Army doctor and LDS convert Brandon Shepherd shares his sister Kristen’s talent for keeping a level head, and his newfound faith gives him steady strength during times of turmoil. But when he and fellow doctor Rachel Fields are seized as Iraqi prisoners of war, he faces a crisis of personal integrity that may cost him his life."I enjoyed Julie's other books and this was no exception. The characters were well developed and it was interesting to have a glimpse into the soldier's life in Iraq. I could tell she did a tremendous amount of research, spending a lot of time interviewing Matthew Blair who served in Iraq. I enjoyed reading the descriptions of the military base. In the end, I wish the plot had been more developed. I enjoy the writing style and would easily have read another hundred pages. This is a good book especially if you are looking for one that is a fast read. I'll be interested in reading the next book by Julie Bellon.
I asked Julie a few questions about her book and her writing.
You often use foreign locations in your books and they seem authentic when I read them. What is it like trying to make foreign places seem real in your writing when you have never been there?
Julie: I have been to many of the foreign places I've used as settings in my books. I loved reliving my vacation memories for my story! For the places that I haven't been to, I do extensive research to make sure I have an accurate picture so people will feel like they are there. I love to travel, though, and hope to see many more countries and places before my life is over.
Tell us about "Skittles for Soldiers"? Have you had a good response so far?
Julie: Corporal Matthew Blair and the Nemesis squad are heroes to me, doing the best they can to protect others. These soldiers endure sandstorms that look like something out of the Mummy movies and rainstorms that sink trucks turret-deep in mud. They share meager meals with and have been hugged by Iraqi soldiers with tears in their eyes, and been cheered by villagers and schoolchildren who truly understand that the men and women of our country are there to give them freedom and keep them safe from fanatics. It is sobering to hear about, and made me appreciate their experiences in a way I never had before.
"Because of this, my book took on a special meaning and I really wanted to do justice to the men and women serving there. I took real experiences and incorporated them into my story, like the joy at receiving a care package from home that had something as ordinary as Skittles or a cup of noodles in it as well as the fear these men and women face in wondering if they will ever see their loved ones again. But then I took it a step further. I partnered with the charity Operation: Care and Comfort, (www.operationcareandcomfort.org) an organization, affiliated with the Red Cross, that sends care packages to military men and women serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflict regions. I really wanted to give back something---even if (it was a little something, to thank these people for the sacrifices they’ve made and this seemed to be the perfect way to do it.
I have had a great response to my Skittles for Soldiers campaign. I wish you could see my family room right now because it is practically overflowing with the donated items people have given for our troops that will be sent to them in care packages. I got involved with Operation: Care and Comfort during the research for my new book, All's Fair. Talking with the soldiers who were serving in Iraq really gave me perspective on how much something from home can mean to all the men and women who are serving overseas. I'm thrilled to be able to give something back to them and thank them for their service and sacrifice. For anyone who is interested you can find more information on how you can help at their website: www.operationcareandcomfort.org
What are you working on next?
Julie: I turned in my next novel about a French undercover agent who finds out about a plot that will potentially kill thousands of people, but before she can tell anyone, she is branded a traitor and forced to go on the run. She does meet up with a character from my current book All's Fair, and I had a great time exploring his story further. I'm just really excited about this book, and of course, having been to France, I loved having that beautiful country as my backdrop.
Now that you've published several books, give us one piece of advice you wish you had known as a beginning writer.
Julie: Well, before I became a published author, I was an editor at a publishing company and whenever I saw a manuscript it was generally obvious which writers had taken the time to put forth their best effort and had gone through and edited their manuscript and which ones had not. My advice to beginning writers is to find a writers group or at least a few people that can read your work and give you honest opinions on where you can improve your story, where your strengths are, and what they liked and didn't like. It is invaluable to have that kind of feedback before you submit because your revisions will make your story that much stronger which will hopefully get your work that much closer to publication. It's also nice to have the manuscript be as well-edited as you can get it, because when you submit it, those you are submitting to can really see that you believe in this project, that this is your best effort, and it's something they will want to look twice at.
I know you were raised in Canada, so what is your favorite Canadian treat?
Julie: Which treat is my favorite? That's a really hard question! I love Caramilk, Big Turk, Mr. Big, All-Dressed chips, and Shreddies cereal. But those are just a few. It's too hard to pick just one or two! I really miss Canadian food and am so grateful my mother is able to get care packages down to me every so often.
Thanks Julie. It was nice talking with you. You can order All's Fair here.