This week’s other featured books, “Begin the Begin,” by Robert Dean Lurie and “When Enemies Offend Thee,” by Sally Whitney, can be found by scrolling down below this post, along with the First Tuesday Replay. Or, just click the author’s name on our Author’s page.
THE BOOK: The Crows of Beara.
PUBLISHED IN: 2017.
THE AUTHOR: Julie Christine Johnson.
THE EDITOR:Midge Raymond and John Yunker.
THE PUBLISHER: Ashland Creek Press, a boutique press in southern Oregon dedicated to publishing books that focus on ecological sustainability and resilience.
SUMMARY: When Annie Crowe travels from Seattle to a small Irish village to promote a new copper mine, her public relations career is hanging in the balance. Struggling to overcome her troubled past and a failing marriage, Annie is eager for a chance to rebuild her life.Yet when she arrives on the remote Beara peninsula, Annie learns that the mine would encroach on the nesting ground of an endangered bird, the Red-billed Chough, and many in the community are fiercely protective of this wild place. Among them is Daniel Savage, a local artist battling demons of his own, who has been recruited to help block the mine.
Despite their differences, Annie and Daniel find themselves drawn toward each other, and, inexplicably, they begin to hear the same voice—a strange, distant whisper of Gaelic, like sorrow blowing in the wind. Guided by ancient mythology and challenged by modern problems, Annie must confront the half-truths she has been sent to spread and the lies she has been telling herself. Most of all, she must open her heart to the healing power of this rugged land and its people. Beautifully crafted with environmental themes, a lyrical Irish setting, and a touch of magical realism, The Crows of Beara is a breathtaking novel of how the nature of place encompasses everything that we are.
THE BACK STORY: May 2002. My first trip to Ireland. Alone, I joined a small group of strangers to hike the Beara peninsula, West Cork. I fell deeply in love with a land of impossible greens, peaches-and-cream sunrises and salmon-flesh sunsets, lashing rain and wind, always wind.
On the flight home two weeks later, I turned my face to the window, sobbing. I was as if torn from a lover, forever. Ireland changed me. Beara gave me a sense of peace and wholeness I had never before experienced.
The years pass and I returned to Ireland several times, hiking the Wicklow Way, Connemara, the Dingle and Kerry peninsulas; exploring Dublin, Galway, Limerick, enmare, Tralee. But Beara remained a dream crystallized in photographs and memories.
I dream of a humped, ragged block of stone perched on hill overlooking Ballycrovane Harbor. One edge resembles the profile of a woman, her furrowed brow arched over a proud nose, her gaze fixed on the Atlantic Ocean. She is An Cailleach Bheara, the Hag of Beara, mother of Ireland. Her story is Ireland’s story, her survival the enduring drama of a tortured land of legendary beauty.
I created the story of a recovering alcoholic who has a marriage to repair and a career to salvage, and another of an artist who cannot forgive himself for the tragedy he caused. As my characters begin to take shape, I know the threads connecting them will be found in the presence of the Hag. Her voice filters through these characters’ pain to reveal their authentic selves.
I wrote the first draft of The Crows of Beara in ten weeks from January to March, 2014. I set it aside for several months, then revised it in in the fall. After I signed with an agent and a publisher for my first novel, In Another Life, in November 2014, I didn’t pick up Crowsagain until late spring 2015, making some agent-advised changes just before it went on submission. I revised the beginning again during summer 2015 before Ashland Creek Press picked it up in September.
Summer 2016-Spring 2017 were spent on story and copy edits and proofreading with my publisher. From first draft to finished book,Crows shed about 30,000 words, several POVs, and had a few minor plot changes, but the story is essentially same one I first penned back in 2014. Whew. When I look at it this way, it takes such a very long time to bring a book to life!
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Even though THE CROWS OF BEARA was published nearly three years ago, the novel’s central theme—the healing power of art—seems even more relevant today. America has become so polarized in this anxious, stressful time. Art, whether visual, literary, musical or theatrical, provides a way to cope with, articulate, escape from and celebrate all that speaks to our hearts. At its heart, CROWS is a story of hope and resiliency, of falling in love with a place, and learning to forgive and love oneself. And if you love Ireland, you will love THE CROWS OF BEARA; if you’ve never been, you’ll be packing your bags after you turn the last page.
“Like Ireland itself, The Crows of Beara pulls at something deep inside the reader and won’t let go. In this captivating and thoughtful novel, the enchantment of Ireland heals two damaged souls and reminds all of us that no matter how dark life may be at times, there is always hope.” — Kelli Estes, USA Today bestselling author of The Girl Who Wrote in Silk.
“In this important novel, Julie Christine Johnson brings together a remote peninsula in the west of Ireland with environmental issues that threaten a local community and its attachment to the landscape…Written in a lyrical voice with honesty and authority on the environment, addiction and recovery, and the magic of the Irish landscape, The Crows of Beara is a passionate story of one woman’s recovery of her soul.” — Christine Breen, author of Her Name Is Rose and O Come Ye Back to Ireland (with Niall Williams).
