Saturday, October 31, 2015

Chat with author Guilie Castillo Oriard about The Miracle of Small Things


Guilie and Benny, her
handsome rescue mutt.
The Miracle
of Small Things
Today, please meet Guilie Castillo Oriard, the unusually talented writer and author of The Miracle of Small Things, published this summer by Truth Serum Press. At 126 pages, it's a small gem about what's important in life, learning who we are, and realigning our values. Here is our chance to ask Guilie about the book, her writing, her blog tour, life in Curaçao, dog rescuing, her next project, music, culture -- so many possibilities!

So bienvenida, Guilie. You've had a couple of tour stops already. How are you and Benny holding up under the klieg lights?



A few words from Truth Serum Press
Guilie Castillo Oriard is a Mexican writer and dog rescuer living in Curaçao. She misses Mexican food and Mexican amabilidad, but the laissez-faire attitude (and the beaches) are fair exchange. And the island’s diversity provides great fodder for her obsession with culture clashes.

Her work has appeared online and, in print, as part of several anthologies. Her first book, The Miracle of Small Things (Truth Serum Press) was published in August 2015. She’s currently working on a full-length novel.

She blogs about life and writing at http://guilie-castillo-oriard.blogspot.com and about life and dogs at http://lifeindogs.blogspot.com/.


To buy Guilie's book
To purchase The Miracle of Small Things (and you know you want to):

Barnes & Noble Nook (coming soon)

Find the publisher:
The Miracle of Small Things on Facebook
Author page on Facebook
Author on Twitter
Author’s blog

27 comments:

Guilie Castillo said...

Bob, can't thank you enough for having me over today... Never done this before, and I'm not sure I know what I'm doing, but people have been so generous and welcoming—for instance, you—that it's hard to not focus on the good. I'm meeting a lot of different people, too, which is a great part of the whole experience... And I've reconnected with some fabulous blogger friends as well. All in all, the tour is exceeding expectations.

As for Benny... Well, Benny does not enjoy the limelight. He's shy... a bit of an introvert, I suppose. But he's a trooper. He'll hang on for the duration. And, between you and me, I saw his tail twitch just a smidge when I told him you were asking about him. Maybe we'll break through his shell yet ;)

Bob Sanchez said...

When we chatted, you mentioned that your characters are not based on real people. So where did Milena and Luis and Al come from?

Guilie Castillo said...

Wow... First question and I'm already stumped :D

No, kidding.

Who was it that said all fiction is autobiographical? I suppose we can't really help it, the fact that our selves—experiences, emotions, flaws—filter onto the written page. And, inevitably, this extends to the people around us.

I have met "Luis Villalobos" many, many times over here in Curaçao. The cocky lawyer who hates the tropics but sacrifices himself (only for a year or two, mind you) for the greater good of his career. They come down here and they think this island is their oyster... And, more often than not, it eats them up alive. They can't deal with it, from the informality to the weather to the isolation. Once in a while, though, one of them will not just make it through but even fall in love with the place (as I did). When that happens, when you open yourself up to the island, it changes you in profound ways.

I created Luis's character to be one for whom this process would be especially difficult... I wanted to see how far he'd bend without breaking. But I also wanted to give him a few qualities that might just possibly redeem him. Maybe. I didn't want his to be an easy journey. And at one point I was convinced the island would beat him.

Same goes for Milena, actually. I intended her to be a composite of some very powerful women I met during my time in the corporate world... women who shape lives and careers, who know they're better at what they do than any competing male, who've dedicated their lives to proving there's nothing weak about the "weaker" sex. I admire them, profoundly. Their gumption, their cool-headedness, their cold blood when it comes to emotional decisions. Milena, though, turned out a bit more hotheaded than I wanted her to. (Don't you just hate it when the character rebels?)

