Sunday, May 29, 2011

Interview with Jude Johnson

Sure, you’ve heard of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Tombstone and the O.K. Corral, but chances are you haven’t heard of a little town in Southern Arizona called Bisbee, or given much thought to the miners in the area who risked their lives on a daily basis. And I’ll bet you didn’t know that some of those miners were Welsh.

Let me direct you to a delightful serving of Southwestern history as seen through the eyes of three Welsh brothers in the Arizona Territory in the nineteenth century. In Dragon and Hawk by Jude Johnson, Dylan, Evan and Huw Jones are miners who just want to go home. To make their fortunes, they try everything from robbing trains, bounty hunting and card-sharking. But when Evan is blindsided by love, everything changes, and nothing will stop him from finding the mysterious woman known as The Señora, a Native American healer whose totem is the hawk. But according to her legends, Hawk’s greatest enemy is Dragon, and when Evan Jones, the Red Dragon of Wales, comes to her for healing, her first impulse is to run. But her heart has other ideas.

I’ve invited Jude over for a little Q&A and some tea to tell us about her book which comes alive in historical detail. I even had the pleasure of meeting her in person a couple of months ago as she makes her home in Tucson, and I’m in Phoenix, just a 90-minute drive. I’m proud and delighted to call her not just a fellow Champagne writer, but a friend.

Thanks for coming over, Jude! From one Anglophile to another, I very much enjoyed the departure your novel takes from a typical western with all of the Welsh influence. Are you Welsh yourself?

Firstly, thank you for such kind words and inviting me to tea! It was great fun to meet you, too, and I think we should get into some major mischief at a conference sometime. I usually make it to Phoenix in less than 90 minutes now that the photo radar’s down. (wink wink)

And nope, I have not a bit of Welsh heritage. Scots-Irish, Dutch, Norwegian, French, Swede, Mexican, Mayan, and Spanish—but no Welsh. I seem to have an affinity for the language though, and when I was in Wales, in Caerphilly I had such an incredible sense of déjà vu that I knew exactly what I would see as I rounded a corner and climbed hills. And everything was indeed, just as I thought—down to a stunted tree on the side of a valley with a stream running smack down the center. I was shaking by the end of that day, totally weirded out. So I must have been a Cymraes (Welsh woman) in a previous life.

How did Welshmen end up in Arizona mines?

They were actively recruited in the late 1870s and 1880s from Wales and Pennsylvania by Ben and Lewis Williams, Bisbee’s Copper Queen Mine Managers—whose father was a metallurgist from Swansea, Wales. Ben Williams convinced about 300 Welsh and Cornish miners to come to Bisbee to assay the Copper Queen, map the mineral lodes, and set up more efficient smelters. They were treated fairly well for the time period, especially compared to the Irish, Mexican, and Slavs, but mining was extremely dangerous and nasty work for everyone involved. Most of these Welshmen remained in Cochise and Pima Counties even if they did get out of mining. But they never formed Welsh communities like back East. They melded into the fabric of the Territory so well that few people knew they were Welsh.

Like The Señora, your grandmother was a native healer. What experiences did she have that you drew from for the story?

“Nana Pinky”—and I have no idea where that name came from, my family called her that—had interactions with Apache that were family legend I’d heard from childhood (supposedly she’d met both Cochise and Geronimo, but I have no documented verification). I’m not sure if she trained as a healer with the Apache specifically, but she definitely incorporated many of their traditions into her medicines. And evidently she’d had some medical training in Mexico as a young woman. The one photo my mom had of her showed a stern woman with upright carriage, thick white hair braided and wound about her head, and cheekbones that would cut steel. Unfortunately, she died at age ninety-five or six in 1960, so I never met her. My mom told me she often helped Nana with her concoctions using mesquite, creosote, and palo verde bark. Those “noxious syrups” Nana made her drink every day growing up “to strengthen the blood” must have worked—my mom rarely ever got sick for her remainder of her life.

Your story is filled with typical Arizona creepy-crawlies, and I know your house in Tucson is pretty much situated in the uncontained desert. What’s your best (or worst) creepy-crawly experience?

You don’t like spiders and snakes, if I recall correctly. Let’s see…best would be the Gila Monster. “Bob” hangs out by our garage and appears to eat quail eggs and hatchlings about every other year. I’m sure he comes out more often but we don’t get to see him. For readers who don’t know, Gila Monsters are one of only two venomous lizards in the world. (The other is the Mexican Beaded Lizard which is mostly found in…surprise! Mexico.) Gila Monsters are incredibly beautiful black and salmon-orange beaded-looking beasts, way bigger than the Geico Gecko, and move like Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo: much hissing and foot stomping. (You can hear how one sounds: They are so slow you practically have to help them bite you. Their venom isn’t fatal to humans but I would never chance handling Bob; pain is something I prefer to give than receive. He’s exceptionally cool to watch when he’s trying to scare you though!

