Name Christina E Pilz
Where are you from?
I was born in Waco, Texas in 1962. After living on a variety of air force bases, in 1972 my Dad retired and the family moved to Boulder, Colorado. There, as the moss started to grow beneath my feet, my love for historical fiction began with a classroom reading of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I attended a variety of community colleges (Tacoma Community College) and state universities (UNC-Greeley, CU-Boulder, CU-Denver), and finally found my career in technical writing, which, between layoffs, I have been doing for 19 years. During that time, my love for historical fiction and old-fashioned objects, ideas, and eras has never waned.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My latest news is that I’m working on book #6 in the Oliver & Jack series, and that I’m headed out to a writer’s conference where I shall do all sorts of writery things and have all sorts of writery conversations!
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
When I was in the 4th grade, I handed in a short story about a boy and a girl getting lost in the woods and being chased by a bear. They escaped, of course. My teacher, Mrs. Harr, thought it was a very good story and told me so. That little bit of praise was all I needed to start writing other stories.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’d like to think that I considered myself a writer when I got the first paperback copy of the first version of Fagin’s Boy. It had been snowing, and the package from the printer was on the back step – it was all very dramatic and quite memorable. But really, I’ve thought of myself as a writer since the 4th grade.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
When my dad was stationed in Germany, we went to England for a two-week vacation. During that time, I saw the movie Oliver! on screen and fell in love with a little boy whose life was so tragic and hard. I loved his sweet little face and his courage and the happy ending that he got.
That little boy stayed with me for a long, long time, until finally I realized that he wanted me to tell his story. So I did. I mean, there was really no resisting his very courteous request.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
If there is a scale with Hemingway on one end and Anne Rice on the other, I’m more toward the Anne Rice end. (Not that I’m comparing my talent or skill to either!)
I think of my writing as being very curlicue, looping around itself like fancy cursive script. My sentences tend to be very dense, as well, with compound subjects and parenthetical phrases and the like. It’s definitely fun to write this way!
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The original book was titled Oliver Twist or The Parish Boy’s Progress.
As a paean to Charles Dickens, I wanted to reflect that type of wording in of the title of the first book in my series. I also wanted to connect with the original book by mentioning it in some way. Thus, I came up with
When I determined to make a series out of the story, I wanted to reflect the two-part nature of the original title, as well as give each book a sense of place. Thus, I came up with the following, with Oliver & Jack as the first part, and a prepositional phrase and location as the second part:
And the last book in the series will be:
Oliver & Jack: In London Towne
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I believe that each reader comes to each book with a template of their own experiences and adventures and knowledge, which they then use to filter the story through.
I am often surprised when a reader will mention a specific detail that resonated with them, when in fact it was something I’d thrown in at the last minute to create a segue with. This does not mean I demean that experience in any way. Instead, such reflection on their part, as well as the reader’s willingness to share it with me, gives me great joy.
If there is a theme in the Oliver & Jack series, one that I put there on purpose, perhaps, it would be the theme of found families, and the message that you can find your kin, find people like you, if you look for them in the right place.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
This might be a little sad to hear about, but the story of Jack’s mother leaving him on a fountain for the gypsies to find is based on a similar event in my own life.
After a Camp Fire Girls meeting in late December, my mother was supposed to pick me up at five p.m. The family, whose house it was, had gone out to dinner, and it started to snow very badly, but my mother had forgotten I was there. This happened in the days before cell phones, and I was there, sitting on that step, with the snow pilling around me for a good two or more hours.
That’s the most specific event I can think of; other events in the book are based on something that happened to me or someone I know. I don’t think I pulled anything in the series out of a hat; with the exception of picking pockets and riding a 19th century coach across England, most everything else is based in something real.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
The book that most influenced me was Catspaw by Joan D. Vinge. She’s an amazing writer and Catspaw was one of the first sci-fi books I ever read that was more about the character than about the technology. Plus, Cat, the main character, was an orphan, so I was pretty much hooked from the beginning.
As for a mentor, I once had a friend named Nik, who taught me more about writing just by being a great writer herself. We talked about writing, and no detail was too small to obsess over. She gave me the length of the room and the height of the sky to expand my wings as a writer.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’ve been so busy writing that I’ve not had a chance to check out any new authors.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My best supporter, and a terrific writer, is Wendy Rathbone, who is much more prolific than I am!
We’d known of each other years ago, but it was at a convention in 2014 (we think) that we actually met. We’re a kind of mutual support society, and do NaNoWriMo together, and share word counts, and bounce ideas off of each other. While I write historical fiction and she writes brilliant sci-fi, we can still meet in the middle and talk about writing.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes, I do. I would love to make a living by writing and selling books, but I’m not there yet. I would love it if I could wake up, talk a long walk down by the water, come back, have breakfast, and spend each morning writing. Then in the afternoon, I could do marketing stuff, then take a nap or plan a trip.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I would have started writing it long before I did. I think that has to do with my lack of courage about my skills as a storyteller. I put off writing it, focused on other things, wrote short stories, all while thinking that I’d write that book “one day.”
When I got laid off the first time (2007) I finally decided to write the book. That draft was so bad, it took me a while to re-work the story. But I did, and in 2014, I began my writing career in earnest.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It came from having gotten such praise about something I had written. If I’d gotten praise about a drawing I’d done, perhaps I might have gone in a different direction. But, as the praise about that little story in the 4th grade was like water in a desert, it had quite an effect.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
It’s the last book in the Oliver & Jack series, and it’s meant to tie up loose ends, and also to give the lads a Happily Ever After. As many reviewers have commented, I am not kind to my characters, not at all. So, to make up for that, while it will be dark, there is a huge, very bright light at the end of the tunnel, and Oliver and Jack will very, very happy, I promise you.
