The Central Ohio writer found a niche writing for tweens.
Close to two decades have elapsed since Central Ohio author Julia DeVillers burst onto the tween literary scene with her 2002 debut, “GirlWise: How to Be Confident, Capable, Cool, and in Control,” which offered advice on topics ranging from acne to budgeting.
Although many of the book’s first readers are now mothers themselves, DeVillers’ sweet spot continues to be writing for ages 8-12. The Albany, New York, native’s titles include “How My Private, Personal Journal Became a Bestseller,” the Liberty Porter, First Daughter series and the new UltraSquad graphic-novel series from Justice Studios.
DeVillers and her husband, David, a U.S. attorney, have two children, daughter Quinn and son Jack. Stay tuned for a true-crime project that departs from her usual tween turf.
How did you get started in tween books?
I’ve always been a huge book nerd—loved books, loved reading, loved to write.
When I started writing … I wrote a nonfiction advice book for teen girls on all of the things that I wish somebody had told me about when I was a teenager, and I interviewed experts. While I was doing that, I just realized I not only resonated with the audience, but apparently I had to channel a 12-year-old girl very well. I can really get into the minds of kids that age, so I really wanted to write for them and with them. I also keep in touch with them by doing focus groups and having kids contribute to my books.Get top reads, event recommendations, guides, parenting trends and more ideas for family fun. Subscribe to Columbus Parent’s weekly e-newsletter, The Bulletin.
Was it a leap of faith to go into fiction?
It really was. I did not think of myself as a novelist. Then my twin sister had a baby and I flew out [to Saratoga, New York]. The baby was in the ICU, and I had none of my notes and I didn’t really have the research for the nonfiction book I was doing, so I sat down and I honestly wrote the novel. I guess it was the book of my heart, and it was called “How My Private, Personal Journal Became a Bestseller.”
What are the challenges of writing fiction for tweens?
The world around you is always changing, and kids are very savvy. They’re smart, they know so much, especially these days with all the access that they have to the internet, social media. The pressures are new. The pressures are different, but honestly, the emotions and feelings are evergreen. Tapping into the emotions, but expressing them in the way that kids today would, is a challenge but also a joy.
Do you remember what your favorite books were growing up?
My favorite children’s book of all time—my grandmother had it on her shelf—was “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E.L. Konigsburg. It was about a suburban girl who runs away to live in New York City, and she sleeps in the Metropolitan Museum of Art because she wants something interesting in her life. Of course, you can say that young Julia, living in suburban Albany, New York, was really looking for that excitement and adventure and to really be somebody.
Prior to UltraSquad, had you ever worked on a graphic novel before?
No. I’ve worked in fiction, nonfiction, younger kids all the way up through college age, and I’ve helped consult on graphic novels and some comic books. But this is the first time I actually got to be an author on one myself.
How does it work doing a graphic novel?
I have a lot of friends who are graphic novelists—very award-winning friends who do this—so I picked everyone’s brain.
Of course, everybody has their own way of doing it, so with UltraSquad, my illustrator is Rafael Rosado, who is phenomenal.
My strong points in writing children’s books are authentic characters and dialogue, so graphic novels have been really fun because I don’t have to do what I consider the less natural part of the job, which is writing out the setting. I go, “Bam!” And I write it as a script.
Do your kids have opinions on your work?
I am the mom that pulled out the snack tray, the tray of chips and sweets and fruits and popcorn, sat down and [said], “Hey, can I ask you guys a couple of questions?”
Are you tempted to do a book for an older readership?
I just got back from L.A. I’m working on a couple adult projects. One is in the true-crime genre, so that’s obviously a huge departure, but I live with that given what my husband does. And the other one is a TV show that is possibly in motion, so stay tuned.
Has motherhood changed your writing?
It really brings home all of the issues—when I’m writing about it, to see your kids living through [it].
The best part of it … is to see my kids with a book or watching a show that my friends create. I get to see the end result, too, which is really fulfilling. And I say, “Oh, my daughter loves your book,” or “My daughter watches your show.”
A shorter version of this Q&A appears in the Winter 2019 issue of Columbus Parent.