Friday, February 26, 2016

Interview with Julie Christine Johnson, Author of In Another Life + Giveaway! (US/Can only)

I'd like to welcome Julie Christine Johnson to the blog today to celebrate the exciting release of In Another Life from Sourcebooks Landmark!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Julie! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief introduction with us?

Julie Christine Johnson is the author of the novels In Another Life and The Crows of Beara (September 2017, Ashland Creek Press). Her short stories and essays have appeared in several journals, including Emerge Literary Journal, Mud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt, the anthologies Stories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss and featured on the flash fiction podcast, No Extra Words. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and Psychology and a Master’s in International Affairs.

A runner, hiker, and wine geek, Julie makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state with her husband. In Another Life is her first novel.

It's amazing to get to feature you today! Readers, here's a bit about the book, which just hit shelves earlier this month:

It is January 1208 and in a village on the border between Provence and Languedoc, a monk whispers a benediction over the body of a slain papal emissary. The Cathars—followers of a heretical faith—are blamed for the assassination. The Pope declares a holy war and Languedoc is forever changed.

Eight hundred years later, historian Lia Carrer returns to southern France to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. Instead of finding solace in Languedoc’s quiet hills and medieval ruins, the woman trying to heal risks love, and loss, again.

Reincarnation is familiar ground for Lia—an expert in the mystical beliefs of the ancient Cathar faith—but to reconcile the truth of that long-ago assassination, the logical researcher must accept religious fantasy as historical fact.Three lost souls enter her life, each holding a key to the murder that launched a religious crusade in the heart of Europe.

In Another Life is set amidst the medieval intrigue of thirteenth century Languedoc and Paris, intertwined with Lia's modern quest to uncover the truth of an ancient murder and free a man haunted by ghosts from his past.

Describe In Another Life in six words (or less!).

Time-slip French mystery/love story.

How did you arrive at writing historical fiction? Are there any other genres you’d like to try your hand at, or any you want to stay away from?

In truth, In Another Life is a fantasy built on a scaffolding of historical fact. This allowed me poetic license with the plot, but I wanted to honor the historical details of daily life. And the story itself gave me very little choice. There’s just no way to capture the spirit of Languedoc without showing how it’s been shaped by history.

I’m a voracious reader, much of it historical fiction and non-fiction, so in many ways, sinking into another era felt very natural.

My second novel, The Crows of Beara, is set in contemporary southwest Ireland, but has a thread of magical realism—an ancient Irish legend—woven through. My third novel, which I’ve just handed over to my agent, takes place in contemporary New Zealand. No Middle Earth, though I made my Lord of the Rings pilgrimages while living there!

But I would love to return to medieval France; I’m researching a sequel to In Another Life now—another past-present narrative, with Lia leading the way.

What was the inspiration for the book?

I’ve lived in and traveled throughout France, so it seems natural that my first novel would come from this place that is my heart’s second home. In the spring of 2011, my husband and I spent a few weeks in Languedoc, and we fell under the spell of its haunting beauty and history. We spent our days clambering around medieval ruins and our evenings reading up on local history while sharing a bottle of gorgeous Languedoc wine. I had no idea at the time that I was researching a novel, but I left with a mental image I couldn’t shake: a woman standing on a cliff’s edge; below her stretches a valley laced with vineyards and studded with wind towers. Behind her, a man steps out from the ruins of a Cathar citadel. I was aching to find out who they were. Then I read about the Cathars’ belief in reincarnation and I knew I had my way in to the story.

As a huge fan of first lines, I'd love to hear the first line of In Another Life. Could you give us a brief commentary on it?
Eighteen months after her husband’s death, Lia Carrer returned to Languedoc like a shadow in search of light.
I wanted to show, in one image, a woman alone, full of grief, yet moving toward hope. I’m so proud of this line, for it gives the who, when, where, what and it hints at why in fewer than twenty words! I had it buried down in the fourth or fifth paragraph of the first chapter and my writing group said, “Um, Julie? This sentence here? That’s your first line.” Done.

It was fated to be! Tell us about your road to publication, such as how you first queried, unexpected challenges, and things you picked up along the way.

