I received this book for free from Publicist for review consideration, opinions expressed are 100% my own. This post contains affiliate links as indicated by an asterisk. Purchases from these links provides a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.In Another Life by Julie Christine Johnson
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on Feb. 2, 2016
Genres: Drama, Fantasy, Historical, Mystery or Thrillers, World or cultural
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It is January 1208 and in a village on the border between Provence and Languedoc, a monk whispers a benediction over the body of a slain papal emissary. The Cathars—followers of a heretical faith—are blamed for the assassination. The Pope declares a holy war and Languedoc is forever changed.
Eight hundred years later, historian Lia Carrer returns to southern France to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. Instead of finding solace in Languedoc’s quiet hills and medieval ruins, the woman trying to heal risks love, and loss, again.
Reincarnation is familiar ground for Lia—an expert in the mystical beliefs of the ancient Cathar faith—but to reconcile the truth of that long-ago assassination, the logical researcher must accept religious fantasy as historical fact. Three lost souls enter her life, each holding a key to the murder that launched a religious crusade in the heart of Europe.
In Another Life is set amidst the medieval intrigue of thirteenth century Languedoc and Paris, intertwined with Lia's modern quest to uncover the truth of an ancient murder and free a man haunted by ghosts from his past.
Do you believe in heaven? the afterlife? reincarnation? soulmates? Can love survive and overcome death? In the historical fiction novel In Another Life, author Julie Christine Johnson transports us between the present day and early 13th century France to find the answers.
Eighteen months after historian Lia Carrer tragically loses her husband Gabriel, she decides to begin her life again. She returns to Languedoc, France where her family originated from and so she can be close to her best friend. Lia begins trying to unravel the unsolved mystery between the assassination of an archdeacon in 1208 and finds herself entangled in a story of love and loss she never thought possible.
In Another Life was rich in historical detail, the landscape was lush, the characters flawed and the romance heartbreakingly beautiful. I enjoyed learning about the Cathar religion and their beliefs in reincarnation and a time in France I knew nothing about. This was a great selection to read for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge for France and Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.
Julie Christine Johnson’s writing was mesmerizing and elegantly romantic. Fans of historical fiction or mysticism, books set in France and those who are romantics at heart will enjoy In Another Life and make you wonder if true love can transcend time and death.
I’m also happy to share with you today an author interview with Julie Christine Johnson. I love getting to know the talent behind the words on the page and what inspires them to tell this particular story. Please welcome Julie to Mom’s Small Victories!
Interview with Julie Christine Johnson, Author of In Another Life
1. In Another Life has such a unique setting and plot, what inspired you to write about 13th century religion in France?
I’ve lived in and traveled throughout France, so it felt natural to set this first novel in the place that is my heart’s second home. In the spring of 2011, my husband and I spent a few weeks in Languedoc, and we fell under the spell of its haunting beauty and history. We passed our days clambering around medieval ruins and our evenings reading up on local history while sharing a bottle of gorgeous Languedoc wine. I had no idea at the time that I was researching a novel, but I left with a mental image I couldn’t shake: a woman standing on a cliff’s edge; below her stretches a valley laced with vineyards and studded with wind towers. Behind her, a man steps out from the ruins of a Cathar citadel. I was aching to find out who they were. Then I read about the Cathars’ belief in reincarnation and I knew I had my way into the story.
2. What kind of research did you do for In Another Life?
In the two years it took to write In Another Life, I learned to layer my narrative with research. My library of materials on the Cathars, medieval France, art and architecture of the era grew and the scenes set in the past deepened. Writing a work of fantasy allowed me poetic license with the plot, but I wanted to honor the historical details of daily life.
My goal was to create as seamless a transition as possible between past and present, while retaining a sense of almost dream-like wonder between the two worlds. It’s a feeling I carry with me when I’m in France, where the past lives and breathes in concert with the present. The towns, streets, hills, vineyards, and many of the edifices within In Another Life are ones I’ve explored, wandered through, dreamed of.
3. Have you been to France? If so, tell us about it! If not, tell us about a favorite travel destination.
Oh yes! Bits and pieces of my heart are strewn across L’Hexagone! It’s a twenty-six year love affair that began in 1990 when I attended university in the Savoie region. My husband (whom I met in a French literature class!) had lived and worked in France before we met, and together we’ve returned many times.
The roads Lia travels throughout Languedoc, the streets she wanders in Paris, even her Paris hotel—the very room where she stays—are places I’ve haunted during my travels in France.
We try to get back every couple of years, visiting a different region each time. We rent a small gîte and hike, bike, make day trips. Most recently was the Dordogne and eastern Loire Valley in 2014; I’m hoping we’ll get back this October. I’m researching a sequel to In Another Life and there is a very particular area I need to explore!
4. What is on your travel wish list? Where would you like to visit if money was no object?
My dream would be to spend a year in Senegal, teaching writing, brushing up on my French, and then spend another year traveling around Africa, listening, writing, collecting stories.
