Wild Women Authors is very pleased to welcome Holli Castillo, fellow PSWA member and ADA out of New Orleans who brings us a honey of a story. We know you'll be as intrigued with the characters as we are. . .
First, here's a little teaser for Holli's book, Jambalaya Justice, and protagonist Ryan Murphy. . .
When the body of a hooker is discovered in a crack house, New Orleans prosecutor Ryan Murphy refuses to let the case languish into yet another unsolved homicide. She has a connection to the victim and won't back down until the murder is solved, even if it means insinuating herself into the investigation. And if she hides her involvement from her detective boyfriend, it's only because he's busy working late nights on a secret case of his own.
When Ryan isn't hounding the homicide detective for information or investigating the murder behind his back, she's juggling her Strike Force cases, including a four-victim mob hit, a nasty domestic violence assault, and the armed robbery of a strip club.
At first, Ryan's only concern is getting justice for her victims. By the time the weekend ends, she'll settle for staying alive.
Let's meet Ryan Murphy. First, tell us where you're from. New Orleans, Louisiana
Tell us a bit about Jambalaya Justice. A hooker is murdered in a crack house in New Orleans and the detective on the case doesn’t seem to care a whole lot about getting to the bottom of it. He doesn’t know that the dead woman is sort of a friend of mine and I’m going to do everything I can to make him find out who do it. So I insinuate myself into his investigation while trying to prosecute my own cases and hide the fact that I’m looking into the case from my boyfriend, who is an NOPD detective. He wouldn’t like some of the things I have to do and places I have to go to look for answers. I don’t want to give too much away, but by the time the weekend ends, I’m going to have to fight to stay alive. But that’s how New Orleans life is sometimes, whether you’re a prosecutor or not.
What made you choose prosecution as a profession? I come from a family of cops. Daddy’s a cop, my four brothers are cops—hard as it is to believe they would let those fools carry guns—so being a prosecutor seemed the normal path for me to follow. I also love to argue, so it was a natural fit.
Knowing what you know now, if you had it to do over again, would you stick with prosecution or do something different? I would definitely be a prosecutor. I like putting the bad guys in jail and getting paid to argue. You can’t beat that. Not that the job doesn’t have its drawbacks. Sometimes, it can be pretty dangerous, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve saved myself from some pretty scary people.
What is your biggest fear? Losing. I hate to lose, whether it’s a case, an argument, a promotion, or a boyfriend. I’m a little competitive, which is a necessity for advancing in the male-dominated D.A.’s Office, but it also makes me a little impulsive sometimes. And that’s usually when I run into trouble…
Who is your favorite fictional character and why? I love Scarlet O’Hara. Being from the south I can totally relate to the need to sometimes act helpless to get your way, the whole time knowing you really have the upper hand. Scarlet knew how to get what she wanted and knew how to compete in a man’s world while still being a woman. I don’t think I’m quite as dramatic as Scarlet, but I can turn on the waterworks if it helps me get out of trouble. I’m not as mean as Scarlet, but I’m also not a pushover. I always mean well, even if it doesn’t always come off that way.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Advice I didn’t follow and I wish I would have. Daddy told me to make sure I double bolted my back door, because it would be too easy for someone to break in. I ignored his advice and almost ended up dead. But I don’t want to ruin any surprises.
It's Holli's turn to take the stand. Which writer or character[s], from either books or movies, [or both] have had a major impact on your writing? John Sandford who writes the Prey series influenced me when I first started writing because I loved the way his earlier books made you sit on the edge of your seat and want to warn the person what was coming. Similar to slasher movies, but not as graphic and a lot more intelligent, the first Lucas Davenport books showed me how to hook a reader and drag them into the story and make the reader want to keep reading. Not that his later books in the series aren’t good, but they don’t have that same “grab ya” factor. We couldn't agree more. We've been hooked on Lucas Davenport since the first time he hit the book stores. It's nice to find a fellow Sandford groupie!
With regard to research, where did you start for this novel? Did that lead you down different paths, thereby changing the original concept?
For Jambalaya Justice, I already had the premise of the story set out. I didn’t do a whole lot of research because most of what I use I learned as a prosecutor and that stuff stays with you. The one area I did research was location. It was problematic because Katrina happened while I was writing the novel, so half way through my writing the landscape of New Orleans changed. I had to figure out whether to fast forward the book to the present day or keep it in pre-Katrina New Orleans. I elected to keep things, such as buildings, the D.A.’s Office, and local bars, as they were before Katrina, and use the next book, Chocolate City Justice, to bring Ryan into the present climate.
Another thing that changed from my original concept is that the original premise had Ryan working undercover as a hooker to help the detective find the person who killed a prostitute. This idea came about a few years before I started writing, when I was a child support collector at the D.A.’s office, a job I did during the day while I attended law school at night. At that time, the Child Support legal supervisor was working undercover with the police on a prostitution sting. They were only looking to catch customers, but the idea served a springboard for the rest of the novel. By the time I finished, the original premise was just two scenes in the book.