Mine is a bit of a faerie tale. But it’s proof that not every writer has a long and terrible road ahead. I began writing fiction in 2011, after taking a series of writing workshops in Seattle. Buoyed by early success in having short stories published, I went to a writers’ conference in June 2012 and it was there I realized I could, I must, try to write the story that was nattering around my brain. Two weeks later I wrote the first words of a novel that became In Another Life.

After two years of writing and revising, I ended September 2014 with a draft of In Another Life that I felt was ready to query. I’d researched literary agents, compiled a query spreadsheet, and drafted and redrafted my query letter. Before I sent out any letters, however, I decided to give in-person pitching a go. I attended a writers’ conference in October, and there I met the two women who would, a few weeks later, become my agent (Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary), and the editor of In Another Life, (Anna Michels, Sourcebooks).

What I learned along the way is that developing a writing practice, and for me that means writing every single day, was critical to my success—the success of completing a first draft. I had to plan for my writing time, schedule it, guard it jealously. A writer must write. A writer must read. And a writer must send her work into the world, hear “No” over and over again, pick herself up each time, rinse and repeat. Although my first novel was quickly signed and set on the road to publication, I have stacks of rejections for other work. Those Nos are badges of honor because each one represents belief in myself, and if feedback is offered, they are learning experiences that make me a better writer.

Be prepared for rejection, but do not see it as failure. That agent, publisher, journal wasn’t a good fit for your work or your work isn’t quite ready. Revise if necessary and keep going.

That's an amazing journey, and what fortune you had in meeting those two at the conference! Are the characters from your book based off anyone you know in real life? How much else of your actual life gets written into your fiction?

I just went through the Rolodex of my characters and I can think of only one short story—a work-in-progress—in which the characters are based on real people. What is very present in my writing, however, is deeply personal themes. For example, Lia is acutely claustrophobic. So is the author. I haven’t been in an elevator in years. The character in my third novel is coping with child loss and has immigrated to New Zealand, both of which I have experienced. And I often write about how place changes and shapes us. My characters undergo major life upheavals and sortings-out once they leave the United States, when they are forced to confront themselves away from familiar social and cultural norms.

I love how many personal themes run through your characters—that's the beauty of each individual writer! Which character from In Another Life was most difficult to write?

Lucas. In earlier drafts he was far more sinister, but as I got to know him and fleshed out the story, I realized I wanted a more ambivalent, richer character, someone who had made poor choices, had done terrible things, but who was not inherently evil. One of the major themes of In Another Life is redemption and through that I came to develop affection for and a desire to forgive Lucas.

Name the top five novels that have made the biggest impact on your life or on your writing.

As a child, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, which lit the fire of my determination to be a writer, and C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, which filled me with the wonder and joy of storytelling. As an adult, every word written by Jane Austen, for her sense of humor, the sheer beauty of her sentences, the way she can tell the most delicious and satisfying of stories; Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, for its strong, sensual women and breathtaking world-building; and Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. This novel made me crave to put words on paper. I read it years before I began writing, but it nudged open the door of my writer’s heart.

Blog babes, click "Read more" to find out Julie's random favorites, her best writing and personal advice, and what makes In Another Life stand out as a book from all the rest. We're also hosting a giveaway for a finished copy of In Another Life, so you don't want to miss that either!

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Some randomness...

Favorite kind of chocolate? Dark, milk, white, coffee-flavored, the kind with nuts or berries inside?? Dark. Like, 85% dark. Dark to make your toes curl and your hair stand on end.

Ugh. We have the same chocolate tastes! All-time favorite quote? “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” — Barry Lopez

Most romantic thing a guy has ever said to or done for you? Two and a half years ago, when my day job fell apart, my husband said, “Just write. Stop fighting it, stop worrying about the money. You are a writer. This is an opportunity. Go, write.” He is my champion.

He really is! Currently reading? Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear; W.S. Merwin, The First Four Books of Poems; Virgina Woolf, The Voyage Out.

Currently wearing? Okay. So I hate shopping. I have no sense of style. I live in yoga pants. But I knew, with author appearances on the horizon, I had to step it up. Have you heard of Stitch Fix? It’s an online styling site that allows you to schedule your fashion needs. A stylist selects five pieces and you decide which to keep. Stitch Fix has saved my unfashionable behind! I can’t love them enough. Currently wearing the most comfortable pair of skinny jeans ever and a darling top, courtesy of Stitch Fix, and a comfy sweater hoodie from Eddie Bauer my husband gave me for Christmas.