The only character based on an actual "person" is Al. (Yes, dogs are people to me.) A few years ago, one of the rescue organizations I volunteered with rescued this HUGE Great Dane mix from the street. He was enormous, even as emaciated as he was when they found him, and very sweet, but a tad protective (especially of women, for some reason). Still, he was young (vets calculated maybe a year old), so we had hopes he'd find a good human with big-dog experience to curb his protectiveness. And he did, eventually. Finding a home for such a huge beast (and with character issues to boot) is always a challenge... People are much more likely to go for the smaller, more docile (at least in appearance), less threatening dogs. Somehow people imagine that bigger dogs suffer less out in the street... Which is, of course, poppycock :)

Gary Presley said...

When did the writing bug hit you, Guiile?

I really think there's something different about writers related to personality. Some folks are born writers, surely. Others begin to write because of a change, external or internal.

Are you an introvert? I know social media makes it possible for introverts to appear extroverted, but I think too that writers are introverted or at the minimum highly introspective.

Cara said...

Do both you and your characters get island-fever sometimes, that feeling that you're trapped in the middle of the ocean and can't easily escape? How do you, and they, react to it? I'm curious because I sometimes went a little stir-crazy in Juneau, Alaska, where I lived for only nine months, and where there was no way out except by boat or plane.

Guilie Castillo said...

Too right, Gary... Introspection is a must, if one wants to write character-based fiction. I'm a good extrovert, though whether by nature or by masquerade is still to be seen :D I love being alone, and — since I quit my job in the corporate world — I spend days without talking to anyone except the dogs (and my honey, in the evenings). But I do like people, too, and I love being social.

Maybe I have multiple-personality syndrome?

I wrote my first story when I was 8, and it won a competition. That was powerful validation for one so young, and I was addicted. I was first published at 19, when I helped set up the city's first literary journal (city = Cuernavaca, Mexico). But then life and responsibilities happened, and a career in writing seemed like a pipe dream. Until, in 2011, the loss of the pipe dream finally struck me as the larger tragedy, and I quit my job to write full-time.

Not just multiple-personality, apparently, but downright mad :)

Thanks for coming by, Gary!

Guilie Castillo said...

Cara, YES! As you found out (hopefully in not too hard a way), living in an isolated location is hard to handle without regular breaks. My job required me to travel often, three times a year at least, so that took care of that. But since I quit it's been harder to organize "escapes". Especially since Curaçao doesn't have direct flights to... well, pretty much anywhere outside of Holland and Miami. Oh, and Venezuela :)

Bob Sanchez said...

Guilie, talk about your writing process: the drafts, the critiques, the edits. Do your characters ever defy your initial intent and tell you what they're going to do?

tim sharp said...

Hello Guilie. We've met once on line. You provided me with a few Spansih words for my book. I was impressed that you'd take the time to help someone unknown to you. Thanks. So your comment about characters rebelling really struck a nerve with me. I'm curious if you allow the characters write themselfs into your stories, however disruptive that may be, or if you stick to a strict adherance to the original story outline.

Lynne Hinkey said...

And now for the eternal writing debate, Guilie: Plotter or Pantster? I know there isn't a "right" answer, only what's right for how each person works best, but I'm always curious and fascinated at different approaches.

Guilie Castillo said...

Glad you brought up critiques, Bob... They're essential to any writing I do, but they were particularly key for Miracle. The format (one story pero month, over a whole year) had its challenges, the largest of which was to walk the line between continuity and completeness for each episode. (This was originally published as a serial for Pure Slush's 2014 A Year In Stories.) If I'd done this alone, or even with just a few beta readers, it would never in a million years have passed the publisher's muster. The Internet Writing Workshop, and its diversity in feedback, was instrumental. (Aaaand... The plane doors are closing. Will be back with more in a couple of hours :) )

Guilie Castillo said...

So. Guilie is back online, coming to you all the way from sunny Miami, FL :) Where were we?

Ah, yes. The writing process... Which ties in with Lynne's question -- I'm a pantster, all the way, hands down. Nothing wrong with seeing only as far as the headlights reach, in my not-so-humble opinion :) Except... Well, MIRACLE was special. Normally I'll start writing, see where it takes me (I like being surprised), and then, as more brainstorming happens, I'll start doubling back: "Wait, this would work so much better if back in Ch. 1 he does this instead of that." But, with MIRACLE, that wouldn't be an option. By the time I came up with these (somewhat belated) bits of brilliance, the previous stories would've already been submitted to and approved by the publisher--if not outright published.

