When Julie Tetel Andresen writes, her words excite the emotions of romance readers, her storylines pique the interest of history buffs and her acute attention to detail satisfies the hunger of academics.
Andresen has penned more than 20 books during her career, covering everything from historical romance and contemporary fiction to paranormal tales and linguistic theories. Putting her expansive knowledge of language to work, she writes with an impressive blend of wit, sincerity and intelligence. She uses the varied lessons learned from each genre to help strengthen the other.
Andresen’s time-slip trilogy – “The Blue Hour,” “The Crimson Hour” and “The Emerald Hour” – takes readers on a trip around the world. The series of time traveling excursions spans more than 100 years, exploring the economic consequences of globalization through cancer research, pharmaceuticals and the rubber trade.
This Chicago writer talks about her career.
When did you develop a passion for linguistics?
Ever since I was about five years old. I remember lying in bed at night in the room I shared with my older sister, making up new words that I would teach her. When I discovered there were other languages in the world, with the words already made up, I couldn’t get enough. I didn’t know, however, that there was such a thing as a discipline of linguistics until I was working on my Masters in French. After that I was hooked.
How do you bridge your career as a romance writer with your life as a professional linguist and academic?
The two activities wrap around another almost every day in my life, and this has been the case for the last twenty years or more. Today I’m at a resort on the Black Sea in Bulgaria. My friends are on the beach. I can’t tan, since I have redhead skin and was told by a dermatologist years ago to stay out of the sun. I’m happy enough, however, because I’m on the balcony of my room overlooking the sea, and working on the some of the early chapters of the forthcoming Wiley-Blackwell book, Languages of the World, skyping with my co-author, Phillip Carter. When I take a break from this, I’ll probably download a werewolf story or a panther shape-shifting story. I got into these subgenres in the past few months. At the moment, I can’t get enough of them.
How do your two writing careers strengthen each other?
All good writing is story telling, and this applies to academic writing, as well. I love reading about language, and the question is always, “What story is this linguist telling me?” I am currently reading The Last Speakers by David K. Harrison, and it’s a wonderful world tour of the stories of speakers of endangered languages. My favorite linguist may well be Stephen Levinson. Although it might not seem like his Space in Language and Cognition would make for a gripping story, I read the book (several times, actually), enthralled by the world Levinson was opening to me. Following a good (academic) argument is like reading a well-plotted novel.
I think it was Fred Astaire who said: “If I don’t dance for one day, I feel it. If I don’t dance two days in a row, the audience will feel it. If I don’t dance three days in a row, I should find another job.” Having two writing careers keeps me in writing shape. It’s cross training. Yoga and Pilates.
You have lived and traveled all over the world – to France, Germany, Vietnam, Romania, Greece, and Brazil just to name a few places. How did this influence your writing?
I’ve always loved historical romances, but I began my time-slip series when I realized I wanted to write about the places I’m visiting in the here and now. I love it when a place is a kind of character in a novel, ever-present and shaping events. I also happen to love botanical gardens and the tropics, so I find myself gravitating toward southern latitudes and the equator, where everything is lush. When I write a story and find I need to check out the details of a place I’m using as a setting, I can easily persuade myself I need to revisit the location in order to make sure I have the details right. While writing The Emerald Hour, I made sure to revisit the spectacular Jardim Botânico in Rio. In fact, it would have been irresponsible of me not to revisit the location.
How do you see language changing?
For one thing, it’s always changing! I wrote a short essay that’s on my website for the Duke Magazine about where English will be in 25 years, where I offer a few ideas. Linguistics isn’t a precisely predictive science where I can say that X grammatical change is certain to happen. However, since William Labov’s groundbreaking work in sociolinguistics, linguists are able to track language change in progress. Just sticking to phonetic matters, Labov is currently tracking the Northern Cities Shift and the Southern Cities Shift in North American English. As for lexical and grammatical matters, there is no doubt that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter compel their users to create new and abbreviated forms that will no doubt get woven into the spoken language. People are already speaking abbreves, and LOL has morphed into the word lawl. One of the more interesting phenomena created by social media is that previously unwritten forms of a language (Arabic dialects, for instance) are now becoming written forms of communication. Before these new media, in the case of Arabic, only Modern Standard Arabic functioned (and still functions) as the written standard, while the local dialects were written in very limited circumstances, if at all. Now there is an explosion of writing in the local dialects, as people communicate directly among themselves.
How many languages do you speak? Which one do you prefer and why?
I’m not a polygot. I’ve studied an array of languages – French, German, Arabic, Japanese, Vietnamese, Romanian – sometimes just to get a sense of how the particular language is put together, but I know true polygots, and I’m not one of them. I make zero claim, for instance, to knowing anything but the most superficial facts about Arabic or Japanese. At the moment I am immersed in Romanian. If I’m not in the language at the moment, I can’t say anything about it. The language I prefer is the one I am in in the moment. I do know that I love Vietnamese enough to want to spend an entire year there, in a language school. The six months I spent there last year was not enough.
Do you find it easier to write or speak in a foreign language?
For me, writing is always the easiest thing to do! When I was in Vietnam, I kept coming to class with essays. The teachers wondered at first why I was doing this, because they hadn’t assigned them. One of the first questions one of my teachers asked was, “How long did it take you to write this?” I would usually work on one for a couple of hours a day for maybe a day or two, so I could sleep on things, and then go back and see what I wanted to say. I would tell my teacher I spent maybe five, six, or seven hours an essay. She would shake her head and say it would take her over a week to write something like this in English. And her English was way better than my Vietnamese. I think most people think speaking is easier than writing. For me, it’s the opposite.
It didn’t really even occur to me that I have routinely written in a language I am studying until a little over six months ago. It simply seemed like a natural thing to do as a writer, like a pianist warming up by playing arpeggios. As I was putting my website together, I thought, Well, if I’m putting together all my writing, I may as well include all my writing. I’ve always written my foreign language essays for restricted audiences, either a small group of academics interested in a particular question or for an audience of one, namely my language teacher. They’re intimate pieces. I finally put them on my website, because I thought maybe other people would enjoy them as well.
Your collection of books explores so many points in history. Is there one era that has a special place in your heart?
This is a choosing-among-children question, only slightly less difficult to answer than, “What’s the favorite book you’ve written?” All historical periods are fascinating. Especially the present one, since I’m living in it.
How was your approach to writing your time-slip series different than your historical and Regency pieces?
Not much different. I felt my time-slip series explores and expands my sense of the boundaries of the romance. I got my start with Regencies, which to me are like classic Hollywood romanticomedies, and who doesn’t like a Frank Capra screwball comedy? Everything I’ve written from that point on has been an extension of the form of the romanticomedy, even if the tone is dark.
We can only assume you never stop writing. What can readers expect from you next?
I yielded to trend and just wrote a BDSM-inspired novella. Yikes! But I loved it. Not for everyone, of course, but nothing is. After the linguistics book, it’s back to another time-slip. (I think.)
I plan a trip to Mongolia in 2014 and want to find a good 6-week program for learning the language – the basics, obviously, nothing for fluency. What will come out of that is anyone’s guess. I, for one, don’t have the faintest idea.