After The Engine Woman’s Light, an award-winning young adult novel, Laurel Anne Hill is back with her new book. “A Plague of Flies: Revolt of the Spirits, 1846” is a YA historical fantasy that will take you back to the Mexican Alta California in 1846. We’re already in awe of the lead protagonist, Catalina–a daring, courageous, and caring young woman. But there is more to her story than what meets the eye. Here’s what Laurel has to say about her book.
Hi Laurel, what new adventure are you going to take us readers on this time? We can’t wait to hear all about it.
Climb aboard my spirit horse: A black Andalusian stallion who can fly without wings through the sky. We’re headed for the western section of Mexican Alta California in 1846. Way back then, Mexican Alta California included all of the current U.S. states of California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. The United States wanted that vast expanse of undeveloped real estate. Mexico, no longer part of Spain, lacked the resources and governmental structure to hang on to their prize. Essentially, the U.S.A. declared war with Mexico and stole the lands Uncle Sam coveted.
Could you tell us about your new YA historical fantasy, “A Plague of Flies: Revolt of the Spirits, 1846,” please?
In 1846 Alta California, Catalina Delgado daydreams about her future: roping cattle, marrying Angelo Ortega, and raising children. But now, invaders from the United States—the Bear Flaggers—have declared war against Mexico, her country. Bear Flaggers have imprisoned one close friend of her family and murdered others. What fate might befall her parents, grandfather, and younger brothers? And what about her best friend, a Costanoan servant girl? How can Catalina, only sixteen, help protect all those she loves?
The spirits provide Catalina with answers, but not the ones she wants. Plus, she fears the strange spirit man who rides a black Andalusian stallion through the sky. For the sake of all she holds dear, Catalina must risk her reputation as a chaste young woman, her future with Angelo, her life, and her very soul. When hopes and dreams clash with cold reality, Catalina finds the fortitude to accomplish what only she can do.
When did you decide to write “A Plague of Flies,” and how was your research process?
I made that decision in 2005, as I attempted to discover my Mexican roots. My father was half Mexican. I knew that his family had lost the title to their California landholdings in the Nineteenth Century. I incorrectly surmised they had been among the rancheros caught up in the aftermath of the Bear Flag Rebellion. Later, papers in The California Historical Society suggested immigration and the loss had occurred years after 1850 and may have involved powerful railroad companies grabbing land any way they could. But my novel’s protagonist had, by then, migrated into my head and insisted I tell the tale of Catalina Delgado.
I’m thankful for the assistance I found from The California Historical Society, other such establishments, and public libraries (especially those in Sacramento, CA). The amazing collection of books published by Heyday Press in California helped me incorporate yesteryear’s world into my brain and manuscript.
My research also branched into a variety of other directions. For example, did the actual phases of the moon coordinate with those in my story? And what was the real history of the Spanish hero, El Cid?”
What’s the first thing you want the readers to see about Catalina? Why is she special?
Catalina is a young mestiza who wishes to honor members of her family (even when she doesn’t agree with them) and her Catholic faith. Yet, she finds herself questioning aspects of both her faith and her family. At age sixteen, she also has ideas of her own about her personal future. She not only wants to marry Angelo Ortega, whose wealthy father disapproves of her, she is not afraid to ride astride (instead of sidesaddle) and can rope longhorns almost as well as her father’s vaqueros do. Equally important, she receives instructions from places more powerful than her own thoughts, such as from the spirit of the old vaquero who (in life) used to watch out for her safety.
Will we see more female characters portraying more vital and memorable parts in your story?
Catalina Delgado, of course. But her dear friend, Josefa, is a strong supporting character and memorable, as well. The woman Catalina knows as Mamá, also a supporting character, imparts wisdom as she speaks. Even Angelo’s sister, who refuses to improve her reading and writing skills for fear of discouraging suitors, is wise in her own ways.
Do we meet all characters right at the start, or do you have some surprises for us along the way? Which one of them has the most mysterious back story?
The reader meets most of the characters, either in person or through the point-of-view narrators, in the first fifty pages. Spirit man has the most mysterious back story. With such a name, how could circumstances be otherwise?
Without giving much away, could you share a scene from the book that made you go, “Ah, this is perfect!”
Yes! In that scene, Catalina and Angelo lead the Mexican troops into battle.
In our opinion, everyone’s going to enjoy reading your book, but who do you think would love reading it the most?
Likely young-adult women, ages twelve to twenty.
Why is “A Plague of Flies: Revolt of the Spirits, 1846” so special to you?
My beloved husband, David (now a spirit), accompanied me on many research trips to gather historical facts about life in early California under Spanish and/or Mexican rule. And the material in my Mexican great-grandmother’s scrapbook and journal helped me discover much about Catalina’s desires and inner strengths. David’s death in 2017, however, handed me the key I needed to draft the final one-third of Catalina’s tale. And that’s all I’m going to reveal on the subject for now.
When can we expect to hear about the release date of the book?
E-book release on Amazon: September 1, 2021
Trade paper book release: Released by Lightning Source on September 1, 2021.