In Another Life

In Another Life

From the publisher:

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.

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark – February 2, 2016 

What readers are saying . . .

“Delicate and haunting, romantic and mystical, IN ANOTHER LIFE is a novel with an extraordinary sense of place. Fans swept away by Diana Gabaldon’s 18th-century Scotland will want to explore Julie Christine Johnson’s 13th-century Languedoc.”

Greer Macallister, author of The Magician’s Lie

“In this lovely novel, Johnson shows us the redemptive power of love and second chances through the ages. Evocative of Outlander, In Another Life is a thrilling combination of romance, adventure, and history.”

— Margaret Dilloway, author of Sisters Of Heart And Snow and How To Be An American Housewife

“Johnson’s heartbroken researcher wends through the lush landscape and historical religious intrigue of southern France seeking the distraction of arcane fact-but instead, like the reader, is transformed by the moving echo of emotional truth. An imaginative, unforgettable tale.”

Kathryn Craft, author of The Art Of Falling and The Far End Of Happy

About the Author

Julie Christine Johnson’s short stories and essays have appeared in several journals,Julie C Johnson Headshot including Mud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt, and the 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.

Her second novel, The Crows Of Beara, a finalist in the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, has sold to Ashland Creek Press for publication in fall 2017. In this work of women’s fiction, a struggling American PR executive and an enigmatic Irish artist face off over the development of a copper mine in rural Ireland, finding love and redemption amid the rugged, mystical land.

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.

 

Five Elements of Brilliant Fiction

— and how writers who know them inspire me

There’s something therapeutic, for me as a writer, about reading really good writing. At the time of writing this post I’m reading Vanessa and Her Sister, by Priya Parmar, and The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, and the effect on my own creativity is like new wood thrown on a low campfire.

Vanessa and Her Sister is told primarily via the fictional diary entries of Virginia Woolf’sVanessa and Her Sister older sister Vanessa, interspersed with invented letters and postcards between their Bloomsbury gang—all artists and lively thinkers. The prose is elegant and quiet, the story’s brushstrokes chiaroscuro layers. The effect is deeply engrossing, almost a meditation. It’s simply the story of two young women, sisters, and yet Parmar manages to imbue the narrative with tension and mystery on every page. I had to keep reading. (My full review here.)

If you’ve read The Corrections (or any of Franzen’s work), then you know what his The Correctionshilarious, deeply sympathetic writing is like. Long paragraphs that sometimes go on for pages, surprising and deliciously comical, detailing his characters’ wretchedly imperfect and uncomfortably recognizable lives. His unsparing humor in describing his opening protagonist, Chip—the inappropriate, last-minute Christmas gifts sent off in desperation, poorly wrapped in tin-foil and Right to Choose stickers; the scenes of Chip alone in his house after his drug-induced sexcapades week with Melissa, and his subsequent molestation of his antique chaise lounge—nobody else could’ve written these scenes and gotten away with it. Franzen is fearless.

I find myself wondering if other readers feel the creamy-fat, swooning pleasure of a brilliant novel the way a writer must, and lament the thin, calorie-starved meh of less worthy reads?

First: what is it about anyone’s writing that makes it exceptional? Like so much of life, the answer is deeply subjective, but here’s what I know grabs me:

An almost hypnotic quality to the prose. And by that I mean the words and sentences make me forget I’m reading. The word choice and sentence structure are such that I don’t necessarily even notice their beauty. One sentence, one thought, propels me forward into the next. There’s no stickiness, no clunk, no self-conscious artifice.

The thought behind the words is original. Not so original or foreign as to be unrecognizable, maybe, but at least delivered in a way that feels fresh. Original writing happens when the consciousness through which the story arrives is trusting, and unafraid of its own uniqueness. It’s this that makes us read dozens of books by different authors within the same genre and never tire of them. The stories can even have many of the same tropes or character types. It’s the voice, the telling, that is different. It’s authentic.

The seamless segue. Whether it is the switching of a floating, omniscient pov, or transitioning in time, the skill to keep the reader following the pied piper without noting the change in terrain is one that fills me with envy. Franzen is a master at this. He moves from now to before, from then to now, from this character to that, from thought to action to dialogue and back again, with a grace that leaves me blinking and stunned like a slaughter-house cow. I promise myself I will stay conscious and watch how he does what he does, but rarely do. Usually I have to go back and reread, penciling notes in the margins so I can study his beautiful fluidity.

