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“Write characters you love. Let your characters fascinate you.” 7 Questions, 3 Tips with Joy Castro, author of Hell or High Water

“Write characters you love. Let your characters fascinate you.” 7 Questions, 3 Tips with Joy Castro, author of Hell or High Water

I ADORE these answers from Joy Castro and I think you will too!!

I can’t wait to dig into Hell or High Water, a novel set in the years following Hurricane Katrina. I haven’t made it to New Orleans yet, but it’s certainly on my wishlist of places to visit over the next year or so. Whether you’ve been to New Orleans or not, I’m assured that Castro’s novel will entertain and rivet. Find more details about the story below.

 Onto those questions – take it away Joy!


– Laura





7 Quick Fire Questions


1. Any childhood imaginary friends?


Yes!  Lots, actually.  We moved often, and I’d lose the friends I’d gotten attached to, so I made up a little pantheon of best buddies to keep me company.  My very best imaginary friend was Jack (who looked suspiciously like the Artful Dodger in the movie Oliver!, which I’d seen at a formative age).  Jack was my bad-boy alter ego who got into trouble, whereas I was an obedient good girl.  I really believed he existed; I was in love with him.  I insisted on setting a place for him at the table each evening, pulling out a chair, conversing with him, etc.  My parents were patient people.


2. What did you have for dinner last night?


Carry-out pad thai from Blue Orchid, one of our favorite restaurants here in Lincoln.  When my husband and I first moved here five years ago, we lived in an apartment in the same building as Blue Orchid, and they got to know us a little too well.  I’d call, and as soon as they heard my voice, they’d be like, “One yellow curry with tofu, and one pad thai?”  Chagrin.  Yes, please. 


3. Author you most admire


The living author I most admire is Kate Atkinson, because she blends all the best qualities of literary fiction with an exciting, forward-driving crime narrative.  She’s brilliant!  I also admire Sandra Cisneros tremendously; she came from a difficult past, her work is gorgeous, and she’s devoted so many of her resources to helping other writers.


4. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received


“Don’t take it personally.  Any of it.”  That’s genius advice, applicable in every realm.


5. Favorite way to relax


I love being out on the water.  Wind, waves, sunshine—they soothe and energize me.  I haven’t tried it yet, but being out on a boat with friends, food, and wine might just be heaven.


6. Worst job 


Scooping ice cream on the Riverwalk in San Antonio—too tempting!  I also had a teaching job, straight out of graduate school, in an all-male college.  Teaching women’s literature and feminist theory to rooms full of young men was challenging, to say the least.  But I learned a lot.


7. Ice cream or Fro Yo


Either, all, any time!  Team chocolate.  And dulce de leche, if I can get it.


3 Expert Tips!  Three Tips for Writers:


1. Write characters you love.  Let your characters fascinate you.  Let them have layers.  Let them be contradictory, vulnerable, flawed, real.  The whole time I was writing Hell or High Water, I kept discovering things about my characters, and when I wrote the sequel, Nearer Home, they kept right on surprising me.  (Who knew Bento could fly a plane?)  Let your characters grow, change, and talk back.  You’ll be surprised.


2. Champion the work of other writers.  Not only can writing be lonely work, but it’s incredibly competitive, so writers can be assailed by envy and despair.  The best antidote for these painful, isolating feelings is to work on behalf of others.  Find writers whose work you genuinely love, and then do everything in your power to promote and help their work.  Expect nothing in return.  It’s not a tit-for-tat thing.  Do it because it’s good for your soul.


3. Be fearless.  Writing a crime novel was so far outside my comfort zone.  I’m trained as a literary academic, a scholar of modernism (Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, Stein):  long, winding sentences, lyrical epiphanies, and so on.  To write a lean, mean thriller full of action and suspense, I had to completely retool, and that was sometimes nerve-racking.  But learning new approaches is fun.  It keeps you uncertain, unmoored, and reaching, and that’s an exciting way to live.


About HELL OR HIGH WATER (7/17/2012): Nola Céspedes, an ambitious young reporter at the Times-Picayune, catches a break: an assignment to write her first full-length investigative feature. It’s a far cry from the club openings and plantation tours she usually covers and could become a story that will send ripples through New Orleans in the two years since Hurricane Katrina. The piece is about sex offenders who have fallen off the grid since the city was evacuated.


While Nola speaks with survivors, offenders (some still on the registry, others not), and experts, she also becomes fixated on the search for a missing tourist in New Orleans. As Nola’s work leads her into darker corners of the city, she has to hide her work from her friends and ultimately must re-visit her painful past of living in the housing projects as a Latina where there are few people of her ethnicity.


Vividly rendered in razor sharp prose, HELL OR HIGH WATER brings New Orleans to life in a riveting journey of trust betrayed and the courageous struggle toward recovery.

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2 thoughts on ““Write characters you love. Let your characters fascinate you.” 7 Questions, 3 Tips with Joy Castro, author of Hell or High Water

  1. This book sounds amazing! Thanks for posting the interview, too. I practically spit out my coffee reading about teaching women’s lit and feminist theory to a room full of men! 🙂

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