National bestselling author Juliet Blackwell started out life in Palo Alto, California, borne of a Texan mother and a Yankee father. The family soon moved to what were, at the time, the sticks of Cupertino, an hour south of San Francisco. Walking to and from kindergarten every day she would indulge in her earliest larcenous activity: stealing walnuts and apricots from surrounding orchards. After pursuing a round of lucrative careers, Juliet turned to writing. She penned the Art Lover's Mystery Series with her sister Carolyn, about an ex-art forger trying to go straight by working as a muralist and faux finisher in San Francisco. Juliet's Witchcraft Mystery series, about a witch who finally finds a place to fit in when she opens a vintage clothes shop on Haight Street in San Francisco, allows Juliet to indulge yet another interest—the world of witchcraft and the supernatural. Ever since her favorite aunt taught her about reading cards and tea leaves, Juliet has been fascinated with seers, conjurers, and covens from many different cultures and historic traditions. As an anthropologist, the author studied and taught about systems of spirituality, magic, and medicine throughout the world, especially in Latin America. Halloween is by far her favorite holiday.
And now, without any further ado...JULIET!
R: Tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer?
J: I live in an old haunted house (of course!) in Oakland, which is right across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. I grew up in the Bay Area, went to school down the coast in Santa Cruz, then lived back east for ten years and travelled a lot...but the Bay kept drawing me back! I used to run my own painting and design business, specializing in faux finishes, murals, and portraits, but I also did a fair amount of renovation project management. One night, about two in the morning, I was working in an otherwise empty Pacific Heights mansion and could have sworn I heard something overhead. That was where I got my idea for my first mystery!
R: You do the Haunted House Renovations mysteries – it’s unusual for a woman to write about house renovations J How did you get interested in that and what made you decide to do a series about it?
J: As I mentioned above, I sort of fell into the whole renovation thing by way of specialty decorative painting. And I've always had a passion for old homes and historic buildings of all types. I really do believe their walls hold a bit of the energy of the people who have lived in them, over the years. As for writing the series...I had two prior series, one about an ex-art forger (who worked as a faux finisher!) and a paranormal series about a witch with a vintage clothing store in the San Francisco's Haight Ashbury neighborhood. I wanted to write a series that allowed me to indulge my love for old buildings, and as I looked around most construction-related mysteries seemed to feature protagonists that were tangential to the process, rather than in charge. And I always enjoy seeing women in charge ;-)
R: You majored in Latin American studies and lived in Spain. What was living in a foreign country like? And how did you make the jump from Latin American studies to best selling author?
J: Ooh, I like the sound of “bestselling author”! Thanks for that ;-) Like almost everything else in my life, I sort of backed into being an author. First I studied anthropology in graduate school, and then got a Masters in Social Work. Though those two areas sound unrelated in many ways, I think they share a keen interest in people, different ways of life, and alternate ways of looking at the world. Also, anthropologists and social workers are trained to be observant when it comes to people and social mores, and I think those tendencies lend themselves easily to writing. Also , I used to write academic articles, so the first time I tried my hand at fiction I thought “cool! I can make everything up!!!” The academic training taught me discipline and perseverance; my extensive traveling gave me a lot of experiences I can draw on; and social work taught me more than I can say about the quirks and foibles of human nature. All of that is useful for an author!
R: You are also a talented painter. Which do you prefer, painting or writing?
J: I'm no longer painting to pay the rent, but rather I just do it for fun, so it's hard to compare. No matter what one does for a living, no matter how much one loves it, it can become “a job”. When I painted for a living, though I loved it, I had to deal with difficult clients and keep the books and manage employees. There are always boring, difficult parts to any business. Now that I write full time, it's not as purely “fun” as it was when I was just playing with words. Still, it's the best job in the world! Oh, to answer your question...painting is now pure distraction for me, and I've painted since I was old enough to hold a brush, so I adore everything about it. But I also love being an author, especially when things are humming along and I lose myself in the story. The stuff that goes along with writing – all the copyediting, re-writing, marketing, promoting—that part's a drag!
R: Now we’ll make the jump to vintage clothing, which is what your main character does in your Witchcraft mystery series. Why did you choose that for your character’s career over something like, oh, say an art gallery owner?
J: Funny you should ask me about art...I LOVE art, and all aspects of the quirky art world. Unfortunately, a lot of people find the idea boring or otherwise off-putting – a lot of people who read my first series (all about art forgery and theft) would say, “I don't know anything about the art world but I really liked this book anyway.” So I wanted to give Lily, my witch protagonist, a job that was creative and fun, and connected to history, but that was more accessible. I think a lot of people are interested in the idea of vintage everything – antiques, cars, kitchen gadgets, clothes-- so it's a fun subject. Plus, I wanted to set the series in the Haight Ashbury, which is a vibrant, quirky neighborhood – and it's full of vintage clothing stores, so it made sense. Finally…this way I can hang out in vintage clothes stores and call it “research”!
R: Out of all the supernaturals, why did you choose a witch?
J: That’s easy: Witches are real. Whether or not you believe they can affect reality, they are actual people who believe that what they are doing is indeed magical, or at least related to the history of botanicals or the pagan religions of yore. I enjoy reading pure fantasy about vampires and werewolves and the like, but when it came down to developing a protagonist I wanted her to be fully human, just more aware than most of the possibilities of other worlds. From a practical perspective, as an anthropologist I studied systems of health care all over the world, and healers are often considered “witches”. In fact, after the witch hunts in Europe public health plummeted, because they had managed to kill off most of the people who understood how to treat disease and injury. That sort of history fascinates me, and I try to fold some of that into the books.
