here -- my review post includes an opportunity for one lucky commenter to win a copy of the book!
Q: Your latest novel, Oleanna, is unique in that is it set in early 20th century Norway, a time and place uncommon in historical fiction. What inspired your selection of setting?
A: Oleanna was inspired by the lives of my great-grandfather John and his sisters Elisabeth and Oleanna. It's not a retelling of their lives, but an imagining of what their lives were like, left behind on the farm in rural, rugged western Norway. Three of my four grandparents were Norwegian, so stories about the country and its traditions were part of my life growing up, but I wanted to know more. The time period was driven by two factors: the early 20th century was when John emigrated to the United States, and 1905 is the year that Norway finally regained independence after hundreds of years. The themes of separation and indepdence—at the macro and micro levels—dovetailed nicely.
Q: How did you go about researching Oleanna? What was the most fascinating or surprising thing you learned?
A: I was lucky enough to have visited Norway on vacation in 2004, so I had a good first-hand sense of the landscape (and inspiration!) when I started writing the book in 2006. And of course, I read a lot; Kathleen Stokker's book on folk medicine was particularly helpful, as was a fantastic article on women's suffrage movements around the world by Sylvia Paletschek and Bianka Pietrow-Ennker. I was also able to read early 20th century Baedeker guides to Norway online, thanks to Project Gutenberg, which was amazingly helpful.
I think the most surprising thing was learning how long Norway had not been independent. One thinks of Harald Fairhair and St. Olaf and the vikings, and forgets that Norway came under Danish rule (via marriage) in 1380, and then Swedish (via treaty) in 1814. Politically, and psychologically, the split from Sweden in 1905 was a big deal—the end of over 500 years of rule by their neighbors.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A. I have not. Or, at least consciously, I have not. I didn't start writing fiction until about 10 years ago, in my early 30s, prompted by a trip to Burgundy (which resulted in The Pilgrim Glass). I couldn't imagine not writing now; I suppose it felt like coming home.
Q: Are there any authors from whom you draw inspiration?
A. Oh yes, for sure. I came late to J.R.R. Tolkien (again, about 10 years ago) and his writing has been very inspirational for me, both in terms of subject matter (quest/journey/authenticity) and his keen attention to landscape and environment; he feels, to me, like the fiction-writing brother of Olmsted or Muir, both of whom inspire me as well. I could give you a whole list of authors, I guess, who inspire me. I know it will seem too earnest, but I'm so fascinated by, and in awe of, the creative process that anyone who creates is an inspiration.
Q: Within the historical fiction genre there are certain era (e.g. Tudor England) and historical figures (e.g., Anne Boleyn) that receive a lot of attention. As an author of unique historical fiction, what lesser known historical periods, people, places or events would you like to see receive more attention?
A: While I do enjoy reading about actual historical personages, I would like to see more fiction about regular people and their stories, life far away from the courts, for example. I want to hear the stories of daily life, which can be just as important and dramatic (and teach us as much) as the larger political stories.
I'd love to see more historical fiction about the Middle East. Ann Chamberlin's The Woman at the Well was wonderful—set in Syria just after Mohammed's arrival. It gave me such a wonderful sense of life in that time and place, and I learned so much. I'd also love to see more historical fiction set in North Africa (Lisa Yarde and Stephanie Dray have some wonderful stories set there) and in sub-Saharan Africa. I'd also love to see more stories set in Scandinavia, both pre- and post-Viking.
Q: Having written both a novel of contemporary fiction and one of historical fiction, are there any other genres you would like to try your hand at?
A: I wrote a number of short stories in the speculative fiction genre when I first started writing, and that was a lot of fun, and I've written some sci-fi that will probably never see the light of day. Right now I'm quite happy in my historical fiction groove, though I'm most definitely open to whatever the muse presents next.
Q: I understand you are currently at work on your next novel. Can you give us an idea of what it will be about?
A: I'm working on two at the moment; one is still being drafted, and is set in California. The other is being edited as we speak, and it's called DIDO'S CROWN (at least for now!). Here's the blurb: "Mary Wilson can't remember her childhood; but in her past lies the key to a mystery the Nazis are desperate to solve—and her friends are desperate to keep hidden." It's set in 1935 in Tunisia, France, and England, and is (as of right now) a kind of love letter to Indiana Jones and The Thin Man, with equal measures of adventure and angst. I can't seem to write a story that doesn't somehow investigate themes of death, grief, guilt, memory, and choice.
Q: Given you are not only a writer of historical fiction, but also a reader of the genre, what are some of your favourite novels?
A: I loved Seal Woman by Solveig Eggerz: so haunting and lyrical, and the writing is exceptional. I really enjoyed Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, and The Soldier of Raetia by Heather Domin. I'm a huge Patrick O'Brian fan, so pretty much the entirety of his Aubrey/Maturin series makes it into my favorites list. Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara was fantastic, as was Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island with only five books, what five books would these be?
A: Without doubt, the Lord of the Rings trilogy (I'm cheating and considering this one book!) and Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian (I'm not cheating and including the entire Aubreyiad!). Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (trans. Daniel Ladinsky) to keep me company and inspired. Probably one of the Harry Potter books, either The Prizoner of Azkaban or The Deathly Hallows, and perhaps a meaty non-fiction, like Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography (which inspired me to write my first piece of serious fiction) or something by Huston Smith.
Julie K. Rose is an author of unique historic and contemporary fiction.
She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, current co-chair of the
HNS Northern California chapter, and former reviewer for the Historical
Novels Review. She earned a B.A. in Humanities (SJSU) and an M.A. in
English (University of Virginia), and lives in the Bay Area with her
husband. She loves reading, following the San Francisco Giants, watching
episodes of Doctor Who, and enjoying the amazing natural beauty of
Oleanna, short-listed for finalists in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom literary
competition, is her second novel. The Pilgrim Glass, a finalist in the
2005 Faulkner-Wisdom and semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough
Novel Awards, was published in 2010.
Set during the separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905, this richly
detailed novel of love and loss was inspired by the life of the author's
Check out Julie's website at http://www.juliekrose.com/
My thanks to Julie for stopping by and for her great responses to my questions!