Chatting with Julie Anne Long

Today we’re talking with Julie Anne Long. Wild at Whiskey Creek, the second book in her contemporary series Hellcat Canyon, releases on the 29th of this month. Here’s the blurb:

Everyone knows the Greenleaf family puts the “Hell” in Hellcat Canyon—legend has it the only way they ever leave is in a cop car or a casket. But Glory Greenleaf has a different getaway vehicle in mind: her guitar. She has a Texas-sized talent and the ambition (and attitude) to match, but only two people have ever believed in her: her brother, who’s in jail, and his best friend . . . who put him there.

Sheriff Eli Barlow has secretly been in love with Glory since he was twelve years old. Which is how he knows her head is as hard as her heart is soft—and why she can’t forgive him for fracturing her family . . . or forget that night they surrendered to an explosive, long-simmering passion. But when a betrayal threatens Glory’s big break, Eli will risk everything to make it right . . . because the best way to love the girl from Whiskey Creek might mean setting her free forever.

Dabney: I enjoyed Wild at Whiskey Creek in part because music is my Prozac and this book so gets music. I know you used to be in a band in your very recent youth. What’s the story there?

Julie Anne: I’m so thrilled you enjoyed it! And that’s pretty funny re my ‘recent youth’. :)  But yeah, I did do that. I played guitar and wrote songs and sang in a few San Francisco Bay Area bands. I loved music so much it was like pain—I wanted to be it. Learning how to play music and write songs seemed the closest I could get to that. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, a lot of drama and hilarity and triumph and humiliation. Some of the stuff in Wild at Whiskey Creek is straight out of that life, stuff like Glory’s experiences at the Open Mic nights, hanging out with the guy who owns the music store. Playing to five indifferent people and one dancing hippie wasn’t uncommon, either. And actually, a couple of Glory’s original songs are songs I actually wrote. I figured out early on that I’m not cut out for, for instance. sleeping on stranger’s sofas or in the backs of vans on a tour of college towns with a bunch of smelly, chaotic boys, God love ’em. I love my writing life and I still have a lot of musician friends and I’m still a music freak, and I think musicality still informs my writing in a lot of ways. And I still make up random songs, mostly for my cat. About how she’s so fuzzy and has extra toes, and stuff like that. LOL.

Dabney: This book cracked me up. There are hilarious scenes—the sign painting was fab–, characters—Franco Francone worked for me here in large part because his snarky, self-aware humor was so strong–, and jokes—are you a secret lover of puns? Is writing funny harder than writing tragic (Like, say, Lyon and Olivia?)

Julie Anne: I had so much fun writing the sign painting scene! I actually think funny kind of needs tragic—or if not tragic, per se, then at least angst or struggle— the way light and shadow only exist by virtue of each other. It’s the shadow that gives the light dimension, you know? I think the stories that resonate most for me have emotional dynamics, like the best music, or like life. And I actually think Wild at Whiskey Creek is as emotional or wrenching, maybe more so, than Lyon and Olivia’s story. Similar elements are there: lovers ripped apart by family circumstances, loving your family but feeling misunderstood or even trapped by them, loving and hating someone at the same time and learning about yourself in the as you work through the complexities of that conflict and the necessity to grow up just a little more the hard way when you have to decide whether to forgive what feels unforgivable. And I think Glory’s position early in the story, though it can be funny, borders on hopeless, in a way I think a lot of families and people can relate to. And that’s pretty dark. Likewise, Eli’s frustration. But she doesn’t give up. Our heroine and hero are intrepid.  It was incredibly satisfying to lead her and Eli through their emotional paces to their HEA.

So I don’t really think of writing funny as different from writing something a little more wrenching: it’s all of a piece. It’s just telling a story, and I think when things get a little dark that’s where I go for comfort: humor. You look for the funny or wry angle.

Dabney: Glory’s voice is her gift and I wanted to hear her! Who did you imagine when you wrote her?