Theme. Theme is an ability on the part of the writer to play with riffs throughout the storyline, much the way a good stand-up comic will keep coming back to an earlier jest. This creates a feeling of cohesiveness, of satisfaction and reason, and of something imparted or shared; a wink between writer and reader (a wink that can time-travel across centuries!). Not all good books have this, but the best do.

That’s four. I have one more element (in case you’ve been counting—in which case, I think I love you, in a purely platonic and nerdy way) but first, this:

The temptation is to say a reader must be intelligent to grasp really good writing, but we all know reader comprehension is something more than mere IQ. To be able to grasp and enjoy nuanced writing (or to write it) requires having acquired a certain level emotional intelligence (I natter more about that here). At fifteen we may think we understand a novel. But given another twenty years of living, and upon reading the same again, we realize how shallow and unsophisticated our initial understanding was. And I realize as I write this that age is not even the best yardstick to measure this sort of reader intelligence by; a person can conceivably live a long but sheltered life and have little experiential background—that backdrop we use to make sense of things—and miss the whole point of a writer’s fictional argument; or maybe grasp some, and have the uncomfortable feeling of deeper waters, but be unable to plumb them.

Readers sometimes complain of the perceived arduousness of the type of novel Franzen, Byatt, Mantel or Tartt writes (Sarah Waters, Richard Yates, Cormac McCarthy – if you’re reading I’m sure you can add others), and express a liking only for stories that ask little of the reader. A quick dip into the Goodreads reviews of any of these authors will reveal at least a few readers with this brain-sweat complaint. There’re readers for every depth, and every level of rigorousness. I myself find those heavily-bearded 19th century Russians very hard to read. Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and Tolstoy. Nyet! Also Stieg Larsson’s novels—which I’m told hold great plots, but getting through even a chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which I’ve attempted several times) has proven beyond me. My mind just wanders. I may as well be reading a Taiwanese instruction manual.

And don’t even get me started on Proust. I love him but . . .

Bird Box

Bird Box. I recently won this on Annie Neugebauer’s blog. For those who enjoy psychological Horror, let me just say, yum.

Even for those who enjoy complex novels, less demanding novels can be a relaxing interlude between challenging reads. Not all books have to be inspirational. Some are just fun, and that is enough. Peanut M&Ms and Godiva both have their pleasures.

The absolute worst read, for me, thoughand the sort that has a deadening effect on my creativity, so I try to steer clearis the novel that promises to be genuine, but turns out to be phoned-in and hopelessly jejune. The writer has work-a-day skills, maybe even good writing skills: knowledge of literary devices, an ability to write a pretty sentence. But the deeper, human understanding never comes sparkling through, either because it isn’t there (in the writer), or because the writer doesn’t yet know how to get it on the page. These novels are all glinting surface and no depth.

There’s no denying the ersatz novels crowding bookstore shelves. Thanks to the slick marketing pumped out by their publicists, avoiding them can feel as dodgy as paintball with twelve-year-olds.

That there is a readership for these novels is as mystifying as it is irrefutable, else why would they sell so well? It can’t just be the pretty covers.

Can it?

Well…there are folks who like boxed wine, too.

Okay, you’ve waited for it, and even let me rant a bit; here it is:

#5 The best novels have heart, and art. The best novels, of whatever genre, are written by writers who not only possess a deep field of human comprehension, humor and compassion, but who also have mad writing skills. To mesmerize me as a reader, and inspire me as a writer, it takes both.

What about you?

 If you’re a writer, do you find reading writers better than yourself inspiring? Does reading especially brilliant prose fill you up? Who’s on your talisman shelf?

Walking Distance

Walking Distance

Michigan State University Press, 2015

There is a deeper reality, just under this one: Like Everyman, we are, all of us, on a pilgrimage to the end of the world: and we know it, but it’s hard to remember; perhaps people who pray remember more often; and then there are people who grieve. When you grieve, you remember. This remembering puts a distance between you and those who are not grieving. The language of their country is not the language of your country. You become a stranger passing through, and you are on fire. Everything is on fire.

