There is a couple things I really liked about interviewing Mary Castillo. One is that she’s the type of writer that seems down to earth and real, the kind that you could sit down and have a beverage with and just talk and talk. The other thing was her sensibility with the writing life. I hope you’ll enjoy her interview and also check out her books.
You started out as a screenwriting student. Will we ever see the screenplays you’ve written?
If the Gods smile upon me, then yes! Last year I was hired to write a TV pilot and got bit by the bug so badly that I had to remind myself that I’m a novelist, too. Even though they are shorter in word count than a novel, they require just as much commitment and due diligence. Right now the pilot is lurking at some cable networks and I’m chaffing at the bit to go back to an original pilot that I wrote this summer.
You were once a reporter for the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. What was it about reporting that appealed to you?
Interviewing people and the challenge of my deadlines were the greatest experiences I took away from that job. I’m not the most outgoing person, especially before I wrote for the paper. Reporting forced me to walk right up to perfect strangers and ask them rather personal questions. I never knew what would come out of their mouths and yes, a few were rather hostile. (I even got a death threat but it turned out he threatened everyone in town.) The deadlines, some of which were literally ten minutes after my editor gave me the assignment, made me grow up as a writer. I never was the kind of writer who needed to be inspired to work. But like everyone, I’d get a little lazy every now and then. When you have to write like a reporter, you develop strong, lean writing muscles.
What’s the best reader comment you’ve ever received?
The best reader comment I’ve ever received was from a young college student who discovered In Between Men at the library. She felt like the heroine, Isa became her friend and she then went out and bought my other books. I was a very poor USC student and when I bought a book, I really had to have it so I knew I’d struck a chord with her. For me, that was the first time I fully realized the awesome responsibility and impact we writers can have on our readers.
Tell us about your latest book.
My short story, “2:45 Out of Santa Ana” is included in the anthology, Orange County Noir. When I was invited to participate, I was scared and excited to be with, frankly, much better writers than myself! Not only was I stretching out of my genre and limited to 20 pages, I had to bring my A-game. Danielle Dawson was a character who has been talking inside me ever since my days as a cub reporter at the Coastline Pilot. As soon as Gary Phillips, my editor, sent me the go-ahead, she stepped forward with this attitude like, “It’s about damn time!”
On the outside, she is a blonde, beautiful, ambitious Newport girl. But she’s half Mexican from a working class family in the Santa Ana barrio and doesn’t fit in with them either. Danielle has lost her cush advertising job and her beach front apartment landing back at her grandma’s house in Santa Ana. Her college friend got her a job as a cub reporter at the newspaper, which pays less than what Danielle paid er former assistant. One night, Danielle witnesses an ICE raid next door to her grandmother’s house and helps to hide a little girl. When the little girl disappears, Danielle goes on the hunt not knowing that there’s a predator two steps ahead of her.
Please share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?
How lame will this sound: to publish my fourth novel!?! I’ll put it this way, ever since the release of my last book, Switchcraft, I’ve been soul searching. I had some great ups as a freelancer and screenwriter; some not so-great downs losing my agent and writing a mariachi novel that no one wants! It’s been tough but I’ve come to realize a lot about myself and my writing. Right now I’m polishing a ghost story titled, The Guy Upstairs and I’m having so much fun that I hate having to stop my writing sessions to do things like eat, go to the bathroom or go outside for fresh air. But those things are necessary!
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
Interesting as in it made me a reader again? (The consequence of being a writer is that you tend to read like one!) That would be A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. Beautiful, stunning novel. Interesting as in it held up a mirror into my soul? Comfortable With Uncertainty by Pema Chodron and Momma Zen by Karen Maezen Miller.
Book you’re currently reading?
In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?
A successful writer is one who bravely goes where few of us dare to go. All of my books have offended someone I know … and if you look at some of my reviews on Amazon, those whom I’ve never met! When I’m writing and I don’t have that feeling like I’ve walked out of my house stark naked, then I know I’m not going deep enough emotionally. If I’m crying with my characters, laughing out loud or freaked out that there’s a ghost in my house, then I’m onto something. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is one of my favorite writers for that very reason. She can make me cry, laugh and tense with outrage all within ten pages.
Where can we learn more about you?
My website at www.marycastillo.com, or the “Between the Pages” sections of all my books.
Anything else you’d like to add?
“I’m like Atlanta, [Scarlett] thought. It takes more than Yankees or a burning to keep me down.” From Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.