Mystery author Silvia Villalobos is here today. She’s chatting about writing, and her literary mystery novel, Stranger or Friend.
Silvia Villalobos, a native of Romania who lives immersed in the laid-back vibe of Southern California, is a writer of mystery novels and short fiction. Her stories have appeared in The Riding Light Review, Pure Slush, and Red Fez, among other publications. She is constantly drawn to premises filled with questions which arouse feelings that are often beyond imagination yet seem real. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Santa Clarita Woodland Park trails or preparing and giving speeches for Toastmasters International.
Welcome, Silvia. Please tell us about your current release.
Stranger or Friend is a literary mystery sparked by secrets and distrust. It’s the story of a woman’s journey back home, to her ailing mother. The story of a place Zoe Sinclair no longer recognizes; a town where her best friend was murdered, where outsiders make life uneasy. A place where the sheriff is inept or unwilling to help and the county investigator is more interested in politics.
In many ways, Zoe is an outsider herself, particularly when she starts pocking around and disturbing “the way we always do it.” When her city-lawyer experience kicks in, the questions multiply, but the answers put her in the same danger that befell her dead friend.
The story speaks to the hidden story inside all of us, fears that lie deeper than we know, secrets causing irreparable harm. And at what cost? Stranger or Friend answers this very question while looking beyond, to what comes next.
What inspired you to write this book?
It all began with the concept of “new arrival,” people giving up the familiar for a new and hopefully better life. Some twenty years back, when I moved from Europe to the U.S., I embraced the new with some trepidation — new home, new culture – and have been absorbed by the idea ever since.
Also, the theme of universality in fiction has always been of interest to me. The idea that no matter where we are — big city, small town — we deal with the same issues: love, hate, fear of the unconventional. Crime.As a lover of books, I’m immediately pulled into stories with strong yet flawed characters, people from different backgrounds, different cultures, the effect of such amalgam on us all, and that is what I worked hard to accomplishing in Stranger or Friend.
Excerpt from Stranger or Friend:
Across the gravel road Zoe’s childhood home looked smaller, as if shrunken under the weight of life. Smoke from the chimney caught the moonlight in a slow dance, blurring into the night sky. A place of happiness, but Zoe knew better. She pushed the car door open and stepped out, ready for her final visit home.
The porch light illuminated the road cracked by time and weather. Beyond it, darkness stretched over the wilderness. She shut the door and walked to open the trunk, her heels poking the frozen ground. How can it be so cold and dark?
A twig snapped behind her. Zoe turned but saw no one. Sounds carried through the cold air from the distance. A rustle of branches. Someone wheezing? Another glance over her shoulder showed only the woods she’d explored as a child, the winding paths of apple orchards stripped bare by winter. She opened the trunk. Having been away from the nature so long, wildlife rustling unsettled her nerves.
All right, loosen up. You’re home.
A shaft of light escaped between the window curtains. She should’ve called, but Mother often misplaced the phone. Last time, Zoe found the handset in the pantry. She pulled her carry-on out of the trunk, and shut the cover loud enough to chase the memories away.
A light turned on at the new neighbor’s house, followed by a series of distant shrieks. Must be the winter wrens; she never tired of their wilderness call.
The front door opened and Mother, leaning on a cane, waved. “Hello, dear.” She grabbed the doorknob to steady herself. “I’m glad you didn’t get caught in traffic. Radio man said it’s messy on Old Highway.”
Zoe dragged her carry-on up the dirt road to the house. “I must’ve missed it.” She matched Mother’s smile but her heart sank at how frail she appeared. “You look good.”
“I’m getting my strength back.” Mother let out a sigh. “Get the rest of your bags. Must be piles of papers.”
Atop the steps, Zoe put her right arm around Mother’s shoulder. “Work’s in my computer.” She kissed her cheek. “This is everything.”
The wrinkles had deepened into scars on Mother’s face, carved by the mark of life. She flashed her proudest smile, then turned to lead the way. “Let’s go inside, dear, before icicles drip from our noses.”
Hand on the doorknob, Zoe turned to face the road, listening. That sound a minute ago, so strange. Nothing but stillness lay over the countryside now. She shut the door, turned the lock, and followed Mother into the kitchen.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on several projects as ideas come, make themselves comfortable, then fly away for some time. Most actively, I’m working on the next Zoe Sinclair novel, a story that will take the reader from California to Wyoming to Europe and back to California. This is the most ambitious writing project for me so far, in terms of setting but also character. Every day, I’m letting it build like a jazz riff, with the melodies of one word playing off the melodies of the others, until the composition is complete.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I knew early on that writing was my passion by the way I jotted notes on anything that would make, in my mind, a good story. However, writing became more than the act of shedding thoughts in high school, when my English teacher singled out an essay I wrote on Mihai Eminescu’s Evening Star. She said something to the effect of seeing promise there, and encouraged me to push the creative envelope with each paper I wrote. And so I’ve been trying to do ever since.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I write all the time, but I don’t have an office-type schedule or structure where it’s my responsibility to produce copy every day. For me, writing is more than the physical act of putting pen to paper or typing. I think about writing a lot. I spend time researching, outlining, changing my mind, and going from there. When nothing comes to me, I sit down and write a bunch of nonsense, sentences that may or may not make sense. After a short break, I read the mess and try again until the story takes shape.
If it were a matter of “finding” time, I would probably never write. I have to make time for writing, just like I make time for anything that matters in life.
Outside of writing, I love spending time with family, hiking, and last but not least, preparing and giving speeches for Toastmasters International.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Oh, I love fun questions.
Let’s see. 1) I am a lover of words. In the genre I write, the story must be fast-moving, but slowing it down to enjoy the whisper of each word, the image it evokes, that’s a must.
2) I form strong bonds with characters. It can get strange when I find myself having audible conversations with them, sometimes in public places if an idea strikes. But I’m learning to save my character conversations for the privacy of my home.
3) I become distracted in the middle of a conversation because a great idea just popped up in my head. However, the image of the recluse, antisocial writer doesn’t fit me. I’m very social, and highly opinionated. Then again, I think most writers are opinionated. Writers are informed beings, in possession of an encyclopedic range of ideas on every imaginable topic, but more so on writing.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Wish I could say that I had a clue. Early on, I went through the usual dream-job list: teacher, doctor, mostly because I loved my teacher and had a lovely pediatrician. I don’t remember my mom ever asking or pushing in any direction. She made sure we had lots of books around the house. We spent an inordinate amount of time telling stories, fostering ideas, playing alphabet games -- where someone starts telling a story with the first letter of the alphabet, the next person continues by beginning her sentence with the next letter, until, inevitably, someone uses the wrong letter and is eliminated.
Thank goodness I was never pressured into picking a career. The idea was that if I do well in school and go to college, everything would take care of itself, career and hobbies.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’d like to invite everyone to visit me at silviatomasvillalobos.worpress.com. Please leave a comment, and if you would also include your link, I’d be happy to connect. Also, for more on Stranger or Friend (about the author, media, a free short story, and behind-the-scene information) visit strangerorfriend.com.
I hope you enjoy the story and take a moment to share your thoughts on it with me. Hearing back from readers is what keeps us writers going.
And many thanks, Lisa, for having me on. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
You’re very welcome, Silvia! Thank you for joining my blog!