Cristy L. Bowlin grew up in Ventura County, CA where she spent most of her free time ballet dancing and reading fantasy books. She got her BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing and a minor in dance from the California Polytechnic State University. She then received her MA in English with a minor in gender and women’s studies from the University of Kentucky. She currently lives with her husband, daughter, and cat in Southern California where she is a college English professor. Her debut YA fantasy novel The Temple Dancer’s Diary was published in July 2019, and her next book Hybrid Magic was just published in the summer of 2021.
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I have always loved reading. I started reading Harry Potter in second grade and was instantly hooked. I would read any fantasy book I could get my hands on, and before long I was writing my own short stories in various notebooks that I had collected. When I went to college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I majored in English with an emphasis on creative writing. While I was there, I realized that I also had a passion for teaching, so my creative writing took a backseat for a couple years while I got my Master’s degree in English at the University of Kentucky. Then once I returned to California and started teaching community college English classes, I started working on my first novel. It took me four years to write and edit The Temple Dancer’s Diary before it was ready for publication. After that I couldn’t get the characters out of my head and wanted to keep writing about the fantasy world I had crafted, which led to my spinoff series. After writing a standalone novel, I’m excited to be writing a trilogy starting with Hybrid Magic!
What is something unique/quirky about you?
When I wasn’t reading or writing as a kid, I was dancing and singing. I was a quiet kid, but I loved performing on stage. It really brought me out of my shell and gave me more confidence. I started off with chorus and ballet classes. Then I eventually branched out to lots of other styles, including tap, jazz, hip hop, lyrical, and musical theatre. I did ballet for twenty years and used it as one of my inspirations for The Temple Dancer’s Diary. Even though I started tap dancing a lot later, that actually became my favorite dance style. I performed tap solos competitively in high school, and I choreographed a couple tap dances in college. I still take tap classes with my best friend to this day, but currently we are doing them on Zoom!
Where were you born/grew up at?
I grew up in Ventura County, California. I felt so lucky to live near the beach and spent much of my summers swimming or reading by the pool. I definitely am not good with cold weather. I lived in Kentucky for two years while I was in graduate school, and that was more than enough cold weather for me. I’m happy to visit, but I will forever be a Southern California girl.
If you knew you’d die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
If it was my last day, I would spend it with my family. It wouldn’t really matter what we were doing as long as I could be with them.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I like to curl up on the couch with my husband to watch a movie or TV show together. Usually, our cat Percy will also join us for some cuddles. He’s a real snuggle bug, especially if we have a fuzzy blanket.
How to find time to write as a parent?
I’m still a new parent, so it’s definitely a learning curve! I am fortunate enough to have my parents living close by, so they can take care of my daughter when I need to get important work done, whether it’s related to teaching or writing. Otherwise, I try to write while my daughter naps or after she goes to bed at night. I’m a night owl anyways, and I usually get my best ideas late at night.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I first truly considered myself a writer when I began sharing my writing with other people. Having critique partners is such an important part of the writing process. Over time it has gotten easier to take constructive criticism, and now I actually enjoy revising and editing my work to make it stronger.
Do you have a favorite movie?
I love The Hunger Games. The books are great, but I actually might like the movies even more. I rewatch them a couple times a year. I also love the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I could imagine The Temple Dancer’s Diary being made into a movie. I think it would be neat to have a fantasy movie that contains dance performances.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
After I graduated from college, I took a trip to Europe with some friends. I started in England where I watched Macbeth at the Globe Theatre and went to a pub frequented by John Keats. Keats supposedly wrote “Ode to a Nightingale” there. Then I went to Greece and saw the Theatre of Dionysus. After that I traveled around Italy and France. In Italy, I got to see Dante Alighieri’s house.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
It’s always hard to pick favorite books, so I’ll share some of my favorite authors. For all of these authors, I’ve read several of their books. My top 10 are Tamora Pierce, Suzanne Collins, Julie Kagawa, Marissa Meyer, J. K. Rowling, Anna Godbersen, Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing short stories and poems in my journals ever since I was a kid, but I started working on full-length novels six years ago.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Some of my characters come to me as I write. I have a plan for when I want to introduce new characters and what general role they need to fit into, but I don’t have a firm grasp of what those characters will be like. When I wrote The Temple Dancer’s Diary, I wasn’t really sure who I wanted the main antagonist to be until I was about halfway through my first draft.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I didn’t do a whole lot of research before I started writing my first book since I incorporated some personal interests that I was already familiar with, but I did spend a lot of time on my worldbuilding. I referred back to several fantasy maps from my favorite stories that I had read to help me plan the physical setting. Then I considered how I wanted the magic system, politics, and religion of my world to be set up. I also created a timeline of key historical events and a list of important people, even though many of them would just be background characters mentioned in passing. Once I actually start writing, I do my research along the way. Most of my research for my first book was about architecture, medicine, and clothing that would be worn during the Regency Era. For my current book Hybrid Magic, I did some research into botany and various social dances, like the quadrille.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
Fantasy is my favorite genre to both read and write, but I still enjoy reading a variety of genres. I read literary classics, science fiction, dystopian fiction, historical fiction, mysteries, and some romance. I’ll even read horror as long as it’s by Stephen King.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I usually prefer to write in silence. I find it easier to think and be creative when I’m in a quiet environment. Once I get to the editing stage, I will sometimes listen to instrumental music.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I only write one book at a time because it helps me keep track of all of the details and become fully immersed in the story. As for reading, I usually read three or four books at once. I don’t have trouble switching back and forth between other people’s storylines.
Pen or type writer or computer?
For the early brainstorming and outlining, I like writing with a pen in one of my journals. I have different journals stashed in various rooms around the house. The one I keep by my bed gets filled with the most notes because I usually come up with the most ideas at night, sometimes even while I’m falling asleep. Once I’m done outlining and actually start drafting a book, I will type it up on the computer.
