Indie Author Spotlight: Carolyn Astfalk

Indie Author SpotlightWelcome to my first Indie Author Spotlight which I hope to make a weekly occurrence for at least the next ten weeks (because I have ten lovely authors who have agreed to chat with me!). Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Carolyn Astfalk, author of contemporary Catholic romance novels. If Catholic fiction isn’t your thing, don’t worry – come back next week for a completely different genre (you all should know by now that my reading tastes are eclectic)!

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I have read and loved every one of Carolyn’s books – I even preordered her newest release, Come Back to Me, because I was THAT excited for it come out. While most of her books are written for adults, her very first book, Rightfully Ours, is a Young Adult romance most appropriate for older teens; I just read it this week and I’m truly considering making it mandatory reading for my kids when they’re older (I wrote a little about it here)!

So, I first gave Carolyn’s books a chance when I saw her promotional tweet that said something like, “Theology of the Body fiction with enough spice to keep it real.” The notion intrigued me, and I bought Stay with Me. I was not disappointed. It’s easy to read “Catholic romance” and think, “oh, this is gonna be about two perfect people living the perfect, chaste relationship and making it look easy.” I was so, so thrilled to find this is not the case. In each of her books, Carolyn has created real, relatable characters. Yes, they’re Catholic. No, they’re not perfect. They struggle, in life and in love. They’re tempted, they fall, and they get back up, ask for forgiveness, and try again. They are REAL people, living REAL lives, while trying their best, with the Grace of God, to live and love in the way He designed for us.

And now, meet Carolyn Astfalk!

When did you start writing?

Though I’ve been writing nonfiction of one sort or another my whole life, I started seriously writing fiction during National Novel Writing Month in 2010. It was a lark. Something to try while my husband was working out of town, and I only had two young children. I grew to love creating stories and molding them into novels.

Why do you write?

I write mainly to get the ideas in my head out and onto paper! I always had sort of a cinematic imagination, but I never knew what to do with it until I started writing novels. Once I found that outlet, it’s been hard not to write, though I’m greatly limited by the time I have available for it.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Pantser with some plotter tendencies. I organize characters and the basis of the story in my head before I begin writing. I’ll let the plot and characters lead me, but there’s usually a point in the process when I need to take pen to paper in order to keep the timeline straight or organize chapters.

One of the things we have in common is being SAHM to four kids. How do you fit writing into parenting? 

It’s very hard to fit in writing around family and household duties. I wrote more during naps and playtime when my children were younger. As they’ve grown older, they are less physically dependent on me but continue to require at least as much of my time, just for different things. It was also simpler when I was only writing, not having to market my books. That takes a significant amount of time I’d otherwise devote to writing and revising. My husband is supportive of my writing generally, but not in the way of helping me devote time to it. That’s mine to manage.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

I have two novels in progress, both contemporary Catholic romance, although one is a bit more women’s fiction. After that, there’s a Young Adult novel tied to the characters in one of my short stories published with Catholic Teen Books that I’m aching to write.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Favorite books?

I like to read a variety of genres, including classics, Young Adult, and historical fiction, but I always come back to Catholic and Christian contemporary novels, particularly romances that have some depth. Here are a few of my favorite books by author friends:

Besides reading and writing, do you have any other hobbies?

I’d love to return to some old hobbies, like playing the piano and doing calligraphy, but right now I lack the time – and a piano. I’d also like to have my daughter teach me how to crochet. Maybe someday!

What is your author dream?

I’ve really tried to temper some delusions I had about success early on. I’d just like my books to find themselves in the hands of those for whom God intended them. I’d also love to have more Catholics become aware of and take an interest in fiction being written by contemporary Catholic authors.

What do you want readers to know about you?

If they know anything about me, I’d like them to think of me as a proponent of Catholic authors, someone who is doing her little part to share the good work that others are doing and is trying to share hope and faith through her own stories.

Learn more about Carolyn Astfalk at her website, www.carolynastfalk.com, buy her books from her Amazon author page, and find her in the following places:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarolynMAstfalk

Twitter: @cmastfalk

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/castfalk/

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/c/CarolynAstfalk

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolynastfalk

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3428010-carolyn

Instagram: https://instagram.com/cmastfalk/

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/carolyn-astfalk

 

Would you like to be featured, too? Please contact me at kristin@theedifyingword.com!

Who am I?

Isn’t that the eternal question? Who am I? What makes me ME? Is it my history? My ancestry? The sum of my actions? My thoughts? Fears? Aspirations? I think this is a fundamental human question, something people the world over ask themselves, regardless of their life circumstances.

