Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Linda Castillo thrills us with PRAY FOR SILENCE
Hello Five Scribes Readers. I'm pleased today to bring you New York Times bestselling author Linda Castillo, the recipient of numerous writing awards, including the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, the Holt Medallion and nominee for RWA's prestigious RITA award. I've been looking forward to talking to Linda after she told me she had contracted a three-book deal with St. Martins for her Amish thriller series. I've seen this author grow and stretch her immeasurable talent over the years, but I must say PRAY FOR SILENCE has to be an all-time leap. Please welcome the extraordinary writing talent Linda Castillo to Five Scribes ~ Donnell
D.B.: Good morning, Linda. Thank goodness this is a blog and I have loads of space. I'll try to keep my questions short because I have so many.
L.C.: Fire away!
D.B.: As I mentioned, you told me you had contracted to write this Amish series a few years ago. I'm seeing agents and editors ask for Amish-themed writing. Talk about why this culture is so highly popular.
L.C.: I, too, have seen a surge in Amish themed books. I think it's because the culture is so fascinating and different than typical America. There's an element of mystery when it comes to the Amish. Most people don't know much about the culture. They are a closed society and wish to remain separate from their "English" counterparts. That alone, can make for some great, built-in conflict. I believe all of those elements work well with regard to crime fiction.
D.B.: What made you want to write about the Amish? Do you have anything in your background that connects you with this society? And I have to know, do you speak Pennsylvania Dutch? You did a marvelous translation throughout the book.
L.C.: Thanks, Donnell. I do not speak Pennsylvania Dutch, but I am from small-town Ohio. When I was in high school, I rode the school bus with an Amish girl. At the time, I didn't think the culture was particularly fascinating. It wasn't until I traveled back to Ohio a few years ago and visited Amish country with my sister and brother in law that I realized how absolutely fascinating the culture is. I was living in Dallas at the time (Dallas County has a population of over two million.) While in Amish Country, I was standing outside a 200-year-old farmhouse in the middle of a cold, Ohio winter and I heard the clip-clop of horse hooves on the pavement. I watched an Amish man in the buggy come down the road and it was like traveling back in time. That was the moment when I knew the setting would be perfect for the book I had in mind.
D.B.: I've read your earlier work and you've always had the capacity to write dark. PRAY FOR SILENCE is exceptionally dark and it's labeled a thriller. I have to say I found it a cross between thriller and horror. Do you agree/disagree?
L.C.: I love reading dark books and I love writing them. (Yes, I scare myself sometimes.) I believe the book falls firmly in the arena of thriller. There are some frightening moments in the book. But those moments are realistic in terms of the police procedural aspect of the story. There is a certain grittiness to the crime scenes. But it's all about solving the crime and unraveling the mystery. The scare factor is secondary.
D.B.: Chief Kate Burkholder is beyond tortured with wonderful character traits, including human frailties and flaws. Talk about Kate and how you created her. And here's a hard question for you: How is she like Linda Castillo and how is she different?
L.C.: Well, I wish I was half as brave as Kate. ;) I wanted to write a protagonist that could immerse us in the Amish world and give us a first person look at it from both the inside and the outside. For the first half of her life, Kate lived by the Ordnung, the unwritten rules of Amish life, and so she's able to see the culture from the inside. But because of her past, what happened to her when she was fourteen years, old, her value system was changed, perhaps even irrevocably damaged. She left the Amish way of life and was basically excommunicated. That makes her an outsider. And so we also get a glimpse of what it's like to be on the outside looking in, too. Kate faces a lot of personal and professional challenges in the book. And many times she is torn between the two cultures that shaped her into who she is today. The values she learned as a child versus the lessons taught to her not only as an adult, but as a cop. Sometimes Kate walks a fine line. Sometimes she steps over the line, breaks the rules, behaves badly...but [almost] always with good reason. She is a fundamentally good person who is forced to make extremely difficult choices.
D.B.: Talk about State Agent John Tomasetti, who is equally as tortured and compelling as Kate Burkholder. I see John and Kate's relationship as a life-preserver to two characters whose lives can only be described as train wrecks. How did John come about? I love what he says in the book in answer to Kate's need to connect all the dots when Painters Mill police believe the case is over. Tomasetti says, "Police work isn't always that neat." I have to ask--do you enjoy torturing your characters?
L.C.: I love writing troubled, imperfect characters. John Tomasetti is a troubled man, haunted by his past and truly living on the edge. Writing that kind of character allows for quite a bit of growth, which is a vital part of any story. Those kinds of characters appeal to me, and I believe they fascinate readers, too. They want to know what the character is going to do next. They want to know how they will handle a certain situation. The key, of course, is to make these kinds of characters redeemable. Motivate them with a compelling backstory. There are some lines that shouldn't be crossed so a writer should follow his or her instincts.
