Thursday, October 4, 2012

Spotlight on Author Mary Castillo and Her Novel, Lost in the Light!

Lost in the Light by Mary Castillo had me on the edge of my seat for so many reasons.  Not only is it one of the better ghost stories I have read but it is also full of love, laughter, heartache, and tears.
Dori Orihuela is the main character, a cop who recently was shot and is out of work on administrative leave pending an investigation.  While on leave she goes through with the purchase of an old mansion.  Turns out that Dori will need to do a lot of restoration to the house to make it livable.  Her grandmother, Grammy, sends Gavin, an ex-boyfriend of Dori’s, to attempt to fix the house.  There is a love story here, but it is not the only one.  Not long after Dori sets up in the house she discovers that it is haunted by a man who was murdered in the house.  Vicente’s spirit is trapped in the house where he died, wandering in an out of the world we know.  Dori helps Vicente try to find the love of his life, as that is the only thing he is obsessed with.  There is so much more to this story than just this, but if I talk to much more about it, I will give the story away!
Mary has a unique way of tying the past and its history to the events that unfold in the present.  The tale was rich with history of National City and of the Mexicans that emigrated there.  The characters are unique, each having a life of their own, not in least bit contrived.  I could picture myself sitting in the kitchen with the characters as they held their conversations, and the tension between Dori and Gavin was palpable.  I raced from page to page, pouring over the novel as I tried to figure out what happened to Vicente and wondered if Dori would pull it together.  I loved this story, and cannot wait to see more of Mary Castillo’s work!  There were times that I jumped and times that I wanted to cry.  To me that is the mark of a great story, the ability to elicit emotion from the readers.
Check out Lost in the Light by Mary Castillo!  It is a fantastic read that will pull you into the world of ghosts, crime, and love that lasts longer than a lifetime!  It is so worth the price of admission to Mary’s world!

Our conversation with author of Lost in the Light, Mary Castillo!

 R&M: Can you tell us an interesting fact about you, your writing, or anything at all?  Or, is there anything in particular you want the readers to know about you?

Mary:  Strangely for Lost in the Light it was not my personal experiences growing up in a haunted house. The inspiration for Dori's story 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. So when the idea was kicking around in my head, I connected Dori Orihuela from a novella I had published in Names I Call My Sister with this moment I had witnessed.

R&M: When did you first know that writing was what you wanted to do as a career?
Mary: The third grade! I've always been a writer. I just didn't realize it until I was a sophomore at USC that I could make a living at it! My first goal was to write screenplays but it was never quite satisfying enough because the form is very lean. There's no room for descriptions of anyone's intense eyes, or the feel of the sea on their faces because that is the actor's job! Finally in 1996, I decided to heck with this, I'm just going to "try" a novel about a recovering alcoholic who can see ghosts. I kind of finished it … okay, I didn't! But once I started, I couldn't stop.

R&M: When you are working on a book, do you plan ahead, or do you let the story flow as you write?

Mary: I outline but I'm open to spontaneity. The outline is really helpful during the revision phase, which for me is quite arduous but also 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.

R&M: Are any of your characters in your books based on people that you know in real life?

Mary: Grammy Cena is my Aunt Irma, who passed away in September. When my mom read her the first chapter of the book, my Aunt Irma said, "I would never wear mango!" She died the next day. While I hate it that she's gone, I'm also happy that she knew how much I loved and admired her by creating this character after her.

R&M: What does your family think of your writing?

Mary: They seem to get a kick out of the whole thing and of course they read my books to see whom I've based the characters from. They never guess who is who and I just nod my head and smile when they say that I based the heroine on them!

R&M: How has being published changed your life, if any way?

Mary: At my first, and so far, only RWA Literacy Signing, a reader ran up to me with copies of all my books. She then slammed them on the table and out of breath, asked me to sign them. So I did while she took photos of me like she was the paparazzi! It reinforced my mission, so to speak, as a writer which is to connect with readers; to bring joy and a sense of camaraderie. The moment was a little strange but also humbling because when someone goes out of their way to leave work, drive to a huge hotel, pay for parking and then wait in a long line outside a ballroom carrying all of my books, I realized that what I do affects real people. I've never forgotten that.

R&M: What are you currently working on?  We would love to know what is coming next from you.

Mary: Yes, I'm "renovating" a novel that I've been working on for the past five years! The Ballad of Aracely Calderon is about the oldest daughter of the world's most famous mariachi singer. She turned her back on her family heritage, Mariachi Calderon, after suffering her father's emotional abuse. But when he dies, Aracely is shocked when he bequeaths the Calderon violin, which has been passed from the first son to the first son for generations, to her with the stipulation that she take over Mariachi Calderon.

R&M: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Mary: The same advice I was given by my writing teacher, Ben Masselink, which is that discipline protects the talent. Writers write. They write in spite of the fear that the words on paper will stink. They write in spite of rejections, the state of the industry or lack of book sales. They write because they have to and they love going into their imaginary worlds to see what those characters will do next.

R&M: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Mary: 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. Like Nora Roberts has said, you can't fix a blank page!

Fun Questions:

1. Favorite flavor of ice cream: Dark chocolate gelato
2. Favorite color: Purple
3.Favorite animal: My black pug, Rocky
4.Favorite season of the year: Fall
5.Favorite Author: Isabel Allende
6. Favorite drink: Malbec
7.Favorite food: Mexican
8.  Favorite Halloween Candy: Popcorn balls

Our guest blogger for the day, author Mary Castillo!!

Mary:  Thank you R&M!  It’s a pleasure to be here!
Lost in the Light is not just my homage to one of my all-time favorite movies, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but it is also a journey into my family history. Much of my childhood was spent at my Great Grandma Nana's house in the Westside Barrio of National City. I remember watching the first runs of the San Diego trolley and flagging down the ice cream man during the summers. When I smell pink naked ladies flowers, or peppertree and ivy, I'm taken back to her house where she had grown yerba buena next to the white shed and used a scrubbing board to clean clothes.
Like Vicente, the ghost in Lost in the Light, my great grandmother, Eduvijen Holguin Melendez and her little brother, Ceferino Holguin arrived in National City in 1925 from Douglas, Arizona. Their grandmother, Maria Duran, moved them out west because a nephew had said there was a lot of work to be had with the Santa Fe Railroad. Back then, the barrio was a muddy rail road town. Families lived in make-shift train cars and little clapboard shacks with chickens in their yards. My Grandma Margie remembers her mother washing her father's work clothes in kerosene.
While researching at the Local History Room at the National City Public Library, I found my great grandmother and grandfather's address in the 1926 city directory, my great great great grandmother's listing as well as my mother's grandmother. I also listened to my Great Uncle John Mendez's oral history and found out that my great grandfather on my mom's side had been shot in a gambling hall! By looking at those addresses and the Mexican last names, it was plain to see that the Westside of National Avenue in the 1920's up till the 1970's was the Mexican side of town. Anglos, the term my Grandma Margie still uses, lived on the east side that had paved streets, lawns and running water. The Westside got a sewer system and paved streets in the 1940's.

The research that went into Lost in the Light has given me a greater perspective of exactly how far my family, like many Mexican Americans, has come from those early days. In 1996, when my Grandma Margie saw me in my USC cap and gown, she said, "Look at this. Everyone told me that my sons would grow up to be bums. One is a fire captain and the other an engineer. Now my granddaughter is a USC graduate."
One of my fondest hopes with this book is that it will honor the humble, but hard-working people I come from.
A special thanks to our guest for the day and author of the novel Lost in the Light, Mary Castillo!  Thank you for sharing with us some of your thoughts about your work!


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