For me, it’s less a question of who I am than of where I belong. Thanks be to God, I know where that is: right where I am. If there’s one thing this pandemic has made abundantly clear, it’s that I am one blessed woman. My husband and my children are MY LIFE. Last year, we packed up and moved across the country. I was scared, but I knew that as long as the six of us were doing this together, I’d be fine. I can adjust to a new location, make new friends. But the core of my life is here with me. Even more so, now that we’re staying-at-home-all-together-all-the-time. Is it easy? No. Do we get on each other’s nerves sometimes? Yes. But do I doubt that we will come through it together? Not at all. My husband, my children, and the Grace of God will carry me; we will carry each other.

I haven’t always felt this at home. I had a profound identity crisis after becoming a mother – who was I if I wasn’t the smart woman who walked into work every day and did “important” stuff? If I couldn’t engage in my regular hobbies with my husband anymore (um, no rock climbing or backpacking with a newborn baby)? If I wasn’t the perfect student and had to give up grad school? I wrestled. For years. I suffered from PPD – multiple times. I reached incredible low points that I don’t wish on anyone. But I found me, I found home.

Perhaps it’s because I endured that journey that I am so interested in others’ stories as they search for what makes them them. I’ve had a chance to read a lot of books over the past bunch of days (self-isolating from your family does that, dratted pandemic), and there’s been a common theme across many of them: search for self.

A Drop of Midnight: A Memoir by [Diakité, Jason]Jason “Timbuktu” Diakite, a biracial Swedish rapper born of American parents, recounts his search for his identity in his memoir, A Drop of Midnight. I picked it up for free as part of Amazon Prime’s “First Reads” in February. I’d never heard of him before, I don’t like rap music, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to experience a racial identity crisis. I’m a white girl from NJ. Very simple. So in many ways this was not a typical read for me, but I found it fascinating – which was certainly helped by the incredibly beautiful writing (hats off to the author and the translator!). It was moving, and while I can’t identify with his particular experiences, I can identify with Jason’s search for himself. I rooted for him as I read, praying he’d find that comfort in his own skin, that home he was clearly searching for. (I also learned a whole lot along the way, which is always nice.)

The War I Finally Won by [Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker]Ada Smith is a fictional 11-year-old girl with a club foot in WWII England. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War I Finally Won, a sequel to the Newberry Honor recipient The War That Saved My Life, takes us along on Ada’s journey as she finds her place in the world, a world that is constantly changing around her and full of heartache. She perseveres. She finds people who love her, she learns to love, and in doing so she finds home. It’s beautiful.

Austenland: A Novel by [Hale, Shannon]

On a more lighthearted note, Shannon Hale’s Jane “Erstwhile” Hayes (Austenland) takes a vacation to nineteenth century England to figure out who she is. It’s easy to call it a romance and move on, but it’s really one woman’s effort to figure out and accept herself so that she is capable of loving and being loved in return.

 

Rightfully Ours by [Astfalk, Carolyn]Finally, I just finished Carolyn Astfalk’s Rightfully Ours, a young adult, Catholic love story. It is beautiful in so many ways. In it we see Paul struggle through the hard work of adolescence, with the added burden of great personal loss. He grows from rotely following along with his childhood faith to true personal conviction. He finds who he wants to be, the courage to try to live his ideals, and the family to support him in that effort. For many, many reasons, this is a book I hope my children will read when they are old enough.

So, there you have four very different books that all speak beautifully to the human question who am I? There’s a fifth, too, but it’s an ARC and I can’t share it yet — wait ’til May/June. Who knows? We might even be able to go out in public by then….

Thank you for reading along with my musings. I am grateful that, for now, I have that question answered. I have no doubt that I will face many more trials and life changes that will challenge this notion – but right now, it is such a pleasure to read these stories, and learn from them, but not to feel that yearning, that seeking.

I am home, and it is beautiful.

Book Reviews: The Hardest Ride and Marta’s Ride by Gordon L. Rottman

The Hardest RideThe Texas-Mexico border, the winter of 1886—The Great Die Up. A raw rift separates Mexicans and Anglos. A loner cowpoke and a mute Mexican girl fight man and nature to reunite.

Out of work cowpoke Bud Eugen comes across Marta, a mute sixteen-year old Mexican girl whose family has been killed by Indians. Bud reluctantly takes her along, even though he’s never had to accommodate another person in his simple life. He’s unable to find anyone willing to take her. In spite of his prejudices, Bud grows to like the spunky girl (and her excellent cooking).

Eventually, they both find work on a border ranch. Here, the relationship between the girl and the young cowboy hesitantly grows. But banditos raid the ranch, kidnapping the rancher’s daughters and Marta. Bud, with twelve other men, pursue the banditos into the most desolate reaches of Mexico. Ambushes and battles with banditos, Rurales, and traitors are constant, and the brutal weather is as much a threat as the man-made perils. Life and death choices are made at every turn as one side gains the advantage, then the other.

