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Saturday, September 30, 2017

THE CROWS OF BEARA


Book Synopsis

Along the windswept coast of Ireland, a woman discovers the landscape of her own heart

When Annie Crowe travels from Seattle to a small Irish village to promote a new copper mine, her public relations career is hanging in the balance. Struggling to overcome her troubled past and a failing marriage, Annie is eager for a chance to rebuild her life.

Yet when she arrives on the remote Beara Peninsula, Annie learns that the mine would encroach on the nesting ground of an endangered bird, the Red-billed Chough, and many in the community are fiercely protective of this wild place. Among them is Daniel Savage, a local artist battling demons of his own, who has been recruited to help block the mine.

Despite their differences, Annie and Daniel find themselves drawn toward each other, and, inexplicably, they begin to hear the same voice--a strange, distant whisper of Gaelic, like sorrow blowing in the wind.

Guided by ancient mythology and challenged by modern problems, Annie must confront the half-truths she has been sent to spread and the lies she has been telling herself. Most of all, she must open her heart to the healing power of this rugged land and its people.

Beautifully crafted with environmental themes, a lyrical Irish setting, and a touch of magical realism, The Crows of Beara is a breathtaking novel of how the nature of place encompasses everything that we are.

Review
“The Crows of Beara is a love song to Ireland that combines dazzling views of wild, sweeping landscapes with a hard, honest look at the need for jobs in the country’s rural west…Johnson’s writing is assured and passionate.”
Washington Independent Review of Books 

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About Julie Christine Johnson

Julie Christine Johnson’s short stories and essays have appeared in journals including Emerge Literary Journal; Mud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt; and River Poets Journal. Her work has also appeared in the print anthologies Stories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and psychology and a master’s in international affairs. Julie leads writing workshops and seminars and offers story/developmental editing and writer coaching services.

Named a “standout debut” by Library Journal, “very highly recommended” by Historical Novels Review, and “delicate and haunting, romantic and mystical” by bestselling author Greer Macallister, Julie’s debut novel In Another Life (Sourcebooks) went into a second printing three days after its February 2016 release. A hiker, yogi, and swimmer, Julie makes her home in northwest Washington state.

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Interview
Q: Tell us about your latest work—title, genre, etc. — and why you wrote it?

A: THE CROWS OF BEARA is a work of contemporary fiction with a touch of magical realism, set on the Beara peninsula, southwest Ireland.

I first traveled to Ireland in 2002 to hike the Beara Way. The peninsula, and the experience, turned my soul inside out. Never have I been more homesick for a place I couldn’t actually call home. Many hikes in Ireland later and I knew I’d be writing about it someday.

When I began sketching out characters and ideas for a novel in January 2014, I knew it would be set in Ireland and have an Irish legend or some element of magical realism woven through it. I just didn’t know where in Ireland or which legend.

I happened upon the poetry of Leanne O’Sullivan, who was raised on the Beara Peninsula and teaches poetry at University College Cork. Her collections, An Chailleach Bheara, which tells the story of the legend of the Hag of Beara, and The Mining Road, which was inspired by the late 18th century copper mining industry and the miners who toiled there, brought me, almost overnight, to my novel.

I knew before I began that my central character, Annie, would be an addict trying to put her life back together. Once I had my themes of environment vs. economic growth, an Irish legend based on the strength and resiliency of women, and of the Irish culture, and the healing power of art, the words poured out of me. I wrote the first draft in ten weeks.

Q: What draws you to your genre(s)? Why is this type of story compelling to you?

A: Truly, I have no genre in mind when I begin writing a new novel; I just want to tell a good story. Authors like Deborah Harkness, Mary Doria Russell, and David Mitchell, who take genre conventions and toss them out the window, are my inspiration!

Interesting, and beautifully encouraging, are the reactions from industry professionals, including my agents, editors and booksellers. They love that my work can’t be pigeonholed in any category or genre, that it sprawls its limbs across the multitude!

I consider myself a storyteller. Genre doesn’t factor in when I think about my characters or themes. The joy is in challenging myself to do things I didn’t know I had in me, like historical fiction for my first novel In Another Life; to play with convention, as I did with the paranormal element In Another Life and magical realism in The Crows of Beara; to look for the best stories in my soul.

Q: What is your writing process like? Do you map the whole thing out or do you just let it unfold?

A: There’s usually an idea whispering away at me—an image, snippet of overheard conversation, something I read in the paper, a place I’ve visited. Holding that idea loosely in my mind, I begin to work on character sketches and follow where those lead. Whom am I writing about and how do they relate to the idea I can’t seem to let go of? I’ll research enough to get a sense of the place, issues, and time as it relates to the plot, but research for me is an ongoing process as the story develops. I try not to set things out too far in advance, preferring to layer in details as I discover where the story is taking me.

The amount of time has varied wildly. It took me eighteen months to finish a first draft of In Another Life; ten weeks for The Crows of Beara; nine months for my novel currently on submission, Upside-Down Girl. I revised and edited the first two novels while writing the third!

Q: What kind of research was involved?

A: It may seem hard to believe, but the research for The Crows of Beara was more intense and wide-ranging than the research for my first novel, In Another Life, which is a timeslip set in contemporary and medieval France, inspired by historical events.