“A beautiful, powerful novel about the mystical songs of ancient Ireland, two damaged souls fighting for the hope of a second chance, the healing power of place, and the importance of listening to your heart. My heart ached for Annie and Daniel and cheered for their resilience. This is not a novel I will forget.” — Barbara Claypole White, bestselling author of The Perfect Son and Echoes of Family.
AUTHOR PROFILE: I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and I live not far from my childhood home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state. Returning to this place of peace and beauty came after thirty years of adventures elsewhere, including high school and college in central Washington, study and teaching abroad in France, Japan, and Chad, graduate school in the Midwest, and a career as university study abroad program administrator that took me around the world. In 2006, I moved to New Zealand where I attended culinary school and entered the wine industry. Returning to Seattle in 2008, I worked as a wine buyer before moving to Port Townsend in 2013. Here, I finished my first novel, completed two more, and am at work on the fourth.
In Another Life (Sourcebooks, 2016), was inspired by the Cathar Crusade and is set in present day and 13th century France. It was named Book of the Year (Fantasy, Adult Fiction) by FOREWORD Indies at the 2017 American Libraries Association Annual Conference.
The Crows of Beara (Ashland Creek Press, 2017), was a finalist for The Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, judged by PEN/Faulkner author and Man Booker Award nominee Karen Joy Fowler. It takes place in contemporary Co. Cork, southwest Ireland, and weaves together themes of industry vs. the environment, addiction, creativity, and hill walking.
My third novel, Upside-Down Girl, follows the journey of Holly Dawes as she emigrates from Seattle to New Zealand, where she befriends a young Maori girl and realizes there is more than one way to fulfill her desire to be a mother and more than one way to lose a beloved child. Upside-Down Girl is currently on submission.
I’m at work on a fourth project, the first in contemporary crime fiction series set in a seaport Olympic Peninsula town featuring Kate Ripley, a disgraced former Seattle PD detective who can’t set aside her desire for truth, justice, and small batch bourbon. The Deep Coil is my working title.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: “THE CROWS OF BEARA was meant to be my love song to Ireland. A place was all I had in my pocket when I sat down with my notebook to begin sketching characters. I set the place aside and focused on the who, for it is from the characters that my stories are built. WHERE gives me a foundation; WHO is the framework. I discovered a protagonist and a main character linked by the same weakness and the same strength: addiction and art. Bringing them to stand before each other on a dividing line was a third “character” which I met by chance in my research: the Red-billed chough, a species of crow which cycles on and off the endangered list as one nesting ground thrives and another is threatened. It is found along the southwest coast of Ireland, where cliff meets pasture on one end and ocean on the other. In CROWS, a copper mine would bring needed jobs to a struggling community; it would also destroy the habitat of this beloved small black bird with a crimson beak and feet. The chough became the book’s touchstone.
Deep into revisions, months after CROWS had been accepted for publication by Ashland Creek Press, I met an artist-anthropologist using 3-D photography in a breathtaking marriage of art and science to preserve natural artifacts gathered from manned and unmanned space missions. Through her art, she shows that our cultural heritage is alive in these rocks gathered from places so distant, the mind bends in trying to comprehend. In talking with her, I realized I had been dancing around but unable to name the central core of my characters’ artistic drive. Nature is a cultural artifact that we have the power to preserve, and art can be a unifying force when politics threaten to tear us apart.
There’s a scene midway through THE CROWS OF BEARA where Annie sees Daniel’s art for the first time. And in observing his own work through her eyes, he realizes the power of what he does, how his art can change minds, perspectives, lives. Art as an act of resistance and healing is one of the major themes of the book and it’s very much how I feel about what I do as an artist. Words are my voice, my sword, my hand out to the universe. Art, whether it’s visual, literary, musical, or of the body, connects us to ourselves, to each other, to the greater world. It’s what keeps us moving forward toward light in times of greatest darkness.
The Beara Peninsula. southwest Ireland.
It is that nervous time between seasons, when chill winds skirt across faces upturned to the sun. Light spills over the eastern hills and dives into the valley, sparkles on the western bays. Two small crows reach with red feet and alight on the Hag. They dance along her spine with measured, delicate steps to the music of instinct. As one creature, the birds lift their heads to the bay and slice the air with their scimitar beaks. They affirm an unspoken request with an echoing “ker ker” before swooping up and careering off air currents that take them south and west to their fragile home in Ballycaróg Cove.
The crows leave behind the Hag, her sightless stone eyes fixed on a point far across Coulagh Bay where the silver-blue water roils across rocks and slips into the Atlantic. Her chiseled profile shows a long, straight nose falling from the soft curve of her brow. Gray hair streams behind her, caught in the forever wind that scours this small promontory, beating the grass down to a nubby carpet. Of her seven lives, she has been captured here in her prime, a woman full and complete, defiant in her solitude as she waits endlessly, some say for her husband, others for mercy that will return her stone body to flesh and blood.
