Finding her words

Katie Kowalski, arts@ptleader.com
Posted 9/26/17

Julie Christine Johnson started writing when she was ready.

She started writing after she’d traveled around the world, gone to culinary school and become a wine enthusiast.

She started …

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Finding her words

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Julie Christine Johnson started writing when she was ready.

She started writing after she’d traveled around the world, gone to culinary school and become a wine enthusiast.

She started writing seven years ago, when a class she took in Seattle launched her words, she said. Before then, she’d only ever written as a child.

“There was always an undercurrent in my gut that I should be writing,” she said. “I don’t know if I was ready before.”

Johnson, who moved to Port Townsend in 2013, is celebrating the release of her second full-length novel, “The Crows of Beara,” and has just submitted her third.

CREATING

Johnson spent part of her childhood in Sequim before moving to Ellensberg, where she attended high school. She recalled looking out the window of her Sequim home, seeing Mount Rainier and the Olympics.

She grew up entranced and inspired by fantasy, Greek mythology and “Star Wars.”

“That whole epic/romance/hero’s journey had an impression on me as a little girl,” Johnson said. “My stories were all sort of myth epic.”

Then, her parents divorced. “I lost my words; I lost my way,” she said. Johnson needed escape, and at that time, writing did not provide escape.

“I think writing became too much, too real and too personal,” she said. “I let it go.”

Johnson let the idea of writing go entirely. She said she didn’t even fantasize about it.

Johnson studied French and psychology in college, and has a master’s degree in international affairs. She has studied and taught abroad around the world, including in France, Japan and Chad. In 2006, she attended culinary school in New Zealand, and then entered the wine industry.

It was living in France, she said, that sparked her love for food.

“How could you not?” she said. “To be part of a pace of life and appreciate a quality of life that so embraces food and wine.”

It was a sensory experience, she said, one that ultimately fed her as a writer, too.

She moved to Seattle in 2008. During that time, she and her now ex-husband had been trying unsuccessfully to have children.

“After years and years of that journey, we just stopped,” she said.

She had to find another way to create, she said. So she began taking writing classes at Hugo House in 2010, and found the words she’d lost as a child.

“When the time came, when I had something I wanted to say, I just said it.”

Her debut short story, called “Water Child,” was published the following year. More stories followed. In 2012, she started working on her first novel, “In Another Life,” which she finished in 2013 when she moved to Port Townsend.

PLACE

Johnson said she writes the way she cooks. It’s part inspiration, and part improvisation. She doesn’t prescribe to a specific genre. Her first book was fantasy/adult fiction; her second, “The Crows of Beara,” was published by a press in Oregon that specializes in “eco-lit” and “cli-fi.”

“It was never my intention to make an environmental statement,” she said. “I love that it’s taken that path.”

Johnson said she writes about place, and how those places change us.

Her books are set in the Pacific Northwest and abroad in places she’s visited.

She writes about grief and loss and starting over, too, and finds the process cathartic. And she writes about art, and the importance of using art as a method of resistance, she said.

Living in Port Townsend, Johnson also has continued to work in the wine industry, as a past cellar master at The Resort at Port Ludlow and now with Port Townsend Vineyards. (When pressed, she said, her favorite wine is Burgundy, and she loves the 2015 chardonnay at PT Vineyards.)

She hikes and takes photos (“I’m an avid Instagrammer,” she said), and has a deep devotion to the place where she lives. “I think it was having the opportunity to go away that brought me home, that gave me a sense of place and really grounded me here,” she said.

And she’s continuing on her newfound path as a published (and award-winning) author. Writing is a way to stay present, to be accountable, to have a voice, she said.

She wonders why it took her so long, but is OK with that, because she knew she wasn’t ready to write before she turned 40.

“I’ve never felt like your time is limited,” she said. Then she laughs. “I’m never going to win the ‘best writing under 35’ award.”

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