So I outlined. For the first time in my life. It felt like... Well, like the loss of a cornerstone of my integrity :D But I have to admit that it actually wasn't half the drudgery I imagined. I still surprised myself. It wasn't all work no play. No sense of creativity stillborn, of "death by form".

Am I going civilized? I feel like I'm crossing over into the dark side of plotterism :D

Katherine Highcove said...

I was intrigued by your comment about a character who became headstrong and you were sort of surprised about that development. I've often watched one of my character morph into another personality than what I intended, and consequently, the plot veered off road also. Sometimes the fantasy people seem to have a mind of their own.

Another reaction to another part of your story -- big dogs who have stressful lives on the street. I wonder how they end up homeless, esp[specially a breed like a Great Dane. I know a woman who kindly took in a vagabond St. Bernard because the shelter told her that no one wanted the big girl. Such a sweet dog. I wondered how it ended up in an inner city dog pound.

Guilie Castillo said...

I remember you, Tim... How's the book coming? Hope it's progressing in leaps and bounds :)

It's funny about characters, isn't it... They're our creations, they shouldn't have a life of their own, but somehow, sometimes, they do. "Curb your characters, author!" I think, though, that it's not so much a discipline issue as our own flaws as writers... Once we create these people, if we did a good job and they're not cardboard cut-outs, if we want them to do something out of character--something that doesn't jibe with the values and personalities and attitudes we've given them--it just doesn't ring true. We say that they "rebel"... But it's actually us who are betraying the character. And a half-conscious part of our brain knows this... So the scene won't come out right, or the dialogue sounds stiff, ir the plot twist doesn't seem plausible.

Kathy, you also asked about the dogs... In Curacao, a lot of dogs end up homeless because their families move and leave them behind. People have a hard time understanding that dogs are forever animals, I think... Even rehoming them is a cruelty--although it's way better than leaving them on the street. Or tied to a tree out in the wild... We see a lot of that, too, unfortunately.

Thanks so much for all these questions, y'all! I'm loving this chat... Great idea, Bob!

P.S. -- I'd love to Yahoo this to IWW, but my phone won't let me, for some reason... Any chance one of you awesome IWWers would be willing to do it for me? Pretty, pretty please? (And a hug of gratitude in advance!)

Wayne said...

Am I too late? Are you still there, Guilie? Mainly, I wanted to say, Hi.

I'll ask about the nitty-gritty of proofreading. Did you have the final draft professionally proofread or did you trust yourself and your friends to catch all the little things that distract readers, like me, who have no real life. I ask this because I know, no matter how many times I proofread my own work, other readers find errors that are downright embarrassing.

Guilie Castillo said...

WAYNE! I'm so pleased you dropped by. Not too late at all... I was the one late with the Yahoo :)

Hahaha... "readers, like me, who have no real life"—Wayne, you're most certainly not alone. Writing has ruined me to the pleasures of reading... I used to get lost in a book, able to skim over even a glaring typo without giving it main-character status. Now, even the smallest thing (not even an actual error but maybe, say, a sentence worded oddly, or a quirky word that calls attention to itself) makes me stop. And then there are the "perfect" books—the literary writers that string words together and make them shine like dew at first light. You know the ones. The ones that make us go "I wish I'd written that!" Those I have to stop to savor. And stew in my own incompetence, haha.

Anyway. Back to proofreading. I promise to be kinder the next time I find an error in a book. MIRACLE was not just proofread as each draft was produced, then submitted to the Fiction list (at IWW, where at least another 5 set of trusty eyes took a look), then revised, redrafted, and sent to the publisher. Who, of course, proofed it again, and sent it back with revisions and suggestions. One more go-through for the author in implementing those changes, before sending it back to the publisher—who, more often than not, had more changes. This process applied to each of the 12 stories not just once but twice: for the original, serialized, anthology, and for the stand-alone book. Then, after these two read/proof/submit/suggest/revise/resubmit cycles, came the blurbers, who read an advance copy (and helped catch a couple more things). And THEN, once the book was at a point when both publisher and I felt the story was as good as it needed to be (after add-ins and take-outs and even adding a new story, #13) there were the actual Proof Copies. We went through THREE of these copies before publishing.