Julie Anne: I honestly didn’t really imagine anyone in particular, but I thought about female vocalists who have enormous, gorgeous, really distinctive voices. Like Adele, but maybe a little more dangerous, like Grace Slick or Ann Wilson, and with a smoky edge, like Dusty Springfield or Bobby Gentry, and a rawness like Janis. Glory is unique. I loved describing her voice. I want to hear her, too!

Dabney: What’s your favorite era of music? Genre? Artist?

Julie Anne: Oh, boy, I love something from nearly every era. I’m a pretty egalitarian listener. And I get curious and follow impulses to check things out. The other day I was poking around in a catalog of American music from the 1930s. Other times I stream BBC6 online to discover new stuff.  I like to be surprised. If I had to pick only one band I’d say “Led Zeppelin,” because in many ways they’re sort of all music:  loud, scary and beautiful and tender, funky or thundering or jangling or jazzy. Always sexy.  They just hit my emotional sweet spot. In my car today I was listening to The Black Keys, The New Pornographers, the Best of Three Dog Night and some old Echo and the Bunnymen. It all depends on the mood and the day.

I’m probably more about good songs than genres, but I do love guitars, drums and histrionic singers. The 70’s provided a lot of that. I probably listen mostly to “alternative”, whatever that encompasses these days. And I actually hear a lot of great, interesting music.

Dabney: Did you make a playlist while writing this book? If so, what was on it?

Julie Anne: I don’t really make formal playlists, but I always do sort of fish around for stuff that I feel matches the mood I want to be capturing in writing. When I wrote the first book in this series, I listened to a lot of Lera Lynn’s record, The Avenues, for instance. Glory Greenleaf’s open mic and performance list (we’re going to make a Spotify list for readers including those songs!) was a background as I wrote. I listened to a lot of Wilco, Radiohead….

Dabney: Eli has quite the academic background for a local small town sheriff. (Did he have student loans?) Why did he get those degrees? Is he ambitious? Brilliant? Both? Something else entirely?

Julie Anne: Actually, he had to get those requirements to join the sheriff’s department and rise in the ranks in California, so he went after his education pretty deliberately and methodically. He’s ambitious, possibly brilliant, but more determined than anything else.

Dabney: You’ve now published two contemporary romances and sixteen historical romances. Is your writing process the same for both genres?

Julie Anne: Hmmm…interesting question. In that I tend to be a pantser in terms of plotting, yes. I almost never start writing at the beginning of the book, and I invariably write out of order, so that’s the same. One of the things I’ve had fun with when it comes to writing contemporaries is that I can write about sex from the perspective of two sexually experienced people, so I can write scenes that are funny and hot, awkward and tender, all of it all at once, and informed by both the hero’s and heroine’s previous experiences. I can be a little freer about writing it, and I think it helps deepen the characters. I think I have a sense of feeling freer in general when I’m writing contemporaries—with the use of metaphor, with the use of contemporary references to shape characters (from pop songs to texting to billboards) to creation of characters who’ve had a range of life experiences (divorces, for instance, or a rise from rags to what is tantamount to American royalty, a movie star like J.T. McCord), which I feel can make them feel more complex and real and immediate to the reader. It also challenges me as a writer, because all that freedom influences my word choices and voice a little, too. I like it a lot.

Dabney: Is Franco’s story next—he really needs to find true love, poor gorgeous movie star. (And is Franco really his first name?)

Julie Anne: A lot of readers have asked about Franco. He’s so much fun to write! He’ll likely get a story—we’ll get to watch him evolve through a few books—but he’s not up next! I think Franco’s story is going to be a juicy one.

Dabney: How is Hellcat Canyon similar to Pennyroyal Green? How is it different?

