“Divine Sparks”: A Guest Post By Julie Christine Johnson + Giveaway of IN ANOTHER LIFE

InAnotherLife_CoverI started hearing early buzz about Julie Christine Johnson’s debut novel IN ANOTHER LIFE late last year, and my interest was instantly piqued. A time-bending historical murder mystery set in southern France, flavored with a soupçon of romance? I could not wait to read it, and wow, did it deliver.

Historian Lia Carrer returns to southern France to mourn her husband and try to reclaim her life by finishing her long overdue dissertation. Surrounded by the medieval ruins that inspire and comfort her, she meets the mysterious Raoul, a man whose very existence challenges everything she knows about life, and about her husband’s death. As Lia plumbs the story of Raoul’s past, the novel weaves in another tale: the thirteenth century murder of a papal emissary that launched a religious war between the Catholics and the Cathars, a heretical sect that believed in reincarnation. The result is a haunting and suspenseful mystery/love story swimming in the kind of rich detail that elevates the best historical fiction, as Lia learns that both the recent and ancient dead are never as far away as we may think, and that love can sometimes conquer time itself.

Named a “standout debut” by the Library Journal, “Very highly recommended” by Historical Novels Review, and declared “Delicate and haunting, romantic and mystical” by bestselling author Greer Macallister, IN ANOTHER LIFE went into a second printing three days after its February 2, 2016 release.

I’m thrilled to welcome Julie Christine Johnson to the Debutante Ball, and to share her lovely and moving essay on nurturing the fire of creativity that defines a writer amidst the work of revising and promotion that is the business of a published author. We on the Ball have talked about this many times as we balance the marketing our first books need in order to survive and the unfettered muse that our second books need in order to be born, but none of us has put this dichotomy as eloquently as Julie.

And don’t miss Julie’s Deb Interview, which runs after her post, in which she talks about phobias, future projects, and advice for aspiring writers.

Divine Sparks:  An Essay by Julie Christine Johnson 

‘To write is objectify dreams, to create an outer world as a material reward {?} of our nature as creatures. To publish is to give this outer world to others; but what for, if the outer world common to us and to them is the ‘real’ outer world, the one made of visible and tangible matter? What do others have to do with the universe that’s in me? ~ Fernando Pessoa, “The Book of Disquiet”

“Certain bodies… become luminous when heated. Their luminosity disappears after some time, but the capacity of becoming luminous afresh through heat is restored to them by the action of a spark, and also by the action of radium.” ~ Marie Curie

I’d been warned by authors who’ve launched many a book before me that the muse would flee in the weeks and months leading up to and following the release of my debut novel IN ANOTHER LIFE; my energy would be consumed by the demands of promoting the book.

And to be sure, the weeks surrounding launch were filled with a busyness bordering on frantic. No matter what I did in support of this novel, it didn’t seem to be enough. I gave myself over fully to the role of author, nudging my novel along, out of the nest.

At the same time as I was launching IN ANOTHER LIFE, I was on deadline to submit the first round of revisions of my second novel, THE CROWS OF BEARA, to my publisher. I wasn’t worried, not at first. I thought the opportunity to turn away from the commotion of launch, back to the quiet of my own words, would be a welcome distraction. But as the weeks tumbled into months, careering toward that deadline, I realized how deeply my mental energy had been affected by the release of IN ANOTHER LIFE.

Four months have passed. I’m finishing the last of a handful of public appearances before all goes quiet for the summer and I release IN ANOTHER LIFE to a life of its own. I will soon have a third novel on submission, if I can find the time to tackle the revisions my agent suggests before seeking a publisher. I continue with my weekly Works-in-Progress workshops with local writers, as well as teaching stand-alone day workshops. A freelance editing business is taking off: two developmental edit manuscripts are in my hands, in addition to smaller projects. My time and mind are full of writing.

And yet. The one thing I’m not doing is writing. I am nearly sick with longing for the blank page. My right brain cries in frustration. I tell myself that all this revising, this year of revisions on three separate novels, is writing. It is, of course it is. But it’s not the same as generating new material. That free-flowing, gorgeous, soaring release of First Draft, when I can go for hours with nary a glance at the clock. Revisions involve my analytical, logical core. What I miss is loose, rangy writer who regards the world in wonder and possibility. I fear for her. Where is she, amidst all this fuss and bother of being an author?

When will I be a writer again?