In the first proof, the publisher caught an embarrassing one: two women in the book have maids. Both these maids (presumably different people) had the same name. Oooops... And so on. Somehow we become blind to words we're familiar with, and once you see said words in a different format than you're used to (printed book vs., say, .doc file or PDF), all these little things start popping out.

But not all.

On the day of the book launch in NYC—the morning of that day; the launch was at 6pm, so I had all day to marinade myself in angst—my honey mentioned, as in passing, "You know there's a mistake in the book, right?"

What? There can't be. We signed off on it.

But he was right. And I don't mean one of these subjective potahto-potayto issues; not word choice, not "could've phrased it better"... It's a glaring, factual, self-evident mistake that has nothing to do with what language. And I can't believe we missed it.

I panicked. For about an hour. And then... you know what? It's OK. We—all of us, publisher, critiquers, beta readers, friends—did a great job. We polished every word as lovingly as we could. We tweaked scenes and plot twists and descriptions and dialogue and sequences until they rang true (to us). We caught 99.99% of the "big" stuff (the 2+2=5 stuff, the "Mom is blonde in page 3 but brunette in page 12" stuff). One such thing—only one—got through the nets, and made it out into the published book. I could've obsessed and stressed and banged my head on the wall. Instead (I did bang my head on the wall, a bit), I'm treating it as a (non-intentional, but still somewhat charming) Easter egg.

Breathe in, breathe out... Ohmmm... It's all good... :)

Bob Sanchez said...

No, you're not too late, Wayne. Guilie is here all through the weekend, so I expect she'll respond to your comment shortly.

If I can throw in my two cents in the meantime, a writer should go back over his or her work several times and be able to catch a lot. Then if you have some smart, conscientious readers to read and comment at different stages, you should catch nearly all of the errors and inconsistencies. If you can do all of that, I don't think you have to hire a pro. Guilie will tell you her approach, but whatever she did, it worked.

Bob Sanchez said...

Oh wait, there she is. I started to reply to Wayne, went out to lunch, and missed that she'd responded in the meantime.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd miss Mexican food as well!

William Bartlett said...

Hi Guilie! I'm going to echo Wayne's words (hmm. sounds suspiciously close to a move title) and say I hope I'm not too late. Before I started with my novel, I used to wonder how such different characters could come out of the same author's mind. Did you find, as I did, that the characters almost spoke to you and were distinct and different personalities? And, as a followup, what surprised you most about your characters as you wrote your story?

monideepa sahu said...

Hi Guilie and Bob. Looks like I'm late for the event, thanks to living a distant time zone. (that sounds like the stuff of spec fiction, doesn't it? My today is your tomorrow.)

I have one question, if I'm not too late, that is.

Guilie, when your characters do take over a story in progress, does it increase your number of revisions to get it right?

do you consciously try to make your characters people distinct from yourself, or do they often end up thinking and reacting the way you might, in comparable situations?

Guilie Castillo said...

Alex, indeed... the absence of Mexican food is almost—but not quite—a deal-breaker :) Thanks for the visit!

Good observation, Bill; it really is amazing that such different personalities can come out of a single person's imagination. And so well-formed, too, that they seem to 'speak' and dictate their own actions. That's probably a good thing... It means, I guess, that the character isn't a cut-out or simply a reflection of our own selves. That's one of the challenges, isn't it? To avoid mirror images or, probably more accurately, wishful-mirror images.

What surprised me most about my characters... Hmmm, good question. I don't think anyone's ever asked me that. I think Luis surprised me with his naiveté. In spite of being a seasoned professional in the international tax scene, he seemed to harbor some pretty black-and-white ideas of how the world works. He turned out a tad more idealistic than I wanted him to... And he acted, in some ways, younger than his 38 years.