5. I see that In Another Life is your debut novel. Describe your experience going from short story writer to novelist. What were your challenges? What surprised you?
Mine is a bit of a faerie tale. But it’s proof that not every writer has a long and terrible road ahead. I began writing fiction in 2011, after taking a series of writing workshops in Seattle. Buoyed by early success in having short stories published, I went to a writers’ conference in June 2012 and it was there I realized I could, I must, try to write the story that was nattering around my brain. Two weeks later I wrote the first words of a novel that became In Another Life.
After two years of writing and revising, I ended September 2014 with a draft of In Another Life that I felt was ready to query. I’d researched literary agents, compiled a query spreadsheet, and drafted and redrafted my query letter. Before I sent out any letters, however, I decided to give in-person pitching a go. I attended a writers’ conference in October, and there I met the two women who would, a few weeks later, become my agent (Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary, and the editor of In Another Life, (Anna Michels, Sourcebooks).
What I learned along the way is that developing a writing practice, and for me that means writing every single day, was critical to my success—the success of completing a first draft. I had to plan for my writing time and guard it jealously. A writer must write. A writer must read. And a writer must send her work into the world, hear “No” over and over again, pick herself up each time, rinse and repeat. Although my first novel was quickly signed and set on the road to publication, I have stacks of rejections for other work. Those Nos are badges of honor because each one represents belief in myself, and if feedback is offered, they are learning experiences that make me a better writer.
6. Some of the book blurbs compare In Another Life to the Outlander series. Have you read Outlander? Do you think it’s a fair or accurate comparison? I’m always curious to know how authors feel when their books are compared to widely read bestsellers. Tell us how you feel about In Another Life being compared to Outlander.
I wanted to write something both beautiful and irresistible, a book that would take the reader out of the real world for a little while. I read the first in the Outlander series many years ago, so my memory of the story is hazy, but I do remember not being able to put it down. The comparison delights me!
7. What are some of your favorite books or authors to read? Which books or authors have influenced your writing?
Hilary Mantel, Kate Mosse, Colm Toibin, Anne Enright, Mary Doria Russell, Elizabeth Gilbert, Lily King, Dani Shapiro, Tim Winton, Cormac McCarthy, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Jess Walter. I tend to binge on authors. Last year it was Elena Ferrante and Francesca Marciano. This year I’ve joined an online group reading a Virginia Woolf work each month. I’m not a writer of historical fiction per se, so my influences cross a broad spectrum of styles. Many of my favorite historical novels are written by authors whose work spans categories and genres. Hilary Mantel blows my mind. In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, set in 16th century England, she opens up her world, sets a tone, and gets on with it. The “historical fiction” aspect of her work never dominates the characters and their stories. David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars showed me how creating a sense of place can be poetic, and how to connect readers viscerally with an era through the emotional power of character. Mary Doria Russell. Shoot. There’s nothing she can’t do. Ditto Margaret Atwood!
8. Have you always wanted to be a writer? Give our readers one tip about writing your first novel or overcoming writer’s block.
I read Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy when I was six and decided then and there that I would become a writer. It just took me thirty-five more years to get started! It takes a village to publish a book. No matter which path to publishing you walk, traditional or independent, you cannot do it alone. Find mentors—writers at different stages of their careers—and listen, watch, learn. Ask questions, be humble, and don’t wait—reach out now. Writers’ blogs, Facebook groups, Twitter chats are all great resources for connecting with writers and finding your tribe. Reach out in both directions—up and back. Always be willing to help someone right behind you.
And always, always be working on your next story. Don’t sit hitting refresh on your e-mail when you begin sending out queries or your novel is on submission with editors. The process can take months, a couple of years, even. Always be writing the next book. The first thing my now-agent asked me after reading and expressing enthusiasm for In Another Life was, “What else do you have?” I sent her a draft of my second novel and I had an offer of representation by the end of the week.
Oops, two tips! I love talking process and sharing my journey if it helps other writers realize their dreams.
Tanya, thank you for the opportunity to share my journey on your beautiful blog. And thank you to your followers for supporting writers by reading our books and keeping the conversation about writing and reading alive. What an honor and joy to be here!
Anyone else want to hop on a plane to France after that interview? I would love to explore Languedoc and the less traveled path that inspired this story. I love that Julie says “My goal was to create as seamless a transition as possible between past and present, while retaining a sense of almost dream-like wonder between the two worlds.” I think she achieved her goal splendidly in this book. A “dream-like wonder between the two worlds” is a perfect way to describe how I felt about In Another Life. Thanks Julie for sharing your book, your inspiration and tips with us. I look forward to the sequel!
Do you believe in soulmates? Do you think you can find love again after the loss of your true love? Can you suspend belief in books and immerse yourself in a mystical story? Tell us your thoughts!