On the first Friday of 2015, we are having breakfast with author Mary Castillo. Her contemporary romance and paranormal mysteries have turned readers into dedicated fans. She is the author of Switchcraft, In Between Men and Hot Tamara (the latter selected by Cosmopolitan magazine as the Red Hot Read of April 2005) and novellas featured in the anthologies, Orange County Noir, Names I Call My Sister and Friday Night Chicas. Her latest paranormal mysteries, Lost in the Light and Girl in the Mist, have been widely praised by critics and readers. She lives in Orange County, California with her family and a pug named Rocky.
For this December breakfast, I’m having half a toasted sesame bagel topped by cream cheese, smoked salmon and kraut, and an arugula salad topped with persimmon, blueberries, banana, pecans and cranberry walnut olive oil. Mary, what are you having for your virtual breakfast?
I am having oatmeal made with green apples sautéed in blood orange extra virgin olive oil!
Now that’s a breakfast to start the new year. Tell us about your writing process from concept to draft to revision.
I outline but I’m always open to spontaneity. The outline is really helpful during the revision phase, which is my favorite time with a story. I use it as a map and even if surprises come along, I can quickly go back to the outline, mark where I need to make changes in previous chapters and then keep plugging along.
Writing the first draft is the hardest part of any book. When I’m at this stage, I can’t be on a computer with email and Internet access. So every night when I shut down my office, I remove my keyboard and place my AlphaSmart on the pull-out tray. In the morning, it is right there and I can just jump in right where I left off.
New material is like walking through a dark house: you either get scared stiff, or you’re bumping into things while looking for the light switches. I’ve learned to make life easier on myself and accept that the AlphaSmart is the best way to get into new material. The screen is tiny so I can’t see all the typos and mistakes and just plain terrible prose that I’ve written. It keeps me in the moment with those characters.
Writers who use their AlphaSmarts amaze me. Now tell us about LOST IN THE LIGHT while I pour you a cup of coffee (made with apple pie spice and hot milk). Why this series, why now?
LOST IN THE LIGHT is the book I had always wanted to write but was too afraid to attempt. As a young reader, I loved gothics by Madelaine Brent and Victoria Holt. But as a writer, there are so many elements to balance – mystery, history, romance and drama.
LOST IN THE LIGHT was supposed to be a paranormal chick lit featuring Dori, who had first appeared in the novella, “Till Death Do Us Part” published in NAMES I CALL MY SISTER (2007). But it was a killer to write. The relationship with her and Grammy came together easily but the romance with Gavin and the ghost story just weren’t working until (a) I shot Dori and (b) I discovered the 1995 film version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. Captain Wentworth greatly influenced Gavin’s development and he became the perfect match for Dori because I put her with quite a few hero types and she frightened all of them away.
At the same time I was recovering from a very rough patch in my writing career which led to the conclusion that there was nothing more to lose if I went a little darker with my writing. Of all my books published up to LOST IN THE LIGHT, it is the one that is 100% my voice and its short sequel, GIRL IN THE MIST practically wrote itself. Before you get jealous, rest assured it’s the only time that has EVER happened to me!
Through each draft, my guiding thought was, “How can I really let ’em have it?” I let my characters show their true colors and ventured into darker waters than I had with my romantic comedies. Boy was it fun. When I finished LOST IN THE LIGHT I realized I had a series on my hands; I couldn’t let go of those characters so I dove into GIRL IN THE MIST and I’m now writing LOST IN WHISPERS.
What did you find fun/intriguing about writing this story and what was difficult?
Strangely for LOST IN THE LIGHT it was not my personal experiences growing up in a haunted house that inspired the story. The inspiration came from a moment when I was a “rookie” in the Laguna Beach Police Department’s Citizens Academy. There had been an officer-involved shooting a few months earlier that I had also covered for the local newspaper. One night, the officer who had shot and killed an armed robber, returned to active duty and to our Citizen’s Academy. The police chief commended him for his bravery and when everyone stood up to applaud his bravery, the officer bowed his head. The expression on his face – regret, humility and relief to be alive – has stayed with me ever since.
When I began writing the Prohibition angle in LOST IN THE LIGHT, I wanted to take it out of Chicago and New York, where it is typically set in books and movies, and see what it was like out here in California. It turned out that folks misbehaved just as much out here as they did on the East Coast.
Along the U.S. Mexican border, there was a great battle of one-up-man-ship between smugglers and federal agents. There are photos of cars modified to hide Caribbean spirits and Tecate beer. Women and children were often recruited by smugglers to look like a nice American family who had spent the weekend in Tijuana, when on their person they had thousands of dollars worth of illegal hooch. Smugglers took to the air and sea; there were floating liquor stores off the California coastline where boaters could legally purchase alcohol. But bringing it into California was the hard part. The Coast Guard deployed a fleet of powerful boats armed with machine guns, while the U.S. Border Patrol teamed up with Treasury Agents when they wised up to the schemes of smugglers.
This world came to life through the character of Vicente Sorolla, who haunts Dori’s house. During his lifetime, Vicente grew up from scrubbing the floors of electric cars, to becoming the second-in-command of a smuggling empire that ranged from Mexico up to Santa Barbara. However, his boss remained a nameless shadow through two drafts because I didn’t have the proof that these men existed in San Diego. I wrote from instinct until I researched the online archives of the Los Angeles Times where I found the following headline: “Rum Smuggler to Start Term.” Sure enough a man like Vicente’s boss did exist. On February 13, 1933, the Times reported that a big shot liquor smuggler headquartered in San Diego was sentenced to a three-year prison term at the McNeil Island Prison. Through Ancestry.com, I traced his address to a San Diego neighborhood, marriage certificate and his intake record at McNeil Island. I even used Google map to pull up the address and sure enough, the house is STILL THERE!! This faceless character became James McClemmy who was Vicente’s mentor.
Tell us about your next project and when it may be published.
LOST IN WHISPERS will pick up where we left off with GIRL IN THE MIST. It has taken a lot more time than I intended. I wanted the ghost to be someone different and well, it wasn’t working. But by God I forced my way through two drafts only to catch an episode of GHOST HUNTERS about 19th century baby farms and well, you think by now I’d learned my lesson! So I’ve chucked three-quarters of the manuscript and now I’m revising Dori’s present day dilemmas but writing new material about the ghost she is dealing with. I’m aiming for an October 2015 release.
I’ve read both LOST IN THE LIGHT and GIRL IN THE MIST. The characters and the ghosts engaged me immediately. These are layered stories that read fast! The Carmel location in GIRL IN THE MIST was another bonus. I’ll be dancing in the aisles when LOST IN WHISPERS comes out. Thank you for visiting with us, Mary. Let me pour us all another virtual cup of coffee.
Learn more about Mary Castillo and her books at:
Amazon link for LOST IN THE LIGHT: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009HD1K9Q/
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Castillo/e/B001ITYOWC/
Happy New Year!