What inspired you to become and author?
I've written for so long I almost can't imagine not writing. Many of my earlier books were written under a pen name, because I'm also a lawyer and I wasn't sure that my professional and authorial lives could mix. When Josefina's Sin (Atria/Simon & Schuster) came out in 2011, I realized I was ready for the big time, and since then have written under my own name.
Writing is one of the best ways to express the world within. It's not just telling people how you as the author feel, but it's a way to paint pictures with words, share a world that others may not inhabit, and at some level reflect the conflicts and major issues in life.
What led you to choose your genre?
I know this sounds corny but historical fiction chose me. I set out to write a story and the story took place a long time ago. I was fascinated by the time and place, and my characters happened to live there. I didn't know about all the "rules" of writing historical fiction, I just wrote. Now, of course, I know.
Genre is a funny thing, though. If it takes place more than fifty years ago, and is fiction, it's historical fiction. If there's even a breath of love, and the book is written by a woman, it's historical romance. If it's written by a man, not so much! Yet love inspires so much of men's work, and somehow it's not "romance." So I go with Fiction and let the genres work it out!
How much research goes into your work?
Oh, an enormous amount! With Josefina's Sin I had written my college thesis on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a poet in the late 1600s in Mexico, so I knew the era well. But for The Duel for Consuelo I researched the Conversos (converts at the point of a sword during the Inquisition) and the Secret Jews or Crypto-Jews of Mexico. I spent about a year researching Consuelo and even now I find myself going off on tangents of research. There's so much to know about that difficult, complex issue.
The Duel for Consuelo, takes us into the early 17th century Mexico and into the Inquisition. Give us an insight into why this period inspired this story?
As practically everyone knows, the Jews were exiled from Spain in 1492, at the time that the Muslims were expelled as well. Persecution had gone on for centuries, of course, but Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in an uneasy peace until the expulsion edicts finally put an end to co-existing.
But not all Jews left the only homes they had ever known. Having lived in Spain for four hundred years, it was as much their country as America can be to any of us. Contradictory edicts made it impossible to leave, mandatory to leave, requiring conversion, denying the merits of the conversion, all with the drumbeat of confiscation of wealth behind the acts. So not only were Jews required to leave or convert, they often were prevented from exercising either choice. If they were "lucky" they converted and eventually got out, often as financial advisers, to the New World.
Two-hundred-and-fifty years later, Consuelo would be a distant descendant of the original converts. But the strain of the old religion ran deep, and families could still be forced to "prove" their allegiance to the new religion. Any hint of Judaizing, or secretly practicing their old religion, was ruthlessly ferreted out by the Inquisition, which led Conversos to the practice of haciendo sábado, or "doing the Sabbath." This involved ostentatiously working on Saturday so the neighbors could see them, eating pork in public, and putting on other displays of Christianity.
1711 was a tumultuous year in New Spain. The new Viceroy, Duke of Linares, arrived ready to clean out corruption. Of course, that was a monumental and thankless task as those with funds, long used to a free hand, opposed him at every juncture. Throughout Europe the Enlightenment movement was growing, but in Spain, both a cash-strapped king who had waged war with France, England, and Holland, and the weakening Inquisition used their last gasps of power to stifle any "new thinking." Those new thinkers, unflatteringly called novaderos, looked to the rest of Europe for inspiration in the burgeoning sciences, streamlined poetry and prose, and a new social order. In Mexico, ideological change was slower to come, but the freedoms of being far from the source made for independent and at time strange ways of thinking.
Consuelo is caught between both worlds. She lives in fear of discovery, all the while not knowing much about the beliefs of a secret Jew. She's a Catholic in her mind, but when the consequences of her heritage come home to roost she is forced to make the most difficult choices of her life.
What is the hardest thing about writing historical fiction?
Every now and then a detail trips you up! For instance, mangoes came to Mexico in the 1730s. So you wouldn't have a mango tree in 1690, but you could have one in 1740.
Also, some people rely only on popular sites, such as Wikipedia, for their historical knowledge, and in-depth research often turns up conflicting views or facts that don't square with popular knowledge. This occasionally upsets some people's cozy view of the past, and they can get upset when your story doesn't square with their somewhat superficial understanding of what "really happened" three or four hundred years ago.
But fiction, especially "historical fiction", lives in the interstices of history, creating story from the spaces between the facts.
What authors have you been inspired by?
The list is long! Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the most wonderful writer in the world (just sayin'), Julio Cortazar for his complexity, Elizabeth Peters with her wonderful and exquisitely researched Amelia Peabody mysteries, David Liss—an historical fiction writer of the highest order. They have inspired me, and comforted me with their books, and given me great pleasure.
Do you have any advice for upcoming writers?
Oh, yes indeed!
1. Ask yourself at every juncture: Is this interesting to anyone other than me? Why? If it's only interesting to you, that's wonderful for a personal diary. To reach beyond it has to captivate others.
2. Edit, edit, edit. Make sure your grammar is right. I can't tell you how many times I have cringed, reading "He gave the book to he and I," or "I recalled how him and me used to walk along…"
3. Nanowrimo. www.nanowrimo.org is the greatest boon to writers who struggle with the censor at the end of their fingers, the censor that stops them from writing what is truly interesting or meaningful. In Nanowrimo, you write a 50,000 word novel in a month (November.) Then, of course, you spend a year re-writing it (see 1 and 2 above!) but it forces you to get it on paper, or on the screen. At the end there's no prize, no one reads your work, but you have the first draft of your novel done. Every book I've ever written, whether under my own name or a pen name, was first drafted in Nanowrimo.
Claudia Long is a highly caffeinated, terminally optimistic married lady living in Northern California. She writes about early 1700’s Mexico and modern day and roaring 20′s California. Claudia practices law as a mediator for employment disputes and business collapses, has two formerly rambunctious–now grown kids, and owns four dogs and a cat. Her first mainstream novel was Josefina’s Sin, published by Simon & Schuster in 2011. Her second one, The Harlot’s Pen, was published with Devine Destinies in February 2014. Claudia grew up in Mexico City and New York, and she now lives in California.
History, love, and faith combine in a gripping novel set in early 1700’s Mexico. In this second passionate and thrilling story of the Castillo family, the daughter of a secret Jew is caught between love and the burdens of a despised and threatened religion. The Enlightenment is making slow in-roads, but Consuelo’s world is still under the dark cloud of the Inquisition. Forced to choose between protecting her ailing mother and the love of dashing Juan Carlos Castillo, Consuelo’s personal dilemma reflects the conflicts of history as they unfold in 1711 Mexico.
A rich, romantic story illuminating the timeless complexities of family, faith, and love.