Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Julie Bozza is an Aussie-Anglo hybrid empowered by writing, fuelled by espresso, calmed by knitting, overexcited by photography, and madly in love with Amy Adams and John Keats.
Thanks so much, Julie, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
Julie Bozza: See, I have research envy now, because I have no answer for this! LOL! Mostly I read a lot – a lot – and when I can, I visit the locations in which the work is set. But obviously I should come up with some weirder ideas, and research accordingly!
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
JB: I think “writer’s block” is a big scary umbrella term that covers a whole heap of causes and effects. So, I tend not to use the term, for a start. It makes it all sound too unmanageable! Instead, I ponder on what’s happening, or what’s not happening, and why. Maybe I need to do some more thinking, some more research, before continuing the story. Maybe I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere, or I’m trying to force the characters into something they’re not. Maybe I need to find a solution for a conundrum I haven’t even defined yet. Or that perennial favorite: Maybe I’ve just lost confidence in my ability to tell the story as I know it should be told.
This may all involve taking some time out, and letting it all mull over in the back of my mind for a while. Maybe I’ll refresh my palette, as it were, by writing a short story, or some fan fic. Maybe I’ll do some reading or notetaking for other parts of the project. Eventually a solution will occur to me… Or I’ll realize that the only way through is to have faith, grit my teeth, and continue on regardless.
JSC: Do you reward yourself for writing, or punish yourself for failing to do so? How?
JB: I definitely reward myself. I am such a child in this regard! I bribe myself into working, with the promise of future treats… Just little everyday things, such as browsing social media, or reading / watching / listening to something just for fun, or (and this is my downfall) having something yummy to eat. Or I even just give myself a figurative pat on the back. Let up on the self-criticism for five minutes and recognize that I just achieved something!
On the other hand, I try not to punish myself – or not deliberately – ever. If I don’t manage to write one day, or I don’t make my allotted word count, I give myself kudos for trying anyway – and I come back to it the next day instead.
This mostly works quite well… Though I plague myself at times with the notion of all the things I could have written, if only I’d applied myself!
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
JB: I do, actually – within reason – though I know we’re not supposed to. I certainly read any reviews that I’ve asked for, e.g. from bloggers or literary sites or readers with ARCs. It would seem rude not to! And I read reviews from readers on BookBub or Goodreads if they appear in my feed or I’m otherwise alerted to them. I also seek out reader reviews if I’m curious about how a title, or a specific aspect of a title, has been received.
There is no denying that a negative review can bite, and a positive review can make me glow. As I get older, I find that the glow is starting to last longer than the bite, so that’s cool. And there’s nothing grander than finding a review where the reader has obviously engaged with the story in ways that I’d hoped for. That’s very affirming. Though it’s also intriguing when a reader finds other things in story that I had no idea of. Readers and authors are like two side of the same coin in that way: together we make a book into whatever we want it to be.
Where a reviewer has negative things to say, I consider them. Is there something in the story that I didn’t manage to convey well? Did I get something wrong? What could I improve on in my writing style or subject matter next time round? Or is it more a matter of different strokes for different folks?
I am never going to write something that pleases everyone. I am tempted to add that I wouldn’t be doing my job right if I did, but I can’t even conceive of a novel that would please everyone, so it’s kind of a moot point. Instead, I can keep learning about how to reach the readers who will best like my books, and that way we can all enjoy the experience!
JSC: What was the first book that made you cry?
JB: Other writers’ books? Not my own…? LOL!
I can’t remember the title or author – and in many ways I don’t want to know – but I think the title mentioned the moon. The story began in Cornwall, with a shipwreck being rescued / plundered by the local village. The sole survivor was a man who went on to form an intense unrequited bond to one of the younger male villagers. There was a constant theme of self-sacrifice throughout… on the part of the older man alone. And for all my life, I have been deeply moved by such – especially pure selfless deaths for the sake of saving or helping others.