Many travel far to lay a hand on the blade of her back, leaving tokens of gratitude or supplication at her feet, tokens that fade or are torn apart by the rain and carried away on the wind. Still others are born with the soul of the Hag—she who is the essence of Ireland—and carry her spirit into the world, seeking out those in need of her wisdom and lifting them to grace.”
Annie turned off the engine and rested her forehead on the steering wheel, gathering strength. Stephen’s SUV sat squarely in the center of the carport, forcing her to park the Jetta on the street. He’d always left the covered space for her. The house hunkered in silent rebuke, complicit in the denial of this small gallantry.
Burdened like a packhorse, her gym duffel strapped across her chest, a canvas grocery tote in one hand, laptop bag hanging from a crooked arm, she trudged past the Koshals’ minivan. The daffodils lining the sidewalk had bloomed with such eagerness just last week. Now they lay flattened against the cement, defeated by the day’s rain.
The back door was locked. Annie dropped the bag of groceries to the cushion of her toes and fumbled in her jacket pocket for house keys. Slamming into the house in a cursing, spilling bundle of exasperation, she tripped on the straps of the tote. The bag went airborne as she yanked her foot free, pinballing loose fruit, containers of Greek yogurt, and cartons of deli takeout into the baseboards. Taking two jump-steps forward, fighting for balance, she met the edge of the cooking island with her hipbone. Profanity did little to ease the pain, but it kept the tears at bay.
The lingering scent of onions sautéed in butter told her that Stephen had eaten already. His anger lurked, tight and dark, in the shadows beyond the kitchen.
She collected the scattered containers and bruised fruit, depositing them in the fridge. Peeling away the foil from a burst yogurt carton, she dipped a spoon in what remained and stirred the chunks of black cherry from the bottom. Dinner. After a few swallows, Annie kicked off her running shoes and tiptoed across the polished fir floors.
Their bedroom door was open, but no lights were on; only Annie occupied that room. Light glowed from underneath Stephen’s office door, and she wondered for the first time if he had returned to their bed during her weeks in rehab, or if he’d stayed in his office—spending nights on the long leather sofa, wrapped in a down comforter, watching ESPN. She rapped lightly with one knuckle and turned the cool brass knob.
He sat slumped on the otter-brown sofa, his feet propped on the coffee table, a beer bottle in one hand, balanced on the flat plane of his stomach. Annie had insisted he not deny himself alcohol because of her, but he’d cleared the house, hauling their prized cellar to a wine storage place down in SoDo. She hadn’t seen him drink since she’d returned home from Salish. Her heart thudded at the evident end of his solidarity with her.
“Hey,” she said to his empty stare at the muted TV. A sudden breeze tossed rain at the house, and the soft pattering of drops against window glass broke the silence. He flicked his eyes to her, then back to the blur of moving images. Annie rested her bruised hip against the doorjamb and pressed hard to sear the pain into her skin.
“Stephen, are you all right? Did something happen at the store?”
He exhaled a long breath from deep in his throat. She thought of the yogic breathing she used to relax her mind and sink into a pose: lightly in through the nose, audibly out from the back of the throat. But Stephen was not relaxed. Despite his slouched position, his knuckles were white and his legs were taut.
The air around him hummed with an electric storm of tension.
The sudden lift of an arm. The arc of a wrist. Glass exploded beside her head and a tepid wash of acrid hops and sweet malt splashed over her. Stunned, Annie let the liquid drip from her hair to the floor, where the beer bottle lay in shards.
“Okay.” She breathed, wrapping her arms around her rigid frame.
“What did I do?”
“Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”
“Find out what?” But she knew.
“Spare me the innocent routine, Annie. No more lies. After everything we’ve been through with you, after all I’ve done to get you back on your feet, you go and fuck some guy from your AA meeting. What a fool I’ve been.”
His feet crashed to the floor, and he dropped his face into his hands.
“How did you find out?”
She began to tremble. She’d seen her husband cry only when he won triathlons. This vulnerability frightened her more than his anger. But the worst was over. Admitting to her betrayal was the uprooting of an abscessed tooth: the relief of released pressure greater than the acute agony of opening the wound.
He rolled his forehead between his palms and laughed. When he looked up, his face was dry, but his eyes were rimmed in red.
“That’s all you have to say? ‘How did you find out?’ What does it matter? I found out. That’s enough.”
Her cheek was beginning to stiffen with dried beer. Annie could smell the sweet and sour essence of orange and pine, thought of sticking out her tongue to taste it. She had to pee. Sh
“It’s been only two months.” A protest, lamely delivered through her sludge of shame and regret, as if she had a right to be indulged because she was trying.
Too weary to counter the dismissal, Annie eased out of the room. The bottom of the closing door slid over broken glass, sweeping it into the hallway.
She stopped just before the door clicked shut. Into the small sliver of light she said, “I’ll go. Give me a couple of days to sort something out.”
Excerpt From: Julie Christine Johnson. “The Crows of Beara: A Novel.”
LOCAL OUTLETS: Buy direct from the Ashland Creek Press store at EcoLit Books and support independent publishing. Free shipping is available.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR:Reach me via my website contact page.