A woman with long, curly hair fading from bright orange to softer orange pauses at the threshhold of an office of stark white. A polished white desk takes up most of the space, but two chairs and a couch of cobalt blue leather jostle for space to one side. Rorschach inkblots in black enamel frames hang on the walls. The one behind the desk looks suspiciously like a turtle. Another hanging over the couch resembles a Farmville ear of corn. The woman jumps as steam whistles from an overhead vent and fizzles into a series of clicks and drips.
A bespectacled woman seated in one of the chairs grins and rises. A gold Klingon Empire sigil lapel pin graces one strap of her purple overalls, a pink buttercup dominates the other. She waves.
Robynn Tolbert: Welcome! Welcome! Come in, have a seat.
Caprice Hokstad (avoids a clump of dirt as she crosses the floor) : Thank you. Um, on the couch?
RT: Or a chair. Wherever you’re comfortable.
RT (writing in notebook): Chooses couch.
CH: Why are you writing that down?
CH: And Nor Iron Bars a Cage.
RT: Yes! I haven’t read it yet, but I’m looking forward to it. You graciously agreed to an interview about your first book. Before we begin with that, I’d like to take just a moment to learn some things about you (shuffling through notebook). You did provide a bio…
Caprice Hokstad spends most of her time dreaming up other worlds to live vicariously in. Her first half-million words were lavishly spent on the fantasy setting of Byntar (where her published Ascendancy Trilogy novels are set). Her current obsession is a future Earth where the oceans are colonized (manifesting as seaQuest fanfiction). Caprice lives in a mobile home in southern California, but regularly stares at her simulated aquarium screensaver. Her ultimate aspiration is to live in the first undersea colony, Atlantica, currently being built off the coast of Florida. She is assured they will have electricity and internet and that there will be room for her laptop, so she can continue to write. At that point, she may change her screensaver, but no promises.
RT: I love this, but I like to “go a little deeper,” if you don’t mind. I’ll ask some quick questions. You just say the first thing that pops into your head, okay?
CH (glancing at the looming ear of corn): Ooookay.
RT: Favorite color?
CH (thinks of her own writing first, but immediately discards it because mentioning it looks too egotistical): The Hunt for Red October.
CH: The Tenth Kingdom.
RT: Wasn’t that a TV mini-series?
CH: Yes, but they put it on DVD, so it’s a long movie now.
RT (writing in notebook): Nonconformity issues. Muppet?
RT: That isn’t a name.
CH: Cookie Monster, the old school one who actually ate cookies more than veggies, like the politically correct one does.
RT (writing furiously in notebook): Good enough. I think we have a baseline. Let’s get started with the interview. These characters had some pretty firm stances on things. Duke Vahn, for example, obviously prefers slaves to employees. Was it hard staying in character as you wrote? Were you tempted to back off to be more acceptable to your readers?
CH: No, I don’t think it was hard staying in character because a different culture is really what the book is about. If I pulled slavery completely out of this book, there’d be very little left and it wouldn’t be the same story. I was slightly worried that a publisher would ask me to water things down and I’d have to defend my choices, but that didn’t happen.
RT (consulting notebook): In my review, I used the word “disturbing” to describe your book. I hope I then illustrated how it disturbed my thoughts and made me reevaluate some things in my worldview. Did you intend to write a “disturbing” book? What was your goal?
CH: I intended to write an original and different story, with the hope that it would be entertaining. Most of the other fantasy on the market either make the women minor characters or they make them warriors or spies. I wanted to show a female heroine who doesn’t have to act like men, wield a sword, or play the seduction game to be strong. While I knew some would take certain parts as disturbing, I didn’t think that the book overall was disturbing. Maybe that says something about me.
RT (chuckling): It probably says something about both of us. The Duke’s Handmaid is not what I would call a “Christian” book. No references to any form of God or Trinity. Prayers to Nymphs. No organized religious references other than the mages. Tell me about that.
CH: Actually, the Nymphs and the Heavenlies are both different names for a single Creator God that they all pray to, just under different names and with different cultural understandings. This will become more clear in the second book. But back to the question…I don’t really like the label “Christian” applied to my fiction. A Christian is a Christ-follower. A book is not a Christ-follower. There is so much controversy over what the term “Christian Fiction” means, and so many different preconceptions, that I just don’t like it used unless it is defined, and even then, I’m sure my book is not going to fit many people’s definitions of what “Christian Fiction” is supposed to be.
If it is anything approaching “Christian,” then it is an allegory. Others have compared my work to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and their works are marketed as “mainstream.” If my books were ever to appear on a physical shelf, that’s where I’d want them to be—with Lewis and Tolkien. I don’t believe either one of them mention Jesus or the Trinity either.
