I want to introduce emerging writer Callista Hunter author of Goddess. I first met Callista on Twitter and was instantly drawn to her love of ancient history and gorgeous cover of her debut novel! This is going to be an extremely exciting interview not only because I am conversing with someone who has a great passion for ancient rome as I. Not only this, but it will be mine and Callista's first google hangouts chat ever!
This was such a fun interview and I hope that you enjoy it as well!
Things to note are that we had technical issues and so the video has been edited to when the audio has been fixed. The introductions were already done and that is about all you have missed.
Also, if you want to investigate Callista's cover artist and social media helper:
Why don’t you first tell us a little about yourself?
Sure! I’m a librarian by trade, but I also love to garden, and of course, to write. I live in a small home built in the 1950s with my husband, and although the roof is always leaking, it’s got plenty of charm. I’m currently located in the Washington DC area, USA.
Did you always possess a passion for writing? When did you have the epiphany that you actually wanted to publish your work?
I never did any formal kind of creative writing before I started writing my book - however, I did use to be a professional blogger, so I have done plenty of nonfiction writing in the past. I started writing Goddess just for fun, but when I shared it with friends and reviewers, I started getting really positive feedback. People were saying things like “I feel like I could have gotten this at the library” or “I felt like I started reading a book from off of a shelf.” The best one was “I stopped reading *your* book, and started reading *the* book,” which told me that they were reading the story because they were enjoying it and not just because I wrote it. That made me think that others might enjoy it as well, and then I was kind of charmed by the idea of publishing it and sharing it with others. Because of course I’m quite fond of it!
It was really scary to publish the book and even now, it’s still scary. Especially because it’s a YA fantasy book, you’re sort of afraid that people are going to judge you for it or think it’s dumb or frivolous. I published under a pen name and I use a stock photo as a profile picture. I haven’t told everyone I know that I’ve published it - just a few friends who won’t judge me (much)! I am still a bit shy.
You and I have a mutual passion for ancient history and in particular Rome! how has this shaped your writing?
I love ancient Rome! Okay, and I have to say right up front - I totally know that many details of my book are not historically accurate, and they are not intended to be. I knew I could never get all the everyday details correct, and I was writing a fantasy story, so I figured I could just make stuff up as I went along. But I do find the ancient Roman world fascinating, ESPECIALLY mythology. I took Latin when I was in school and had to study the classics - Catullus, Ovid and Virgil. It was fascinating and magical and I’ll never forget the experience of reading Latin and having it make sense in my head.
How do you have time to write while working as a librarian and living a hectic lifestyle?
My husband is so, so patient with me, and very supportive. Often on the weekend he’ll plan a fun day trip, but he’ll make time to go to a cafe where I can write for a few hours. Without his support, I never would have gotten this far. It’s all about stealing a few hours when you can, and all about balance.
I can also always write when he watches basketball. :)
Your pen name is Callista Hunter (we don’t need to say your real name if you don’t want to). Where did that come from and why a pen name?
I really needed that feeling of anonymity in order to feel confident publishing my book! As I mentioned, I was very scared that people would judge me and maybe lose respect for me personally or professionally. It took a lot longer than I thought it would to come up with that pen name! I brainstormed for hours with my friends and my mother was very helpful. In the end, Callista is very similar to the name of the nymph Callisto that is mentioned in my book, and Hunter is a reference to the goddess Diana, who was the goddess of the hunt (among many other things).
Goddess is about a young girl who goes through that disillusionment that we all have to deal with growing up - realizing that the world is not as it seems, and that you can’t trust authority figures to be honest or to have your best interests at heart. When Olivia discovers that the goddess she’s been worshipping for the last six years is a fake, made up out of thin air to promote conservative family values, she starts looking for a new purpose in life. She has people to help her on that journey - one of her friends, an academic type who is really into making new discoveries, convinces her to try her own powers by invoking the other gods and goddesses. When she realizes she can do that, it’s a revelation to her. She takes her two best friends along on that journey as well, and one of them, Lucia, mysteriously seems to have a great deal of power. For example, when Olivia invokes the goddess Flora to grow a little flower, Lucia manages to grow a huge 30-foot fig tree in a single day.
Meanwhile, their country is going to war, and the religious leaders are going to have to acknowledge and tap the power of the female population in order to win that war. Olivia has a big crush on a guy, Gaius, who goes to a nearby military academy, and he figures out how their newfound powers can help the country win the war. And in the meantime, of course, they fall in lurrrvv...
Where did you the inspiration for this come from?
I was on a plane and had just finished the book I was reading, and was just feeling sorry for myself because I was between YA series (and I do love them so). I started thinking about how authors come up with the plots for their books, and I started making notes and diagramming things. I think it’s really important that a book has a theme and an underlying point – not a preachy one, but something to tie the story arc together. For example, the Harry Potter series is so obviously about racism and World War II and the historical parallel. I had actually just finished The Feminine Mystique - and everyone should read it, by the way. The underlying plot for Goddess was really stolen from that book. Betty Friedan writes about how post-WWII advertising very craftily and intentionally promoted the idea that women belong in the home, and are most fulfilled when their lives revolve around their homes. I started thinking about historical parallels, and I thought of the Vestal Virgins, an ancient Roman priesthood where women tended to the “hearth of the nation.” There seemed like a connection there, with the added ick factor of the concept that virgin women are somehow more special or holier than others.
