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:


  1. Don't feel too bad. I didn't start writing fiction either until I'd reached my forties. I firmly believe you need the experience you get from living to write a really good historical.
    Good Luck with the rest of the books. They sound wonderful.

  2. Thanks so much for this interview, Ashley. It was fun and I enjoyed your questions! :)

  3. Oh hey, thank you Allison! I believe you are right: a certain amount o f life experience adds depth to one's writing.

  4. Wonderful interview, Ashley and Jude. I hate scorpions of anykind. I'd much rather face the Gila Monster.

    Loved Dragon and Hawk.

  5. Great interview! Gila monsters and scorpions...I'll pass though. I've got enough to deal with her in the Caribbean: mosquitoes, sandflies, roaches, the random-thieving green monkey...just to name a few.

  6. Hi Linda, I'm so glad you enjoyed Dragon & Hawk!
    And yes, Bob is way cooler than those nasty scorpions. They make me mad just looking at them!

    Hey TK! I'm not a fan of flying bugs--or monkeys so I guess I'd better stay where I am, eh? ;-)

  7. Great interview, Jude. I love the southwest and the Tucson area, but I couldn't live with the wildlife. The worst I have are pine roaches that get inside once in a while and are big enough to ride. Even the cat won't kill 'em. The books sounds great and I've added them to my TBR list.

  8. Thanks, Linda!
    Roaches go everywhere, don't they? lol

  9. Great interview. I didn't have deja vu in Wales, but they must have had it for me. Several people spoke to me in Welsh as if they already knew me. I am of Welsh decent, but raised by...others.

    Good luck with the series.

  10. Great interview Jude!! Congrats on your contracts and upcoming books! Can't wait to read 'em!I loved your first three!!

  11. LOL Julie "raised by...others"! I had a sudden vision of Nicole Kidman in that movie "The Others."
    A kindly people, the Welsh, always happy to help when you look like you aren't certain of your direction.

  12. Great interview, Jude and Ashley. It was so interesting to read more about you and your writing, Jude. I'll pass on the Gila monsters and scorpions!

    Looking forward to reading Dragon & Hawk which is awaiting me on my kindle - just trying to get to it on the TBR pile (along with Ashley's book!)

  13. Thanks, Rosemary. I, too, have the TBR pile with Drangerous Deceit right on top. Sigh - every time I need a good case of insomnia, I snore right on!