I’d like to introduce you to a fellow American historical fiction author! Please help me welcome Julie Weston! First a look at her bio and then we’ll find out more about her books.
Julie Weston grew up in Idaho and practiced law for many years in Seattle. Her memoir of place, The Good Times Are All Gone Now: Life, Death and Rebirth in an Idaho Mining Town (University of Oklahoma Press, 2009) received honorable mention in the 2009 Idaho Book of the Year Award. Her debut mystery, Moonshadows, was a finalist in the May Sarton Literary Award. Basque Moon, her second mystery, won the 2017 WILLA Literary Award in Historical Fiction. Moonscape, won a Bronze from Foreword INDIE Awards. Weston and her husband live in Hailey, Idaho, where they ski, write, photograph and enjoy the outdoors. Visit www.julieweston.com for more information. All of her mysteries are published by Five Star Publishing, a division of Cengage.
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Julie: All my books take place in Idaho, and MINERS’ MOON, a Nellie Burns and Moonshine Mystery (#4) is set in north Idaho. My great-great grandparents came to Boise and Ketchum, Idaho in the 1870s. My great-grandfather and -mother even honeymooned in Ketchum. My grandmother and mother were both born in Idaho, and my great aunt wrote a book about the family in 1948. I grew up in a mining town in north Idaho. With all those roots in this state, how could I not write about Idaho?
Each of my mysteries is set in the 1920s and in a different locale in the state. Determining place is how I begin each book: Hailey and Ketchum, Stanley Basin, Craters of the Moon—all in Central Idaho–and mining in North Idaho. Each place is as much a character as Nellie and her black Lab dog, Moonshine. The inspiration for MINERS’ MOON arose from my own exposure to mining and my experience descending into a major mine in my town. I also wrote a memoir about that experience, which included a chapter on the brothels that were part of the towns of north Idaho and my research on them. The fact of Prohibition in the 1920s in the US also gave me much opportunity to write about bootlegging and moonshining in the state.
Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?
Julie: My protagonist, Nellie Burns, arose out of my family connections to photography. A woman needed to be the star of my books. My grandmother’s family was heavily involved in photography, so I chose that as her career. My husband is a photographer and he had all the expertise for large-format cameras (all Nellie used) and could help me get the technical details correct. There was a woman photographer, Nellie Stockbridge, in north Idaho, who had come from Chicago in the early 1900s and took photographs of the mining, miners and prostitutes. She was partially a model for my Nellie Burns. Her name was Nellie Stockbridge. My family’s photo studio in Boise was called the Burns Studio and existed for many years.
Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?
Julie: As indicated above, my exposure to mining sparked the setting. When I descended into the major mine in 1990, I was given a tour to some of the deeper sections of the mine. I visited a “stope” where mining took place and also saw where former mining areas were filled with slurry to keep them from collapsing. At the time, I was writing my memoir, but even then I saw a situation that would be perfect in a murder mystery. Thus, MINERS’ MOON sat on a backburner in my head for many years and finally, I took the chance to write it as my fourth novel.
Betty: Which character was the hardest to get to know?
Julie: Nellie Burns works with a Basque sheriff, Charlie Asteguigoiri, known as Charlie Azgo in my series, as his Basque name is too hard to pronounce. I have Basque friends here in Idaho with long roots to the small towns and sheepherding industry, and from whom I have learned about the Basque heritage. A short story I wrote about a sheepherder was published in a literary journal quite a while ago, “Idaho Surprise” in the Clackamas Literary Journal. I built on that story to develop Charlie, but getting into his voice has been a stretch. A Basque sheriff in Idaho in the 1920s is also a stretch, but I did it anyway.
Most of the other characters are based on people I have known in Idaho—a miner, a boarding house landlady, Mormons, union members, and so on.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Julie: Before I wrote this story, I had already researched the mines by descending one of them. I also wrote in my memoir of the Idaho mining towns about the brothels and prostitutes, which existed up until 1991. Revenuer interest during Prohibition in Idaho was explored by Donna Krutz Smith in a master’s thesis at the University of Idaho entitled “It Will All Come Out in the Courtroom”: Prohibition in Shoshone County, Idaho. The thesis reads like a thriller in many respects. A fire in the town of Burke (a real town) took place in 1923, but I moved it to 1924 to fit into my time period. A story in IDAHO Magazine helped me with the details. I have also read a number of books about the union difficulties in the mining area which gave me an excellent background in which to set my plot.
Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing? Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Julie: I write mostly in longhand in a three sectioned spiral notebook. From there, I input the handwriting into my computer and often continue on the computer. I print out as I go along and revise by hand and again input to the computer. Usually, before I begin, either in a notebook or on the computer, I get a hot cup of tea—Lapsang souchon or Darjeeling—to accompany me at a table in my dining area, a window seat, or my desk. My office is in a balcony space above our kitchen, and I have a large flat area to accumulate books, articles, photographs, and drafts for each book.
I read everywhere in our house—in bed, on the window seat, at the table, on a couch, on the patio in the summer, in a car, at the library. I have a huge stack of to-be-read books and usually three going at once.
Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?
Julie: Louise Penny, Jaqueline Winspear, and Craig Johnson are wonderful mystery series writers I enjoy reading. I would love to sit down and talk to any one of them, especially about continuing characters in a series. Inspector Gamache, Maisie Dobbs, and Walt Longmire inhabit their books, respectively. Keeping characters fresh and interesting presents opportunities and challenges. It would be fun to exchange ideas and learn from each of them.
Crime photographer Nellie Burns and Basque Sheriff Charlie Asteguigoiri travel from central to northern Idaho to investigate bootlegging and possible complicit town officials. A suspicious mine explosion pulls them into a second investigation. Retired miner Rosy Kipling joins them, bringing Nell’s black Lab Moonshine.
While Charlie roams the backcountry in search of illegal stills, Nell questions survivors of the explosion and a madam. Rosy descends the principal mine to listen and pry. The two investigations lead all three to discover secrets and lies—from “soda drink” parlors, local brothels, worker hints deep in the mine shafts—that have deadly consequences. Predictably, Nellie gets in over her head. A rock burst seals off Charlie and Rosy in a mine collapse. Moonshine plays an instrumental role, and Nellie tries to rise to the occasion in spite of her debilitating fear. All four long to return to their high desert home, but cannot until they lay bare the crimes before their luck runs out.
Thanks, Julie, for stopping in to let us get better acquainted! Good luck with your writing!
Best-selling Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
Visit www.bettybolte.com for a complete list of my books and appearances.
Subscribe to My Newsletter to learn the inside scoop about releases and more!