Friday, December 6, 2013

It may be the Year of the Snake, but Heather Heffner is bringing us "The Year of The Wolf!"

We've had the honor of reading and reviewing your latest book, Year of the Wolf, a urban/epic fantasy featuring something we'd been searching for since we started Twinja Book Reviews, A LATINA MAIN PROTAGONIST. We've featured her before, but for those of you just tuning in, without further adue, we'd like to introduce Heather Heffner!

1.Would you please share with us a synopsis of your book and what inspired your kick ass heroine named Citlali.

Absolutely! “Citlalli Alvarez thought the hardest thing about adjusting to her new life in Seoul, South Korea would be the food. But when her half-sister is kidnapped for sinister purposes, Citlalli gets entangled with an ancient Vampyre Queen, her seven deadly and beautiful sons, and a dangerous spirit world. Citlalli has never been one to shy away from a fight, but in order to rescue her sister, she must face an unimaginable price that could put her very soul at stake.”

Year of the Wolf is the first book in the urban/epic fantasy Changeling Sisters Series, inspired by my time as a Foreign English teacher near Seoul, South Korea. Citlalli’s world is full of vampyres tweaked by a popular Korean myth, shape-shifters including wolves and nagas, a spirit world in need of help, hungry ghosts, and of course, a devious nine-tailed fox. Citlalli loves her family as much as she fights with them, and heaven help the enemies who threaten that bond. Her name, the Aztec word for “star,” actually inspired her character.

2. Was Citlali always Latina in your head? What challenges did you face making Citlali latina as opposed to the "default" white girl?
The plot of the story definitely came first. The main character was an ambiguous swirl in my head, and I had real difficulty starting the story. Then my friend and fellow Foreign English teacher, Ogonna, shared this story with me about a former student in Mexico who was spirited and had a good heart, but man, was she a troublemaker in class. Her name? Citlalli. Instantly, my main character came together and brought the story to life. I saw her fiery personality, her deep bond with her family, her heritage, and her sense of confusion—being Chicana in America, but then up and moving to South Korea where again, she was considered a minority on many levels.
Citlalli’s voice came to me very easily. She makes decisions fearlessly, despite the consequences. Her shyer half-sister Raina was much more difficult to write. However, I faced many challenges writing Citlalli. I’m white, and I didn’t want her to turn out to be a stereotypical Latina that we see in much of mainstream media. I wanted to acknowledge contemporary issues Chicanas face growing up in America, such as border tension with Mexico, as well as make Spanish part of Citlalli’s life—without politicizing her or making her the exotic “Other.” After all, this isn’t a story about what mainstream American culture thinks; it’s a story about a girl who cares about her family and how far she’s willing to go for them. Any mistakes I’ve made in portraying Citlalli—especially concerning the Spanish, which I hope to continue studying!—are my own. Wherever that memorable Citlalli student is, I hope she’s doing well.
3. One thing I loved about your book is that you threw an American girl of Mexican ancestry in a very foreign place for her, S.Korea. What inspired the setting for your book?
My first job out of college was as a Foreign English teacher outside of Seoul, South Korea. I was contracted through an organization called GEPIK, who did a fantastic job. I remember my first night: I had been flying all day, I arrived in this completely unfamiliar city late at night, and a random driver from the organization was waiting to take me and a fellow teacher out to our new homes. Thank God they did that! I remember me and the teacher (who just happened to be Ogonna, mentioned above), quickly exchanged phone numbers and promised we’d call. Then I was dropped off by my lonesome on a busy street corner, armed only with my elementary Korean and two huge roller suitcases. Six hours later as morning rolled around, I started teaching at a nearby elementary school, still kind of in shock from it all. You don’t mess around with your contract start date!
But the more I grew to learn about South Korea, the more I felt moved to write an urban fantasy set in Seoul. It’s incredibly atmospheric—all of these neon-lit PC rooms and high-fashion boutiques surrounded by the sense of the old: farmsteads and rustic houses in the countryside. I could definitely contribute feeling like a bizarre alien to Citlalli’s character as she tries to adapt and struggles with the new language. All of my co-workers and friends I made were incredibly patient with me.
4. In your book, you explore a lot of Korean lore, what about Korean Lore stuck out to you to include it in your book?
I was really drawn to Korean origin mythology, because who doesn’t like to learn about how other cultures believed things came to be? There’s one popular tale about the origin of “The Sun and the Moon,” in which a mother coming back home gets set upon by a hungry tiger. The tiger dresses in her clothes, goes back to her house, and tries to trick the children into letting it in. To escape, the children run to the roof where they pray to the gods, and the gods send them a rope, which they climb up to become the sun and the moon. The “hungry” part of the tiger started my over-active imagination thinking: What if the “tiger” were merely symbolic of a darker monster that liked to feed on its own kind, but could never be full? That led to a few twists concerning the villainous vampyres in the book and their motivations. There’s a lot of other fascinating legends and history I’d like to incorporate in future Changeling Sisters stories.
5. So we hear that you have a little traveling bug. Does traveling to different places encourage new ideas in your WIP's?
Oh, big time! I grew up with parents who loved hiking, the outdoors, and finding the biggest mountain to climb—even if such mountain was in Nepal, for example. (They recently went and didn’t take me! GRRRR!) There’s nothing more inspiring then to be thrown out of my comfort element and learn to view everyday things in a new way. Then I have to write about it and share it with everyone I know!

6. What are some books you're reading now?
Oooh, let’s see. *Happily goes over to bookshelf.* Embers and Echoes, Book II of Karsten Knight’s fast-paced humorousWildefire series (featuring an awesome reincarnation of a volcano goddess, you know which one I’m talking about out), andSiege and Storm, Book II of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series.
7. How disciplined is your writing process?
Ah, discipline. So important, and yet so easy to neglect. I *should* write a little each day, even if it’s just a sentence, and then that sentence turns into new and better things—but sometimes I take time to just let ideas marinate a while.

8. What are some areas you haven't yet covered that you'd like to explore in future WIP's?
I’d love to write a fantasy book set in Ireland. That was a place I was lucky to spend some time in, and the folklore is FASCINATING. They have a lot of bloodthirsty—but kickass—females, which is just what I mesh with. I’d also like to write a sci-fi space opera series someday…but wow, would I need to brush up on the science part. I’m still trying to get over Pluto not being a planet.

9. What can we expect from Heather Heffner in the future?
I’ll be launching a brand-new series in December 2013 for fans of dark, epic fantasy called The Afterlife ChroniclesThe Tribe of Ishmael, about a boy who accidentally boards a train to Hell. Lots of fun, chaotic, scary times. Then in 2014, I’ll be continuing Citlalli’s story in Book III: Year of the Dragon! During down time, I hope to make some free Changeling Sisters novellas available including a story about Rafael’s sister, Tika, in Hawai’i and Citlalli’s older sister, Marisol, in New Mexico.

10. Where can potential readers learn more about you and your current and future works?

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