I've known writers who are so attached to their characters that they can't put them through too much emotional or physical turmoil. While I do get attached to my characters, I have no qualms about putting them through the wringer. I love to see how they're going to stand up to the things I throw at them. Do they have what it takes to overcome obstacles tossed in their way? I like to think so.
D.B.: Your research is impeccable and seamlessly inserted in this book. As a matter of fact, Sandra Brown writes "[Castillo]. . .makes police procedure anything but tedious." You and I have talked about police procedure before but I had no clue you knew the ins and outs so precisely. What kind of training, reading and interviewing did you have to do to come up with such knowledge to write these books?
L.C.: Police procedure is one element of my books I do my utmost to get right. That aspect of the book must be correct or a writer risks losing credibility. That's not to say the characters don't make missteps as they go about their investigations. They're human; they make mistakes. Just like real life police officers. But the framework of solid police work is there. One thing that helped me tremendously is that I've graduated from two citizen's police academies in a large metropolitan city. I've done multiple ride alongs with both male and female officers, I've participated in shoot/no shoot scenarios, and police firearms situational training on the FATS machine. That kind of experience is one of the best ways a writer can learn the ins and outs of the law enforcement life. Of course, I have contacts in a couple of different law enforcement agencies so when I have a question or need to get inside an officer's head during a certain situation, I can call or e-mail.
D.B.: The subject matter is painful, gripping. Caution: Reading this book on an airplane or while waiting in DIA and or the Seattle/Tacoma airport will have people looking over your shoulder. I moderated a workshop once for you in which you talked about the killing/abuse of children taking place off scene. PRAY FOR SILENCE occurs on scene and deals with intensely difficult subject matter. As I read I thought this woman is fearless to write so graphic a novel. Talk about the transition you took here and how have your fans handed the transition?
L.C.: I must admit that was the toughest part of the book to write. And there were moments of hesitation when I had to stop and think about my readers. But it is my firm believe that fiction is just that: fiction. I like my fiction edgy. One of the things I love to do as a writer is "push the envelope" without going too far over the top. I think I struck a pretty good balance with PRAY. If I ever cross the line, I know my readers will let me know!
D.B.: I'm sure they will ;) I did some research of my own for this interview. Painters Mill is fictional, is it not? However, your setting is incredible, down to the most descriptive detail of routes, local establishments and more. I think Painters is an apt name because that's what Linda Castillo does when she creates this setting and writes about the English dealing with the Amish. I feel as though this place really exists. What goes through your mind as you're creating this world? Do you see this place as vividly as you pen on the page? Or is this something you struggle with and go back in and capture afterward?
L.C.: Well, thank you. I grew up in rural Ohio's farm country. I lived near several small towns. I took elements from each of those towns (both good and bad) when I conceived the town of Painters Mill. I also borrowed some of the road names from real places. Ohio has to have some of the most interesting names of any state. Hogpath Road. Dogleg Road. Sweet Potato Ridge Road.
D.B. [Interviewer smiles here.] So much more interesting than say Smith Lane. Kate Burkholder has a great relationship with her male colleagues, although Officer Skidmore is on night shift as some sort of punishment. I have to say though (LOL), I found Kate a little passive/aggressive when it came to dealing with her female dispatchers. She's annoyed at one's inappropriate attire and I thought, well, Kate's the boss, why doesn't she just say something? She seems more comfortable dealing with men. What do you think about my perception, Linda? Am I right? Completely off?
L.C.: You're not completely off. But I have to say Kate has a special affection for Mona. I think her annoyance is pretty mild and has more to do with Mona's youth as opposed to her sex. Kate chooses her battles and has decided Mona's mode of dress isn't worth it. You're right in that Kate is more in her element in dealing with men. Part of that stems from the fact that law enforcement is a male dominated profession. As chief, Kate knows the importance of credibility and she guards it staunchly.
D.B.: You write in third person when you're in John's or a secondary characters POV, but then when you're in Kate's point of view you write in first person, present tense. I'm finding this style is becoming more and more common in fiction these days--Hank Phillippi Ryan--being one award-winning author. I love the immediacy of this writing style. Did you play with this for a while, or how did you decide on first person, present tense for this particular series? Did you have to sell your editor on it, or did she immediately say, yes, this works?