Anyway! I must have been about nine or ten when I first read this novel. I bawled my eyes out. And the trauma lives on. I can’t even tell you how infinitely poignant I become when I visit Postman’s Park in London. (There’s a great Wikipedia entry on the park, if you’re curious.)
JSC: How would you describe your novel’s genre?
JB: When I started writing this book – literally 27 years ago! – I simply thought of it as a Western, though the queer and the speculative fiction elements were always going to be part of the story. Eventually, a lot more recently, I discovered the subgenre “Weird West”, in which spec fic elements are combined with the Western genre. Obvious examples are the films Cowboys & Aliens (Science Fiction) and Bone Tomahawk (Horror). There are a few cool anthologies of such stories out there, and Mike Resnick does a great job of bringing Steampunk to Tombstone with his novel The Buntline Special.
I wanted to highlight the queer elements, too, though – so I dubbed the subgenre as “Queer Weird West”. I don’t pretend to be the only person writing such things – as evidenced by a few of the anthology stories, and the TV series Wynonna Earp. I hope to do my part in expanding the content! My anthology Queer Weird West Tales is open to submissions!
JSC: How did you choose the topic for this book?
JB: It chose me…? I think that’s the answer for all the work that really matters to me. I mean, I’m sure it’s all part of my conscious and subconscious working together, and I don’t believe in a literal mystical Muse. But when the synapses snap and sparkle in response to an idea or a connection between ideas, and I feel “ooh… there’s a story there!” it definitely feels as if it came to me, and I am left with no choice but to get on with it.
JSC: Let’s talk to your characters instead now. What’s it like to work for such a demanding writer?
Doc Holliday: “Ms. Bozza seems to realize how fascinating I am, so I am content. … I mean, obviously I deserve to have a whole book written about me alone, but sharing the pages with these two intriguing souls isn’t such a hardship.”
John Ringo: “Will you ever get over yourself, Holliday?”
DH: “Probably not, no.”
JR (grins at him, then turns serious): “Julie went deep, and I can’t say I enjoyed having things so near to me shared with her readers. But she worked hard to be true to me, in her facts and her metaphors, and I appreciate that.”
Wyatt Earp (stoically): “I am so tired of journalists and others inventing my life story. But the results in this case were less annoying than most. She was fair to you, Doc.”
DH: “Why, thank you for noticing, my friend.”
JR (rolls his eyes): “Next question?”
JSC: What’s your core motivation in this book?
JR (frowns in thought): “Clinging to the last shreds of my sanity…? That don’t sound so entertaining, does it?”
DH: “When I said ‘intriguing’, I mean it, pilgrim.”
JR: “What’s yours, then?”
DH: “Oh… to find a cause I care enough about. To be useful.” (clears his throat) “Wyatt?”
WE: “To make my part of the world a place in which my family and friends can prosper.”
JSC: Are you happy with where your writer left you at the end?
JR: “Yes. I never thought I’d –”
(he drifts off)
DH: “Yes. I knew how it would go; I’ve known since I was twenty. But I had true riches before the end.”
WE: “Yes. But suppose…”
(a thoughtful poignant silence falls)
And now for Julie’s new weird western: Writ in Blood:
Courage. Honor. Loyalty. All fine things, but they’ve led John Ringo to kill a man. He was raised right and he knows he’s not a murderer, but otherwise he’s a mystery even to himself. Doc Holliday claims to have some insights, but Doc is too devoted to Wyatt Earp to spare much attention for the man who’s already lost his soul. Which leaves Johnny Ringo prey to the distractions of a demon. Imaginary or not, if this creature abandons him, too, then surely his sanity is forfeit – and what will his life be worth then?
This Queer Weird West novel follows these three along the complex trails that lead into and out of Tombstone, Arizona in 1881.
“You’re Doc Holliday.”
Doc slowly drew on his cigarette—if he breathed in the smoke just so, he barely coughed at all—and looked up to see who’d made this announcement. A man stood there, lean but strong, with a heroic jaw and clean-cut features. Dark gold hair brushed back thick from his forehead, and an imposing moustache couldn’t quite hide a stern mouth. But what Doc had first noticed, and now returned to, were the thundery blue eyes. “So I understand,” Doc replied at last.
