Sunday 22 November 2020

Blog Tour: Interview With Stacy Christopher Zaghloul Author of Lady Colombia @lovebooksgroup #lovebookstours


Today is my stop on the blog tour for Lady Colombia by Stacy Christopher Zaghloul. I have an interview with the author to share with you today and if you like the sound of that you can click here to order your copy. Don't forget to check out the other stops on the tour for more exclusive content and reviews.

Here's what it's all about...

Laidy is a young woman living outside Bogotá, Colombia. She applies herself in school, works a part-time job, and helps to look after her aging father. Her exertions begin to take an emotional toll. An estrangement with her sister is particularly painful, leading her to investigate unanswered questions about her past. To resolve these doubts, she must traverse the world of narco-traffickers, a task she is loath to do. Along the way, she travels to parts of Colombia she has never seen and learns that her family history is much more complicated than she ever imagined. A genre-bending novel which incorporates elements of the women's literature, Latina, coming-of-age, mystery, contemporary romance, historical fiction, family life and multicultural genres, Lady Colombia is a moving tale that guides readers through the splendid cultural weave of the land, whilst delivering on the promise of the unputdownable. This stunning debut work will resonate with readers for years to come.

Here's that interview for you...

First question-bit of a cliche-how did you get into writing?

Growing up, I loved books, storytelling, and writing. I was a teacher for several years, then became a lawyer. I had to leave the professional world to look after my two daughters and because of two international moves- one to Beijing, the latest to Bogota. While in Bogota, both my daughters were teens, so I had more time to myself. I became particularly moved and inspired by the culture in Bogota, so I actually sat down and composed Lady Colombia. I asked my daughters to look at it; they loved it. I showed it to my husband then, and my mother- my toughest critic. They told me the story had to be published.

Do you write full time & if so, have you always done this?

I do now, because my oldest daughter is in university in Florida and my younger is finishing secondary school back home in Texas. I did record my memories of my year in Beijing several years ago- but it is nowhere near coherent; that was catch as catch-can; I was doing that between school runs, laundry, and doing side work editing scientific papers for professional industry.

Do you have a particular writing style or genre that you prefer to write?

This is a difficult question to answer; my oldest brother says I write for readers, while too many writers attempt to write for other writers, if that makes sense. It is my voice behind everything I write. Genre is something difficult for me to pin down as well. Lady Colombia is technically literary fiction, but it could fit into many categories. My oldest daughter wanted it shaped into more of a romance, my husband, more of an action-adventure shoot-em-up Western type thing. I declined both suggestions, and I think the story is better for it.

How do you develop your characters as you write, are any of them based on real people?

I cannot say how other writers create characters, but every character I write is based on people I have known for years, or a conglomeration of such. Laidy is a character that I imagined after seeing these same young women in Bogota over and over again- the clerk at the bank, the shopgirls, the neighbors in the next flat, young women walking down the sidewalk alongside me. My oldest daughter, however, will tell you that Laidy is her mother!

What was the inspiration behind your book?

Twenty years ago I was on flight to D.C., where I am a member of the bar association (I believe you call them barristers in U.K.). I always grabbed magazines or paperbacks before boarding-that was before the digital era. I read this stunning account in National Geographic or Foreign Affairs or something about a young woman who was living in Chile or Argentina (can’t remember which) who was living an ordinary life when she was brutally confronted with her past- her biological origins, which were directly tied to the political motivated “disappearances” that dominated the seventies and eighties in several South American countries. I tried desperately to locate that article, that woman’s story, but have been unsuccessful.

Fast forward to my years in Bogota, 2017-2018. While I was living there, I learned that the Colombian government was releasing a devastating report that disclosed the truth of Colombia’s own disappeared- more than Argentina and Chile combined. A mass grave was discovered in Medellin, in September 2019, after I had returned stateside. It is feared that the bodies interred there are many of the “disappeared”.

I had always been a huge fan of Latin American authors, particularly Colombia’s own Garcia-Marquez. But while living there, I found few English language works set in Colombia (political papers and travel books, yes) except for one, a volume which focused entirely on the narco terror that occurred in the years of Escobar. I felt that a book should be written about the beauty of the country, the beauty of the people. Colombia has fought long and hard to rid itself of narco violence and is truly the phoenix from the flame.

What is your writing process-do you plan it out first? Write a bit at a time?

I do this thing where I have a notebook-just blank pages, and I record thoughts in it as they come to me; in the middle of the night, after hearing a song, while gardening, and particularly, while traveling. Then I begin to outline how these concepts weave themselves into a storyline. Some days, I can sit and write pages and pages (of a first draft). Those days are the ones that aren’t occupied with the demands of life. For me, my mind has to be relatively clear to churn out page after page in one afternoon.

How much of you is reflected in your writing?

As I alluded to above, it is impossible for me to separate myself from my writing, unless, of course, I am writing an informational piece for my blog.

