Interviewed by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Writer Julianne Lee is a creative who discovered at a young age that daydreaming with a purpose equaled telling stories for fun. It was a while before she realized it might also be a great way to make a living. Her large family and military upbringing taught her a lot about people and gave her an appreciation of both a traveling life and the concept of Home. She pretended to be an artist for a few years, but what she really wanted was to be an actor (her first 8mm film can be found off her web site!)
A graduate of the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Lee combined acting with meeting the love of her life and moving to Nashville, TN. Acting jobs and two children followed, but when she realized that she wasn’t heading back to LA any time soon, she looked for another creative outlet.Storytelling could be that outlet, as well as a profession. Research and workshops led to a newspaper job and then interviewing actors for Starlog Magazine, a job Lee felt singularly qualified to do. All along she wrote fiction, until the magic manuscript Son of the Sword sold, launching her career as a novelist. She’s written everything from ghostly historicals through time travel and historical mystery. The Knight Tenebrae historical fantasies by Julianne Lee are available again from Book View Cafe, and The Opening Night Murder: Restoration Mystery #1 (written as Anne Rutherford) is now available from Berkley Publishing Group.
Lee is painting and quilting as well as writing. She has a passion for storytelling, organic vegetable gardening and training her dog Max. The cats are resisting the idea of training, but make excellent mewses.
1.) Where does story begin for you? Do you start with a character, a tendril of plot, a place in time, a location? Does this change, or does the seed always sprout from the same place?
A.) Mostly it’s the character that comes first, though as far as plot and character go it’s something of a chicken and egg thing. Part of my training at the Academy involved a book called The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. In it, he explains how plot and character must depend on each other, that you must have characters who are drawn in such a way as to do what the plot requires, and then must remain true to that characterization. So I will start with a “What if?” and then do some hard thinking about what sort of person the situation calls for. Then I’ll do some hard thinking about how that sort of person would react to the situation. It’s all organic. My mind wanders walkabout quite a bit, so it’s a natural way of working for me. The downside is that anyone watching me work thinks I’m just sitting there, doing nothing, and I get interrupted a lot.
2.) I see multiple author names on your web site. Were pseudonyms an intentional choice, or did you end up on that path by accident? What do you like about a pseudonym? When, if ever, is it a problem for you?
A.) I have three names in four genres. The reason for the pseudonyms was strictly to separate the genres, and these days I only use two: Julianne Lee, which is my real name, and Anne Rutherford, which is for a series of historical mysteries currently under contract with Berkley Prime Crime. I like being able to write in more than one genre, though it is a little difficult to keep track of how and where I’m promoting each book.
3) I notice a love affair between you and Great Britain. Eight time travel books of magic and history—the Knight Tenebrae books, the Ciorram Mathesons series, and Interloper at Glencoe. What brings you back to Scotland again and again? Is it the tapestry of their history, the intricacy of the culture clashes, the challenge of weaving a modern American into medieval thought?
A.) I’ve always identified as being of British descent. My maiden name is Bedford, and my grandmother’s maiden name was Ross. During the nineties when I was struggling to become a published author, I discovered a talent for writing stories with a historical setting. It was a form of world-building that I found interesting. Scotland was a natural for me, and as I drilled down on the subject it became more and more interesting to me. I studied Gaelic some, and became fascinated with the cultural personality of people who were my ancestors. As far as juxtaposing modern Americans and a medieval setting, that is another sort of fun. I love fish-out-of-water stories.
4.) Do you think your “voice,” the thing that stamps your writing as uniquely yours, changes from book to book, story to story–or can you already see themes that reoccur in your work?
A.) Yes and yes. Though I think it’s a given that each author has a unique voice no matter what the subject, one hopes that the point of view character isn’t always the same guy. I take the same approach with each character as I would with a role I might play as an actor. I find the things that make him/her unique and present them to the audience as behavior. One of the things I love best about writing fiction is that it’s a bit like acting, only I get to play all the roles. So I take pride and pleasure in making each book as different as I can, within the natural bounds of who I am.
