What do the Great War, ragtime piano and missing a loved one have in common?
They’re all components of longtime author and Pasadena resident Julie Berry’s latest novel, “Lovely War,’’ which has topped several best-of-the-year lists for 2019.
Berry was inspired to write the young adult/adult crossover novel, released last March, while she was reading about Victory Gardens during World War II.
“I was surprised to learn that many such ‘home front’ efforts began during World War I,” Berry told the Review during a recent interview.
“It struck me then how little I knew about World War I, so I dove into Great War research. While I was studying history, my husband and I had to live apart for a year for work reasons and I missed him keenly — the piano became my consolation, so I spent a year slowly learning Scott Joplin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag.’
“I began wondering if all of the above things could fit into a novel, and when I learned about the role the Harlem Hellfighters and other black regiments in the segregated U.S. Army played in bringing ragtime music to Europe, I had my answer.”
“Lovely War’’ is a dual love story set during World War I, as told by Greek gods from the vantage point of World War II. It takes place during a time of harrowing conflict and upheaval, and includes an added twist of the frame device with Greek gods Aphrodite and Ares meeting up for a tryst in a Manhattan hotel during World War II, only to be caught by Hephaestus, Aphrodite’s jealous husband, who ultimately puts his wife on trial.
“I wanted to look at how the tenderness of love, with all its angst and vulnerability, can take root even in, and perhaps because of, the hostile soil of war and other cataclysmic conditions,” Berry said. “I had a lot of fun writing as Aphrodite. I miss her — I wish I could hire her to tell all my stories.”
In addition to glowing reviews from media outlets including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, “Lovely War’s’’ long list of accolades includes being named a New York Public Library Best Fantast for Adults, a Kirkus Best YA Romance of 2019 and a 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards Semifinalist.
“I can’t deny it, it feels pretty great,” Berry said. “Sometimes good fortune favors you, and sometimes in doesn’t. There’s no gaming the system as a creative person. You write what you can, and then what happens, happens. So when critics love your book, you enjoy the moment, and when they don’t, you keep on writing anyway.
“Naturally, we all hope our works can find the broadest audience possible, so it’s wonderful to know that all these lists will help that happen. Many of the other authors on these lists are writers I’ve long admired, and it’s an honor to sit alongside them.”
Berry is also author of numerous books for children and young adults, including the award-winning YA title, “The Passion of Dolsa.’’ This year, she released several of her first picture books, and she has a new middle-grade fantastic adventure novel, “Wishes & Wellingtons,” that will be released in September 2020.
“I wrote my first novel in the spring of 2006 and I’ve been writing novels ever since,” Berry said.
“There’s so much to love about writing — the freedom, the creativity, the play — but I think what really motivates me is finding ways to make writing challenging and new with each book. I never want to settle into a groove and write the same type of book I’ve written before. This forces me, with each new book, to raise the bar for myself. I think we can only write well when we’re humble about it, and nothing’s more humbling than a challenge that demands we reach beyond our capabilities.”
“Lovely War” is available at most bookstore chains and online booksellers. For more information, visit www.julieberrybooks.com.