1.    Tell us about your novel, Gumbo Justice.

Gumbo Justice is a mystery/thriller/suspense novel that features New Orleansgumbojustice assistant district attorney Ryan Murphy.  Ryan is an aggressive, competitive prosecutor, whose main goal in life is to claw her way to the top at the D.A.’s Office. She has a big mouth, some self-destructive habits, and a secret she’s trying to keep.   

Ryan is just steps away from a big promotion when defendants on her old cases end up murdered.  At first, she isn’t too concerned- after all, street justice has a way of catching up with the bad guys in New Orleans. But when the murders affect her promotion and maybe her job, she realizes the killer isn’t trying to help her.  Soon, she realizes it isn’t just her job that’s in jeopardy.

Her daddy’s a police captain, her brothers are cops, and she has the attention of a detective– or two. She should be safe.  But the killer is someone she never suspects, and in the end, she’ll have to reveal her secret and face her past in order to survive.

  2.  Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now?

I’m working on the followup to Gumbo Justice, still untitled. I’m also editing my screenplay, Angel Trap, and working on a new screenplay set in New Orleans.

  3. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

I’ll hear something on the news, people talking in the WalMart, see someone in the doctor’s office with a weird scar, and a whole story will spring into my head. Or I’ll be driving in traffic, and some fool will be driving like a maniac, and I’ll think, he must have an emergency to be driving like that. And then a whole story will come out, like he’s been shot, or his wife has gone into labor on the side of the road, or a terrorist has taken over his kid’s school. I pretty much see stories in everything.  Most of them don’t result in a novel, but that’s how my thought process works. 

  4.  What is a typical writing day like for you?

I tend to be obsessive, so I’ll get up, get my coffee, get the kids off to school, and then write all day until they come home.  When the kids get home, I write around getting snacks, quizzing them about their day, helping with homework, fixing dinner, and after they go to bed, I write until I’m tired.

During the summer, I pretty much write all day, but the day tends to run from early afternoon to 4 a.m., because I am a night person.

When I have briefs to write- I’m also an appellate attorney- I put all my other writing aside to do the legal work. I’m just as obsessive about getting that work done as I am about writing my novels.

  5. Gumbo Justice is the first book of the Crescent City Mystery Series, but you’re also working on a science-fiction screenplay, which is vastly different from writing a mystery novel.  Do you have a preference for writing either one?  Any other genres you’d like to try?

I really enjoy working on both novels and screenplays.  I don’t really have a preference, it depends upon what vehicle seems better for the story I’m trying to tell. 

I have actually entered the science fiction screenplay, Angel Trap, in several contests and it has made the finals and semi-finals in a few, and won first runner up in the Acclaim contest, which was a nice accolade.  Most people don’t know I’m a science fiction fan, and I can picture writing another science fiction screenplay. I’m currently working on a New Orleans mystery/thriller screenplay with a supernatural twist. 

As for other novel genres, for now I’m sticking with mysteries.  Trying to write a novel in a different genre seems like it would be work, while mystery seems to come more naturally to me. 

  6. You had some difficulty getting Gumbo Justice published.  Can you tell us about the obstacles you faced?

The publishing of Gumbo Justice has a tortured history.

Initially when I queried agents and publishers, I received a bunch of rejections. Finally, I took an online workshop for novel writers.  The instructor told me the book was too long, and that when agents and publishers saw the word count, they wouldn’t even read the rest of the query letter much less request the manuscript. So I edited, cut it down, and sent out new queries. 

An agent requested it and was considering it when Katrina hit. I evacuated to Houston with my family, and was lucky enough to be home after two weeks. It was a frightening new world.  Very few people were back in my neighborhood, and stories of looting and murders had me edgy.  My novel was not one of my primary concerns for a while.

After a few months, things started to return to normal and   I heard back from the agent, who had decided not to take any new clients.  Needless to say, I was devastated, and on the verge of giving up.   Then I received an e-mail from Billie Johnson from Oak Tree Press off a query I had sent, saying she wanted to read the manuscript. I sent it to her, and  she offered me a contract.

Everything was going well and we were discussing a release date when I was in a head-on collision with a drunk driver.  My kids were in the car, and suffered minor injuries- my then 6-year-old had a broken wrist, a small laceration by her eye that required stitches, and nerve damage to her legs. My oldest, who had turned 9 three days before, had a seatbelt laceration that needed 11 staples. They were both pretty battered and bruised. 

I lost two inches of my left femur, broke both the bones in my right ankle and shattered my left elbow.  I was immobile for six months, between healing and surgeries.  My doctor says I’m lucky not to be eating through a straw right now.  I am short and sit close to the steering wheel, and when the airbag deployed, the steering wheel flew off.  The airbag not hitting me probably saved my life.

