Today, I’m delighted to welcome very interesting fellow Champagne author Jude Johnson into the Author Spotlight. Jude’s first novel, Dragon & Hawk, was published a few months ago and it introduced me completely to another time and way of life.
It’s always fascinating to read about an unfamiliar period of history through fiction and Dragon & Hawk takes the reader right into the later part of 19th century Arizona. The story is rich in historical detail, from the dangerous conditions in the mines to the saucy girls in the local saloon. The excellent characterisation of the three very different Welsh brothers drives the story forward. Each brother is carefully depicted but it is Evan Jones, the dragon of the title, we follow most closely in this book as he seeks to find his true love, the Senora.
The Senora herself is an interesting character – a curandera, a healer, and the hawk of the title. Their love is never straightforward and is hard-won but they are meant to be together. The author doesn’t spare the grittier details of life, the hardship and cruelty, but the characters feel like real people who lived and loved in those difficult times. An added bonus, or distraction, depending on your taste, is the addition of Spanish and Welsh phrases throughout the story, but they are always understandable and add to the authenticity of the period. Dragon & Hawk is an enthralling read!
Jude kindly agreed to answer the following questions.
Do you prefer to write (and read) historical fiction?
At the moment for writing, yes. I’m a Gemini, so I change my minds (my multiple personalities have multiple personalities) rather often, but so far writing history enthrals me. Though I have dipped my nib into fantasy a couple of times, it still was historical fantasy.
Reading-wise though I am all over the place. I have a huge stack of paper books and e-books to read: an Arthurian fantasy, a contemporary murder mystery, and a Persian-flavored take on Cinderella are all calling to me. Plus I’m reading nonfiction history of the American Revolution.
Why did you write about three Welsh brothers?
I fell in love with Cymraeg, the Welsh language, and started studying back in 2001. Then I went with my son’s (then) grade school class on a field trip to the copper mining town of Bisbee in Southern Arizona where one of the miner tour guides told us how the original mine managers went to Wales in the late 1870s to recruit workers. After all, the Welsh coal miners were renowned even then for their knowledge, skills, and scrappiness. Suddenly, a circuit snapped on in my brain and I imagined how they must have reacted when they arrived in such a hostile environment so totally alien from their homeland. I mean, Wales is lush green and trees and rain and sheep. Southern Arizona has this vast desert; Bisbee even then had no trees, no rain, big deadly rattlesnakes, and the Apaches weren’t exactly rolling out the welcome mat.
How did you do the research needed for Dragon & Hawk?
I started with things I didn’t know: mining details and how those men lived. Thank goodness for historical societies and how they preserved so much of those days! I am fortunate to live in Tucson where the first Territorial historical society was formed in 1874. Their research library has a ton of original documents, photographs, maps - even the original, hand-tooled leather ledger book of all the stagecoach and train robberies compiled by the Wells Fargo Detectives. I would get lost for hours reading and noting the little details, such as a real stage robber who came from Wales. I was also fortunate at the time to have two Native shaman and a long distance horse racing enthusiast to consult. My mom had also shared stories of my grandmother, who was a curandera - a Mexican mystic and healer back at the turn of the twentieth century. Those details were vital for me; I wanted my Welsh friends to know what it was like for them here, and I wanted my Arizona friends to learn about the cultures immigrant miners brought to our state.
I recently signed a contract with Anaphora Literary Press to have my research about real Welsh immigrants published. It’s called Cactus Cymry--Influential Welsh in the Southern Arizona Territory. (Cymry is the Welsh word for Welsh people.) It should be released in the next month or so - woot!
How important is natural medicine to you?
I have to kind of chuckle here because when I first shopped my manuscript around, a number of publishers labelled it a fantasy because of the natural/Native healing rituals. These aren’t fantasy to many, but are used constantly around here. We even have an “Integrative Medicine” clinic at the University of Arizona Medical School that incorporates herbs and Native medicine rituals. It’s second nature to me to use herbs and natural elements before anything else. My “real career” is as a chiropractic physician, and while I limit my practice to strictly accurate chiropractic manipulation, I tell my patients where to find information on alternatives if they so desire.
Are you writing a sequel?
Two sequels are already written and are in the queue for publication by Champagne Books. Book Two is Out of Forgotten Ashes and is scheduled for release in April 2012. Book Three is Dragon’s Legacy and will be released in July 2012.
My next project is in a different time and space from Dragon & Hawk. I’m working on a Revolutionary War tale based on the true story of a friend’s ancestor who was pressed into the British Navy, jumped ship in Boston Harbor, and nearly froze to death hiding out in a cranberry bog. And that’s just the beginning of his adventures!
Any tips for new writers?
Write what you love to read, or write what enthuses you. If you aren’t excited about it, how can you expect anyone else to be? Don’t worry about trends or what’s hot; the cycle always turns. And be open to change; characters don’t always do what you want them to! Sometimes their ideas are better than your original ones, so be ready to go with the flow.
Fascinating! Thank you for your insight, Jude.
Where to find Jude:
Website; Blog; Facebook; Twitter
To buy Jude's Books: Champagne Books
Jude's Amazon (US) Page
Jude's Amazon (UK) Page
Coming soon (from catalogue): Anaphora Literary Press
Jude loves adventure, action, romance, and fantasy to spirit her readers into a different time and place. She has studied the Welsh language – Cymraeg - enough to order beer, swear, order pancakes, and ask for the facilities. Trips to Britain to capture the cadence of the melodic Welsh accent and attitude allowed her to infuse her Welsh immigrant characters with realism. Jude also speaks fairly bad border Spanish. Home is situated in the Catalina Foothills of northern Tucson, Arizona, near Pima Canyon and not too far from Sabino Canyon. Jude lives with her long-suffering husband and son, as well as two deranged cats who don't mind watching bobcats, coyotes, and javelina frequent the yard - but only from behind the double-paned windows.