The Short Version:
A native to the Chicago suburbs, I was a school librarian for more than ten years (old much?) until I quit to be a stay-at-home-mom-slash-author. I live with my sweetheart husband, illustrator Matthew Cordell, and our two kids, Romy and Dean. In my spare time I like to imagine I have spare time.
The Looooooong Version:
I was born in suburban Chicago on January 14 a Capricorn. Both of my parents were teachers; my mom a pre-school music teacher and my dad a high school special education teacher. I was called both “precocious” and “gifted” for a good portion of my early life. The “gifted,” tag allowed me wonderful and fun pullout classes and summer school throughout my years of education. Gifted students even had a different high school advisor than the other kids! I lost the precociousness somewhere around puberty. The gifted part? I think you only really feel gifted when people keep telling you you're gifted.
The best gift my parents ever gave me was my sister, Amy, born the day Reagan was elected president, November 4, 1980. I have always been a protective older sister, and the two of us, despite the six-year age difference, were always best friends. That’s why I played Barbie’s well into high school. See my Barbie Family Portrait from photography class.
Seeing as I am now a writer and a librarian, it’s interesting to note that I never really considered myself a writer or a reader. Looking back, I can see where these things were a huge part of my life, just maybe not in the traditional sense. Even though I wasn’t a novelist at that point, I was always writing.
I was an amazing pen pal. I saved every letter I ever got, which are now in boxes in my basement. My favorite letters to read, however, are the ones I sent to my sister while she was at summer camp. Much braver than I, Amy went away for several summers, where I wrote her letters almost every day. She brought the letters home, and I read them over and over and laughed at how funny I was. Seriously. With this whole internet thing, I lost most of the penpaliness of life, although I do have some international pen pals from my travels. My longest-running pen pal was a boy named Andy from Iowa, who I met on a family fishing trip. We wrote letters from before I entered junior high through my junior year of college, when he showed up in my college town, left me a phone message, and then I never heard from him again. Click here for the full story (as told in my zine cul-de-sac). UPDATE: I found Andy on Facebook in 2010! Huzzah for this whole internet thing!
Besides letters, I loved writing stories for my friends. On Saturday nights in high school when I wasn’t babysitting, I sat at my family’s typewriter (We had an Apple 2GS computer, but I liked the typewriter sounds much better) and typed stories in which my friends’ crushes actually liked them. They were elaborate tales of love and desire at Buffalo Grove High School. Where these stories are now, I do not know. If anyone has one, please burn it. Yeah, I did a lot of dorky things in high school. My friends and I made up a complete fantasy life, where we wrote each other letters from distant lands and lived with rock stars. The letters were so elaborate, complete with fake hotel stationery. All of this, along with my depressing, pathetic journals of yore that I will never open again, added up to a lot of me writing without really feeling like a writer.
I went to college at the University of Wisconsin Madison. I didn’t really want to go to college, but I didn’t know what else to do. School was always relatively easy for me, and I liked the idea of exploring what a big school had to offer. And I did. I took Ceramics (and made the most hideous patchwork flowerpot EVER). I took Norwegian (For one semester. Don’t expect me to understand any of you Norwegians out there, unless you’re swearing, counting, or getting dressed). And I took creative writing. Again, it wasn’t because I thought I was a writer. It was just because I liked to write. I graduated with my double major in Communication Arts (Radio, TV, Film), and Women’s Studies. What to do next? Naturally, I moved to Australia.
Ever since I saw Dot and the Kangaroo, I was fascinated with the different culture and animals of Australia. I worked at a video store during college, and there I explored all of the wonderfully sincere Australian films. I didn’t have any career goals, so I applied for a working holiday visa, and eight months later, I moved to Oz. It was the bravest thing I have ever done in my life[Although, I think giving birth without pain meds comes pretty damn close]. The only people I knew there were friends of a guy I met while working in a public library in Madison. I stayed with the friends for three days, and then I was on my own. I traveled. I camped (which is my version of hell). I made loads of foreign friends (and even got to speak some Norwegian). It was fabulous but left me a little homesick. Six months later, I returned home to Illinois.
After working in several libraries, I decided to get my master’s degree in Library and Information Science. This was also not something I ever dreamed of doing as a career. I read fewer books than I did comics and magazines, mainly because I was a slow reader with a fast brain. But I am a firm believer that reading is reading. As a school librarian, I practiced what I preached, supplying comics, magazines, fluff, and all the good stuff to my middle schoolers. I don’t think I relate to anyone more than I do to thirteen year-olds. It’s the combination of their honesty, confusion, and drama. And we have the same sense of humor. Now I read a lot and take as long as I want to finish books and enjoy indulging in occasional audiobooks (after overloading from spending two years on the YALSA Selected Audiobooks Committee.)
While living in Chicago, I met my amazing husband, Matthew Cordell. To see how we met, click on the zines link and read the article “How I Met My Husband: A Zine Love Story.” He really is my best friend, traveling companion, creative inspiration, and lounging buddy. We moved out of the city when I decided I couldn’t take the noise and smells any longer (I have bionic senses). Our house is in a town ten minutes away from the Illinois/Wisconsin border, which makes a lot of drives feel like mini vacations. I love it.
I started writing with an actual purpose after college when I created the zine, cul-de-sac, with my friend, Liz, and my own zine, Get Well Soon (which later turned into my novel). Toby and the Snowflakes (my first picture book) was created with the desire to collaborate with Matt. It was with my first novel, Get Well Soon, that I could finally recognize that I am, and have always been, a writer.
When I’m not writing, I love to travel. Most of the money I save (that's not for my kids' college tuition or the impending implosion of my fifteen year-old car) goes toward vacations, and it never feels squandered. I have been to forty-six states, Australia, Denmark, Italy, England and Canada. My dream life would be spent on a never-ending road trip (with a home to stop at whenever I want). I never feel happier than when I am on the road, awaiting the next crazy museum or welcoming town. I get dreamy just writing this.
There’s probably more I should add, but this is already really long. For those who stuck with it and read all the way to this part: thank you. And now for even more Julie trivia…
While I was an undergraduate film major, I interned on my then favorite TV show, Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete and Pete. I lived on people’s couches for the summer in New York City and did various tasks for the show. Remember Nona and her arm cast? One of my jobs was to find a doctor to make her a removable cast. I found one who did it for free, trading for autographed pictures to give his kids.
I have had several tiny brushes with fame.
I am the Webmaster of this site (I was also a Dungeon Master for many years), with my husband as the website's artist. Let me know what you think of the site.
Haven’t learned enough about me yet? Email me with your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2013 Julie Halpern