August 2009


Lawyer Julie James decided to write full-time after two of her screenplays were optioned by Hollywood producers. She has since written three novels, Just the Sexiest Man Alive, Practice Makes Perfect, and Something About You, which will be released in March 2010. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son and is working on her fourth novel. For more information, visit (Interview by Annmarie Ottman.)

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  1. What made you decide to leave the practice of law to write full-time?

    It was not an easy decision. I started my writing career with screenplays, and after two of my scripts were optioned to producers, I began to think, hmm ... maybe this is actually something I could do full-time. Still, I struggled with the decision for over a year. But as much as I loved practising law, I love writing that much more. And I felt that if I didn't take the chance at writing, I'd look back one day and regret it.

  2. How did your first book deal come about?

    My first book, Just the Sexiest Man Alive, was originally written as a screenplay called The Andrews Project. A producer optioned the script, but unfortunately the movie didn't get made. After the option expired, my film agent suggested that I turn the script into a book. At the time I thought, "A book? But that's, like, 300 pages." But I sat down, wrote the book - no clue what I was doing or if it was any good - and when I was done, I sent it off to my film agent. He liked it and sent it to a literary agent friend of his, who offered to represent me. A couple of months later I had a two-book deal with Berkley. I can't tell you how exciting that moment was for me, to know that the story I'd been working on for several years was finally going to make it out into the public.

  3. What inspired the storyline of Practice Makes Perfect?

    Practice Makes Perfect is very, very loosely based on my own experiences working at a law firm. There was a male associate in my group who was the same year as me, and we were both well-respected and considered to be "on the right track". My group had never before made two associates partner in the same year, and I wondered what would happen when we came up for consideration at the same time. From there my extremely over-active imagination kicked in, and Practice Makes Perfect was born. (And here the lawyer in me pauses to reiterate that the book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons ... well, you know the drill.)

  4. Which actors would you choose to play Payton and J.D. in a movie adaptation?

    This is always a tough question to answer because I know, as a reader, that I want to be able to picture the characters my own way, not the way someone else pictures them. And I'll also say that when I write my heroes and heroines, I never have an actor or actress in mind - they are these unique people just sort of hanging out in my head. In casting Payton and J.D., I think they'd have to get an actor and actress who can play well off each other and be funny, but who we can also take seriously in the law firm setting.

  5. What was it like to write a book set in your hometown?

    I loved it - so much so that I decided to set my third book in Chicago as well. It's great for a lot of reasons: first of all - it saves me time having to do location research. Second, and more important, I love being able to showcase Chicago because it's such an amazing city. I use a lot of actual locations and landmarks in the book - bars, restaurants, Wrigley Field, the federal courthouse - and hopefully those scenes capture the essence of the city.

  6. Do you ever think about what happens to your characters after you've finished your novel?

    Always. With every book or screenplay I've written, I've mapped out a sequel, or part of one, in my head.

  7. Tell us about your next book.

    My third book, titled Something About You, releases March 2. It's about a female assistant US attorney who witnesses a high-profile murder involving a US senator. The FBI agent assigned to the investigation is a man from her past that she doesn't get along with. The proverbial sparks fly as she and the FBI agent work together on the case, and even more so when it turns out that the killer might be after her. It's another romantic comedy set in Chicago, although I do sneak in a thrill or two with this one.

  8. Can you see yourself writing a novel outside the legal arena?

    Sure - in my fourth book, which I'm outlining right now, neither the heroine nor hero are lawyers.

  9. What are the crucial ingredients for a romance novel?

    To me, it's all about chemistry. There has to be that initial spark. Then I love it when, for whatever reason, the heroine and hero resist that spark. I love banter, tons of back and forth dialogue between the heroine and hero, because to me that signifies that they "get" each other - that they see each other as equals. And, really ... isn't banter just a form of foreplay? ;-)

  10. What do you have in common with your heroines?

    Hmm .... Well, to start, all my heroines thus far (with the exception of the book I'm writing now) are lawyers. They also love shoes, are from or live in Chicago, and are around my age. Personality-wise, I think we share a lot of the same attributes, which hopefully is a good thing.

  11. Did you base the character of Jason Andrews (from Just the Sexiest Man Alive) on a particular celebrity?

    Because the book has lots of back and forth dialogue between the male and female leads in the vein of older, black and white romantic comedies, I sort of envisioned Jason as this charming Cary Grant-esque type hero. But, being a celebrity now is very different than it was back then, with the paparazzi and the tabloid magazines and everything, so to capture those elements I needed to make Jason an actor with the star power of someone along the lines of Brad Pitt. And what's funny is that several people who have read the book think Jason is based on George Clooney. So apparently, in Hollywood terms, Cary Grant + Brad Pitt = George Clooney. Certainly works for me.

  12. Which authors have inspired you through your life?

    My biggest influence as a writer would have to be Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice. I love the dynamic and chemistry between Elizabeth and Darcy, the will-they-or-won't-they tension, the fact that she has no problem telling him off and how that only makes him adore her more. In terms of contemporary fiction, I recently discovered Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and love her sense of humor. Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is an amazing writer. Pat Conroy and Khaled Hosseini write books that grab hold and just stay with me. Oh - back when I was younger - the Trixie Belden books, which were one of my earliest experiences with a headstrong, leading female character.

  13. Do you still get a buzz when you see one of your books on a bookstore shelf?

    Heck, yes! I can't imagine that ever getting old.

  14. Which five fictional characters would you most like to invite to a dinner party?

    Wow, that's a great question. Let's start with Mr Darcy. And then Indiana Jones. Bridget Jones (just because I think she'd be a blast), Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles (because he made my pre-teen heart flutter in that scene where he shows up at the church in his red Porsche), and lastly, Jay Gatsby. How would that be for some interesting dinner conversation ...?

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