I've got to check it out! Biggest celebrity crush? Helen Mirren. Strong, intelligent, sexy. As I approach 50, my role models are women aging with style and fierce attitudes.

YES, this. Guiltiest pleasure? Gladiator. Russell Crowe in a tunic. Ancient Rome. I’m not about to tell you how many times I’ve watched this film.

What did you want to grow up to be when you were little? A writer. Seriously. It just took me until I was 41 to get started.

Better late than never, right? Go-to comfort food? Popcorn doused in olive oil and sprinkled with Maldon salt.

That sounds soo yummy. Charity or cause of choice? Literacy education, particularly for women and girls in the developing world. Lifting up the most vulnerable empowers us all.

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Out of all the fantastic books out there, what makes In Another Life stand out from the rest?

It can be enjoyed on so many different levels, by so many different types of readers: as a mystery, a history, a love story, an homage to Languedoc and Paris. In Another Life has some pretty dense themes: grief, religious persecution, cultural identity; but really, I just want you to pour a glass of great wine, put some Debussy on low, curl up in a fleecy blanket, and enjoy.

Give aspiring writers a piece of advice you wish you had known before getting published.

It takes a village to publish a book. No matter which path to publishing you take, traditional or independent, you cannot do it alone. Find mentors—writers at different stages of their careers—and listen, watch, learn. Ask questions, be humble, and don’t wait—reach out now. Writers’ blogs, Facebook groups, Twitter chats are all great resources for connecting with writers and finding your tribe. Reach out in both directions—up and back. Always be willing to help someone right behind you.

And always, always be working on your next story. Don’t sit hitting refresh on your e-mail when you begin sending out queries or your novel is on submission with editors. The process can take months, a couple of years, even. Always be writing the next book. The first thing my now-agent asked me after reading and expressing enthusiasm for In Another Life was, “What else do you have?” I sent her a draft of my second novel and I had an offer of representation by the end of the week.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?

Loneliness. Fear. Anxiety. Isolation. Debt. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Coffee breath.

Thinking that talking to the cat constitutes conversation.

So on point, LOL! What are your goals as a writer?

To explore new voices and styles in my writing and continue my study and writing of poetry; to write beautiful, engaging stories; to teach and give back to my writing and reading community; to get to know my readers, learn from and delight them; to use my voice for women and girls fighting for their rights to education and economic parity.

What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?

Seeing my work reaching readers is a thrill beyond all words. I can ask for nothing more than this. What a gift of grace. Some of my greatest joy now is found in teaching writing. I lead weekly "works-in-progress" workshops and offer other writing workshops locally, and I’ve recently started taking writing clients for coaching/mentoring, story/developmental editing and query letter/synopsis work. I love helping other writers realize their dreams and sharing what I’ve learned to make the road easier for them.

What’s next for you?

My second novel is now 18 months from publication. I’ve learned how quickly that interim between offer and publication passes, so there will be no down time. I’m working through revisions now with my publisher, and that will continue until early autumn. This spring I’ll also being revising my third novel before my agent sends it “on submission” to publishers. Possibly an expanded book tour in the spring and summer (if you’ve got a great independent bookstore near you, let me know! I’d love to visit). Researching and preliminary writing for a sequel to In Another Life, which would include—fingers and toes crossed—a trip to France in the fall.

That sounds exciting, I can't wait! We have fabulous indie bookstores in the Bay Area—if you're nearby, we'd love to have you visit! Where can you be found on the web?

Before we conclude this interview, is there anything you'd like to ask our readers?

If you could hop a flight to any place on earth—don’t worry about the money!—where would you go, and why?

It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you better today, Julie! Thank you again for dropping by, and best of luck with future endeavors!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of In Another Life—woohoo! To enter, all you have to do is answer Julie's question:
If you could hop a flight to any place on earth—don’t worry about the money!—where would you go, and why?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Julie and I really want to hear your thoughts! :)

Completely factoring the money out of it, I'd head to a glamorous European supercity like Paris or Copenhagen!

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publicist and author—a huge thank you to the lovely Suzy Missirlian and Julie Christine Johnson!
Giveaway ends March 11th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US and Canada residents only. Sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar on the right for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!