One of the unintended consequences of promoting IN ANOTHER LIFE has been to reacquaint my heart with its subject matter and themes, to become re-enchanted by the southern French region of Languedoc and its enthralling tangle of history and geography. The novel, a timeslip between the 21st and 13th centuries, centers on the medieval Cathars and their mystical faith, which weaves reincarnation with redemption with angels with good and evil and all the layers in-between.

And somewhere in those layers, my imagination, my writer’s soul, continues to work, digging in, excavating, uncovering ideas and holding them in her hand, like tiny embers just waiting for the breath of words to burst into the flame of a story.

In this time, when my attention and energy is as far from the blank page as it’s been since I committed to a writer’s life three years ago, a torrent of sparks has burst into the air.  A character has risen—a bit wobbly and unformed, a slip of clay that needs other elements to take solid form—but she is there, complex and a little feverish with her own possibility.

The Cathars regarded stars as divine sparks—angels if you will—created by one fallen angel from the crown of another who had dominion over the waters of the earth. From half the crown, the Fallen Angel made the light of the moon and from the other half he created starlight.

Somehow, that starlight-moonlight illuminated the parts of me gone dark in this rushed and anxious and excited time. Though I can’t pull away just yet to follow the tendrils of light, I no longer fear the luminosity will fade. I hold the divine spark in my hands.

    *                          *                          *

JULIE CHRISTINE JOHNSON TAKES THE DEB INTERVIEW

What time of day do you love best?

I get up at 4 a.m. to read, journal, write. My favorite moment is around 4:20, when I pour the first splash of hot coffee into my mug. Help is on the way!

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

It takes a village to publish a book. No matter which path to publishing you walk, 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.

Do you have any phobias?

Like my character Lia in IN ANOTHER LIFE, I’m acutely claustrophobic. I call ahead to hotels to make certain I can access my room by stairs. I’ve walked up twenty flights of stairs to an outpatient surgery, and walked down afterwards, holding my stitches together. I take Ativan to fly. I’ve tried meditation and therapy and they’ve worked to the extent that I have a battery of coping mechanisms. That I can fly is huge. But elevators just won’t happen. My coping mechanism is to say “No”.

What’s your next big thing?  (new book, new project, etc.)

I have so many next things happening at once right now. My second novel, THE CROWS OF BEARA (Ashland Creek Press) launches September 2017 and I’m in the midst of revisions now. My third novel, UPSIDE-DOWN GIRL, awaits my revision attention before it can go on submission; I’m hoping to have time and energy for that at some point this summer. I’m working with two other writers to develop the curriculum for a multi-week novel writing workshop in early 2017. I’m leading two works-in-progress workshops this summer and teaching at least one stand-alone writing class. And I’ve got novel #4 (or 4, 5, 6) to get from my head to the page: I’m working out a YA trilogy set in Languedoc. I’ll be headed back to the region in September for a writing retreat and research time. 

What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?

I worked at a slaughterhouse in New Zealand. Not directly with the animals—I managed the business office. But each day I would get these blood-and-gore-splattered sheets with the weight tallies of that day’s butchered beasts that I’d have to record in our database and report to the Ministry of Agriculture. Wednesday was Pig Day. The stench and shrieking were more awful than you can imagine. But as someone who loves food, loves to cook, and attended culinary school, it was important for me to understand and respect the whole process of animal husbandry, from insemination to slaughter to butchering to packaging. Still, it was soul-killing. I lasted three months and then one day I just walked away. Funny. I’m Instagram friends with the girlfriend of the owner. It’s been almost ten years since I worked there; I don’t think she has a clue who I am. What a strange, small world. 

GIVEAWAY: RETWEET on Twitter, and/or SHARE on Facebook by noon (EST) Friday, May 13th to win a copy of IN ANOTHER LIFE (US only). We’ll select and contact the winner on Saturday. Good luck!

JCJ photoJulie Christine Johnson is the author of the novels IN ANOTHER LIFE (Sourcebooks, 2016) and THE CROWS OF BEARA (Ashland Creek Press, 2017) and her short stories and essays have appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and Psychology and a Master’s in International Affairs. A hiker, yogi, and wine geek, Julie makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state, where she writes, leads writing workshops and offers story/developmental editing and writer coaching services.

You can connect with Julie on Facebook, Twitter (@JulieChristineJ), Instagram, Pinterest, and on her website.

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After a decade practicing law and another decade raising kids, Heather decided to finally write the novel she'd always talked about writing. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and the Tin House Writers Workshop, all of which helped her stop writing like a lawyer. She lives in Mill Valley, California, with her husband and two teenaged children. When she's not writing she's biking, hiking, neglecting potted plants, and reading books by other people that she wishes she'd written.

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