Julie Anne: With Hellcat Canyon, as with Pennyroyal Green, we have town that’s almost a character in and of itself—its terrain (rugged mountains, incredible vistas, roaring rivers and creeks, secret places, legendary trees—are all significant parts of the story. We’ll have recurring story threads (who is little Annelise Harwood’s father?) locations (The Misty Cat, for instance, the Plugged Nickel, the Truth and Beauty salon), and we’ll take little field trips to other parts of California, like Napa or San Francisco. And we’ll meet families and friends and experience them from different angles and through the eyes of different characters, which I love to do, because I feel it helps adds dimension and texture to the stories. E.g., we see Glenn Harwood as kind of a gruff-but-kind employer through the eyes of Britt and Glory (heroines of Hot in Hellcat Canyon and Wild at Whiskey Creek); in the next book up, Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap, we’ll experience him as a dad. We have characters who are both strong and funny but harbor secrets or heartaches (like Rosemary at the Angel’s Nest) or Eden Harwood, who refuses to divulge who the father of her ten-year-old daughter is. And we have hottie, spoiled, sardonic movie star Franco Francone, who, similar to Jonathan Redmond, will have a sort of arc of maturity in the stories. We have a legendary tree, the Eternity Oak: Legend has it if you carve your initials and your sweetie’s on it, you’ll be bound for life, for better or for worse. (As J.T. Says in Hot in Hellcat Canyon: “do you use that story to scare the kids on Halloween?”) And like in Pennyroyal Green, we’ll explore the contrasts and tension between great wealth and poverty, which characterizes much of California.

I grew up in a modest, middle-class family in a modest, middle class suburb of Northern California and I had friends of all ethnicities and economic backgrounds, so it’s going to be a pleasure to create a California town that feels real to me and that I think a lot of readers can identify with.

And re both the series…I do think in general if a reader enjoys my sense of humor and way of unfolding a story, the way I create characters, and the way I build tension and romance and triumph and heartbreak, then they’ll enjoy both series, whether or not they gravitate more toward historicals. Fingers crossed!

Dabney: It’s rumored you plan to write more historical romance at some point. Is this true? (Please be true. Please be true.) Thoughts?

Julie Anne: I’m not ruling anything out! I’ve been so blessed by reader enthusiasm for the Pennyroyal Green series—it means the world to me. I’m so grateful to reader communities like AAR’s—you guys rock. And all of the Everseas and Redmonds are still vivid in my mind and heart. But I’m also having a blast with the contemporaries and they’ve been so warmly, enthusiastically received—Amazon named Hot in Hellcat Canyon one of the best Romances of 2015, and Kirkus Reviews chose Wild at Whiskey Creek as one of the Top 10 Romances of the year, and my historical readers, some of whom have never read another contemporary, LOVED it. I am so delighted and touched! I also have a good five dozen other ideas for books. It’s all a matter of balancing the best way to use my time, keep the roof over my head and to delight readers and myself, because if I’m not delighted the book won’t be inspired. I have a couple of novellas underway that I’d like to complete, but I won’t say more about that yet! The best way to keep apprised of what’d next is to sign up for my newsletter on my website or follow me on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/authorjulieanelong.

Dabney: Thanks for talking with me!

Julie Anne: I hope you all let me know what you think of the series, and I sincerely hope you love it.

Dabney: I too am a huge Lera Lynn fan. I’ve seen her several times a years over the past five years–she is amazing in concert. She does have a Glory like impact. She went to college in Athens, Georgia where my sister Sarah lives. When REM retired, there was a tribute show at which Lera performed. My sister was there with REM’s manager with whom she’s friends. When Lera sang, he turned to her and said, “There’s the next big thing.” Since then, Lera’s star has risen and risen–she was terrific as the wrecked bar singer in Showtime’s second season of True Detective and her shows have sold out all over the world.

Here’s a video from the AvenuesStanding on the Moon–as well as one of the song that put her on the map. The latter video of Bobby Baby is a cinematic and aural joy.

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11/30/2016 8:26 pm

What a wonderful interview! Julie Anne, I have to confess I had no idea you had a music background and that’s shedding some light on Glory’s character as I read this book. (Also, great taste in music!)

Julie Anne Long
Julie Anne Long
11/25/2016 6:53 pm

Thanks for the recommendation, Mel! I’ll definitely check KCRW out! And I hope you really enjoy WILD AT WHISKEY CREEK. :)

mel burns
mel burns
11/23/2016 3:36 pm

Great interview! Julie, you should try KCRW, they are probably one of the best new and eclectic radio stations in the country. Weekend’s with Anne Litt is one of my favorite shows.

Looking forward to the new book too!