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laurel anne hill for ewl promotional Whimsical Words welcomes guest author, Laurel Anne Hill. Laurel Anne Hill—author and former underground storage tank operator—grew up in San Francisco, with more dreams of adventure than good sense or money. Her close brushes with death, love of family, respect for honor and belief in a higher power continue to influence her writing and her life. At age eleven, she won her first writing contest. By age eighteen, she won enough essay-writing contest money to fund four years of college tuition and books.

As an adult, Laurel has authored two award-winning novels. Her published short stories and nonfiction pieces total over forty. She has served as a program participant at many science fiction/fantasy conventions. She’s the Literary Stage Manager for the annual San Mateo County Fair, a speaker, writing contest judge, and anthology editor. And Laurel has even engineered a steam locomotive.

Laurel Anne Hill’s latest book, The Engine Woman’s Light is an award-winning steampunk novel. A quick summary for my readers—Laurel says: “I’ve made Chapter One of The Engine Woman’s Light a prologue of sorts, the story of how Juanita’s maternal great-grandmother rescues her from an asylum train and potential death. Chapter Two opens when Juanita is nearly sixteen years of age. She has gone to wash clothes. The spirit of the creek whispers the Chapter One story to her, but the words come out jumbled.

At this point, Juanita experiences her first “big” mystical vision: An airship with a ghostly captain. No surprise that he commands her to prevent California’s thrown-away people—including young children—from boarding trains to an asylum. That institution’s director plots murder to reduce the inmate population. Yet to save innocent lives, Juanita must take lives of the corrupt. How can she reconcile her assignment with her belief in the sacredness of all human life? And will she survive to marry her betrothed?

The spirits expect a mystic’s compliance. That’s the way I built her world. Juanita sets out despite inner trepidation to sabotage the railroad. Her ancestor, Billy, the ghost of a steam locomotive engineer, guides her. Then bit by bit, Juanita discovers the gut-wrenching truths all of her ancestors neglected to reveal.

To complicate matters, I made sure Juanita encounters members of California’s ruthless Mendoza family. Mendozas are connected with the asylums and the trains running there. The resulting dark and disturbing confrontations, including rape, scar her very soul. Yet Juanita’s inner strength and insight continue to grow. Her determination to love, forgive, and do what needs to be done becomes her salvation.”

Where did the idea come from for your latest book, The Engine Woman’s Light?

laurel book A dream I had in the early 1990s provided my initial inspiration for The Engine Woman’s Light. In that dream, an elderly woman condemned to euthanasia escaped from a death train, an abandoned infant girl in her arms. She walked at night toward a distant light and safety.

The resulting short story I wrote never worked, even though the voice of the old woman spoke to me inside of my head. Subplots burdened the story’s structure, failing to address the destiny of the rescued child. I had a novel on my hands, a book that would take me twenty years to complete. The fictional world I created in the process reflects a number of my personal experiences.

For example, The Engine Woman’s Light contains two scenes where spirits hide inside of clocks. I own an old wind-up alarm clock that used to belong to my maternal grandmother. I bought Gran a new Baby Ben—which was easier to wind—around 1988, and kept the old one for myself. The old Baby Ben stopped working about the time Gran died in 1989. Regardless, I continued to keep the timepiece on the shelf of my bed’s headboard. A terrible and unknown illness hit me a couple of years later. My back muscles went into non-stop spasm for six weeks. The pain was excruciating. I didn’t know how I was going to cope. Would I spend the rest of my life as an invalid? At my rock-bottom, mental low point, the broken Baby Ben started ticking. The minute hand advanced. Encouragement from Gran’s spirit? Several minutes later, the clock stopped, never to run again.

Who is your favorite character in the book—and why?

No doubt about it, I choose my protagonist: Juanita Elise Jame-Navarro. Her determination to complete the life-saving mission the spirits of her ancestors have assigned her—and do so even in the face of heart-wrenching adversity—is heroic and amazing. And so many of her thoughts and critical decisions, as the story progresses, result from her increasing understanding of the world and her place in it. Yet Juanita makes significant mistakes, as any believable character must do. She is both a gifted mystic traveler and a vulnerable young woman.

Is your book traditionally published, indie published, or self published?

The Engine Woman’s Light was indie published by Sand Hill Review Press. The advantages of working with Sand Hill Review Press included my close involvement in the publishing and book promotion process, even during the cover design. I was, and remain, a member of the Sand Hill Review Press “team.” As to the disadvantages of working with a small indie publisher? The “big publishing house machine” for sales and marketing isn’t there. The scale is far smaller. Also, I received no advance.

Luckily, Editor-in-Chief Tory Hartmann from Sand Hill Review Press is both savvy and eager to provide advice. She entered The Engine Woman’s Light in the Independent Press Award contest and the novel won the gold award in Steampunk. This encouraged me to send my book to “Kirkus Reviews” and they gave me a “starred review.” Now my novel has won a total of twelve honors and awards.

What is your writing process like—are you an architect (planner) or gardener (pantser)?

On the first draft of my fiction manuscripts, I listen to my characters and follow their story-gardening advice. What grows, grows. I evict the plot weeds on subsequent drafts and trim back the bushels of unruly wording, ensuring that my story and character arcs work, that my showing far exceeds my telling. I start a project as a pantser and finish it as an architect.

What was your favorite book as a child?

As a child, I adored Gigi, The Story of a Merry Go Round Horse by Elizabeth Foster, a chapter book set in pre WWII Vienna. Gigi’s mother was a pine tree, and his father was the wind that sweeps through the Vienna woods. In this story, children could hear the wooden horses speak—until those children grew so tall that their feet reached the stirrups. Reflecting upon this book as an adult helped me learn how to bring the fantastical to life using ordinary prose.

What writing project are you currently working on?

I’m working on a YA/historical fantasy/magical realism novel with a tentative title of “Plague of Flies.” I’m sure that won’t be the final title. I’ve set the story in California, 1846, during the Bear Flag Rebellion (which was one of the preludes to the Mexican-American War). Catalina, my teen heroine, loves Angelo, the son of a wealthy rancher in Mexican Alta California. However, Angelo’s father looks to Spain to find his son a suitable match. Angelo enlists in the Mexican Army to prove he is man enough to choose his own bride—Catalina. Meanwhile, a local vaquero’s prophesy is fulfilled when a mysterious spirit man arrives on the scene. And then the spirit man enlists Catalina to help stop a potential invasion of Alta California by new Yanqui settlers. Settlers with little respect for Mexicans or Native Americans.

What’s the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?

Write close to the point-of-view characters. Show the story through the eyes of those characters, rather than through the author’s eyes or an omniscient narrator. This advice has served me well.

For example, point of view became a big challenge when I wrote The Engine Woman’s Light, part of the reason the novel took me so many years to write. Most of the time, Juanita is Juanita. Yet sometimes, the spirit of an ancestor possesses her. How could I minimize potential reader confusion? The published novel uses first person to tell Juanita’s story and third person when she is possessed. Both point-of-view approaches remain quite close to their corresponding

Want to learn more about Laurel Anne Hill and The Engine Woman’s Light? Check out her: Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon page.

Or better yet, purchase a copy of The Engine Woman’s Light.

Thanks to author Laurel Anne Hill for stopping by. Watch for an interview with author Jayne Barnard on January 24, 2019. Happy reading! – Vonnie

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