Worst: Freakin’ bark scorpions. Itty bitty little almost clear-colored nasty scorpions that hide in firewood that someone (we won’t mention names but it begins with hus and ends with band) forgets to bang on the concrete before bringing it into the house. Damn things blend into the carpet. Last time I was stung on my toe, the entire side of my leg went numb for about two weeks. Anything that eats scorpions is welcome in my house.

Most writers start out as pretty imaginative kids. What kind of games or make-believe did you partake in that planted the seeds for the writer you would later become?

Before I started school, I had an imaginary horse named Shiner who had wings like Pegasus and magical powers to shrink and slip down the bathtub drain. As I got older, I climbed trees and pretended to scout for Washington in the French and Indian War, or imagined I was in the crow’s nest of a tall ship far out at sea. And yes, I fell out more than once! (Explains a few things, doesn’t it?) Mostly I read everything I could get my hands on, stepping into a different life in each book. I frustrated my grade school librarian to no end by reading every book in the entire library by the end of fifth grade, and parking my butt at her door on the days new books arrived.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Don’t laugh, but I didn’t think about it seriously until I hit forty. I’d always done fairly well with papers and essays and such, but never, ever considered letting anyone read stories I’d composed. When I had my son I read to him every single night before bed, and as an extra treat I’d compose a story on the fly. When I became involved with a group of friends on an Internet forum, a number of them dared me to write a Western. I never could resist a double dog dare…

I know Champagne Books recently contracted the sequel to Dragon & Hawk. What is that one called, and when is it scheduled for release? Are there any more sequels to come?

Book Two is called Rage of Firebirds and picks up the Jones saga in 1886. So far it’s set for release in April of 2012 (I’m hoping they’ll bump that up). Champagne also just contracted Book Three: Blood of a Dragon, set in 1904 Tucson, with a release date in fall 2012. I haven’t started writing Book Four yet, but it’s percolating at the back of my brain and I’ve started research. My initial intention is a total of five books to end the story in 1917.

Tell us about your short story that’s coming out in July.

Within The Mists tells a tale of an arrogant lieutenant in Nelson’s Navy on his way home from the Battle of Cape St. Vincent when he’s blown overboard in a violent storm. He’s rescued by a beautiful selchie and taken to a mysterious island within the mists where of all sorts of magical folk find haven. Based on the Celtic legend of people who walk the land as humans but become seals in the sea, it also incorporates some of my guilty pleasure addiction to stories of the British Navy a la Hornblower, Master and Commander, and The King’s Coat.

What are you working on right now?

I’m trying to do two things at once—typical Gemini! I’m working on compiling my research on the Welshmen who influenced Southern Arizona into a nonfiction resource. I’m hoping to get it together in time for the 2011 West Coast Eisteddfod, a Festival of all things Welsh ( ) where I’m giving a presentation in LA this September.[I also get to help judge the Tom Jones Panty-Throw and Welsh Male National Costume Contests! Woot!]

And I’ve begin a new book set in Revolutionary War America, loosely based on a friend’s distant relative’s true story. He was pressed into the British Navy and jumped ship in Boston Harbor, hid out in the woods and a cranberry bog, nearly froze to death and was rescued by a young farm girl whom he later married. He became a prominent citizen of Braintree—now Quincy—Massachusetts. I’ve been reading Ben Franklin’s more bawdy writings and a couple of wonderful treatises on Colonial history to get a good feel for the period. My friend has supplied me with all the ancestral information, so I’m just about ready to submerge myself into nonstop writing.

Thanks for stopping by, Jude! Let us know where we can find you and your book on the web.

It was my pleasure! Let’s meet again soon for tea—or a pint down at the pub!
Of course my book is available through Champagne Books:
As well as Amazon and Amazon UK (just search for “Jude Johnson”)
And I’m “chuffed to little meatballs” that Dragon & Hawk is still #1 on Fictionwise’s historical fiction list!

My website is, and you can view the trailer for Dragon & Hawk on YouTube here:
My Blog:
Facebook Page:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New Release

In Byron's Shadow, a historical romance, is now for sale on Amazon! Check it out:

At the age of twenty-one, Nicholas Price has the world at his feet. He has just graduated from Oxford, he is heir to his father's title and fortune, and he is about to meet Ada Byron, the daughter of his idol Lord Byron. His life falls apart, however, when an attempted elopement with Ada ends in disaster, resulting in his disinheritance. Destitute, he takes up residency in his mother's country estate, which is on the brink of ruin.