In any event, this put the publication of the book behind. Obviously, we didn’t want the book to come out when I was flat on my back and couldn’t promote it at all.

So finally, one day short of a year from the accident, the book finally came out.  My advice to other writers is to keep plugging away. You never know what might happen.

  7. Tell us a little bit about how you promote your work.  Any tips for other authors?

Promoting is a bear, especially with limited mobility. I don’t drive yet since the wreck, and am still in the hobbling phase of recovery, so the majority of my promotion is online. I use Facebook and Twitter to announce new developments, and also join all the author and reader websites I can.  I try to blog as much as possible and comment on other websites when I can. I have also sent out postcards announcing the book to contacts I’ve made, such as court personnel and judges, etc., and had a book launch party that went well.

My husband also helps, by going to bookstores and trying to talk them into carrying the book. Initially no one carried it, as my publisher uses POD, but we did have three brick and mortar stores down here that were carrying it.

  8.  You’ve received some outstanding reviews for Gumbo Justice but what is your most cherished reader reaction to your work?

I can’t pick out just one. I’ve been lucky that the people who have reviewed my book have been entertained and “get” the novel, but I know serial killers are not everyone’s idea of a party, so I don’t doubt the day will come when somebody slams it. 

  9. Who or what has been the biggest influence on your writing career and why?

My parents encouraged me to read and write as far back as I can remember.  They also always listened to the stories I would write, as well as the variety shows my sister and I would write and perform. I have no doubt if my parents had not encouraged me, I probably wouldn’t have been confident enough to show anyone anything I had written.

These days, I would have to say it’s my husband and kids who have the biggest impact on my writing, because they don’t mind waiting for my attention if I’m in the middle of writing.  If they weren’t patient, and in particular if my husband didn’t pick up my slack sometimes (with the housework, grocery shopping, etc.), I couldn’t do what I do.  

10.  All authors grow and change with each book and most have bad habits that they wish they could get rid of.  For instance, when I first started writing, I was a terrible head-hopper and with each book, I have to remind myself constantly to stay with the same character within a scene and not jump around all over the place.  What part of the craft of writing has improved since you started and do you have any bad habits you’re working to correct?

Initially, I was not an outline person. I would have in my head what I wanted to write, and write it.  Sometimes the story would take tangents, new characters would pop up, plot lines would go awry. Editing was a nightmare.

Now, I do an outline before I write.  I  do an outline of every scene in the book, with the key elements of each scene and whose perspective it is written from.  It ends up saving a lot of time, even if I wind up cutting some of the scenes and replacing them with others eventually.

11.  Do you like to travel or is home your favorite place to be?  Is there any place you’d like to go but haven’t gotten to yet?

Both. I love to travel, but I am a definite home body.  Our usual vacation spot is a beach on the gulf coast, and we travel frequently to the hills of North Alabama, where we have an evacuation house we bought after Katrina.   We went to Gatlinburg and Las Vegas this summer, and while my kids loved the mountains, they have voted Vegas their new favorite vacation spot, ranking it higher than Disneyworld. 

There are many places I haven’t been and would love to visit, but Italy is at the top of my list. I would also love to go on a world castle tour.  In fact, I would love to buy one to live in.

12.  Tell us a little bit about your family and pet(s).

holliMy husband Julio was the model for Big Who in the book, although he doesn’t own a strip club or a pawn shop.  (We do own a bar across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, but it’s in litigation over zoning with the Jefferson Parish Code Enforcement.  The politics down here are unreal.)  For some reason Julio thinks he should star in all my books and screenplays.

My kids attend a magnet elementary school, and are both bright and well-behaved.   They have always been easy kids, so I can only assume the teen years will be a nightmare.

As for pets, we have two stray cats that live in our yard and survived Katrina. When cats show up here, if they stay too long, we get them spayed or neutered. Usually, they run away after that. These two stayed, a mom and son duo, and are tame now, so we named them and consider them our own. 

We also have a dog who is a year-and-a-half, an Australian Shepherd mix.  She is also relatively well behaved and an excellent guard dog.  

For more information on Holli and her work visit:

www.gumbojustice.net

www.hollicastillo.com

Blog:  http://www.gumbojustice.blogspot.com/

Follow Holli on:

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/people/HolliHerrleCastillo/1594837203

MySpace:  http://www.myspace.com/37037769

Twitter:  www.twitter.com/hollicastillo

Signed copies of Gumbo Justice available at http://gumbojustice.net/pages/buy-gumbo-justice.php