BookView Interview with Author Julia Sullivan

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed Julia Sullivan, an American lawyer and an English solicitor, and author of Bone Necklace, a gripping, meticulous, and illuminating tale of courage, survival, war, and intrigue. (Read the review here.)

Julia Sullivan is an American lawyer and an English solicitor. Bone Necklace is her first novel.


Social Media Links:

Julia Sullivan (@juliasullivanauthor) • Instagram photos and videos

Julia Elizabeth Sullivan, Author | Facebook

(10) Julia Sullivan (@JuliaSullivan10) / Twitter

Tell us some more about your book.

Bone Necklace tells the story of America’s last “Indian war.” In the summer of 1877, a bedraggled band of Nez Perce evaded four converging armies for four months before finally escaping to Canada. Other books have been written about the 500+ Nez Perce who were captured or killed. Bone Necklace is unique in its focus on the nearly 300 who escaped.

Tell us a little about how this story first came to be.

More than twenty years ago, I visited the Big Hole Battlefield in Wisdom, Montana. This is where one of the bloodiest battles of war occurred. It was September, and there was snow on the ground, so I borrowed a pair of snowshoes to walk among the bare teepee poles that mark places along the riverbank where the sleeping Nez Perce were attacked. That battlefield has haunted me ever since. I can’t really describe the feeling except to say that it owns me. I became obsessed with the story, and would spend the next 20+ years researching and writing about it.

What kind of research did you do?

I went to the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and historical societies around the country, gathering as many first-hand accounts of the war as I could. Then I started reading academic studies. I traveled the entire 1,100-mile Nez Perce National Historic Trail. Finally, I worked with the former head chief of the general council of the Nez Perce tribe, to make sure I got the cultural details right.  

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Too often, the history of the American West is presented as a tragedy, as if there was some fatal flaw in the character of indigenous peoples and cultures that doomed them to a terrible, and violent, fate. It is a narrative that places the blame squarely on the victims. Bone Necklace confronts that lie.

At the time the war began, the Nez Perce had been living side by side with American settlers for many years. The chiefs often bragged that the Nez Perce had never harmed a white person. The Nez Perce knew how to raise stock, cultivate crops, and mill lumber and grain. Many of them were Christians, and could read and write in English and in their own language.

The war was completely unnecessary. It could have been avoided.

What makes this book important right now?

Bone Necklace is the story of people on the brink of destruction who refused to succumb to despair. We can all take inspiration from their example.

The book also challenges the Hollywood stereotype of Native Americans as besotted brutes. The Nez Perce were brilliant fighters. But they also showed remarkable forbearance and humanity before and during the war and brilliant diplomacy after. The Nez Perce story challenges us to ask: what assumptions do we make about other peoples and cultures today that ought to be re-examined?

How does your ethical outlook inform your writing?

As a lawyer, I have dedicated much of my career to exposing and challenging injustice. I first became interested in the Nez Perce story because of the great injustice that the tribe had suffered. What kept me interested was their conduct during the war. While under attack, the Nez Perce won the respect of a society in which prominent members were unapologetic racists. At the end of the war, the Ladies Auxiliary in Bismarck held a luncheon in their honor. Canada offered them political asylum.

What’s more important: characters or plot?

Both! I like literary fiction with a plot. I hope that is how readers will describe Bone Necklace.

What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

I read a lot of historical fiction, especially if it’s set in the American west. I love Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove series, Ivan Doig’s Dancing at the Rascal Fair series, and Cormac McCarthy’s dark prose. I have also been influenced by the work of Wallace Stegner, often described as the dean of western writers, and Norman Maclean’s classic, A River Runs Through It.

Does your family support your career as a writer?

My family is amazing. I could not have written Bone Necklace, or even dreamed of taking on such a project, without the constant support and encouragement of my husband, Doug.

What’s next for you?

A new book, of course! But I’m not ready to talk about it yet …  


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