Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Author Spotlight: Angela Castillo

Today I'm interviewing another fellow Texan, Angela Castillo, whose latest book, The River Girl's Song: Texas Women of Spirit Vol. I, was just released yesterday. A young mother who writes moving stories with spirit and heart, Angela exudes contagious energy and enthusiasm.

Q: In the acknowledgement of The River Girl's Song, you thank the mayor of Bastrop, Texas and the Pioneer Farm in Round Rock, Texas. Was that as part of your research or is this story based on an actual person or compilation of events?

ANGELA: This story is completely fictional but I did extensive research on my home town of Bastrop. I wanted to create a character who could have lived near the town and in the actual historic setting. I used buildings that you can still visit in Bastrop today, including the Methodist church. Zillia is actually a name from a Bastrop census in the 1880's.

Q: Your main character, Zillia, is so well crafted I keep wondering if she was a real person. Did you discover her gradually through the research, or was she the reason for the research?

ANGELA: Zillia is not a real person per se, but she is someone I created based on many aspects of the amazing women I have known in my life. I also drew from several of my own life experiences, especially the goats and some of the questions she has about God.

Q: With three children at home, how do you juggle writing with motherhood? Do you follow a schedule?

ANGELA: Not really. I try to devote a certain amount of time per day towards writing and getting the word out about my books, but it comes in spurts. Sometimes I'll spend an hour madly scribbling while the kids play in the backyard, and sometimes I won't write an original sentence for days. I do try to have a timeline of goals to work with. That works better for me than having something I have to do every single day.

Q: In each of your two books I've read so far you deftly weave gentle spiritual themes into your stories. Which genre do you find it easier to write from a Christian viewpoint, fantasy or historical? Do you prefer one over the other?

ANGELA: I really don't have a hard time with either one, because for me, my faith is such a part of who I am it kind of just flows in. I write fiction, but God is real and His truths never change, so I really don't have a hard time integrating it into either. My biggest challenge is trying to convey my thoughts in a way that the reader will understand what I am trying to say, but hopefully won't be too 'cheesy' or 'preachy.' I always try to write things that I would want to read.

I grew up reading both history and fantasy, pretty much in equal helpings, so I can't even say which one I like better.

Q: What is your next writing project?

ANGELA: I'm working on the next book in the "Texas Women of Faith" series, which will be about Soonie and her trip to North Texas to teach the children at a Comanche settlement. The 1890's was an extremely pivotal point for the Comanche people, and there is so much amazing history to work with. I could write ten books already!

How to contact Angela:

Website: Angela Castillo, Writer

Facebook: Fairygirl Photo

Twitter: @fairygirlcards

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Author Spotlight: Karen S. Jones

Today I'm interviewing K. S. (Karen) Jones, whose stunning debut YA historical novel SHADOW OF THE HAWK was released in February. Since she recently moved to Kerrville, I got to meet in her in person this week, and she is a lovely person with her own inspiring personal story.

Q: What gave you the initial idea for this story? Are any of the details inspired by actual events?

Karen: Shadow of the Hawk is a 1930s historical fiction story that came about by my fascination with the amazing people who lived during this trying time. My parents were just youngsters when America’s Great Depression hit, so their childhood memories were filled with immense personal struggles, as well as great admiration and compassion. Their parents (my grandparents) had to make life-changing decisions, which trickled down through generations. So, bits and pieces of their lives and their memories have touched this story. Many books set during this time period tell about people fleeing the Dust Bowl. But Shadow of the Hawk is different, because these folks stay on their farm, rather than migrating westward.

Q: Your details are so well drawn I feel as if I've traveled to 1932 Arkansas in a time machine. Did you live there? Or visit for research purposes?

