Jude Johnson is a writer with a passion for historical research and details. She has studied the Welsh language—Cymraeg—enough to order beer, swear, order pancakes, and ask for the facilities. Trips to Britain to capture the cadence of the melodic Welsh accent and attitude allowed her to infuse her Welsh immigrant characters with realism. AmeriCymru interviewed Jude about her recent novel Dragon & Hawk published by Champagne Books in April 2011. Read our review of 'Dragon & Hawk' here
AmeriCymru: Hi Jude and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymu. What first attracted you to writing?
Jude: Firstly, thank you so much for your invitation for this interview. I write because of number-phobia. I’m allergic to math, especially differential calculus. I add two and two and wind up with seven, so I had to write quite a few of those “explain yourself” answers… Actually, I was an independent reader at age three (so I’m told) and I developed a voracious appetite to read everything I could get my hands on—cereal boxes, junk mail, encyclopedias. People who love to read often write as well, but may not necessarily want to share what they compose. I suppose it was the first blast of hormone-induced psychosis at forty that triggered the notion of writing a novel and submitting it for publication—because most people in their right minds would never subject themselves to repeated abject rejection. I then moved further into full blown insanity and independently published my first three novels—including Dragon & Hawk. I am blessed to be one of those extremely lucky indie-published writers who has now been picked up by an established publisher, Champagne Books of Alberta, Canada. I am so excited and grateful for the opportunity.
AmeriCymru: We learn from your bio ( and it is also evident in your writing ) that you have a "passion for historical research and details". When you embark on a new writing project do you have any particular research routine or methodology?
Jude: I don’t really have a rigid routine. Gasp! Horrors—I don’t even outline. I choose a major historical event/time and then I read books about the era, novels set during the era, and at least skim through something that was published during that particular era to get my mind in sync. Then I choose a real event or two (or six) that will involve or affect my characters. I see what unknown aspect I can find as a starting point, make a list of what I would like to know more about, then head to the historical societies and their research archives. The danger for me is going off on tangents. If I find some intriguing tidbit of information, I’ll get off track for hours searching for more about that than what I originally came to find. It’s cost me a ton in parking fees and photocopies but I think it’s also allowed me to paint my stories with more depth and color. I prefer going to the archives for verifiable information; I’m not opposed to web research, just leery of using it if I can’t cross-reference it with other documentation. And I’ve met professional historical researchers who help keep me honest. And they have guns. (Kidding, sort of.)
Welsh Miners, 1881 Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee, Arizona Territory
Photo Courtesy of Nancy Lewis Sosa, History Raiders Research (http://historyraider.com)
Whenever possible, I try to visit the locales involved. I’ve been down the Queen Mine in Bisbee many times, and each visit yields some new and different bit of information. I went to Wales in 2002, listened to how Cymry speak English and observe how they act with each other, as well as take note of the incredibly lush land. In 2008 I got to go to Pontypridd’s historical society and dig around, plus buy books about life there during Victorian times. It’s said the devil is in the details, and I can certainly become obsessed with them, but including the smells, sights, and sounds of what the characters would have experienced allows me to dive completely into that world. When I have facts, reference papers, and a mass of descriptive details close to hand, then I start writing. I can refer to my notes as needed and not have to stop.
AmeriCymru: How would you respond to people who might choose to label 'Dragon & Hawk' as a 'Western'? Is there such a thing as a 'Western' anymore? How would you describe the book?
Jude: That’s an excellent question. I didn’t set out to write a “Western” per se but according to the definition of the genre, that’s what the storyline of Dragon & Hawk became: a protagonist on a frontier who adheres to a code of ethics as opposed to law and order to protect or avenge loved ones. Westerns have never really gone away, many just moved to outer space! Star Trek and Star Wars are classic examples—and they have spawned an incredible series of books continuing their sagas. Good sci-fi/fantasy almost always has at least a hint of the Classic Western, the mysterious loner with a secret goal. Think about Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Harry Potter and his showdown with Voldemort, or Strider in The Lord of the Rings. Then again, one could argue that the Western is merely a permutation of ancient warrior legends, a constant retelling of David and Goliath.
Stories set in nineteenth century America west of the Mississippi may be the next genre to cycle up in popularity; historically speaking, people read more stories of this nature during hard economic times. In my opinion, Westerns provide hope with their examples of strength and endurance in hostile conditions. And every good story has a love story at heart, whether it’s a romantic love or that between brothers in arms.
How would I describe Dragon & Hawk? How about as a “Welsh-tern”—a Welsh Western? Actually, for a bookstore deciding where to put in on a shelf, I’d say it’s a historical Western romance. I emphasize the historical aspect because of all the research, and it is essentially a love story of a man for his brothers and a woman he never expected to accept.
AmeriCymru: We learn from your website that 'Dragon & Hawk' is part one of a three part trilogy. Care to tell us when Parts 2 and 3 are likely to be published?