In Milena's case, as I mentioned before, she came out more hot-headed than I intended. And I didn't expect her to fall in love with Luis... She was supposed to use him, for one, and also I just couldn't imagine a woman like her falling for a guy like him—because of that naïve bit above. But... well. I guess that happens in real life, too, huh?

And Pélagie... I was going to say that she's the only one that came out exactly as I wanted her to, but... No, she didn't. The whole drama with her dad and her money was *not* in the original outline. It seemed wussy for a woman like her. But it wouldn't go away. I wrote and rewrote that story (I think it's the June story, When The Sunset), and I couldn't find a way to eliminate it. I'm still not sure if that was due to it being a part of her character, or to my own incompetence as a writer.

I'm so glad you came by, Bill :) And I apologize for not replying until now... I'm in Mexico, with spotty internet access, but I finally got the laptop to connect—yay!

Guilie Castillo said...

Not late at all, Monideepa! We're still on all today — and the post will stay up in Bob's blog archive, too :) Thanks so much for the visit!

"My today is your tomorrow"—I love that. I know all about it, since my publisher is in Australia... The man of the future :) When we talk deadlines or schedules, we always have to use a common reference for the timezone we mean: "I'll send you the latest revisions by Monday my time", or "It'll probably go live tonight, EST", stuff like that.

On to your questions. If a character "takes over" a story, I tend to think that it's either a) because I, the author, am not staying true to who the character is, or b) because I, the author, didn't create the character properly. So I'll take a moment and ponder: who is this person whose story I'm telling, what is his/her motivation / background / core values? What does his/her past look like? Most importantly, after I'm sure all that is clear in my head, I evaluate whether the character's actions in the story so far match who s/he is supposed to be. Usually that's where the problem is: either some actions I've already written are out of character, or this place where I feel the character is 'taking over' is. I suppose that can be taken care of with formal and consistent outlining, but—even though I've been flirting with that 'plotter' dark side—I'm not quite there yet :)

I do actively make an effort to avoid my characters being different versions of me. I suppose it's inevitable that some of myself seeps through into even characters diametrically my opposites; all fiction is autobiographical, someone said (wish I could remember who), and I think it's true. But I'm not a writer of memoir... I don't like facts much, haha. So I try my best to avoid it. In the case of MIRACLE, I chose a male protagonist (and POV character) intentionally to help mitigate any filtering of myself in the story... Plus he's an attorney, I'm not; he's 38, I'm 42; he's lived all over the world, I've lived in Mexico, the US, and Curaçao; he's ambitious to his core, I most certainly am not; he's not much into commitments, relationship-wise, whereas I've been in 3 serious, long-term relationships. But of course there are similarities: he's Mexican, for one :)

Hope this is what you wanted to know, Monideepa... If I missed anything, please do let me know. Although I'm in Mexico with limited internet, I'm checking in regularly and would love to continue the conversation. I'm especially curious as to how you deal with your 'rebel' characters, and what your take is on why that happens.

So glad you came by!

Bob Sanchez said...

Okay Guilie, my friend and Internet Review of Books colleague Alan Goodman wants to ask you a question but is a bit stumped by all this blogging stuff. Alan is a professional classical musician, and when he saw the name Villalobos it conjured up the great Brazilian composer Heitor Villalobos. So he's wondering how you decided on that particular name. (I suspect he secretly hopes you'll say there's a connection, but since you've never mentioned the genre, I'm not betting on it.)

But he does want to know what kind of music you like, and what's the music scene like in Curaçao. He notes that there is no music scene in wild Wyoming, where he lives.

Guilie Castillo said...