5.) In Kindred Spirits, you combined your passion for time travel with ghosts and the American Civil War. Where was the idea for this book born? Did it start in the present, the past—or was there always a bridge between the two?
A.) The kernel for that book was my perception of the experience of those who were left at home while the men went off to fight, particularly in the South where the war was fought. I live in Hendersonville, Tennessee, an area that was under Union occupation for most of the war. There are many oral histories of what happened here, and so this Californian developed a perspective different from what one might read in a published biography or general history. The women left behind by the men who went to fight were terribly vulnerable. There is also that I like ghost stories. The idea began as a simple ghost story, but later morphed into the swap-out time travel involving the two women. While I was writing that book, I so immersed myself in the local history that whenever I passed the railroad tracks in town I imagined Union patrols riding alongside them. It was a little creepy, like seeing ghosts.
6.) You trained and worked as a professional actor. I would think that could be a tremendous asset when crafting a novel—allowing characters to slide into a culture not their own, or knowing when they would stand out like sore thumbs to those with eyes to see. How do you use your training when you create a new tale?
A.) I’m extremely lucky to be able to use my training pretty much every day. When I left home at the age of 20, I had to choose between getting a degree in something practical or going to school for what I really wanted, which was acting. I’d wanted to be an actor since I was eight years old and was in my first play. As a teenager I found out about the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and wished I could go there. When they established a campus in Los Angeles during the mid-seventies, I began to dream of it. In 1979, with the recommendation of a well-known alumnus, I was accepted. But when I married and moved to the Nashville area, the dream of being a professional performer ended. In my work as a novelist, I’m using all the concepts of drama, comedy, plot, and characterization the Academy taught me. I even have been able to use the fencing and stage combat techniques I learned there, and now with the Restoration Mystery Series, which revolve around a London theatre troupe ca. 1660, I can bring to bear all the principles of acting, acting styles, storytelling, stagecraft, theatre history, dialect, and understanding Shakespeare I know. I feel I made the right choice in getting the theatre degree instead of majoring in something more easily marketable.
7.) Does being from a military family give you added insight into the warrior mindset, or was that something that you researched to help balance modern warriors in an ancient land?
A.) Both. Alex MacNeil in Knight Tenebrae was loosely based on my father, and since I was in the Civil Air Patrol as a teenager I have a basic understanding of military culture, but that did me no good for describing battle conditions and the psychology of waging war. So I read a lot of John Keegan, Clausewitz, Sun Tsu, assorted military psychology, and at one point in my research I joined the Tailhook Association, just because.
8.) What have you learned from your own writing? To what concepts, intentionally or not, do you think you’ve exposed your readers?
A.) Oy. I write to entertain. At first it was just to entertain myself, then later to amuse others. I never think in terms of making statements or educating the reader, for it’s too easy to descend into preachiness and become not so much fun. The extent of any concepts to which my readers might be exposed would be just what I imagine it might be like to live in the period at hand. I don’t really analyze my stories closely enough to have learned anything from them. They are what they are, and it’s up to the reader to decide what it means.
9.) Right now I’m looking forward to your historical mysteries in restoration England. Are you writing another Rutherford mystery, or working on something new? (Or both?)
A.) The Opening Night Murder was published this year, and the second book, The Scottish Play Murder, will be out on September 3. The third book, The Twelfth Night Murder, will be published sometime next year. I hope there will be many, many more. Each successive book brings us deeper into the character and relationships of Suzanne Thornton, who is a former tart and actress who runs a theatre troupe holding a patent from Charles II to perform Shakespeare’s plays for the hoi polloi. Other projects in the works are ebook editions of the Matheson series, and possibly Book Four of the Tenebrae series. Readers can keep up with my various series through my History Geek Newsletter.
10.) Has writing taught you anything that you didn’t expect?
A.) That I have value as a person though I’m entirely unsuited for an office job.