By Melissa Face
Earlier this year, I virtually met Julie Valerie, author of Holly Banks Full of Angst (read here ) and The Peculiar Fate of Holly Banks (pre-order here), which will be released November 24, 2020. Julie and I initially connected when we were making plans to participate in a writing panel on motherhood. Even though the event didn’t happen this spring, Julie and I remained in touch. I read her debut novel, and I fell in love with her work and with her main character, Holly.
Holly Banks is an adorably neurotic mom who moves with her family to a new town. She grapples with neighborhood drama, over-the-top school moms, family problems, and the change I related to most: sending her precious daughter off to school for the first time.
But there is no need for me to describe Holly any further when she and her creator are both here for coffee (and tea). Fill your mug, shush your kids, and join us as Julie, Holly, and I discuss some topics that are on the minds of many moms: self-acceptance, the fear of losing our identities, and the search for happiness.
Me: Are you a coffee drinker? If so, how do you take yours?
Julie: Actually, I’m a tea drinker in a coffee world. English Breakfast with two lumps of sugar, and I drink it all day long. Holly Banks, the main character in the collection of novels I write as part of the Village of Primm series, is a huge coffee drinker. In the first book, Holly Banks Full of Angst, she sniper crawls out of a PTA meeting while protecting a to-go cup of coffee she purchased before the PTA meeting from Primm’s Coffee Joe—the coffee shop in the Village of Primm where the series of books are set. In fact, she was late for the PTA meeting because she stopped for coffee.
Holly: Me? Oh, yeah, I love coffee. Vanilla hazelnut. Interesting fact: my husband, Jack, roasts a small batch of Honduran coffee beans in a popcorn popper in the second book, The Peculiar Fate of Holly Banks. And yes, I sniper crawled out of a PTA meeting. Trust me, I paid dearly for my actions . . .
Me: How many kids do you have and what are their ages? What do they call you? (mom, mommy, mama, etc.)
Julie: I have four kids (two girls and two boys), two dogs (both English Labradors—one yellow, one chocolate), and one husband (college sweetheart). My girls are in college, and my boys are 13 and 15. All of the kids call me mom, but my oldest still calls me mama from time to time. I love it when she calls me mama.
Holly: I have one child, a daughter, Ella, and she’s five and starting kindergarten in the first book which I find impossibly difficult to get used to. I miss her when she’s at school, and I’m struggling a bit trying to figure out my next steps. I studied filmmaking in college, and I’d like to get back into it, but I don’t quite know how. We’re newly moved to the Village of Primm, and I’m feeling a bit lost. Like Julie, I have a chocolate Labrador. Her name’s Struggle, and she gets into a lot of trouble in the second book. Digs up an old artifact in the village center, and the mishap draws the attention of local media. Ugh! Motherhood—and dogmotherhood. Never a dull moment.
Me: Do the two of you share any commonalities in terms of motherhood?
Julie: I’d say we’re both less-than-perfect moms searching for mostly happy in a pretty good life.
Holly: Sounds about right.
Me: Being a first-time mom is so incredibly challenging. What message would you like to send to new moms who might be struggling?
Julie: The best advice I can give a new mother is the same advice passengers on an airplane hear before take-off. “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”
Holly: Motherhood is incredibly challenging. I’m so full of angst, my state of mind made it into the title of the first novel: Holly Banks Full of Angst. My advice for any mom who may be struggling is the core message of that novel: self-acceptance. If you take a peek into that book’s pages, you’ll also find there’s more than one word for happy.
Me: Dangerous question alert: Are you the mom you imagined you would be? If not, how are you different?
Julie: I imagined I’d homeschool all of my children, but that never happened. Every time I pitched the idea, it got shot down.
Holly: I imagined I’d keep up with my art and love of filmmaking while Ella was young, but I got busy and lost myself to motherhood. I’m trying to find my way back to myself, but it’s hard.
Me: What do you consider some of your greatest parenting successes?
Julie: Despite all my parenting screwups, my kids are turning out to be awesome people. Not just a little bit, a lot. They are kind, thoughtful, have feet firmly planted, and they all possess a solid moral compass. I love hanging out with them.
Holly: My greatest parenting success? I got Ella on the school bus. Hey. You have no idea how difficult that was.
Me: Areas where you fall short?
Julie: Oh, geez. Where do I begin???
Holly: Me??? Good gravy, where do I begin? Let’s just say—if you’re a mom feeling you’re constantly falling short—spend a few hours with me, Holly Banks. Much of the first book explores a common feeling parents have—the fear of making mistakes that hurt or embarrass our children. One of the book club discussion questions asks: “To what degree is there a connection between a parent’s foibles and a child’s well-being?” I think Julie wrote that question after watching me muck-up Ella’s first week of kindergarten.
Julie: Another book club discussion question asks: “In what ways do moms strive to present themselves as perfect mothers to mask underlying flaws they hope no one will notice?” Feeling you’ve “fallen short” as a parent is a big theme in my novels. Probably because I so often feel that way myself.
Me: How do you balance work and motherhood? (lol!!)
Julie: By balance, do you mean writing your first novel between midnight and four o’clock in the morning while your family is asleep? Is that balance? No? No, I suppose it isn’t . . .
Holly: By balance, do you mean losing yourself entirely to motherhood while not nurturing a side of yourself you dearly miss? By balance, do you mean putting your child on the school bus for her first week of kindergarten and then finding yourself standing at the bus stop wondering: Who am I? What do I do now?
Me: If you could have coffee with another writer (living or deceased), whom would you choose and why?
Julie: A.A. Milne because Winnie-the-Pooh (1925) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928) changed my life. Also, I’d love to meet Menander, the Greek dramatist and best-known representative of Athenian New Comedy. He was born 342/41 BC and died in the year 290 BC. His legacy in comedy and satire so intrigues me I named a town after him in my Village of Primm novels.
Holly: I suppose I’d like to have coffee with tea-drinking Julie because she created me. I wonder if she’d know what I was about to say before I said it? Truth be told, I sometimes grab the reins and run off with the story leaving Julie running behind, waving her pen in the air and trying to catch up, shouting, “What the frick, Holly. Get back here!”
Julie: Ha! That never happens.
Holly: Like heck it doesn’t.
Me: What project are you currently working on?
Julie: With Holly Banks Full of Angst already on the shelves and The Peculiar Fate of Holly Banks releasing November 24, 2020, I’m working on my third novel.
Holly: I hope I’m in it. Am I in it?
Julie: Of course you are.
Me: Anything else you would like readers to know about you? How to connect with you?
Julie: Melissa, thank you. We’ve had such a wonderful time chatting with you during your Bold & Strong Coffee Chat series. I’m on social media, but I think the best place to find me is my author website at julievalerie.com.
Holly: Yes, Melissa, thank you for having us for coffee. I had a super-duper great time! But Julie—I have to ask. Is that it? That’s all you have to say?
Holly: You forgot to mention your author newsletter.
Julie: I have an author newsletter.
Holly: Annnnnd??? Tell them how they can subscribe.
Julie: You can subscribe on my website at julievalerie.com/subscribe. Consider it your once-monthly “inside scoop” into my writing life and the world inside my books. I include glimpses of life inside the Village of Primm, character gossip, village happenings. That sort of thing.
Holly: Good job.
Holly: You’re welcome.
Julie: You can stop talking now.
Holly: Really, Julie? You’re the writer. You created me. You can make me stop talking whenev—
***I Love You More Than Coffee is available for pre-order here.