Ten years later, now a cynical misanthrope, Nicholas receives a visit from Catherine O'Reilly. Catherine once assisted Nicholas in obtaining access to Ada, and as she has also been cast out by her father, she has come to Nicholas for shelter. Catherine has been raped and is pregnant, but refuses to name her rapist. Nicholas agrees to take her on as a maid, but focuses all of his attention on winning Ada back. It is his eccentric brother James who can see through the submissive servant to the fiery, passionate woman within.

When more encounters with Ada end badly, it is Catherine who opens Nicholas's eyes to see how far he has taken his obsession with Byron. It is also she who helps him nurture his poetry, and to see the blessings around him in spite of his financial ruin. Soon Nicholas cannot resist falling into a love triangle involving Catherine and James, all of them unaware that the secret Catherine is harboring is about to shatter the fragile world Nicholas has managed to forge.

Thanks to my wonderful friend TK Toppin for a fabulous cover design!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Amazon vs. Champagne covers

If you're thinking about buying Shadow Fox in print, consider ordering it from Champagne rather than Amazon. The Amazon cover I just received has a black border around the cover art, and it is not even centered. The cover art on the back is completely missing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Novel of the Year

(Originally posted on the Writer's Vineyard)

Getting my first book published last year was literally a dream come true. There wasn't a day since I was 12 that I didn't wish for it. When it finally happened I didn't think there was anything that could top it; I had what I wanted most in the world, so what was left to ask for? When I was notified earlier this year that Champagne Books had nominated it for Novel of the Year for 2010, I actually had a moment of feeling guilty, like I'd taken advantage of the universe. That faded fast -- such things do -- and instead I relished the honor of being nominated. And like all nominees say, I told myself that being nominated would be enough.

At the beginning of our Awards Ceremony via instant chat on Coffeetime Romance, I misread the first category. If you've never attended a live chat, it is pure chaos; we had 10 or 15 people all typing at the same time, and the information flies by like bullets. It's really no wonder I thought the first award was for Novel of the Year; somehow I'd missed it was Best-Selling Novel of the Year. While I was genuinely happy for Nan Arnold, whose novel Pesto Packin' Mama sold the most copies for 2010 (also nominated for Novel of the Year which only added to my confusion), I realized what a bunch of horseshit all of that "I'm just happy to be nominated!" is. I was surprised at how disappointed I felt. Almost in the same breath, I found instant relief in knowing I was among good company: TK Toppin, Ciara Gold, Michael Davis, and KM Tolan are all fantastic storytellers not to mention wonderful friends, and I thought, well, at least we can all commiserate together. I was already planning my post-losing email to TK -- hey, let's get drunk together, my friend! Who needs that award anyway? I then went on to make a fool out of myself by joking about not winning; my fellow attendees must have thought, geez, lady, you want to win everything??

Needless to say, I was pretty astonished when I discovered my category was still coming up -- saved for last. Excited and then wary -- I faced the distinct possibility of losing (in my mind, anyway) twice. But I didn't. I was hoping to win, obviously, but I really didn't think I would. Shadow Fox is pretty dark with a lot of edginess. And I had read some of the competition and didn't think I really stood a chance. So it was truly shocking -- and delightful -- when I realized I had won. And while that was a spectacular feeling, I also felt terrible that I'd let down my fellow nominees. After all, I'd had several minutes in which I wallowed in misery with them, and even though it was only my own perception (and dumb mistake), I still felt like I had played a trick on them. Psych! I'm actually going to abandon you and accept this lovely trophy (which just arrived in the mail yesterday) and plaster pictures of it all over Facebook. And, essentially, I did exactly that.

So while I'm flaunting my award, which I will not give back for the world, I also want to tell TK, Ciara, Big Mike and Kerry that I won't take this award for granted, and that I was truly honored to be in their company. (Nan, you too, of course, but you sold a buttload of copies so I know you'll be fine!) We always support each other and cheer each other on, but we've never really had to compete before (at least I haven't). It sounds like a trite, insincere cliche for me to say I wish I could share it with all of you, but I really wish I could. Especially since I'm the new upstart on the block and you guys have shown me the ropes. You can all say you didn't need to win, that's okay, I deserved it, blah, blah, blah -- but I thought I lost for a while, remember? I expected to say, oh, well, I didn't win. Instead I said, "Oh f***. I didn't win." So you can't fool me.

To the Higher Powers at Champagne: I am deeply honored. I shall try to make you all proud. Again, I feel like I'm taunting God or the universe or what you will -- in September I'll have three books published, I've been taken in by a new family, and I just won this incredible reward. Surely that's enough! Right?

I won't mention that Shadow Fox's two sequels have release dates in 2011. *ducks behind shield to avoid rotten vegetables* That would never even cross my mind.