Karen: Although Shadow of the Hawk is purely fictional, it does take place in a real town called Coaldale. Today, the town it is nothing more than a blip on an Arkansas map, but it does still have several homes, a church, and a cemetery. Coaldale is where my mother was born, and where she lived until she was about eight years old. I have visited Coaldale several times, including taking my mother on her last trip home. On that trip, we spent two days revisiting the sites she loved so much, and I was totally immersed in her memories. At that time, I still had a few years left before finishing this book, so our visit added a lot of flavor to the story. I had grown up listening to my mother’s vivid recollections of Coaldale, as well as life in general during the 1930s in both Arkansas and California, and her stories left an indelible impression upon me.

Q: The dialogue is so believable. How did your characters come alive for you? Were any born "fully grown" or did they develop over time as you did your research?

Karen: That's a great question, Katy. First, the vernacular used in this book is the same language I grew up listening to from my mother, father, aunts, uncles, and grandparents! It’s the real deal. And yes, the characters in this book most certainly “came alive” for the writing of this story. The main character in Shadow of the Hawk is sixteen-year-old Sooze Williams. However, when I began writing this story, it was Cora, her younger sister, whom I thought this story was about, so Sooze had a hard time pushing herself through. And, in fact, Sooze originally had a different name, and I could not get a handle on her personality. I just knew I had her name all wrong. My poor husband had to listen to me mumble and grumble about "that" not being her name. Then an interesting writer-thing happened. One day, out of sheer frustration, I shouted, "Tell me your name!" She stepped up and said, "My name is Sooze. Well, Susanna is my God-given name, but folks never call me by it." In amazement, I said, "Sue's? As in S-U-E-apostrophe-S?" and she said, "No, Mama says nothin’ ever really belongs to us except our beliefs and she didn't want to mislead me by giving me a possessive spelling, so she taught me to spell my name S-O-O-Z-E." From that moment on, Sooze and her story took off, and I just hung on for the ride.

Q: I know from my own experience that writing historical fiction is a lot of work searching for those details that firmly place the story in a certain time and place. Do you have a process? You mention on your blog that the research for Shadow of the Hawk "has spanned a lifetime." I'm curious about that.

Karen: Since the town of Coaldale, which is located on the Oklahoma/Arkansas border, is where my mother comes from, I grew up listening to all the stories surrounding her childhood. She loved Coaldale and the Ouachita Mountain area. And she had an interesting family. There never seemed to be a dull moment. Over twenty years ago, I began writing down her memories in minute detail. But then I realized that the memories of one person might not be the same memories that another person has, so I branched out. 
It was important to me for this book to be a genuine, authentic representation of small town life in the 1930s, so I actually spent more than 15 years researching and writing this story. Part of my research included personal interviews and letters from folks who lived during that time, many from the Coaldale area. But this fictional tale goes one-step further than plain everyday life – it also includes a murder trial. That research plunged me into a whole other world! I spent many months researching the facts and experiences of real life court cases that occurred during that time, like the Scopes Trial, the Sweet Trial, and the trial of the Scottsboro Boys, among others. I studied actual trial transcripts, the summations, plus newspaper and personal eyewitness accounts, to frame up a realistic trial for Shadow of the Hawk.

Q: What are you working on now?

Karen: I recently finished a middle-grade fantasy set in the Southwest tentatively titled, The Talisman. It is currently under publisher's review. I am also putting finishing touches on another middle-grade fantasy which I hope to start marketing soon. After that comes the writing of a New Adult novel set in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas.

It's been a pleasure to get to know you better, Karen. I've read Shadow of the Hawk (here's my review) and I want to see your extraordinary book find a wide readership. All best wishes!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Author Spotlight: Annie Douglass Lima

Today I have the privilege of interviewing one of my new favorite authors, Annie Douglass Lima whose newest YA, The Collar and the Cavvarach will be released tomorrow, May 9th.

Q: How did you get the idea for an empire with elements of modern technology mixed with slavery and gladiatorial contests?

Annie: I've had the idea growing in my mind for the last few years. It started as just a picture of the setting and its culture (with legalized slavery), and the plot and individual characters emerged little by little. The martial art of cavvara shil didn't enter my imagination until just before I started drafting.