“My name’s Wyatt Earp. I’ve been working as an assistant marshal in Dodge City.”
“Then you are a long way from home.” Doc poured the last of the whiskey into his glass and signaled to the barman that he required another bottle. The afternoon was becoming warm, and the sustenance would be welcome. “What brings you to Fort Griffin? I hope for your sake that your business won’t keep you long in this ramshackle dump.”
“I’m looking for Dave Rudabaugh. If you have information on his whereabouts, you can shorten my stay, and I’d be obliged.”
Doc smiled, entertained by Earp’s stolid manner that betrayed—unless Doc was imagining it—a hint of irony. “Why do you suppose I’d divulge such information? In fact, why do you think I won’t simply warn Rudabaugh that you’re on his trail? The law and I are at odds as often as not, sir.”
Earp took a breath as if startled or perhaps even amused. “Rudabaugh’s wanted for train robbery, if that inspires your loyalty.”
“But you’re not here in your capacity as marshal? I noticed you used the past tense, Mr. Earp. Perhaps you’ve turned to bounty hunting?”
“You have nothing to fear from me. I’m here on behalf of the railroad, and that’s all. This is my last task before I head for the Black Hills.”
“Seeking gold rather than justice,” Doc murmured, considering the fellow while he stubbed out the old cigarette and rolled himself a fresh one. Wyatt Earp was dressed in heavy black, with a white collar-less shirt and a black flat-brimmed hat. Unfortunately, the dramatic effect was obscured by desert dust and the shabbiness of one who has traveled and slept in the same clothes for days. Two pistols graced his hips on a low-slung belt. “I do not fear you, Mr. Earp. However, I would be certifiably mad if I wasn’t wary of Rudabaugh. He runs with an overly young and dangerous crowd.”
“Yes, he does.” Earp let the implication speak on his behalf: that was why he had come from Kansas to Texas to find him.
“I am more than a match for them, of course, but I make it a rule not to choose my enemies lightly.” Doc nodded, punctuating his own wisdom. “Do you play poker, sir?”
The change of tack caused no more than a flicker of surprise. In fact, if it wasn’t for those visceral eyes, Earp would be harder to read than granite. “Yes, but I don’t have enough money on me to lose to you. If I need to bribe you, we are both out of luck.”
“What a pity.” Doc sat back and looked away, ostensibly calling an end to the conversation. He sipped a nip of whiskey poured from the fresh bottle, while Wyatt Earp stood there, either too stubborn or too stupid to take the hint.
“We needn’t play for money,” Earp eventually suggested.
“No? What would we play for instead?”
“I used to play poker with my brothers, in front of the fire after supper.”
“How domestic.” Doc succumbed to a cough, which perhaps undermined his dismissal of the scene Earp was painting.
“We played for matchsticks.”
“And I suppose you never even bothered to count up the matches afterwards.”
Earp shrugged. “No one really won, but no one really lost, either.”
“The problem is, you see, I have a sufficiency of matches,” Doc informed him in his laziest Georgian drawl.
The lawman said, “We could play for information. Whoever wins a hand gets to ask the other a question and receive an honest answer.”
“Ah.” Doc paused for a moment, wondering whether this was incredibly naive or incredibly sophisticated of the man. “How would you know if I was telling you the truth?”
“Maybe I wouldn’t. That’s not what’s important.”
Doc raised an eyebrow. “What is important, then?”
“Even a lie tells a truth about the person who chooses to tell it,” Earp replied. “And a question can be as revealing as an answer.”
Intriguing. “Given that it’s inevitable I’d win most hands, what would I want to ask you about? What meets the eye is striking indeed, but is there more to you than that?”
Earp’s gaze never faltered. When he spoke now, however, his voice was roughened, perhaps betraying unease. “I don’t know. Sometimes I fear there might be.”