The rancher’s daughters are rescued, and the exhausted party turns back. But Bud presses on alone, against insurmountable odds – determined to fulfill an unspoken promise to Marta. (Taken from Goodreads).

 

36483545Author Gordon L. Rottman has finally given fans of The Hardest Ride and Ride Harder their beloved heroine Marta’s own tale, and in a way, her own voice.

The brutal 1886 winter on the Texas-Mexico border is a terrible time for a mute sixteen-year-old Mexican girl and her familia, who roam the trails and towns of the frontier, searching for work and struggling to survive. When her parents and siblings are murdered before her eyes, Marta is faced with a stark reality. Completely alone in the harsh Texas backlands, she realizes her own time in this world will be short, lonely, and possibly end in blood.

Marta has not lived and thrived in her hardscrabble life thus far to give up without a fight. And the arrival of an out of work cowboy from whom she grudgingly accepts help and protection gives her a sliver of hope. Besides she reasons, Güero—Blondie—as she’s named him, would be lost without her care, guidance, and decent meals. Despite the chasm between Mexicans and Anglos in this harsh age, the loner cowpoke and mute Mexican girl tentatively build a fragile trust.

Finding work on a welcoming ranch, the couple bonds, and their future appears brighter. But a raid by vicious bandits takes Marta, another Mexican girl, and the rancher’s two daughters on a journey into hell. Marta tells us a harrowing tale of terror and anguish as the women struggle to stay alive and hang on to their sanity. Her faith in Güero coming to their rescue rises and diminishes day-to-day as their circumstances change. In the end, there is a great deal more to Marta than we ever realized. (Taken from Goodreads).

Let me start by saying that these books are not in the genres I usually pick up, but since I’m a compulsive hoarder of free e-books advertised on Twitter I had the occasion to ”buy” The Hardest Ride for free (thank you, Mr. Rottman). I devoured it! This was another one of those books where my husband would walk in the room and comment that I must be reading another good book, because I was lost in my Kindle every spare moment (there aren’t many) and staying up way too late to read. As soon as I was done I used an Amazon gift card to purchase Marta’s Ride for myself, which speaks volumes about how much I enjoyed the first book.

The story is not an easy one to read — Bud and Marta do not lead easy lives, nor did most people around them, it seems. There’s plenty of violence, and we’re not spared many details. In many ways, Marta’s Ride is the worse of the two as far as violence/difficult reading goes because we hear exactly what Marta and the other girls experience rather than surmising based on the men’s assumptions. Not being familiar with the genre or the history of the US-Mexican border I can’t speak to how realistic a story these books paint in terms of historical accuracy, but they certainly speak authentically to human emotion. It’s that aspect which pulled me in.

In the Hardest Ride we see Bud, abused and unloved as a child, alone and broke as an adult, begin to recognize within himself the capacity to love another person and to be loved in return. It’s unconventional, for sure–a white cowboy and a mute Mexican girl–but the emotions portrayed are raw and real. In Marta’s Ride, we learn Marta’s inner thoughts and feelings, which we can only see in The Hardest Ride through Bud’s interpretation of her facial expressions, gestures, and body language.

It won’t surprise my regular readers to hear that I also found Rottman’s portrayal of Marta’s Catholic faith in both books very intriguing. I couldn’t help but wonder at Marta’s seemingly vast knowledge of the faith, given her nomadic upbringing and lack of education, and at times I wondered how realistic that would have been for someone in her situation. That said, the way that knowledge and faith guide her life are impressive, and I appreciate Rottman’s positive portrayal of the Catholic Church.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of these books from the perspective of critiquing the writing is just how well the books fit together. I read them back-to-back and never actually read the second book of the series, so the details of the first were very fresh in my mind. I am stunned by how well Rottman portrays the exact same events from two vastly different perspectives. I even dare to say he created in Marta’s Ride a flawless retelling of The Hardest Ride — I didn’t notice any inconsistencies in the two, which is quite the feat.

At the end of Marta’s Ride there’s a sneak peak at another book in the series that follows Marta and Bud’s daughter, and I hate to say that it makes me hesitant to read other books in the series. This is not to say they won’t be quality books, because having read these two I am sure they will be; it’s more that I anticipate them changing the image I have of Marta and Bud a bit, and I don’t want that to happen. They are by no means innocent after all they suffer, but I find I don’t want to (or maybe I’m just not ready to) read about them experiencing further hardships and how that impacts them as people. I like Marta and Bud how they are at the end of The Hardest Ride/Marta’s Ride and I sort of just want to enjoy knowing them like that.

I give both books 4 stars, and highly recommend them!