I’m thrilled to welcome talented author and fun lady, Claudia Long, to the Writing Life. Before I discovered Claudia was a fellow Latina and Booktrope author, I’d read her fascinating novel, The Harlot’s Pen, and passed the book to my sister who loves Claudia’s writing as much as I do. Claudia’s fabulous novels, Josefina’s Sin and The Duel for Consuelo were the next books I read, and I am definitely a fan! Claudia was one of the first authors to reach out to me, and as a new author, I appreciated her kind gesture.
Claudia spends her time in California, practicing law and writing books. She has raised her children, and has time to explore the incredible impact that art, poetry, law and of course, the heart, had on women of a long-ago time.
What is your book’s genre/category?
The Duel for Consuelo fits into several categories, but the most obvious one is Historical Fiction. It takes place in 1711 in Colonial Mexico, so it also can be categorized as World Literature, Latina Literature, Jewish Literature (the Secret Jews of Mexico are a central theme) and by some, Historical Romance.
Please describe what The Duel for Consuelo is about.
Consuelo is a young woman with conflicts and secrets. Her ailing mother is a secret Jew during the time of the Inquisition. She’s the daughter of the mayor, who has some serious issues threatening him and his family. She is in love with Juan Carlos, but he seems to regard her with disdain since his return from the university in Salamanca, Spain. And she is wooed by the handsome Leandro, a poet, a Spaniard, and whose money could solve her father’s crisis. Juan Carlos and Leandro have devastating secrets of their own. And the Inquisition has discovered Consuelo’s mother’s secret practices.
How did you come up with the title?
When I started to write the novel, the duel at the end of the book was central to my idea. By the time the book was written, there were so many duels—internal, external, literal—that the title sort of presented itself.
What is the reason you wrote this book?
I was intrigued by the Secret Jews and their covert practices in the New World. I am likely the descendant, very distantly, of Spanish Jews who fled Spain in 1492, and I grew up in Mexico City, so the attraction was very strong. My first book of the Castillo family, Josefina’s Sin, brought Juan Carlos into the world with some different parentage issues, so by the time that book was finished I knew that I would be continuing the Castillo lineage if nothing else.
What is your favorite part of writing?
I know this is going to sound really strange but I get a real rush when I write. I feel physically and emotionally excited. I can hardly breathe sometimes! I don’t know why. Some people say that writing is painful, but for me, even if the topic is painful or deeply personal, it’s exhilarating. I played water polo in college—this is relevant!—and I got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and when I would think about a game, or about sparring, I would get excited. I get the same feeling when I write. Weird!
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
Wanting to get to the “good part.” So when I’m doing some necessary exposition, or worse yet, editing, all I want to do is get to the part where I get to write the exciting stuff! I’m impatient!
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Do you have all day? Ok: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jane Austen, Julio Cortazar, John Barth, David Liss, Elizabeth Peters, Sue Kaufman, Alexander McCall Smith, Ben Aaronovitch, Rhys Bowen, Dorothy Sayers…. I will stop now. I read constantly. About 2 books a week. I’m insatiable.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
I have been very strongly influenced by the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and David Liss. Personally, I have been most influenced by my mother, the bravest woman I know, who was unspeakably talented in myriad areas.
Favorite place to write?
I’ve written during Continuing Education lectures (don’t tell!) and on the subway to work, but my two favorite places to write are at my desk at work (don’t tell!!!!) and at the dining room table.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I tend to take on hopeless hobbies. I have taken violin lessons for five years, and am on page 37 of the first book for beginners. I have taken up belly dancing, something ladies my age should think twice or thrice about. I took up Tae Kwon Do, even though I am small and relatively uncoordinated, earning my black belt when I was almost 50. I wrote stories after my first daughter was born, and I had no time, sleep or quiet to do it in. Need someone to take on the impossible? I’m your gal.
Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?
I’ve been through it all. 100 rejections. A contract with Simon & Schuster. Indie publishing. Self-publishing. Partner publishing. No agent. A great agent. What I have learned is that every form of publishing has its pros and cons. No one except the very famous will turn down a New York Big 5 publisher. It gives you an advance and instant credibility, but it may not give you much support in marketing. And without immediate sales you are in their rear-view mirror in less than three months. Small presses and true independents will not give you an advance (or if they do, it will be tiny) but they often provide excellent editorial service and publicity. They will stick with you until you make it. With any publishing contract, it is unbelievably hard to get heard above the noise. Self-publishing makes it almost impossible to be heard above the noise. A good agent is worth her weight in gold. And Twitter is fun but it won’t sell your book.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
I wrote the story I wanted to write, and then polished it for a year until it was as good as it could be.
Any advice for writers looking to get published?
This is important. Please take it seriously.
- Ask yourself this question: Is what I am writing interesting to anyone other than me? Why? Make the book INTERESTING. Even if that’s not how “it” happened (unless you are writing non-fiction and I will get to that) you must make the story compelling. Get someone other than your best friend to read the draft. Ask, “Is this interesting?”
For non-fiction, where you must stick with the facts, ask yourself why this non-fiction event is interesting enough to write about. Be able to answer that in 2 sentences that don’t include the words I or me. And then make the telling of that event interesting.
- Edit. Edit. Edit. Edit. Remove. Delete all adverbs possible. Make the reader roar with laughter, don’t tell me that your character roared with laughter. Don’t tell me she said softly, and he answered hesitantly, and she cooed mournfully and laughed uproariously. Show me! And her lips don’t twitch, his eyes don’t bore into hers or her body or wander over her curves. When she walks to the door, opens it and goes out, unless there’s a monster or her long-lost lover behind the door when she opens it, skip that part! She just goes out.
Where can we find your book?
Anywhere you buy your books! Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local bookstore (Yes! If it’s not on the shelf they will be happy to order it—and Yes! You can even buy e-books through your local independent book store!)
What’s next for you, Claudia?
I’m so glad you asked! My next two books just came to me in a flash this week! That’s how it works for me. I wait and walk and wait and walk and all of a sudden the next book comes to me in bulk! So, in the second half of The Duel for Consuelo we meet Susanna and her daughter Marcela. Marcela will be the next heroine, as she makes her way Norte, all the way to what will eventually be the US. And we’ll be cooking with Josefina and Consuelo….
Thanks for a super interview, Claudia! I can’t wait to read your new books!