Julie Weston is a long-time online friend from our AOL days, and I’m pleased to welcome her to my blog today. Idaho is in Julie’s background and foreground. She grew up in a mining town in the panhandle and now lives in south central Idaho. In between, she attended law school in Washington and practiced law for over 30 years in Seattle. When she began writing (other than as a lawyer), she took classes at the University of Washington to get rid of the legalese. There, she met a group of women writers. They met every week for ten years and then slowly went their separate ways. Two of them are still her readers and she is theirs.
Her first published book was a memoir of place, The Good Times Are All Gone Now: Life, Death and Rebirth in an Idaho Mining Town (University of Oklahoma Press, 2009). It won Honorable Mention in the 2009 Idaho Book of the Year Award. Her next two books, Moonshadows and Basque Moon, soon to be three with the publication of Moonscape, are mysteries set in Idaho in the 1920s, featuring a young woman photographer and her black Labrador dog—Nellie Burns and Moonshine. She has also written several short stories, many of them published.
Both she and her husband practiced law. Now he is a photographer and she writes. They live a lucky life in the mountains, skiing, biking, hiking, photographing and writing. Her husband’s photographs have been used by her publisher for the covers of all her mysteries.
Hart: Welcome, Julie. So tell me. What genre do you write in? What attracted you to that genre?
Julie: For now, I primarily write historical mysteries, set in Idaho. I have on the back burner a couple of other historical novels and a novel about law school. I began reading mysteries in about the 6th grade and have never stopped. When I was unable to sell a novel about a mining town and a labor union, I decided to try my hand at mysteries because I felt I knew so much about them. I learned a lot more as I began writing mysteries. Favorite mystery writers right now are Louise Penny, Anne Hillerman, Craig Johnson, Marvin Walker and Donna Leon.
H: Do you schedule time for your writing? Or do you just grab the odd minute or hour when it makes itself available to you?
J: For my first book and short stories, I tried to write regularly—about three days a week for certain—and attended to other matters on the other two. The weekends were up for grabs. Now that I am retired, I have much more time available, but it gets filled up with other activities, e.g., skiing in winter, other sports in summer. I love the outdoors. I aim for 1,000 words of new writing or revision three to four days a week. I spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out plot ideas in my head. When I sit down, I often have full scenes pretty much ready to go. I often begin a scene or write a scene long hand. When I input that writing into the computer, I usually am able to keep going for some time.
H: You, like our mutual friend Jan Maher, write about a place you know well, in a time long gone. What research do you find absolutely necessary to keeping your story authentic?
J: Because I write mostly about Idaho, I have much history in my head or through family stories. My forebears came to central Idaho in the 1870s. A great aunt wrote a book called Generations (Caxton Press, no idea of date) that also serves my writing well. The most helpful are those books written about towns and areas by local writers, photographic archives, old newspapers, and local libraries and museums. These have all been invaluable to helping keep my stories authentic.
I have a book Flappers 2 Rappers with language details that I consult regularly. My husband and I have regularly hiked around the areas where I set my mysteries. We have visited Craters of the Moon in Idaho, the setting for my new book, a number of times, and I did research in the Visitor Center library.
H: I used Flappers 2 Rappers for Soul Doubt, my paranormal romance set in the 60s. It’s a good one. So tell me, as a declared feminist on your web site, how do you see the role of women in fiction these days?
J: For years and years, mysteries were always solved by men, even when written by women, e.g., Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and others. A few women detectives or amateur sleuths began showing up, and now there are a plethora of women in mysteries, both as protagonists and villains. Publishers finally “get it,” I think. I belong to Women Writing the West which emphasizes women’s roles. Although male authors still use men in the lead roles, I am doing my part to be certain strong women are featured in mysteries.
H: Do you have a current or earlier release you’d like to promote?
J: My two earlier mysteries, Moonshadows (2015) and Basque Moon (2016), both published by Five Star Publishing/Gale Cengage Learning, are still available. The former was a Finalist in the May Sarton Literary Award and the latter won the 2017 WILLA Literary Award for Historical Fiction. My new book, Moonscape, is due out this June and is available for preorder. Same publisher, same characters plus a few more, and same setting: 1920s Idaho. This one takes place mostly in Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho (named a monument in 1924), an eerie lava-filled location with caves and tunnels. I am working on a fourth mystery set in the mines of North Idaho.
This year is the 50th Anniversary of the moon landing on July 20. Astronauts trained at Craters of the Moon on the supposition that the landscape there would mimic that of the Moon. I am going to be a featured speaker at the anniversary at Craters of the Moon, talking about Moonscape!
I always encourage readers to buy my book at local bookstores. Ebooks are available through Amazon. And you can find me at my website here.
H: Well, thank you, Julie, for participating in my blog this week. It’s been a pleasure. And to all my readers, the comment section is open again. Let’s give Julie some great comments.