Alan, I owe you an apology for creating false expectations... The last name Villalobos was not because of Heitor, unfortunately. It was a tip of the hat to wonderful friend and awesome author Silvia Villalobos (Bob, you'll remember her from IWW, I think), who has been one of four or five of my constant and totally reliable early readers / providers of critique & feedback. Quite honestly, I have to admit the connection never occurred to me, even though I love classical music and listen to it often; Mozart, Vivaldi, Debussy, and (some of) Beethoven and Bach are my go-to composers. But I'm quite eclectic when it comes to music; the only genre I actively dislike is Pop. Everything else, as long as it's well composed and well played, gets a fair chance. Outside of the classical greats, my iPod often blasts out Pink Floyd, or AC/DC, or Arcade Fire, or Miles David, or Dave Matthews, or Richard Bona. Even some DJs make the cut: Robin Schulz, for instance, and Armin van Buuren, as well as Tiësto, are often on my favorite playlists.

The music scene in Curaçao is limited, and pretty commercial-oriented (makes sense, being such a small island); there's few options for people who want to study music, for instance, or who make music and want to have it produced. Because of the island's ties with Holland, most musicians end up going there not just for school but for opportunities... Which is a tragic loss for the island's cultural scene. Still, some do come back, and they have the potential to make a huge difference. There's the example of Randal Corsen, a magnificent composer and pianist who's had enormous success worldwide (through Holland), and last year decided to return to the island to live. He basically gave up international fame to come back to Curaçao and use his contacts to help develop the musical scene here. You can look him up on YouTube or Spotify; he has several albums of his own as well as compilations and collaborations; he composed the music for Katibu di Shon, the very first opera in Papiamentu (the language of Curaçao); he composed the score for A Shtetl in the Caribbean, a gorgeous film / documentary by director Sherman de Jesus, also from Curaçao; his compositions have been taught at Carnegie Hall. And one of his pieces—the one Carnegie Hall uses—is quite possibly the best example of one of Curaçao's two most representative traditional genres: the tumba. The piece is called Rib'un Djadumingo ("On a Sunday"), and you can find the Carnegie interpretation here:

https://youtu.be/Q5qz9cegOz0

Hope this gives you some idea of Curaçao's music scene, Alan. If I failed to cover something, or if you'd like more detail on anything, I'd be happy to continue the conversation :) It's always a pleasure to connect with a musician!

Thanks, Bob, for passing along Alan's question. And for hosting me here... I've enjoyed this enormously.

Silvia Villalobos said...

Hello Guilie and Bob. I hope I'm not too late. I've been meaning to stop by, but you know how life is ... always getting in the way.

I am beyond honored to be mentioned vis-a-vis your writing, Guilie. Thank you. And so interesting that Alan should ask this question. The Brazilian composer is often mentioned in relation to my very own last name.

As for Miracle: I've had the pleasure of reading the story and was moved by the emotional depth, the emotional complexity so beautifully rendered. It's one aspect of your writing, Guilie, that deeply moves me because it makes me care. And that's what I'm looking for when I read -- to care emotionally, ecstatically, physically. So, that's what I would love to hear you talk about here, if possible -- discuss the emotional nuance of your writing. How do you make me fall in love every single time?

Guilie Castillo said...

Silvia, you make me blush :) And I've no idea how to answer, haha... I'm thrilled you find so much emotional depth in my writing; like you, it's one of the things I look for in the books I read—and, therefore, something I strive for in my own work. But I never feel that I achieve it... Not the way, or the depth, that I intended. Like I'm always sort of stuck halfway there. "A+ for effort," you know?

It's a weird kind of line I walk when I write... I want my characters to have three-dimensional emotions, I want to avoid clichés, I want to delve deep enough to where emotions become individual: sadness, for instance, is a generic emotion; everyone has felt sad, everyone knows what being sad means (okay, except psychopaths). But everyone is also sad in our own, individual, way—and for our own, individual, reasons, too. That's the point I aim for when mining a character's emotions.

BUT there's a danger there, too. Too individual might make it impossible for a reader to empathize, for one. Also, one runs the risk of falling into maudlin, and losing narrative tension. So I'm always trying to balance these things... A little more depth here, maybe a little less there. Inevitably, though, I never feel that I strike the right note. So your comment makes me very, very happy, Silvia. Thank you so much!