R: If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
J:This is a hard question for me, since I’m not exactly up on the latest celebrities – I rarely manage to get to the movies, though I love to go, and I never watch TV. But I would say for the Haunted Home Renovation books, Sandra Bullock would be fabulous! I love her sense of comic timing. But she might be too pretty (and a little bit old) for the role – my protagonist Mel is more normal looking. James Garner would be perfect as her somewhat grumpy, but funny and great father.
As for Lily in the Witchcraft books... Mila Kunis would be great! I can’t imagine what they’d do about Oscar, though these computer artists are amazing lately, aren’t they?
R: What are you working on at the moment / next?
J:At the moment I'm finishing up the fifth book in the Witchcraft Mystery series, called Tarnished and Torn. The third in the Haunted Home Renovation series, Murder on the House, is already finished and in production. I'll be starting the fourth in that series next, as well as working on an entirely different project – a novel that's not a mystery!
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
J:I used to be very much a pantser, and that's still my first impulse—I want to be surprised and excited by the story, because I think that enthusiasm comes through to the reader. But in order to save time in revisions I now have a process that works for me: I think things through, make some notes, then “pants” the first EXTREMELY rough draft. Then I write up a reverse outline based upon that rough draft. By looking at the overall picture, I can tell what areas need to be expanded, worked out, or trimmed. It's a great process for me!
R: What is a “must have” for you that aids the creative process?
J:Coffee. Walks. A quiet place to think. Good writer friends who are only a phone call away when I need to talk things through. Oops, sorry...that’s four things!
R: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
J: I love to paint, garden, and cook. Mostly I spend time with friends –I am so lucky to have a great, strong circle of friends who aren't writers, as well as a lot of author buddies. But it's important to spend time away from the writing world from time to time! I love nothing more than to cook a great dinner or barbecue with friends, enjoy some great wine, and sit down together to talk for hours over good food. I enjoy going out to dive bars, too, and love to dance (not that I'm any good at it, but I don't let lack of talent stop me.) I also walk around nearby Lake Merritt or hike in the redwoods pretty often—the problem with being a writer is how much time I spend sitting on my butt. Lately I have a great fellow in my life, and we take motorcycle rides and watch the sun set over the ocean, all those wonderfully romantic things ;-)
R: What one thing would your readers be surprised to know about you?
J: I think people are surprised that I'm such a tomboy, deep down. I'm pretty girly on the outside, so it shocks people sometimes that I know how to shoot a gun and ride a motorcycle. But I was one of three girls raised by a very macho military man, so I did my best to be his son. It didn't quite take, and I think I'm very thoroughly feminine, but I'm strong and not squeamish and enjoy pushing my limits from time to time.
R: Do you have any advice for other writers?
J: This is a tough one, mostly because the advice is always the same, yet never easy: just write. And then write some more. Write every day, whether or not you feel like it. There's no getting around the fact that writing is a learned skill –even for those with seemingly innate talent-- but I don't think you can learn much from classes or workshops or reading books about writing – though if those work for you, then go for it! And certainly I'm all for finding inspiration wherever you can. But if you really want to be a writer, it eventually comes down to one person, and one person only: YOU. No one else can do it for you. But then no one but you has your voice, and knows what you want to say. That's what makes each of us unique!
R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Please visit me at my website, www.julietblackwell.net. I'm also on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JulietBlackwellAuthor and on Twitter as Juliet Blackwell. And please stop by my blog, www.paranormalartmysteries.blogspot.com.
Just for Fun:
Movie Practical Magic
TV Show The Wire
Actor Gregory Peck
Actress Rosalind Russell
Novel Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Writer (other than yourself) Richard Russo (this changes almost daily, depending on who I’m reading...)
Day or Night? Night
Witch or Ghost? Witch, of course! (I’m writing a Witchcraft mystery right now – ask again when I’m writing the Haunted Home Renovation series and I’m sure the answer will change ;-))
Mountains or Lake? Mountains. Except when I want to swim…how about a mountain lake?
Margarita or Manhattan Oooh, used to be Margarita, but lately…Manhattan (See how indecisive I am? I’m a Libra. Can’t help it)
Cat or Dog? (Answer Carefully) Dog – I'm allergic to cats! (OOOOOO NOOOOOOOO)
AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!!!
. Juliet is happy to offer a signed copy of the winner’s choice in the Witchcraft series: Secondhand Spirits, A Cast Off Coven, Hexes and Hemlines, or In a Witch’s Wardrobe (to US addresses only). Just leave a comment with your email address in the comments section of this post. (PLease do not forget the email addy - those without it will be disqualified :( And we don't want that!!!!!)
For extra entries, you can:
Friend the Human and/or ROCCO
Follow this blog
Follow ROCCO on twitter @RoccoBlogger
Tweet or FB about this post and contest (3 extra entries!)
Contest closes midnight,July 8 - Winner announced July 9!
Next week: Rachel Vincent...and then...our CASTLE fanfic intereview and auction! Watch the blog for a special announcement with more details!
HAVE A WONDERFUL AND SAFE FOURTH OF JULY!!!!!!!
INCREDIBLE BLOGGING CAT