I really liked the idea of a main character who at first fully believed in those ideas, and then discovered that they were a complete hoax to keep women in line. My main character has to confront and ultimately undermine those ideas in order to reach her full potential. (Down with the patriarchy! Ha-ha.)
Did you do much research into the era did you do and what type?
Some things in the book are so blatantly historically inaccurate that I knew there was no point to getting bogged down in all the details, so I left little things in the book that are total anachronisms, like at one point I mentioned someone with “shopping bags.” But I tried to get the points about ancient Roman religion to be sort of on target. I read a book called Bullfinch’s Mythology, as well as re-reading some of the English-language text of all the Latin poetry I translated in high school. And I also did lots of reading on Wikipedia. Most of what I needed was just basic detail, and Wikipedia is good for that. I am a perfectionist at heart and would have really liked to go crazy on the research, but I was so busy writing the book that I just focused all my energy on that and did the best I could.
I also researched whether the constellation Ursa Major would have been visible in the sky in May in Rome. I learned it is actually always visible (the big dipper, duh). And I researched how tall a fig tree can get, and when figs are in season… little details that aren’t common knowledge. I didn’t want to be totally absurd.
How did you go about writing your book? What is your planning process (if you have one)
I wish I had one, and now that I’m starting on the second book, I’m going to have to develop one! But Goddess was a textbook case of “attack novel,” where I just had so much to write that every time I sat down, I had no trouble writing exactly what I needed to. It all came together so easily. I think I finished a draft in six weeks, and that’s with working full time and having other commitments… I would find every spare moment I had to work on the manuscript.
How did you develop the plot?
Well, in addition to the main inspiration for the book during a long plane ride, I plotted out the specifics while driving to work. It’s so much easier to plot when you know exactly what goals and outcomes you’re working toward.
I kept asking myself, what would really happen in real life? What would happen today? And I tried to make each development in the book feel as realistic as possible. One of the major concepts of the book is that Olivia’s religion is repressive towards women. It doesn’t want women to discover their powers, and it also wants to repress their sexuality. And I didn’t want to be too heavy-handed about it, but honestly, the same is true of a lot of religions today as well.
And I knew that my ultimate goal would be to have my main character, Olivia, overcome those constraints. So the plot naturally grew by focusing on that theme.
How did you develop the characters? Tell me about them?
I knew starting out to stay away from creating Mary-Sues. Each character in my story plays a role based on how they react to the circumstance of discovering Vesta is a hoax. And of course, their reactions are dictated by their personalities. So, I sort of worked backwards from that. Everybody has at least one strong personality trait, and they all show the upsides and downsides of their particular trait.
It was also important to me for at least some of the characters to have a little backstory that explains their personality traits. For example, Marta, who is sarcastic and irritable, is dealing with the major disappointment of being assigned to the Vestal Virgins when what she really wants is to have children.
It was harder to write the boys than it was to write the girls. I wanted both of the main boy characters in the story to have character growth. Gaius looks at women as though they are china dolls that have to be protected, and Cassius sees women as amusing distractions, almost like fun pets. By the end of the story, the way they interact with the girl characters has changed.
What techniques do you use while writing or to deepen characterisation etc?
My main technique is to start by avoiding as much cliche as possible. When I write a line or a thought or an action for my characters, I’m always thinking about whether I’ve read it all before. I want to make sure I’m not writing a Hermione or an Edward Cullen type, for example.
Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
I honestly think that this story was written for women, although I have been surprised at the number of men who have supported it and enjoyed it despite its obvious focus on women’s issues. I hope to continue to be surprised.
The writing style is simple, and the book is definitely written for a YA audience, but as we know, many people of all ages love YA! There’s something universal about the challenges an author can put in front of a younger character, because we’ve all been there. And I feel like the typical YA “voice” is conducive to quick and easy reading - it doesn’t get between you and the story.
You have self published this book. Why did you decide to go down this route rather than through a traditional publisher?
Honestly, it takes forever to get responses from agents, and I just hate the rejection. I did this for fun, and trying to find an agent can be very dispiriting. So many authors are going indie these days that it seemed like the fastest way to get my book out into the world.
I had requests for partials from one or two publishers, and they didn’t ultimately pan out. After that I did a fair bit of revising, and I feel that now I might get an even better response - but I’m glad I’ve decided to publish, and stay really involved in the book marketing. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it.
Thanks for this! It’s going to be so much fun! I cant wait to do the hangout with you!
If you want to hear more from Rachael and watch her dominate the publishing world you can follow her on her other accounts:
- twitter: @authorcallista
- facebook: callista hunter
- website: www.callistahunter.com