Jude: It’s a trilogy so far… Book Two, Rage of Firebirds, is scheduled for release by Champagne Books in April 2012. Book Three, Dragon’s Blood, has been submitted for acceptance but hasn’t been officially contracted yet. Books Four and Five are in the research stages. A few hints involve Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution (I’ve already found one Welshman’s family who helped the wily bandito), World War I, and the shameful Deportation of Bisbee in 1917. I’ve always planned to end the saga there.
AmeriCymru: Do you think that the Welsh American experience has been adequately addressed in American literature?
Jude: Not as far as I’ve read. I must admit before I started this, I was as dense about Wales as the average American. I had no idea there were so many influential Welsh—honorable and devious—especially out here. Most of the newspaper accounts and literature I’ve seen in the Arizona Historical Society and Bisbee Mining Museum describe many Welsh as simply “British” or “Anglo.” [I should point out that here in the Southwest, “Anglo” often refers to anyone not Mexican, Native American, or African American. They call Swedes and French “Anglos” as just another term for white.] I’ve wondered if it was because many Welsh came to the American West to escape. Did they want to establish a new and different entity that was not subject to belittlement by the English? They didn’t seem to make a point of distinguishing Wales as a separate nationality in many cases. Then again, census takers and clerks weren’t well educated and you have to wonder if they just wrote down what they thought was simpler. As recently as 2004, even one of Tucson’s pioneer leaders, Samuel Hughes (born in Pembrokeshire in 1829) was described only as “Anglo” in Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star newspaper when they ran a commemorative edition for the 150th anniversary of the Gadsden Purchase.
There is no movie like “Braveheart” or “Michael Collins” that illustrates Wales as an entity separate from England, and let’s be honest: lots of Americans get their history from Hollywood. Sad but true. (Don’t even get me started on the “history” in the movie “Tombstone” or “Gunfight at the OK Corral.” Sigh.)
Arizona celebrates its statehood centennial in 2012, so I hope to bring it to more people’s attention that the Hughes brothers (there were three in Tucson) were Welshmen, not merely “Anglos.” I’d better get on the ball and publish a short booklet about all the Cactus Cymry…
AmeriCymru: You are running a competition to coincide with the launch of your new book. Can you tell us a little more about it? Where can readers go to participate?
Jude: I thought I’d do something fun on my blog, The Words That Remain. Again, to bring more attention to Wales and its talented people, I’m asking folks to post a comment on the contest page naming a Welsh Actor and which show or film brought them to their attention. So far we have Catherin Zeta-Jones and Desmond Llewelyn (“Q” of the Bond movies). The contest runs through April 20th, and I will pull a poster’s name out of the hat to win a $20 gift certificate from Champagne Books. That will buy at least three novels and a couple of short stories for your ebook reader, laptop, smart phone, or PC.
Go to http://wordsthatremain.blogspot.com/p/contest-number-one.html and add a comment to enter. I’ll post the winner’s name and they can email me right from the blog. (I don’t want people to post their email addresses and get spammed.)
AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your contribution to the 'Gecko Tales' collection last year?
Jude: Four other Tucson authors and I have joined together for signings and seminars, calling ourselves “Gecko Gals Ink.” We each write in different genres, so we are “differently expertised.” Our blog is here: http://geckogalsink.blogspot.com . We put together eleven short stories in an anthology called Gecko Tales which is now available on Kindle from Amazon and in print from CreateSpace https://www.createspace.com/3556025. My two stories: “Lorcan and the Witch” is a fable about a leprechaun, a unicorn, and the witch from the deepest, darkest part o’ the forest. “Perfect” is a fictional tale of a fangirl’s experience meeting her movie idol at a premiere. Any similarities to fangirls or celebrities living or dead is purely coincidental…
AmeriCymru: Where online can people buy your work?
Jude: Champagne Books at the moment (http://champagnebooks.com/shop/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=52). Amazon, BN.com, and Fictionwise within the next week or two. Dragon & Hawk will be published in trade paperback sometime this summer.
AmeriCymru: What's next for Jude Johnson?
Jude: I actually have a short fantasy story scheduled for release through Champagne in July 2011 involving an English lieutenant in Nelson’s Navy rescued by a selchie and brought to a mysterious island called Within The Mists. I used a bit of research about Skomer Island for that one. I’m currently researching an American Revolutionary era story based on a friend’s great-great-great-great (I think it’s that many greats) grandfather’s true experiences as a sailor pressed into the British Navy who jumped ship in Boston Harbor. And of course, continuing research for Book Four of the Dragon & Hawk saga.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?
Jude: Thank you, diolch yn fawr iawn, for your interest in my work. I originally wrote this story for people who have never been to Arizona—and for Arizonans who never heard of Wales. I hope I did the Cymry of the Old West proud—even those colorful stage robbers and con men. Stay tuned for the further adventures of the Jones families…