L.C.: In the past, I've written strictly in third person, present tense. With my Amish thriller series, I wanted to stretch my writing muscles. I wanted to do something different and I knew from the beginning I would write in first person. I debated the present tense aspect, but ultimately decided the immediacy of that would be a plus for this story, particularly in Kate's POV. Third person was a natural POV for the secondary characters.
D.B.: When Kate comes on scene when she finds the victims, she and another cop roll over the body of the father before the coroner arrives. I sat up and took notice at this particular action. Obviously, you have to know this is a coroner's worst nightmare, and you address it when Doc Coblentz asks, [paraphrasing] Did you move the body, Kate? I'm curious why you did this.
L.C.: You have a great memory for details, Donnell. In the first book the young officer who happened upon the crime scene moves the body due to his inexperience. He thought there was a chance the victim could still be alive and the preservation of life always takes precedence over the preservation of evidence. In PRAY FOR SILENCE, Kate moves the body only after the scene has been documented. That means the crime scene photos as well as sketches were made before she moves the body. The coroner rules on cause and manner of death an almost all of that information comes from the autopsy itself as opposed to the crime scene.
D.B.: In addition to pacing, fantastic, never-see-it-coming twists and turns, which I won't give away here, your book is all about character. You are a lovely writer including the following segment...
The mind of a killer is a dark, malignant place, viscous with a cancer of black thoughts and secret hungers most people can't imagine. A place most people don't want to conceive of because they'd never see the world in the same light. Getting inside a place like that is akin to climbing into a crypt and snuggling up with a decaying body. Still, I open that door and step inside. I conjure up thoughts I hope will tell me who and why and how. ...
I'd say the above excerpt sums of Chief of Police Kate Burkholder well, wouldn't you?
L.C.: It is an apt mindset for Kate. She's a cop first and foremost. She is driven and much of that drive is a product of her backstory. Kate is also a realist. She can be cynical, though she doesn't like that part of her personality. Because of her profession and backstory, she is all too familiar with the dark side of human nature.
D.B.: Agreed. But then you seem to be able to sense when the reader needs to escape from that dark creepy place and you lighten the tone. You have wonderful hooks, and, again, without giving too much away, you had me laughing out loud . Lines like, "Going to wear my fuckin' earmuffs," Glock says.
Or...poetic lines like...On the jukebox, "Bittersweet" gives way to Clapton's Cocaine." I wonder if booze is Tomasetti's cocaine. I wonder if he's mine."
Extraordinary, Linda. I was spellbound by this read.
L.C.: That's high praise, Donnell. More so because you are a writer. Thank you. I love the intensity in a book but even too much of a good thing can be too much. Readers need a chance to catch their breath. I love cop humor and so I try to use that to give the reader some down time.
D.B.: My questions are already taking up four pages, so I'll close out the interview with some personal interest stuff. When looking over your web page, I saw that you're a barrel racer [pictured here]. Amazing. Look at the intensity on your face. Part of me wants to know if you wear that same intensity when you're writing at Roasters Coffee and Tea Company in Amarillo. I'd love to be a witness to your process.
L.C.: Well, I love my horses and I ride as often as I can. It's a different type of intensity with them, but they are a big part of my life.
I'm at Roasters right now with a good writer friend of mine. I have had a person or two poke fun at me because of the way I pound the keyboard of my laptop ;)
D.B.: I hope your friend was pleased with the questions. Linda, thanks so much for talking with me today. PRAY FOR SILENCE is an incredible work of art. You've always been exceedingly gracious to your fans and aspiring authors. I wish you the absolute best and suspect you've only reached the tip of your writing success.
L.C.: This is one of the best and most thoughtful interviews I've ever had the opportunity to participate in. Right back at you, Donnell. The thanks is all mine.
Well, there you have it Five Scribes readers, except for our surprise! For people who ask questions or comment, you will be entered in a drawing with a chance to win one of three prizes. 1) A paperback copy of book one SWORN TO SILENCE; 2) a hardback copy of PRAY FOR SILENCE; and 3) reader's choice of SWORN TO SILENCE OR PRAY FOR SILENCE in audio.
Our drawing will be on Friday night July 9, 2010. So be sure to leave your e-mail along with your comment or question and be sure to check back to see who won. And for those who want to learn more about Linda Castillo, check out her web page at www.lindacastillo.com
~ Happy Reading & Writing
As promised, three prizes were awarded to those who asked questions or comments:
The books on audio (winner's choice) of SWORN TO SILENCE or PRAY FOR SILENCE goes to Mary Marvella Barfield.
Tyger has won the hardback of PRAY FOR SILENCE
Misty Evans has won the paperback SWORN TO SILENCE.
Congratulations, I'll be in touch with you three for further information. Thanks for reading. ~ Donnell