Her dual identity may not be as closely guarded a secret as Batman/Bruce Wayne, nor is she as coy about it as Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket’s “representative.” But Workman editor-at-large Raquel Jaramillo, also known as Wonder author R.J. Palacio, still needs to finesse something of a costume change when she switches between roles.
“When I go to BEA I have two badges,” the author-editor said. “I turn my badge around: I’m R.J. Palacio on one side, and then when I go to the Workman booth and I’m there promoting my authors, I’m Raquel Jaramillo. It’s great – I like it because I feel like I know who I’m going to be.”
Next week, the Palacio persona will come to the fore, when Knopf releases the e-novella The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story on May 13. It follows the character who Palacio calls “the quote-unquote bully, whose point of view we never heard from in Wonder. He had a story to tell, but since Wonder was all about Auggie Pullman, I couldn’t find a way of getting Julian’s story into the book without his hijacking the narrative.”
Palacio and her publisher, Knopf, had explored the possibility of doing a sequel to Wonder, something the author said she’d resisted because she felt that the novel was a standalone book. But when the idea of doing an e-book came up, she said, “I thought this was an interesting way to tell Julian’s story. It turned out to be a really interesting exploration for me, because while I don’t want to justify or rationalize the character of Julian too much, I think it’s important to remember that everybody has a story. If we can understand bullies and even find a little compassion, even a little tenderness, we can figure out how to fix the problem from both sides.” The e-novella, she said, humanizes Julian in a way, so that readers understand him a bit better.
The character already has captured the attention of Palacio’s readership; she’s received emails and seen tweets in anticipation of the e-book’s release. And educators who teach Wonder in their classrooms, she said, are also intrigued by Julian’s perspective: one popular lesson-plan feature asks students to write from his point of view.
The Julian Chapter is the first component of what Palacio called “an expansion of the Wonder universe.” Next up, to be published on August 26, is 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts, which features inspirational quotes from the likes of Anne Frank, Confucius, and Nelson Mandela, as well as from more than 100 readers worldwide (out of a submission pool of more than 1,200 entries). Interspersed throughout, for each month, are updates on Wonder characters – narrators Auggie, Summer, and Jack, but also others, among them Julian.
With completion of The Julian Chapter and 365 Days, has Palacio done everything she wants to do with Wonder in the publishing sphere? “I think so,” she replied. “I wrote Wonder right after my older son finished fifth grade so it was really fresh in my mind, and a lot of the things he experienced went in there. A lot of the backstories were pulled directly from his life and the lives of the kids in his school.” That fifth grader is now 17, and a senior in high school. “So there is a part of me that wonders, maybe at some point I’ll be writing about Auggie in college,” she said. “I’m not crossing it off the possibility list. But right now I think I’m ready to move on.”
A Project Far, Far Away
Palacio’s next writing venture segues neatly if somewhat unexpectedly from Wonder. Her character Auggie is passionate about Star Wars, making frequent references throughout the book; and in April 2015, Disney-Lucasfilm Press will publish Palacio’s retelling of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. (Adam Gidwitz is reinterpreting The Empire Strikes Back for July 2015, and Tom Angleberger’s retelling of Return of the Jedi is out in October 2015, all leading up to the December 2015 release of the Episode VII film.)
“I was a big fan of the movies growing up,” Palacio said. “I remember where I was when I saw the first Star Wars, which came out when I was 13 years old. I remember the movie theater; I remember who I was with. I’m a total Star Wars fan.” In fact, the author added, when she speaks to kids about Wonder, even before she was hired to write A New Hope, she often likens Auggie’s journey to that of Luke Skywalker.
Palacio’s journey as a writer continues with the forthcoming Pony (formerly That Was the River), which Knopf acquired in a recent deal that included the Wonder companions and a second unrelated novel. Beyond the title and the age range – upper middle-grade, somewhat older than Wonder – she prefer not to discuss the book. “Frankly, what happens is things become trends before you’ve even written something,” she explained, continuing with a somewhat playful example. “If people knew then what they know now about writing about a boy with cranial-facial differences, suddenly the spring list would be full of kids with cranial-facial differences. Suddenly it’s hot. It’s the new vampire.”
Return of the Editor
Though Wonder was written under the name R.J. Palacio, it inevitably changed Raquel Jaramillo’s life, too. She stepped down from her position as director of children’s publishing at Workman last October, and, after a three-month hiatus, returned in February as editor-at-large. She’s in the office “a couple of days a week,” she said, and is about to launch a line of – sensing a theme here? – Star Wars Workbooks, a dozen titles covering reading, writing, and math at various grade levels (“That kept me busy last year,” she said).
Other current Workman projects for the editor include the first two titles in a new board-book series by Barney Saltzberg, Redbird: Colors, Colors, Everywhere and Redbird: Big, Small, Round, and Tall, due out in March 2015. And in June 2015, Cabinets of Curiosity by Gordon Grice “is going to do for natural history what Go! [by Chip Kidd] did for graphic design,” she said. “It’s an explanation of what science is, and what evolution is.”
As Jaramillo’s editorial responsibilities evolve, Palacio’s writerly responsibilities continue. She will travel to Wisconsin on May 20–21 as part of the Fox Cities Reads, program – each year, the region’s public libraries select an author and title and encourage the community to read together; the 2014 pick was Wonder. She also has a number of local engagements in June. “I asked for a little bit of time off for the fall, because I will be going on a book tour for 365 Days of Wonder in October,” she said. “That will be an extensive tour, so I really have to limit how many speaking engagements I can do at schools.”
And there are her own kids to consider – in addition to her 17-year-old, she has a 10-year-old son in fourth grade. “ He’s not quite old enough to be independent yet,” she pointed out. As for her older son, “It’s been a really intense year because seniors in high school have a lot of events leading up to graduation, events that you don’t want to miss as a parent. It’s been tricky trying to finagle speaking engagements having to do with Wonder, making sure that I’m around for my kids and the school year, and also finding time to write these books. Those three months that I took off from Workman were fantastic – I really got to do a lot. But now that I’m back, even if it’s in a part-time capacity, it really is a question of carving out the time and making sure I delegate myself.”
Does that mean Jaramillo – or perhaps Palacio – is a tough boss? Her laugh said it all: “Actually I should be tougher on myself. No, I’m not.”