For CROWS, I delved into the behavior and environment of the Red-billed chough—the endangered bird species that become the novel’s central story problem. I dug deep into copper mining. I learned how art is made from recycled copper; I explored the questionable practices of American firms operating in Ireland, taking advantage of generous tax breaks to set up shell companies—current events were very helpful there, as both Apple and Google were in the headlines during the years this novel went through revisions. Most challenging was learning how to write characters with addiction, realistically and empathetically. And to write through Daniel’s guilt and Annie’s relapse and vulnerabilities.

Serendipity smiled upon me during the summer of 2015. I learned that Leanne O’Sullivan—the poet whose work inspired so much of the story—was offering a workshop at Anam Cara, the writing retreat center in Eyries, one of the Beara Peninsula’s loveliest villages. Although not a poet, I was accepted into the workshop and spent two glorious weeks in my beloved Beara, hiking the same trails I had first discovered thirteen years earlier, falling in love again with the land and its stories, and writing my first poems under the guidance of the artist whose work directly inspired and informed my own.

Q: How much of YOU makes it into your characters?

A: 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. Very present in my writing, however, are deeply personal themes. For example, Lia in In Another Life is acutely claustrophobic. So is this author! I haven’t been in an elevator in years. The character in my third novel, Upside-Down Girl, 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.

Annie, the protagonist in The Crows of Beara, and I don’t seem to share many similarities, but I adore her. By the novel’s end she’s just starting to come into her own, to realize her own emotional and artistic strength. I’m a few years older than Annie—forty-eight to her late thirties—but I see in her the same sense of purpose, a reinvigoration of character and self and determination that arrives with turning forty. You look around and say, “Right. This is who I am at this moment. I am beautiful, strong, I have so much yet to give, to discover. Let’s do this. Let’s live.”

Q: How do you balance the need to have time to write with the needs of family, society, etc.?

A: My entire life fell apart after the publication of my first novel. I don’t know how else to say it. My husband and I divorced after twenty-five years of marriage; I fell into a series of deep depressions. Writing changed ME, publishing changed the course of my life.

Last October, I returned to a full-time job after four years of writing full-time; the need for a stable income and health insurance compelled me back into punching a timecard. I’m grateful to have found something I love (I work in the wine industry), but it’s meant putting the brakes on publishing goals.

And yet. My second novel has launched. I have a third on submission and I am working on a fourth project. I spent two blissful weeks at a writers’ retreat in France last September. The writing I did on retreat has been the thing that I’ve held onto this past year as proof that my writing fire still burns deeply inside and I will return to those embers when I am able. I’ve kept up my physical health through yoga, swimming and hiking, as I know this is the key to strong mental health. I’ve also recently fallen in love and embarked upon a new relationship with a visual artist who is so supportive of what I do and gets it. Gets the calling to create that is impossible to ignore if the soul is to survive. It’s so beautiful, this crazy life. And yes, I’m still writing. The stories are piling up in my heart and I believe that the space and time to release them will come my way again.

Q: Have there been any authors in particular, that inspired your writing?

A: As a child, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh lit the fire of my determination to be a writer, and C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia 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.

Q: Is there a story you want to tell behind or about your work(s)?

A: Storytelling, as a reader and as a writer, has saved my life and I know it’s brought so many out of their darkness into the light of hope and belief. Whether you read to escape or to learn, to explore or to find comfort, the simple act of reading means that the world goes on, one page at a time.

Q: What other projects are you currently working on or about to start?

A: My third novel, Upside-Down Girl, (working title) follows the journey of Holly Dawes as she emigrates from Seattle to New Zealand, where she befriends a young Maori girl and realizes there is more than one way to fulfill her desire to be a mother and more than one way to lose a beloved child. Upside-Down Girl is currently on submission.
I’m in the development stages of a YA series that set in the near future and the distant past, returning this author to the land of the Cathars, in Languedoc, where my first novel is set, but also keeps me close to home, in the rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s about misfits and magic, faith and fury.
 
Q: Could you share some of your marketing strategies?  Which ones are the most effective in your opinion?

A: I’ve worked over several years to build relationships with writers and readers via my blog (ChalktheSun.org), Goodreads, and Twitter, long before I knew I’d be a novelist. It was less about marketing or even building an author platform than it was about sharing my writing, my voice, playing with different styles, challenging myself with regular, focused writing through blog posts and book reviews. When I began publishing stories and essays, social media became a way to reach out: if people connected with my voice and the things I had to share, perhaps they’d go on to connect with my work.

Now that I have novels to promote, having a focused presence on reader blogs, doing author events, reaching out to book clubs for in-person or virtual discussions, attending conferences, networking with other writers, reaching out to libraries, pitching to book festivals, keeping up with my blog, my website, seeking targeted advertising opportunities, and still submitting work for publication—there are so many ways to market and promote one’s work, and I’m still learning what’s most effective. I want to spend my time and energy connecting with readers who will stay with me for the long haul, rather than seeking sales for my books.

Q: What would be the top five, (or 3 or 1 or however many) things you would tell aspiring authors?

A: 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.