Julie Golden on Vagilantes, David Foster Wallace and the injury that nearly robbed her of reading

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Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature celebrating the books that inspire Denver artists.

Julie Golden is a novelist, political activist, stained-glass artist and hula-hoop hobbyist who lives in Boulder. She is also a woman who has triumphed over unimaginable hardships with tremendous grace and a renewed vigor for life, a woman whose compassion is evident in everything she does. Her novel Vagilantes is a twist-filled narrative that focuses on a group of women abuse survivors and the pedophiles who keep getting mysteriously murdered. We met up with Golden this week to discuss vigilante justice against pedophiles, writing like David Foster Wallace, and a brain injury that nearly took away her ability to read.

See also: Author Shannon Baker on Hopi culture, Barbara Kingsolver and fake yellow snow

Westword: The title Vagilantes makes the book seem lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, but it prompts a very serious discussion about child abuse, revenge and right and wrong. What drove you to write this book? Was there an element of wanting to punish some of the worst offenders in society?

Julie Golden: I've had that urge to want to punish victimizers throughout my life. Honestly, though, it was more hearing voices in my head at night and getting up to write. Then I'd look it over the next day. I hadn't realized I was writing a novel, that wasn't my intention at first. I was just sort of putting these voices down. That's where it came from. I had probably been writing like that for about a year and then I had a brain injury. I lost 95 percent of my ability to read. I could read a sentence and identify and understand each single word, but I couldn't put them together and understand what it meant.

Jesus. What happened?

I was standing in a parking lot after a marathon-training session, and a car backed into me and then that car took off. It just sort of jerked me forward, didn't even knock me down. I told my friend, "I gotta go home, I'm feeling kinda shocked." Over the next few days it got worse, until eventually I couldn't read anymore. I was such a voracious reader before that, I probably read about three books a week. I was always reading something. I couldn't write, and the injury interrupted my ability to communicate vocally, too. It was odd, because I'd be speaking to somebody, like I am to you right now, and then suddenly blurt out, "Sauerkraut!"

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That sounds terrifying. How long did you have to go though that?

It was about ten years ago. I knew that if I didn't find a way out of that -- by then I was connected to this book, and I knew I wanted to make it a novel -- and if I didn't find my way out of this then I'd never finish the book. So I just pushed myself, I read; I read, read, read all the time even though I barely understood what I was seeing. But I just kept going. Then I connected with other people by joining writing groups, like Rocky Mountain Fiction writers, and that sort of thing.

Reading Vagilantes as well as your blog, it's evident that you are motivated by a righteous outrage at people getting away with heinous crimes. Where does that sense of justice come from?

I was the director of the ACLU in Iowa, and while I was there I did a lot of work with prisoners. In fact, I was instrumental in helping get the Womens' Prison moved to another location. But I know that there are a lot of people who get away with crimes. Child sexual abuse is something where so many people get away with it, more than can we can really ever know because children don't report those incidents. Even as they get older, they still don't want to report it. It's horribly disruptive to your life to come forward that way. That's why it takes so much bravery for people to come forward.

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