 

 

Walking Distance is such a slim little book. One hundred and twenty-six pages. But those pages are packed with humor, tragedy, reconciliation, and enlightenment. Walking Distance is playwright David Hlavsa’s deeply moving tale of learning to become a husband and father, of learning to love, and grieve, and live his fullest life, really. He begins his story early in his marriage, when a longed-for pregnancy has not materialized. The gratifications of career and daily life have begun to feel unfulfilling to both he and his wife, Lisa; but most especially to David. He chafes against the sameness and routine of day to day living. Lounging on beaches for their yearly vacations has begun to lose its luster. They decide to set out on a different kind of vacation; one of pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, hoping for, but little guessing, the true nature of the path’s transformative hardships, challenges, and gifts of insight.

A real pilgrimage, a real life, contains, and is defined by, difficulty—hardship, and how we respond to it, makes us who we are, certainly more than anything that comes easy.

This memoir made me laugh out loud, nod my head in sage communion, and it moved me to tears more than once. The writing is exceptional: concise, sprinkled with fascinating historical tidbits about the Camino, funny (often), and also sublimely beautiful.

 

David Hlavsa

David Hlavsa heads the Theatre Arts Department at Saint Martin’s University, where he has been teaching acting, directing, and playwriting since 1989.

Goodreads

 

Where Memories Meet

WMM_Cover_FinalAlzheimer’s is a diagnosis no family wants to hear. It conjures mental images of retrieving terrified loved ones from mistaken destinations; and of not being recognized.

In Where Memories Meet, biographer and family chronicler, Christine M. Grote follows her much-loved father’s journey through a boyhood hampered by a troubled alcoholic father and an over-worked mother, recounting his determined rise to small business owner, and his devotion to his own family, especially a severely disabled daughter, Diane (Annie). This is the story of Jerry, the strong, self-assured and motivated guy who, as a young man fresh out of the service and newly married, read books and kept track of words he was unfamiliar with in order to better himself—which makes it all the more poignant as he begins to lose them until finally he has none at all.

Grote has a talent for spot-lighting the sort of intimate and telling details which ring an answering note of emotional recognition in her readers. Two such moments are the day Jerry clearly tells her, after not speaking for months, that he is “in a quandary”; and her happy discovery of her father’s surprising ability to still write what he wants or needs, long after the capacity to verbally express it has fled. Despite the seriousness of the topic of Alzheimer’s, Where Memories Meet is leavened with moments of humor and small victories.

As in her previous family chronicle, Dancing in Heaven, Grote breathes life into her family members, and leaves readers enchanted with an era, and a man, and in awe of the full life lived despite incredible odds.

Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of Where Memories Meet.   (*Open only to the continental US.)

About the Author

Christine M. Grote earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1979. After working for several years in product development at a large corporation in Cincinnati, Ohio, she became a full-time homemaker as she raised three sons and a daughter. In 1999, Christine returned to school at the Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Written Communications in 2007. Christine lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and their dog Arthur. She enjoys gardening, reading, traveling, and writing primarily nonfiction, human-interest stories.

Staring Down the SFD, Or…

The Temptation to Endlessly Twerk Tweak

I’ve noticed in writers of my acquaintance an inclination to rewrite and tweak already written scenes and chapters, rather than move on in writing the story. I recognize the tendency, the delicious, easy, safe-feeling lure of polishing, because I battle it in myself. An already written scene is so much more welcoming than a blank page. There are words, for starters. And characters are doing stuff. Where as the blank page has nothing to offer but gut wrenching fear, a cold wintry hardness, a lunar landscape of nothingness and doubt.

But it’s only by pushing on, by riding the fear rocket and facing the first draft down, that we find the nuances of the story, and the characters’ particular voices, strengths and idiosyncrasies. And then we are really able to give rewrites the depth they deserve.

Until then we are just hiding from the work.

 

Get In

 

Sunday Sentence

The best sentence culled from my reading each week, sans commentary.

Inspired by David Abrams at The Quivering Pen, and Catherine Gilmore at The Gilmore Guide to Books.

The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections

She had an intimation that the family she’d tried to bring together  was no longer the family  she rememberedthat this Christmas would be nothing like Christmases of old.