Chicago attorney/social justice advocate Julie Justicz has a history of fostering an affinity for the written word. Her first novel, Degrees of Difficulty, was a 20-year processbut it's finally available wherever books are sold.
"I'm an attorney and an advocate who's been working in the Chicago community for many years, but my passion has also been fiction and creative writing," Justicz said. "While I was working in legal services, I did [the book] on a part-time basis and I've continued to write when I can around work and raising two kids and family life."
Raising two kids and the pressures and joys of family life are relatable elements that go into what makes this lesbian author's writing so immediately profound for all the same-sex moms out there. Another one is, perhaps, the more prominent storyline in the novel.
"I grew up with several siblings and one of whom was born with profound disabilities," she told Windy City Times. "And I realized as I grew older how that had significant impact in every one of our lives, not just my brother Robert, who was the one with the disabilities, but also on each of us, his siblings."
Justicz colors her storytelling with stories of being raised with her six brothers. The genesis of "Degrees of Difficulty" came about when she recalled "the impact of living with Robert and loving Robert and learning about the sort of limitations on services and care for him - and what that meant for our family over the decades as he grew older."
Degrees of Difficulty is a deeply personal retelling of events that are sometimes, but not always, rooted in her own experiences. Still, the experiences stand on their own merits.
"I decided I wanted to fictionalize it because I wanted a bit more freedom to work out some of the emotions behind all of that," she recalled.
One of the through lines she worked out was the intertwining of her own personal life in the real-life narrative.
"I'm a lesbian," she said. "My partner and I have two kids together and one of the characters in the book, who would be very loosely based on me…is a lesbian who lives in Chicago. She's a prominent point of view character in the novel. And she's in her 30s in the second section of the novelgrown up and living independently now, but dealing with the memories and repercussions of a childhood that was marked by some trauma around the medical needs of her younger brother and his death."
It's a much needed perspective; to depict a woman, who happens to be a member of the LGBTQ community, living life. Period. Justicz presents her and her partner and in a way that doesn't make their lesbianism the key feature.
"They are living their lives and they're going about their work as any other characters would do," she shared. "I think for me personally being a lesbian growing up when I did, it gave me a sort of perspective on difference that I think was always helpful in working with people with disabilities and knowing what my brother's life was like."
Regarding the big picture, Degrees of Difficulty is an emotionally raw depiction of everyday life, which includes love, loss, independenceand the lack thereof.
"When you dig a little bit beneath the surface, there are issues of pain and trauma and emotional complexity that you don't always see," she said. "I hope readers from all kinds of backgrounds will be able to relate to the book on that levelfamily members struggling to be their best selves, but sometimes coming up short. On a more focused analysis, I do think for LGBTQ community members and for people who have had siblings or family members with disabilities, [this book] lends a unique perspective on those issues, too. And I hope it speaks to those particular community members."
Degrees of Difficulty is available now; visit JulieJusticz.com .