Thursday, 13 October 2011

Author Spotlight - Jude Johnson

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

Author Bio: Granddaughter of a curandera, a Mexican healer who uses herbs, psychology and a little bit of mysticism, Jude incorporates a bit of family legend into her Dragon & Hawk series. Currently, Book One, Dragon & Hawk, has been released by Champagne Books, with Books Two and Three slated for release in Spring 2012. Jude's short story Within The Mists, about a Lieutenant of Nelson's Navy rescued by a selchie (a woman on land who becomes a seal in the sea), is now also available from Champagne Books as an e-read.

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.


Joanne Renaud said...

Very interesting-- I can't wait to read your story now. I had no idea that the Welsh settled Arizona (even though I knew they lived in Colorado from reading Marlys Milhauser's "The Mirror," so I should have connected the dots).

Thanks for the shout-out for "The Ash-Slave"!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for visiting, Joanne - it's a fascinating story!

Joanna said...

This sounds fascinating. And I really like the tips about the cycle turning and that characters should be allowed to decide what's happening.
Thank you Jude and Rosemary.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for that, Joanna - it's always great to have tips from other writers, isn't it!

TKToppin said...

Great post. It's always interesting to hear the process of how others come up/create their stories.

Talli Roland said...

Thanks for the interview! I love the advice write what you read. So true.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi TK - thanks for commenting!

Thanks for that, Talli!

Janice Horton said...

Nice to meet you, Jude! A really interesting interview and insight into your research and writing influences. Wishing you great success with your books!

myraduffy said...

What an interesting interview! But I wonder how historical novelists of the future will fare with our ephemeral records!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for the lovely comment, Janice!

Thanks, Myra - now that's a good observation!

Anonymous said...

Hey Rosemary & Jude,
Story sounds like a winner. Congrats on the contracts for sequels.
Great background on your blog. Easy on the eyes and not blah Rita Bay

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Rita - thanks for leaving a comment!

Ciara Gold said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the Dragon and the Hawk! So fun to read more about you and it's making. Found the bit about herbs and medicine fascinating.

Jude Johnson said...

Thank you so much, everyone and for a lovely interview, Rosemary! I'm so tardy, please forgive me but I've enjoyed reading your comments and glad you found the information interesting and helpful.

Be sure to check out my blog next week when I interview one fabulous Rosemary Gemmell!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for visiting, Ciara! I love the herbs etc too.

You're very welcome, Jude - thanks for being an interesting guest!

K.C. Woolf said...

Interesting interview. I loved reading about Jude's diverse interests. For a writer, that's such a plus, don't you think?

Sounds like a great book - off to Amazon to check it out. :-)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi K.C - thanks for that comment. It's definitely a plus!

Joan Fleming said...

Such an interesting interview, Rosemary. Jude's research sounds fascinating - it must have needed great will power to drage herself away to write the books!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Joan - absolutely! Thanks for your comment.

Vikki said...

Interesting interview. The sounds good Jude and I agree with your advice about writing something that ethuses you!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

That does seem sensible advice, Vikki!