What if you'd been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you? When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, who she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that's as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her archnemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger). But just when Alice's scores are settled, she goes into remission. Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she's said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she caused irreparable damage to the people around her—and to the one person who matters most? Julie Murphy's Side Effects May Vary is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.
[note: the interview here is a transcript created from the original video interview done by our reporter Maddie]
Fandom: Hi everyone! It’s Maddie and today I’m here with the lovely author of Side Effects May Vary, Miss Julie Murphy!
Julie: Yay, hello!
Julie: I will hold it. Side Effects May Vary is about a girl named Alice who has been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. She’s not such a nice girl, so rather than your average bucket list of doing, ya know, canned food drives and riding horseback on the beach, stuff like that, she decides that she wants to make a bucket list of all the people she needs to have a final word with before she passes away. So there’s lots of revenge, some dirty words said. Alice, by any means possible, completes her list and upon completion of her list, she goes into remission because everything has consequences.
Fandom: If you’ve been on my channel for a while or just about a month, you’ll know I really enjoyed Side Effects May Vary. I will link my Side Effects May Vary Booktalk right here so you can go click on it. Click it. I will also link the liveshow I did with several other booktubers down below. So I will just jump into the questions now. Were you inspired by other sick Lit novels- like The Fault in Our Stars and My Sister’s Keeper- to write this book or were you inspired by real life events?
Julie: Ya know, the story of how I got published is pretty, like, a whirl-wind experience and in order to answer that question, I’ll tell you this really fast. My major in college was political science research and I took a year off before grad school or law school and really deciding what I wanted to do to just write and see what happened. In that year I wrote Side Effects May Vary, I got an agent, and I got a publishing contract. So my life sort of changed in that year and this was all before The Fault in Our Stars came out. So when The Fault in Our Stars hit, it was like, “Oh wow, like, there’s like, there’s this whole avenue opening up for these types of books.” I never really gravitated towards that type of book. I sort of like books that where, like, a character gets hit by a car and it kind of, like, catches you off guard, you know what I mean? Like, I just, I like to be caught off guard in that way. So I never really gravitated toward books with illnesses per say, but I think that cancer is something where, um, we’ve all been touched by it in some way or another. We all know someone who’s had cancer. So it’s a really relatable thing and it’s something that I think a lot of people can relate to. So I had this idea for this girl who just lived her life without consequences and I had to come up with a situation to where she felt comfortable doing that and what better than a terminal illness.
Fandom: I really liked how you did that because Alice felt just so real to me and in most books they’re kind of like, “Oh well, I have cancer, now I have to be an angel and, like, do everything good.” But in this, she really doesn’t care about the consequences and towards the end she finally goes through that character development that I really enjoyed.
Julie: Growing up, I was not, like, a really wonderful teenager. I, ya know, I barely graduated high school, I was, like, in and out of class all the time, I was horrible to my parents. I really wanted to write someone who would’ve felt authentic to me as a teenager and so if I had been told that I had this terminal illness and my life was gonna end before I even hit 20, I would be very angry and upset because I would feel very shorthanded. And so I wanted to write a character who felt authentic in that way.
Fandom: My second question is: Were you afraid to let Alice into the world because she has some unlikable traits?
Julie: This is embarrassing, I can’t believe I’m saying this. I didn’t know Alice was so unlikable until my editor told me. Because when you spend so much time with a character, it turns into the norm. I’ve read books narrated by characters who do really horrible things, like are murderers or just other types of horrible things, and you get so used to it that it doesn’t faze you when they do those things. I spent so much time with Alice writing Alice that it came to the point where it wasn’t Alice had all these horrible traits, it was just Alice being Alice, you know what I mean? So I got really used to it. We definitely scaled some things back. But it was still really, really scary because people say that they want to see authentic and sometimes even unlikable characters, or antiheroes, but sometimes they’re not prepared to deal with the reality of it. So it was scary but I don’t regret anything and I’m really pleased with Alice.
Fandom: I liked Alice. I mean, she was real to me. She just did some things that real people would do. I liked how she also did some good things along with the bad and so it kind of balanced itself out.
Julie: A big thing in constructing Alice is that I really thought a lot about how as people, usually our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. Even with Harvey, his greatest strength is his unconditional love, but it’s also his greatest weakness. So that was really important to me in building Alice. So you’ll see that the way she that treats Harvey can sometimes be horrible, but sometimes that exact thing, that exact fierceness is also her greatest strength.
Fandom: So my next question is: Side Effects May Vary and Dumplin’, your book that’s going to be coming out next year, are both contemporary novels, do you think you’ll ever venture out into other genres?
Julie: I was actually just talking to someone about this at the RT Book Fair. I read a lot of contemporary, I do, but I also read a lot of adult books. But in YA, my biggest sweet spot that I really love is paranormal and fantasy, which is surprising. When I sit down to write, it’s always contemporary. But sometimes I drift into magical realism and I do have this project that I work on just for me when I’m only not on a deadline and I just have time for myself. It’s just a really fun thing that I’ve always loved to work on and it’s definitely, ya know, more like circus-y. Just totally different from anything I’ve ever written before. So sometimes. Maybe someday.
Fandom: Awesome! I’d love to read it!
Fandom: My last question is: What is your favorite part of the writing process and what’s your least favorite part?
Julie: I’ll start with my least favorite part. My least favorite part is that I work from home, so there’s, like, I worked since I was 16, so I always had a work schedule. I always left work. When you’re writing and you’re working from home, there’s no such thing as leaving work. There’s no such thing as office hours. So you never have time off. Your brain is always working. It’s a really wonderful thing but it’s also a really hard thing because you can never, like, I can’t even read a book anymore and just be a reader. I’m always thinking from an author’s perspective of like, “What’s going on?” “What’s happening?” “Was this an editor’s decision or an author’s decision?” So the thing that I most enjoy has almost been a little ruined by it. But, you know, it’s hard to get that balance of closing your office door at home and just saying like, “I’m done now. I’m gonna go spend time with my family. This is enough.”
Julie: I’d say that my favorite part so far has been the community. It feels like this whole missing link of my life has been, like, unveiled to me. All these people have been so incredible and so welcoming and so kind and I’ve created lifelong friends in the last couple years that I wouldn’t have otherwise met. So definitely the community has been really huge. You know, just the relationship I’ve created with my editor and it’s really cool to finally meet someone who just trusts you to create something.
Fandom: That’s great. Authors just seem so nice to me. You’re so nice and everyone I’ve met today has just been so nice.
Julie: Well you’re so nice!
Fandom: Thank you! Everyone has just been so wonderful and it just seems like every author has this love of books and each other. It’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for doing an interview with me!
Julie: Thank you!
INTERVIEW WITH JULIE MURPHY