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
I always love strong, intelligent female characters who unabashedly pursue what they want. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books and Alanna of Trebond from The Song of the Lioness Series were two of my favorite characters when I was growing up. I considered them to be role models of the type of young woman I wanted to be.
Advice they would give new authors?
My main advice is something my own creative writing professor told me: write what you know. I remember feeling frustrated when he first said that. I was trying to write a supernatural thriller about a married woman who was estranged from her husband and had a missing daughter. I really wanted to tell that story, but I was in over my head at twenty years old with limited writing experience. I took another class with the same teacher the next semester and wrote a handful of short stories based on personal experiences. This allowed me to start honing my craft in an authentic way, and eventually with more life experience and more exposure to other people’s stories, I was able to branch out to many more topics.
What are they currently reading?
I’m finishing up the Stalking Jack the Ripper series by Kerri Maniscalco, and then I plan to read the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I start with a rough handwritten outline. Usually I have more details in mind for the earlier chapters and leave the later chapters more open-ended so that I can let the story evolve as I write. Then I start drafting the chapters in order chronologically. My goal when drafting is to write about 5,000 words per week. Finally, the revision process takes the most time. I have several different people read my drafts, and I continuously make changes until the manuscript finally feels ready for copyediting.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I think the most common trap is procrastination. Many people think of procrastination as putting something off by watching TV or going out with friends, but more often than not writers procrastinate by finding other ways to be productive. It could be cleaning your house, going to the gym, walking your dog, or running errands. Doing these types of things gets in the way of your ability to be creative and makes you feel like you never have time to write. If you want to be a writer, the best thing you can do is set aside a little bit of time to write every day, even if it is only ten minutes. It’s important to build a habit to make writing part of your everyday life.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would tell my younger writing self not to be afraid to show other people my work. I should have realized earlier on that the people who really cared about me would be supportive and wanted to help me improve. I also could have benefited from more constructive criticism earlier on. It took me a long time to get over the knee-jerk reaction of feeling upset and defensive when I received writing critiques.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I do believe in writer’s block. As a teacher, I see it happen all the time with my students. When I experience writer’s block myself, I try to follow the same advice I give to my students. I give myself a short break by doing some exercise or taking a shower, and then I come back to the computer. Even if I still feel blocked, I force myself to do some freewriting for ten to fifteen minutes. I know that it won’t be the best, but at least I will have something to work with at that point.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Hybrid Magic is the start of a trilogy, so you can expect to see the rest of the books coming out over the next couple years! After that, I might venture into a different genre. Fantasy is my favorite, but I would love to try writing some sci-fi or dystopian stories too.
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Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
Hybrid Magic is a spinoff that takes place ten years after the storyline of my first standalone novel, The Temple Dancer’s Diary. Some characters with smaller roles in The Temple Dancer’s Diary are now getting their chance in the spotlight with a story of their own.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Hybrid Magic?
This book is told from three different character perspectives, so I’ll share a bit about each of them.
First, Aaron Ztrong is a fourteen-year-old hybrid mage who became famous when he was younger for defeating another powerful mage. His magic abilities include healing, transforming objects, and making things levitate and fly through the air. His parents see so much potential in him, but he would rather spend his time with his friends and enjoy relaxing hobbies like fishing. He is a prankster who will do anything to get out of his lessons until his life is threatened by a group known as the Defenders who hunt down hybrid mages.
Second, Elara Pratt is a sixteen-year-old hybrid mage who grew up in a small farming village with her three younger siblings. Her magic involves helping plants flourish and grow in any environment. She can even transform into a dryad-like creature herself. After leaving her family behind to learn more about her abilities, she moves to a forest haven that was established to train and protect hybrid mages from the ruthless Defenders. Elara is optimistic, caring, and always eager to make a new friend. But no one is allowed to mess with her garden or any of her plant babies!
Finally, Theo Darien is a seventeen-year-old hybrid mage who grew up idolizing his father, a celebrated constable. Theo dreamed of having combat magic like his dad so that he too could take down criminals. He was initially excited upon discovering his unique abilities to transform any object into a weapon. Then his older half brother joined the Defenders and attempted to kill him because of those abilities. After running away from home, Theo was taken in by a teacher who promised to train and protect him. Theo is quiet and studious, yet also racked with guilt over his final confrontation with his brother. Now he is determined not to hurt anyone with his magic and will only use his powers for good.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
After writing my first book from a single perspective in first-person diary entries, I enjoyed writing this book in third-person point of view with multiple different character perspectives.
Who designed your book covers?
My best friend Naomi Henry designed both of my book covers. She is an amazing artist, and I was overjoyed that she wanted to work with me.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
There are some personality traits each of my characters have that I based off of real people, but for the most part they came from my imagination.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
My characters do hijack the story from time to time! I always create an outline before I start writing with major plot points that I want to include in each chapter, so I try to stick to that outline pretty closely for the plot and pacing. The characters develop more organically though. I start out with a few key personality traits in mind for each character, and then I see how they interact with one another. Sometimes their interactions and dialogue will surprise me by taking my story in cool new directions.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
My book would have an autumn candle to match the cover art. It would be a burnt orange color with a woodsy scent containing a mixture of apple, pumpkin spice, and cloves.
Is there an writer which brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
I would love to get writing advice from Tamora Pierce. Her young adult fantasy books set in the Tortall Universe were my favorites growing up. The characters were nuanced, and the stories were so empowering for teenaged girls.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?’-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
I wrote the whole first draft of Hybrid Magic while I was pregnant with my daughter. I like to think that she was my muse, sparking inspiration whenever I experienced writer’s block.
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