RT: Excellent point. I personally want to put you with one of my favorite authors, George MacDonald, and his stories don’t generally have an overtly “Christian” theme, either. Now, despite what I just asked, I noticed some Biblical flavor as I read: a little Ruth, some Esther (especially Haman in your character of the trusted traitor) and more than a bit of Leviticus. Was that intentional?
CH: Probably. I say that because I did study the Old Testament, both informally and in college (I was actually a religion major for a time) and while I didn’t have any of those books specifically in mind, I’m sure they influenced me and colored my creations. I also threw in some Hosea, and quite a heavy dose of Paul. One of Paul’s favorite labels for himself was “bondservant of the Lord”.
RT: This book did give me a whole new dimension to the concept of bondservant. And speaking of servants, I really liked Saerula as an antagonistic character with a more “normal” attitude toward Vahn and his slaves. In fact, I liked how all your main characters are blends of good and bad. Did you start that way or did that come during revisions?
CH: I think I had to tone Saerula down some, because she was so hateful to begin with and I had to make her more believable. Incidentally, I originally spelled it Caerula because it was from the Latin word for blue, from which we get cerulean. But an early reader said it looked too much like Cruella (deVille).
RT: (laughing) That might have been a bit distracting. It does segueway nicely into my next question. What’s been the most surprising reader reaction so far? The most gratifying?
CH: An anonymous emailer once told me it was the most erotic piece of non-erotica they’d ever read. I asked the person to explain what s/he meant, but the phantom emailer never wrote me back. What does that mean? Your guess is as good as mine.
I’m actually pretty surprised (and gratified) I have so many male readers. I sent out a large number of copies of The Duke’s Handmaid through Books for Soldiers (because I was tired of them sitting unsold in a box in my dining room, taunting me) and some of the guys who read the books emailed me thank-you notes. Like they thought they owed ME thanks!
When I needed people to read the second book for back cover blurbs, I sent out lots of requests, but it was bad timing or lack of interest all around. Who came to my rescue? American soldiers serving in Iraq. Fully half of my original back cover blurbs were written by men who read the manuscript in spiral bound galley copies sent through Army mail or downloaded off emails and read on computer screens in a war zone. Guys who were putting their lives on the line for sixteen hours a day actually spent what sparse free time they had reading my obscure little books. They’re the BEST.
RT: Amen. God protect our men and women in the service. There’s that “servant” concept again. Kat Heckenbach told me you self-published originally. How did you and Grace Bridges of Splashdown Books connect?
CH: Grace actually read The Duke’s Handmaid when it was on virtual blog tour in March 2007. Her review of the self-published version appears at http://www.ck2skwipsandkritiques.com/thedukeshandmaid_grace.html. Actually, from that review, I didn’t think she liked it very much and I didn’t even bother asking her to review the second book. But she came to me and asked for the second book, much to my surprise. The review of the second book http://grace.splashdownbooks.com/2008/02/nor-iron-bars-cage-by-caprice-hokstad.html was much more encouraging. I can’t remember which of us first came up with the idea of taking it to Splashdown, but I was very happy to get it out from under the stigma of being self-published. The self-publishing stigma is slowly diminishing, but it’s still there and will probably never go away completely.
RT: Unfortunately, all of us spec-fic writers are only too aware of that, but I would say the general reader has no idea where the book originates. He only cares if he likes it.
And the natural final question…What are your plans for your next book?
CH: The sequel, Nor Iron Bars a Cage, is already available. The third book is outlined in my head, but writing it has been put on indefinite hold while I try to find or build an audience. I don’t have the emotional fortitude to write it while the first two books haven’t really proved themselves. I pour a lot of myself into Latoph and I need more enthusiasm and sales than I have been getting up to now. In the meantime, I have been writing some undersea science fiction and my convoluted explanations about why I’ve chosen to do that can be found on my blog at http://caprice.splashdownbooks.com/2011/02/why-part-1.html.
RT: “Undersea science fiction?” That’s an interesting phrase there. Well, that about wraps it up for this particular interview. I hope you’ll stick around to answer any pertinent reader questions.
CH: Of course! This is comfy.
RT: Excellent! Any questions for me?
CH: Just one. What is that smell?
RT: Smell? Oh, fresh sachet. I made it this morning. You like it?
CH: I really do. You’ll have to give me the recipe.
Book 1: http://latoph.com/chap1.html
Book 2: http://latoph.com/NIBAC.html
“Where to buy” links:
Book 1: http://latoph.com/buy.html
Book 2: http://latoph.com/NIBAC4.html