Interview with Silvia Villalobos
What genre do you write and why?
I’ve been fascinated by mysteries every since I was a kid, real mysteries, fictional mysteries. There is something endlessly inviting about stories filled with questions that stretch the imagination yet seem real. I remember reading Umberto Eco and John le Carré early on and being riveted by the world they created, the incredible twists, the sharp characters, the danger. Growing up in Romania, where everything was controlled by the state, I didn’t have access to information, but I had access to books.
Once I put pen to paper and began shedding my thoughts, it was inevitable that my stories would emerge in the form of mysteries.
Tell us about your latest book.
In Stranger or Friend, Zoe Sinclair leaves her small town behind in favour of a life and career elsewhere. Years later, career attained and life changed, she returns to care for her ailing mother. But home is no longer the place she remembers. It is a collection of cloister mentalities, the scene of two murders, strangers passing through, and a sheriff with his own agenda. Zoe, the big-city lawyer, starts pocking around, and before long she knows that she must unravel the mystery of the crimes to keep it all together or watch it all fall apart.
The story is set in Midwestern U.S.A, but the implications reach far outside our borders. It explores misgivings and fears, the distances we create from one another as a result of such fears. It might take a long time and various influences to reach this point, but the danger is real.
Here’s one of Zoe’s internalizations on this very topic:
The forest’s nocturnal noises—creaking branches and the call of winter birds—unnerved her, but it wasn’t what made her shiver. And it wasn’t the darkness either, although that didn’t help. No. It had to do with a new kind of fear, the chasm between now and six days ago when everything had seemed almost normal. It was a gaping abyss between past and present that took her to this moment.
What's your favourite quote about writing/for writers?
Michael Connolly said that mystery, or crime novels, are an incredible barometer of the society in which they take place, partly because crime is such a barometer of the society there. For me, having relocated to a different part of the world brought about a new understanding of this world’s mysteries, its different cultures, shifting mentalities, what could push people over the edge, if you will, and how such acts affect those who commit them as well as those around them.
I also like what Stephen King said: I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose. This quote speaks to conflict, emotion, and character -- the most important elements in crime mystery.
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
On my blog, Silvia Writes (silviatomasvillalobos.wordpress.com) where I pour out my thoughts, engage in introspections, and share behind-the scenes snippets.
In addition, I have a website: strangerorfriend.com and can be found on Amazon where aside from the book itself, I share dates of events and story-related news. I am on Goodreads and have a presence on both Facebook and Twitter.
Who is you favorite character in your book and why?
Zoe Sinclair. I spent little time describing Zoe because I wanted her actions and thoughts to do the work. I wanted someone who is completely and totally her own person. Someone flawed. She is not conventionally beautiful, yet can’t be ignored. I wanted intelligent, complicated. Intense.
A lot to ask of any character. To accomplish this, I gave Zoe the entire emotional, psychological, and moral weight of the story, since Stranger or Friend is written exclusively from her viewpoint. I didn’t want her role pushed to the background, become incidental or one-dimensional compared to other characters.
The reason for this is two-fold:
First, characters, I think, are the most important element of almost all fiction.
As a veracious reader myself, I respond most to compelling characters facing distinct challenges in memorable settings.
Second, the challenges ahead would break her to pieces. Intensity mattered. In order to complete the journey, she’d have to put the pieces back together. This story had been developing for years in my mind. Now, it was Zoe’s journey. She couldn’t be bothered with small things.
Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected?
I learned that writing is addictive. Like a good roller coaster, the second you get off you want to hop back on. When I finish a big project, my brain's packed with so many ideas that I can't keep track of everything. I don't need to execute on those ideas, but I do need to write them out so I can come back later.
A reliable critique group is essential, as no author can do it alone. My critique group is The Internet Writing Workshop. I’ve made life-long friends there.
Expect everything to take longer than you think it will. A schedule is great, but be prepared for the process to take considerably longer. Be prepared to make lots of adjustments to previously scheduled timelines. Let the story develop. In the end, it’s all about the story.
Where can a reader purchase your book?
The primary source is Amazon.com, but the novel is also available on strangerorfriend.com and solsticepublishing.com. A couple of local bookstores carry it; one among them is The Open Book bookstore in Santa Clarita, California.
Who inspires you?
The creative process brings me to a place of being totally present and that process itself is inspiring. Reading also gets my inspiration going. A good book is a place of introspection and inspiration.
People who inspire me are many, from my mother who worked harder than anyone I know to keep everything together after my father’s passing. My favorite aunt, Mary, who refused to let me make excuses, and more recently my husband, who takes the time to listen to my crazy ideas and shares his own creative process with me, and of course my son whose smile makes my heart smile.
What is your work in progress? Tell us about it.
I am actively working on the next Zoe Sinclair novel. As I mentioned above, writing is addictive, and Zoe is talking to me now, has a lot to say, so I’m taking furious dictation. The story will jump from California, to Wyoming, to Europe, then back to California. I am doing my best to allow each place its time with the reader, and make the present day as well as the history of each place memorable.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
When not taking long walks through the local paseos or hiking the Santa Clarita Woodland Park trails, I prepare and give speeches for Toastmasters International. Mostly, I look for inspiration by reading and letting nature hold me. I love spending time with friends and family, letting my inner child out. I try to remember there’s more to life than writing. In order to write well, I have to live.