Here’s an excerpt, at the beginning of the book, when Jack is waiting in the inn of a coaching yard for Oliver to return from his rescue mission:
The White Hart on Drury Lane reminded Jack only slightly of the Angel at Islington, for it was much smaller, and it being in the deep of the evening, was much quieter. He didn’t know whether it was the sprinkling of piss-warm rain or the thudding of distant and near bells tolling the hour at ten o’clock that made him edgy. He shouldn’t have been, for he knew this part of London quite well, had done work for Fagin here, and with the patch being only a mile from home, well, he wasn’t exactly on foreign soil.
The coaching inn yard was smaller than the Angel as well, though it had the same tri-level balconies all overlooking the yard, with the same sagging wooden beams, and old cobbled stones, now all of it dripping with slight rain, just enough to bring up the sour stench of a cow pen that was none too clean. He might have cursed Nolly for showing him the difference, because before, none of this would have bothered him. Only now it did, for, by the bells, and the yellow-sheeted schedule nailed to the archway leading into the yard, The Comet was due from Hyde Park Corner any moment.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Writing a series makes it hard not to repeat myself, or to have the characters repeat themselves. So what I do with that is have the characters realize that some idea or emotion is happening again, or is similar to some other point in their lives.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Actually, I get to travel to do research! That’s almost my favorite part. I find that going to a new place or even a favorite, old place, is much more engaging if I’m looking at it with a writer’s eyes. My current plan is to get to London again, and maybe stake out some of the places in the book just to get a good feel for them.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My beautiful covers are designed by James Egan at Bookfly Designs! He is a lovely and talented man, and very patient with all of my emails and suggestions. I’d rather keep him to myself, but he deserves the praise and the acclaim.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The first third of any book tends to be the hardest for me to write.
I love working on outlines, and I love it when I’m deep in the throes of the story. But during the first third, I’m just staring out and all the pages are blank. It’s hard to get a handle on what I want the story to be about – not just what happens in the story, but what it is about, what it will mean in the end.
So what I usually do, to get myself going, is avoid it for as long as I can! Then, when the last, last, last day comes where I have to write or fall behind, I’ll have a nice glass of wine and just go at it. That sort of kick starts me, and I’ll just make a habit of it. The writing, not the wine.
My substance of choice for writing is: a large block of time, a good night’s sleep, a full English breakfast, and a large cup of Yorkshire Gold tea with cream and sugar. Then I can write till the cows come home.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Do the thing, just start out and do the thing. Break the project down into steps, and work through each step, one by one. Take little bites of what you’re working on, and don’t overwhelm yourself.
And, of course, treat yourself. Ice cream is my treat of choice.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
This question makes me feel shy! But I’m going to answer it, because I am brave like that.
Oliver would be played by Bradley James. This is not only because he’s blonde haired, blue eyed, and beautiful, he’s got the most adorable grumpy expression I have ever seen.
Jack would be played by Sebastian Stan, who is dark haired and saucy eyed, and can smirk like nobody’s business.
Plus, I think they would look well together.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write the thing. Just keep writing the thing. Then write some more.
Go to coffee shops, and listen to the conversations there. People in coffee shops are jacked up on caffeine and say the most amazing things, so you’ll get some great insights into the human condition.
Also, don’t follow the market. Write what you’d love to read about. Write the book you want to read but can’t find on the shelves.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Do the thing. Just do the thing and write. Don’t wait for anyone to tell you yes or no or anything. Never mind them, just do the thing.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson; I needed something different from all the historical fiction and the books I read for research.
Most recently I read, for research, The Italian Boy by Sarah Wise, which is about body snatching in 1830’s London.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
It must have been Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My 4th grade teacher read it out to us, so after that was done, I checked it out from the library and read it myself.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Hallmark card commercials. I can’t watch them for sobbing.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Sometimes, when I’m feeling saucy, I like to say that I’d like to meet Charles Dickens and ask him why he was so obsessed with his sister-in-law and why he was so mean to his wife!
But then I realize that Chuck was a bit of an egomaniac, and that I’d much rather meet Jane Austen. We could have a conversation, she and I, about the people around us, and how interesting they are. Then we could go for a long walk and enjoy the fresh air. (This would require that I wear Regency-era clothes, of course.)
Fiona: What do you want written on your headstone and why?
I’m going to live forever, thus, no headstone. But if I did have one, it would say that I was kind, that I was a good writer, and that I gave something creative to the world.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I love to cook and I love to go on road trips. Both open my mind and fill my soul.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Sense8; Stranger Things; Starsky & Hutch; The Professionals; Stargate: Atlantis; Elementary; Due South.
All of these have great writing and characters, and yes, some are dated and showing their age, but they all have spoken to my heart.
Sense8 is an especially brilliant show. I’d love to give the guy who came up with it a big, smoochy kiss for being so clever and creative.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Favorite food: Lobster. Lobster stew, lobster rolls, lobster tails. Lobster.
Colors: All shades of blue and green.
Music: Mumford and Sons, Billy Joel, Adele, and Sia
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I wanted to be a meteorologist. Not the guy or gal in front of the camera, but the person in the background, measuring isobars and tracking thunderstorms and testing dew points.
You can be wrong every single day, if you’re a meteorologist, but they will never fire you.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so, what is it?