m pretty thrilled because you’re set to release another companion novel in the Dumplin’-verse this year! Dumplin’ released in 2015 and became a #1 New York Times bestseller, and the Netflix adaptation came to screens a few years later in 2018. Has this been exciting to revisit? (I’m personally so excited to revisit!)
I can’t believe it’s been five years now since the book came out! And the movie turning two! What a world! I was a little nervous to revisit the Dumplin’-verse because there’s always the danger of ruining a good thing, ya know? But ultimately, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun writing a book as I did Pumpkin. The main character is totally new to the universe, so it was like all the excitement of a new book with the comforts of revisiting old friends. I hope readers have as much fun reading it as I did writing it!
I can’t believe it either! You’re a master at creating incredible stories with raw, unapologetic characters who feel entirely real. With Pumpkin, you’ve written a story from the perspective of a fat, openly gay boy named Waylon. In Dumplin’ and Puddin’, body image is more centralized than in Dear Sweet Pea and Faith Taking Flight (which I’ll get to soon!). What can readers expect with Pumpkin, and how did writing Waylon’s journey differ from your prior companion novels, if at all? Was it a challenge?
Pumpkin definitely presented a new set of challenges. Writing outside of my gender identity was something I had to really consider as I went, but Waylon and I have common ground in that we’re both queer and fat, so that was a really good home base for me while drafting.
I also thought a lot about the personalities and traits that fat people develop to “compensate” for our fatness at a young age. For a lot of us, it’s being funny or smart or nurturing. But for some of us and especially for he/him identifying people, that sometimes comes in the form of being masculine. Acting as a protector or someone who can fix your drain while installing a sprinkler system at the same time. Writing Waylon really made me consider why we push ourselves so hard to compensate for our fatness when, in reality, there’s nothing to be compensated for.
What an on-point analogy. You bring up something that ties in to my next question! I was reading your 2019 Glamour essay and was struck by this thoughtful line: “...fat women and gay men have often found common ground and bonded over being rule breakers. Fat women don’t play by society’s rule that a woman’s body exists solely for male gratification, and gay men subvert the gender roles that men have traditionally relied on for the purpose of keeping women and people of color out of power.” There’s so much power in breaking social structures society has held up for so long and saying, “Nah, we don’t want it. Sorry.” Was this something you had in the forefront of your mind when writing Pumpkin?
Ha! Breaking down racist and sexist power structures will always be at the forefront of my mind. I eat that stuff for breakfast! (JK, I eat a clementine and toast.) But the most important thing to me when writing Pumpkin was telling a good story. Breaking down social structures via storytelling doesn’t matter if you’re not crafting a compelling story — mostly because no one will read it. When I’m writing, the first thing I look to do is connect with my characters and form them into fully dimensional people, because in the end that’s the most relatable thing — reading about characters who feel so real you think you could know them or be them. And then, if you happen to witness how they’re breaking down barriers in their world, it might become easier to do the same in ours. But all that starts with a good story.
That absolutely makes sense. It's really telling as to why so many readers have connected to your characters over the years. You have written so many good stories! Faith Taking Flight came out in July 2020 and features a plus-sized superhero from the Valiant Entertainment comics. This is, I believe, your first novel that is a slight departure from grounded contemporary. What was writing it like for you — any different from your previous books? What was the most rewarding part about it?
Awww! Thank you. Faith was such a new and exciting adventure! I was really nervous to try my hand at something outside of the contemporary novels I’ve done in the past, but the team at Valiant really let me lean on their strengths as we brainstormed the plot. As a reader and fan, though, I’ve always gravitated toward tons of non-contemporary stuff, so it was really fun to let that translate to my own creation. And I got to write a fat superhero! How cool is that?
Extremely cool! It’s a fantastic, fun escapist novel that readers needed in 2020 too.
Dear Sweet Pea was your first middle-grade novel. Like Faith Taking Flight, we’re presented with another character (a seventh-grade girl) who happens to be fat, but that isn’t the central focus of her story — it’s about divorce and tumultuous friendships and adjusting and adapting. What made you want to write about this by leaping into the world of middle grade with Sweet Pea’s story?
I think I’ll always center fat people in all of my work and I remember at that age, as a reader, I jumped from Babysitter’s Club to Stephen King and then Clan of the Cave Bear and then pretty much ditched reading until after high school, so revisiting that age and thinking about what makes books work for that age range was a really exciting and sort of daunting task. Ultimately though, I’m just forever obsessed with the human condition and will constantly be looking for new angles to re-examine everything that puzzles me or that I’m obsessed with. Middle grade seemed like the clear next step. Plus, there’s a really high tolerance for fart jokes.
Ha! I can see that. Those are some huge genre jumps you experienced. I can understand how it seemed daunting. Do you think we can see more middle grade from you in the future?
Yes! For sure! I’ve got one on my calendar right now, actually. I’m excited to share more when I can!
That’s so exciting! I can’t wait to learn more.
We got to see the Dumplin’ adaptation — any chance we could see more of your books on screen in the future? And because I know this is so often out of the author's hands, here’s another question: Which book of yours would you love to see adapted next?
There’s a Dear Sweet Pea adaptation in the works at the Disney Channel currently, so fingers crossed! And as far as my other books go, I would love to see Ramona Blue get an adaptation. That book is a really special one for me.
That’s amazing! I loved Ramona Blue! You’ve written so many wonderful books over the last several years, many of which we’ve touched on today, and I’d love to know which one you’d recommend first to someone who has never read a Julie Murphy book? Also — do you have a personal favorite?
I think Dumplin’ is always a good place to start! For so long, I was most proud of Ramona Blue, but I think Pumpkin might just be my new fave!
I really can’t express how eager I am to read Pumpkin this year! You’ve teased a little bit about a new middle grade in the works, but is there anything else you’re working on that we can look forward to in the near future?
2021 is a big year! I’ve got three books out! First up in May is Pumpkin! Next is If the Shoe Fits in August, which is an adult Cinderella retelling I worked on with Disney. Lastly is the second book in the Faith duology out next fall. Phew!
You have a busy 2021 coming up! So much to look out for! And an adult Cinderella retelling?! Wow! Has writing adult been any different for you than YA/MG?
In some ways, yes. There are actually logistical things that are different. They do ADULT things, so there aren’t other parents they’re beholden to — at least not in the same ways. There’s room for things to get a little steamier, but I’d be lying if I said there was some sort of magical difference for me. A story is a story is a story. I guess, no matter the age, we’re all slowly dying and looking for love — platonic or romantic.
Ha! I mean, you’re not wrong!
Julie, it’s been such a pleasure chatting with you today! I appreciate your time and am looking forward to all your books. Before I let you go, what three emojis would you use to describe Pumpkin?
This has been so much fun! And honestly I wish every interview involved me playing Great British Bake Off in the background and playing Animal Crossing in between questions. And what an excellent question to end with! Let’s go with: 🎃👑👠
Thanks, Farrah! Have a great day!