Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Hello; thank you, Fiona! I’m Justine Johnston Hemmestad and I’m 45 years old.
Fiona: Where are you from?
Originally I’m from San Diego, California, then my family moved all around the Southern United States when I was a child and moved back to Southern California in my teenage years, and now I live in Iowa with my husband and our seven kids (though my oldest just moved to Minnesota with her own family).
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I’m a mother of seven kids, grandmother to one, writer, Master’s degree student, DAR member and chaplain.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I’ve recently released my newest novel, Visions of a Dream, published by Turtle Shell Publishing. It focuses on the spiritual fire that ignites Alexander the Great’s actions as he learns from the other cultures he comes into contact with. His closest relationships vie for his love but they also provide the steel he needs to be sharpened spiritually and emotionally, for before he conquers the world he must first conquer his own mind. He was inclusive of all people, all cultures, and all religions and he lived that belief. Alexander’s relationships with his fellow man knew no restrictions, nor did his love of the sublime. He immersed himself in the Persian culture when there, the Egyptian Culture when there, and also the Indian culture when there, for he believed in the individual beauty of each culture rather than assimilation. The exploration of his heart and mind becomes the greatest legacy he leaves behind in the world. The first three parts of my novel are in Alexander’s point of view to highlight his character, his resilience, his emotional depth, and his PTSD (The ancient Greek historian Herodotus first wrote about the emotional strain of war in his account of the Battle of Marathon over a century before Alexander’s time). The fourth and final part of the book is written in the point of view of one of Alexander’s companions, Baphomet (whose name means the absorption of knowledge in ancient times) – she contrasts his emotional detachment even when he doesn’t realize he is emotionally detached.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
In 1990 (I was 19) my car was hit by a city bus – I sustained a severe brain injury, was in a coma, paralyzed, and the doctors thought I wouldn’t recover (my story is in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries). Within a few months I was walking again and my husband and I moved to Iowa where we started our family of seven kids, and I began writing. I didn’t know it then, but writing organized my thoughts and sharpened my awareness, promoting recovery. I became interested in Alexander’s story in the mid ‘90s after watching a documentary about him and admiring his persistence and perseverance – which I needed in my own recovery. I returned to college part time in the mid-2000s, through distance learning, as I continued to research and write Visions of a Dream. I’ve earned my BLS from The University of Iowa, and I’m now working on a Master’s Degree in Literature through Northern Arizona University.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When my grandfather said I was a writer in the early-mid ‘90s.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My need to live and recover.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Visions of a Dreamwasn’t my first title, but the content of my book changed as I continued to write and improve upon it and now the title reflects the storyperfectly. In my book, as in documented history, Alexander was wise to the importance of dreams and in fact a seer called Aristander traveled with the army and performed various spiritual rituals as well as revealed insight to Alexander’s dreams.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I enjoy writing in the spirit of the story itself. My favorite thing about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is that the book is as disjointed as the creature that Dr. Frankenstein created, and I love that she did that – I think that if she had written a completely rational and organized novel about a creature, that book would not reflect the horror of the story. My previous novella Truth be Told was in the voice of a wounded and recovering soul, whereas Visions of a Dream is written mostly in Alexander the Great’s voice. I learned his manner of speech through his words in Arrian and was better able to infuse a scene I wrote with an authentic Alexander and reactions thereof.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
In Visions of a Dream, the story content follows historical events accurately. I studied his own words, as recorded in the ancient historian Arrian’s work (words that were brought back by the officers who traveled with Alexander), and allowed his character to emerge from his own words. My goal was to reach his authentic self through his own words, and to integrate action into his story through the actions that he may have legitimately taken according to his own words.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? In books and in my mind – which makes the visit all the more detailed.Before or during the process? During.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My amazingly talented, oldest son Bradley Hemmestad of his company Max Graphics at http://www.maxgraphics.studio/ .
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I’d like to point out that through Alexander’s spiritual story, people can be inspired by each other’s courage rather than fearful of each other’s differences. Also, as Alexander traveled the world he witnessed the fact that all cultures learn differently, taking different routes to wisdom, using different words for the same concept. We aren’t as different as we think we are.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I’ve been sticking with the classics (I love Emily Bronte, Poe, and Rumi) and/or the writing in conjunction to my classes. I’m especially excited about my upcoming course in African American literature.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
The Iowa Writers’ Workshop
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I’m currently working on my Master’s degree in Literature through Northern Arizona University, and in addition to writing I would also love to teach literature. Writing will be part of my life for the rest of my life, an integrated career, so to speak.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Yes, I learned that the ancients regarded things differently than people do in modern times, and that I needed to allow for that in my writing. The concept of friendship was different, as was the concept of god.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
When I began to write it I thought that Brad Pitt would be cool, but twenty years later he’s probably too old (Alexander was only 32 when he died). Now, I think my son Brad (who is named for Brad Pitt) would be perfect, if he ever chose to act. My son Brad plays Alexander in a book trailer he created for Visions of a Dream at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFMe1DFLyRs&t=34s
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Keep learning! Learning nullifies writer’s block and enriches your words and concepts.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
On my website, http://jhemmestad.wixsite.com/justine-j-hemmestad is a mp3 of Al Cole, of CBS radio and iTunes’ People of Distinction, talking about Visions of a Dream. I will also have a few talks about Visions of a Dream in Iowa this summer as well as attend the Iowa City Book Fair on October 14thoutside on the pedmall in downtown Iowa City.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
The Bible and Wuthering Heights; I’ll be taking 19th Century Literature and African American Literature next semester and I’m so looking forward to both; I can’t wait to dig into the assigned literature.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The Bible. And I remember the first book I wrote too – about “Super Bunny” (I was around 7 or 8 years old)!
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
The answer is the same for both – my kids, regardless of how old they are (I just laugh and cry for different reasons the older they get).
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
James Dean, because he inspired me so much as a teenager in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. I admired his depth and intensity as a person and still do. I admired how much he adapted to each role, and I follow that in my writing in character study.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
My hobbies are to watch my kids have fun with their hobbies. I love to watch my oldest kids shoot, and my youngest ones play sports; I love to watch them skate too.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
TV shows: BBC and PBS showslike Poldark, Masterpiece Theater, The Great British Baking Show, Victoria; also Once Upon A Time
Films: What Dreams May Come, East of Eden, On the Waterfront, The Illusionist, The English Patient, The Others, Alice Through the Looking Glass
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Food: Veggie wrap…anything with lots of vegetables, especially tomatoes and spinach.
Music: Varies (anywhere from Bob Marley to Ed Sheeran to The Sex Pistols)
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I wouldn’t have a future.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
I think I would like to be cremated, in which case I won’t have a headstone (not because of any personal conviction, I just think it would be better for the environment). And ancient Greek warriors used the funeral pyre – which gives it an essence of courage.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Visions of a Dream on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Visions-Dream-Justine-Hemmestad-ebook/dp/B071RCL4MQ/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8