Here's an excerpt from Jambalaya Justice:
Ryan could think of no other way to describe them. Except maybe dead eyes staring back, if something dead could stare. Did eyes actually die? Or did they just stop working when the heart stopped beating and the brain synapses stopped telling them to see? She should have paid more attention in biology. Or was it chemistry?
Assistant district attorney Ryan Murphy let the jumbled thoughts brew in her mind like the coffee and chicory that once percolated in the battered silver pot on the dead woman’s stove.
She fought the urge to close Cherry’s eyes. Regardless of whether the cause was biological or chemical, the woman couldn’t see anything now. She was smiling, though, or so it seemed, dying the way she lived, with a gold-capped grin spread across her ebony face.
Ryan remembered that smile and the way Cherry called everyone baby. She also remembered Cherry’s help, which had saved Ryan’s ass on more than one occasion.
And now Cherry was dead, her pit-stained tank pushed up to reveal a bloody, makeshift tattoo. If anything would salve Ryan’s conscience, it was that crude smiley face, cut just above Cherry’s right breast. The bodies of two other prostitutes had recently been found bearing the same mark, making Cherry’s lifestyle the more likely reason for her untimely death than Ryan’s tenuous connection to her. Either way, Ryan doubted she would get much sleep tonight.
Murders were common in New Orleans, and homicides occurred for a multitude of reasons–drug deals gone wrong, gang and turf wars, or in the case of a working girl, sexual deviance carried too far. But this was different. Whatever his motivation, this killer wanted the world to know he thought the murders were funny.
“Friend of yours?”
Ryan jumped at the sound of the detective’s gravelly voice.
If the rotting carpet in the decaying house had muffled the sound of his holey tennis shoes, the stench that accompanied death and crack houses had also masked his odor. Up close, Detective Octavio Christakos–Tave–looked as if he had just rolled out of bed and smelled like he had recently stumbled from one of the nearby bars.
Tell us us a bit about your publisher. How did you hear about them? What influenced your decision to submit to them? Tell us a bit about their submission process. How long did it take from query to release?
My publisher is Oak Tree Press. I read about them in the Writer’s Market and they weren’t in my first cycle of submissions. My original idea was to try to get an agent. It didn’t occur to me initially to query a publisher because I thought it was a scary idea. Not knowing enough about the publishing world, I thought a publisher was unobtainable without an agent.
Eventually I submitted to my target agents and was shot down. I realized at some point that my target was not targeted enough. About half of the agents gave me a reason why they wouldn’t take me on, and most of them said such things as they didn’t handle work with serial killers, or this was too dark for them, etc. I realized then I was not researching agents carefully enough. At the time I didn’t know I was extremely lucky to have received notes with reasons from the agents, because at least I could figure out what was wrong with my submission process.
I took a break from querying to research more agents and added publishers to my list. I purchased books from the publishers I was considering to make sure this time my targets published novels that were at least somewhat similar to mine. In the meantime, I took an online novel writing course for writers who had a completed novel and found out on the first day that my novel was much longer than most agents or publishers would accept from a first time author. So I edited and ended up with a shorter, but in my opinion better, novel.
I started submitting again and this time caught the interest of an agent. While she was still considering it, Katrina hit and I was busy with life for a while. The agent contacted me eventually and said she wasn’t taking on new clients because of health issues. I was seriously contemplating self-publishing when I received an e-mail from Billie Johnson at Oak Tree, who I had previously queried, asking for the manuscript. I emailed it to her and in time she said she wanted to publish it.
Right as we were discussing a date for release, I was in a head-on collision with a drunk driver, which put me on my back for seven months with a broken left femur, broken right tibia and fibula, shattered left elbow, and fractured lower lumbar vertebrae. This pushed the release of my novel back by a year while I had surgeries and learned to walk and function again with a lot of titanium in my body. Almost a year to the day of the wreck, my novel was published.
It was a long road. I received over 40 rejections, most of them before I edited, one not too nice one from a well-known agent who said my dialogue wasn’t believable. From the time I finished the manuscript until publication was about 5 years, including the delay from Katrina and the car crash. I don’t know the exact amount of time it took from the date of the query to Oak Tree, but from the date of the manuscript request until publication was two years, including the year delay from the wreck.
Kat and I thank Holli, and Ryan, for taking the time to visit Wild Women Authors today. We extend our best wishes for a complete recovery from what sounds like devastating injuries.
Kat and Veronica
To learn more about Holli Castillo and the stories she creates go to: www.hollicastillo.com, www.gumbojustice.net, or www.jambalayajustice.com.
To purchase Jambalaya Justice or Gumbo Justice, go to: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Holli+castillo