I was fortunate enough to win this novel in a Goodreads giveaway. A few weeks later a little parcel with a cute cover was delivered to my door. What a way to start a book than with a message from the author, which reads;
Enjoy the journey!
The story follows Michelle who, thanks to a booking mishap, ends up in the remote little town of Teotenaca, Mexico a few days before her friends on a getaway. Setting her standards low to avoid disappointment, because let's be real, her now EX-boyfriend has disappointed her enough, Michelle embarks on what she believes will be a relaxing holiday. In someways she is right, but in most she is dead wrong. Upon arriving in the strange and exotic village Michelle discovers a powerfully inescapable draw to the mountain El Anhelo, and while the locals are all so welcoming and genuine, Michelle cannot shake the feeling that they are hiding something... And they are.
I absolutely adored this novel! I cannot even begin to explain in words how beautiful the ideas and notions that the story followed are, and how generous and sincere Stockwell's writing style is. The characters were all super well developed and an even balance of self-exploration, adventure, romance and action were played out leaving me never far from this book. While the story is quite dense and a semi-big read (it took me 8 days) it isn't heavy, but addresses some very real issues. This is a book I woud recommend to absolutely anyone, and though it has religious undertones, it is not in anyway preachy, pushy or at all restrictive. In fact it is one of the most accepting and versatile books that I have ever read. Definitely on my top ten read for 2014! Well done Karen on an incredible story that has touched my heart, and will never stray far from my mind. :)
I was fortunate enough to be able to contact Karen and she so very kindly agreed to answer some questions I had about her novel, characters, writing and other fangirl related things. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I do.
1. What inspired you to write this Dreams of Darkness and Light?
Dreams of Darkness and Light started as a creative experiment. Over the years, I attempted to write novels, but always abandoned them. Sometimes I even had outlines for them. This time I didn't. I had time to write and started with one pivotal scene in mind, the one where Michelle exits her "rabbit hole" experience and re-enters the world. So I asked myself a few questions. Who is this person? Where is she? How did she get there and what will happen next? I constructed the story pulling from my life experience. Among the biggest influences were a trip to an indigenous village in Oaxaca with an artist who was from there and my church (Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ) which counts many peace activists as members.
2. Are any of your characters based on people you've met? If so, who?
Some of Michelle's experiences are my own, especially her faith journey. But I borrowed aspects of real people in other characters, too. Father Moran was inspired by Father Casey, who taught catechism in my elementary school. He, too, was Irish and became a priest after surviving a serious illness. Like Father Moran, he made that promise to God if he survived. My husband Clinton is a professor who has taught comparative religions, among many other things. He also acted as a consultant on the book. So he was a heavy influence in the character of Professor Angel Fuentes. The two animal characters, Pearl and Mr. Kitty, are based on a dog and cat with the same names. Their roles are small, but important.
3. What do you believe Michelle's most powerful moment in the story was?
Michelle has quite a few powerful moments in this story. It's hard to pick one! But they are all about connecting with the suffering of others. I would say the experience in the Crossroads Gallery, when she sees a photo of a young woman fleeing from her village, is the one that goes the deepest for her. Even though their lives have nothing in common, she sees herself in that woman and connects with her fears and pain.
4. Obviously I love the Australian characters, what made you include them in your novel?
Like Michelle, I also planned on traveling some distance with a group of friends, and found myself going it alone. It was Australia and I spent five weeks there, some with people I barely knew, but much of it on my own. It was frightening at first, but it became an empowering experience in which I did things I'll always remember, like visiting Uluru and seeing the Great Barrier Reef. I found the Australians I met to be friendly, generous folks with fun and casual attitudes. When I was pulling from my life experience, I absolutely had to include a few of them. I hoped that I captured them authentically. They are some of my favorite characters in the book, too!
5. How long did it take you to write your novel?
From start to finish, this novel took twelve years to write! Shocking, I know. It's amazing that I finished it, really. There were times I didn't think I would. It kept getting longer and longer! There were periods when I didn't touch it. Then someone would ask what had happened to that book I'd started, and the reminder would get me interested again. I had several people read it and I made major structural changes to it after that, which were necessary.
6. What was the most difficult part of the writing process?
I have some journalism background, and that can get in the way of my creative writing. I get overly descriptive thinking that will add to the realism. At one point, I got part of an early draft to an agent, and that was one of the criticisms: too much description. In my final rewrite, I tried to make the book shorter through editing. But I kept thinking of things to add. So it wasn't shorter at all in the final draft!
7. How did you go about publishing Dreams of Darkness and Light?
Based on the agent's critique, I knew that my book didn't fit neatly into a genre, which would make it harder to sell. A publisher would probably not want it for that reason alone. So I decided to self-publish. I did all the illustrations myself and worked with a friend who did the design and production of the print and ebook. I sent the files to CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, both Amazon companies. The book is available through Amazon or CreateSpace.com.
8. What are you reading at the moment?
I won Jane Smiley's new book, Some Luck, in a Goodreads Giveaway and am reading that right now. I really enjoyed her book A Thousand Acres, which is based on the King Lear story. Some Luck is structured so that each chapter is a year in the life of a family. I'm amazed at how well she is telling the story from the viewpoints of several characters of varying ages.
9. Are you working on anything new?
My second novel will come out in 2015. I recently finished the second draft and am letting it rest before going back in for a closer read and another edit. The Ballad of Sam and D. Lila is the story of two co-workers at an ad agency who discover a mutual love of music. They form a duet and start playing at open mics. Their company doesn't like co-workers to get romantically involved, which happens, of course. Then they have to deal with how to keep it a secret. I also borrow from the biblical story of Samson and Delilah in some unexpected ways. My first novel included poetry. This one will include song lyrics. I have many other novels waiting in the wings. I've started several of them and keep coming up with ideas for more. So I'm not sure what will follow this second one.
10. And finally, What is the most important thing that you want readers to take away from your book?
After reading Dreams of Darkness and Light, I'd like my readers to come away with several insights about the world as well as themselves. I'd like them to be aware that they can contribute to a more peaceful world in many ways and hopefully I've given them some good examples, including tolerance and sharing. If each of them can lessen the burden of a few people, then I've met that goal.