What kind of research did you have to do before/during writing behind your book?

I did a tremendous amount of research prior to and while writing the book. This is partly my legal training- for me, authenticity is key. I wanted to highlight the beauty of Colombia, but in the spirit of walking in the truth, I had no choice but to tie the years of la violencia into my storyline. I asked my husband for a general background, he grew up in Venezuela, which borders Colombia. I then read political papers, recorded history, government documents by the score. I also followed the national news there, and still do, to this day.

How much attention do you pay to the reviews that you get?

Reviews are tremendously importantly to me; even if I wholly disagree with the reviewer’s comments- I will address that in a moment- reviews are what makes readers want to read your book. That is the bottom line. So the feedback (if not specifically reviews) that I received from other writers prior to and post publication that I ignored included these notions-

Firstly, don’t include Spanish in an English novel. I wholly reject that concept. I grew up reading Amy Tan, who uses Mandarin and Cantonese phrasing in her books to provide cultural texture, which is vital to the experience she is providing her readers.

Second piece of feedback- don’t italicize Spanish in an English novel. I think this is nonsense. Perhaps because I come from the old school, but again, I refer to Tan- she italicizes Mandarin phrases. Even though I read Spanish well enough, I find it difficult to read a book that doesn’t italicize foreign phrases- I have to go back and re-read the sentence, which I find frustrating.

Third- and this came from two very well-read individuals- elaborate on this particular character’s story. That presents a challenge for several reasons, and I concluded that the best way to handle that would be a sequel, because that character deserves her own novel.

Fourth- Stephen King and a librarian friend of mine both warn that adverbs pave the road to hell. So I literally began, during the editing process, to attempt to eliminate them as much as possible. A frustrating experience if ever one existed. That night I picked up Joyce’s Dubliners- a work peppered with, and beautified, if you will, with adverbs. So they remained.

Are friends and family supportive of your writing?

Absolutely. I would have never kept at this if my husband and mom hadn’t encouraged me, as well as some writer friends. Some of my extended family had no idea I was writing fiction, it took them by surprise, but they were pleased by the outcome. My friends have been very busy during this time period- they have to work from home and look after their children, as the schools remain shuttered. So very few have been able to finish my book, a couple did and were delighted.

How do you feel leading up to your publication day?

So the publication of Lady Colombia was really odd- after I finished it, the pandemic had locked down the states (in April). No agents and no publishers were buying books due to the economic downturn. So my family encouraged me to wait it out and keep writing other pieces. But in late June, my aunt died quite unexpectedly. What really upset me was that she would have loved to see the book published. It was devastating, we couldn’t hold a funeral, I couldn’t even travel home to Texas to be with my family. My husband started playing old Spanish songs to calm me. One of the songs, by Julio Iglesias, was “I forgot to live”. Something moved in me that day. I had forgotten to live. I had been waiting on other people- agents, publishers; wanting to give up on writing altogether. That day, I chose to live. So I self-published on Amazon, for kindle and paperback.

Which other authors inspire you or are there any you particularly enjoy reading?

I read a lot, about five books at a time, from multiple genres. For some reason, for the past two years, I have been stuck on Irish writers. I read all of Colm Toibin’s works and was blown away. Then I picked up a Colum McCann book on a trip in late 2018 and was once more blown away. I am reading one of his other books right now.

When we moved to Oklahoma in 2019 (again, for my husband’s job), I began reading every Pulitzer winning novel in the fiction genre that I hadn’t encountered before. It has been truly rewarding. I loved Geraldine Brooks, Shirley Ann Grau. I love Cormac McCarthy, a fellow Texan, and Larry McMurtry, also a fellow Texan. But again, I love books from so many genres. I could never name them all.

Finally...what are you working on right now?

So I started a novel that is loosely based on the life of my mother-in-law, who is an Arabic Christian, she was living in Palestine during WWII, and was forced from her home. Her family fled to Jordan, where she met my late father-in-law. He took her to Venezuela, where she raised her family, including my husband, her last child. Her story is amazing, and the research is wonderful. I hope to finish it quickly, before her health fails.

About the Author

I am a proud graduate of Texas A&M University (whoop!) and SMU's Dedman School of Law. I am a happily inactive member of the District of Columbia's bar association. A native Houstonian, I have also lived in Dallas, Beijing, and Bogota.

I taught special education students and English language learners in Texas, and spent some years in the administration of special education services. I also had the privilege to advocate for students with disabilities in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. I recently published my first novel, Lady Colombia, for Amazon. I am currently writing my third book, loosely based on the life of my Palestinian Venezuelan mother-in-law.

When I am not writing, I am reading, gardening, listening to music, painting, and attempting to cook. I have been blessed with two lovely daughters, the eldest of whom is attending university in Florida, the younger completing secondary school in Texas. I live in Oklahoma with my husband Jose and my dog Jet.

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