Q: After reading the advance copy of The Collar and the Cavvarach, I looked up "cavvarach" to see if it was a real weapon and couldn't find it. Is there an inspiration for that?

Annie: I wanted to create a challenging martial art that was a combination of two or three different fighting styles, involving elements of unarmed combat as well as the use of a weapon. It took a few false starts before I had a fighting style I liked. At first I just pictured using a sword, but I wanted something a little less stereotypical. The cavvarach, with its hook, ended up being just right for what I had in mind. Combatants try to snag their opponent's hook to tug the weapon out of the other person's hand, which is one way to win a duel. (They can also knock it away with their own cavvarach, or kick it away.) Besides disarming an opponent, you can win by knocking them over and pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

Although this never gets mentioned in the book, I picture a cavvarach having been an ancient weapon of warfare thousands of years ago in that world. Warriors could fight with it much as they would with a sword, but the original purpose of the hook would have been to snag the legs of horses (when wielded by a warrior on foot) or to grab at enemy fighters and pull them off their horses or out of their chariots as they galloped past.

Q: Isn't this the novel you completed during last year's NaNoWriMo? If so, how did you manage to write an entire novel while teaching fifth grade? I'd love to know about your process.

Annie: I wrote the first (very rough) draft during NaNoWriMo in 2013, yes. And let me tell you, it was not an easy task to complete it while working as a full-time teacher! I love my day job and would never want to quit, but I often wish it left me with more time for writing. One of the secrets to my winning NaNo was getting up early and putting in an hour or two of writing before school started. Sometimes I set my alarm for as early as 4:30 a.m. Fortunately, I am a morning person, but it was still hard to get up that early! I pulled some late nights, too, and that was even harder for me. On Saturdays and Sundays I would often spend most of the afternoon writing at a little table outside one of our many neighborhood teashops. Since I didn't have Internet access there, it was easier to stay focused (and the convenient access to hazelnut milk tea and many of my other favorites didn't hurt either!).

Q: The descriptions of the martial arts contests in The Collar and the Cavvarach sound authentic. Are you a practitioner? Or just a very good researcher?

Annie: Designing cavvara shil (and the necessary training and practice for it, as well as rules of the tournament) took a LOT of research. This was one of the most challenging aspects of writing this book. I am not a martial artist myself, so it was all the more difficult to make sure this martial art was feasible and would make sense to readers who practice "real" martial arts. I spent hours researching online and in books, as well as talking to athletes I know. I'm glad to hear that after all that, it does sound authentic!

Q: I'm fascinated by your background, growing up in Kenya and now teaching in Taiwan. Where else have you lived or visited that made a big impression on you, and where would you like to live or visit?

Annie: I've been to a total of nineteen different countries and lived in four of them. Besides Kenya and Taiwan, Indonesia holds the biggest share of my heart. I once spent a year there, teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in a town at the edge of the jungle in New Guinea. What an unforgettable experience! I love to travel anywhere, though, and there's nowhere in the world that I would specifically not want to go. But Asia is my favorite continent to live in, and the next country on my bucket list to visit is Cambodia.

Q: Any plans for a sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach? How about another book in your Alasia series? 

Annie: Yes to both! I'm working on two more novels at the moment. King of Malorn will be the next one in the Annals of Alasia, and I'm hoping to have that published sometime this summer. The other one is The Gladiator and the Guard, which takes place four years after the events of The Collar and the Cavvarach. I drafted it last November (another NaNoWriMo project), but it still needs a LOT of work. I hope to have it ready for publication by about this time next year, but we'll see.

Thanks for stopping by, Annie! I really appreciate you letting me preview The Collar and the Cavvarach. (My review on Goodreads.) It's an excellent story and I hope MANY readers will discover this book as well as your other YA fantasy series, The Annals of Alasia, which have replaced Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall Trilogy as my all-time favorite fantasy series. (And I can't wait to read King of Malorn!)

You can order The Collar and the Cavvarach on Amazon or Smashwords, and you can follow Annie: