15 June 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Claudia H. Long on THE DUEL FOR CONSUELO

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Claudia H. Long with her latest novel, THE DUEL FOR CONSUELO. The author will offer a free copy of The Duel for Consuelo to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

The second novel of the Castillo family, The Duel for Consuelo is the gripping, passionate story of a woman struggling to balance love, family, and faith in 18th century Mexico - a world still clouded by the Inquisition.

History, love, and faith combine in a gripping novel set in eighteenth century Mexico. In this second thrilling story of the Castillo family, the daughter of a secret Jew is forced to choose between love and the burdens of a despised and threatened religion. The Enlightenment is making slow in-roads, but Consuelo’s world is still influenced by the dark cloud of the Inquisition. Forced to choose between protecting her ailing mother and the love of a dashing Juan Carlos Castillo, Consuelo’s personal dilemma reflects the conflicts of history as they unfold in 1711 Mexico. It's a rich, romantic story illuminating the timeless complexities of family, faith, and love.

**Q&A with Claudia H. Long**

You've written three historical novels. How are they related?

Josefina's Sin is about a young landowner's wife in 1690 Mexico. She goes to the Vice-Royal Court and meets the famous poetess, Sor Juana. She discovers the treacherous worlds of illicit love, duty, poetry and the terrors of the Inquisition. The Harlot's Pen jumps to 1920 in San Francisco, where the Labor Movement is just starting to include women. At the same time, the brothels are being closed down in a big "clean up" effort, and women are being cast into the street. Our heroine becomes an "embedded" reporter, literally ;) to write about the real conditions of working women. The Duel for Consuelo follows Josefina's Sin now in 1711, where Consuelo is trapped between the secret practices of hidden Judaism and Inquisition-imposed Christianity, between family and love, trapped between two men with secrets of their own.

Why did you choose to write about 1700 Colonial Mexico? (It's a pretty unusual setting for historical fiction!)

I grew up in Mexico City and wrote my undergraduate thesis in 1972 on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Mexico's famous poet. She was a true feminist, a passionate defender of women's right to study, read and write in an era where that was beyond radical. In Mexico she is considered a national treasure, and as a college student I couldn't help but fall in love with her. So the time period of 1675-1725 in Mexico was a natural place for my imagination to live. People don't think of Mexico as having the allure of historical fiction that say, Regency England does, but the passions of the time, the terrifying and inspiring history and rich detail are incredible.

So Consuelo is the descendant of Conversos?

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 are some things you'd like your readers to know about you?

1.       People say writing is a painful, or lonely process. I don't find that to be the case for me. In fact, it's sometimes the only time I get to myself so I relish the solitude. And as for painful, what's the opposite of painful? My big secret is that I find writing physically pleasurable!
2.      I tend to take up hopeless hobbies. I play the violin as the acknowledged worst violinist in America. I'm small and not terribly coordinated, so I took up Tae Kwon Do and got my black belt after ten years, twice as long as it should take. I then embarked on belly dancing, which at my age is funnier than I'd like to admit.
3.      I never give up on what I want. I am terminally optimistic, and will toil for years to achieve something if it's important to me. And I never stop believing.

Learn more about author Claudia H. Long
The Duel for Consuelo