Indie Author Triumph for Rising Star Jacqui Castle

This year’s winner talks about creating community and The Seclusion.

This year’s winner talks about creating community and The Seclusion

The Indie Author Project partners with curators and libraries across the U.S. and Canada to find the best indie-published books each year. The 2020 Indie Author of the Year, Jacqui Castle, won the top prize with her dystopian science fiction masterpiece, The Seclusion. Influenced by The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, Castle gives readers a chilling look at a totalitarian America in the year 2090. Protagonist Patricia Collins discovers disturbing historical facts, decades after America seals her borders.

Castle spoke with Library Journal from Asheville, North Carolina, where she works as a journalist and content writer. Jacqui also records a podcast for Writing Bloc, an indie author collective whose motto is “Writing is Solitary. Being a writer shouldn’t have to be.” During the pandemic, maintaining support networks has been essential: “It’s hard for writers to cultivate community. Organizing events and connecting with other people through Writing Bloc was cathartic.”

The Indie Author Project helped Castle expand her professional network and platform. Castle praised the project organizers and Library Journal’s Day of Dialog: “They made sure the authors felt appreciated. It was a really nice validation for authors who spend most of their time on their own. I feel like I have more people in my corner. Winning this prize changes the game when I’m pitching my next book.” The highly-anticipated sequel to The Seclusion arrives next summer and has already caught the eye of global streaming services.

Castle completed her first draft of The Seclusion during the 2016 Presidential primary season. The book imagines life after the “Northern Security Barrier” finally seals-off America in 2030. After that, Pre-Seclusion history is erased and replaced with a new version of events: “‘We are all American now’ was the answer we’d heard time and again from our parents, from newscasters, and from teachers whenever we asked about our ancestry. We were not supposed to talk about life before the Seclusion. Or about anything outside the Walls.”

Young Patricia Collins, a natural resources specialist, uncovers a different story when she finds a suitcase full of books abandoned in the Arizona desert. She sees mysterious names like Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and Hermann Hesse. Most importantly, she discovers the revolutionary spirit of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. These books change Patricia forever and propel her on a cross-country road trip in search of answers.

Castle boldly shares her liberal views with her 24,000-plus followers on Twitter. “People who love story tend to be liberal. Reading and writing stories is a great way to cultivate empathy.” Castle wrote The Seclusion as an inspirational call-to-action for readers in fear of governmental overreach. “I like taking our fears and pushing them to the end of the line,” Castle said. “What happens when we lose freedom of the press. Where can that lead? How would information spread? What if we lost all free direct communication?” Castle shared that it was therapeutic to vent her political feelings through her award-winning novel: “Somethings are easier to express with fiction.”

Castle works with her crowdfunded publisher, Inkshares, which posted chapters of The Seclusion as she wrote them. “It’s like Kickstarter meets indie publishing,” Castle explained. Before the book was finished, Castle had sold 750 copies. The strong, positive audience reaction motivated Castle and reassured her that she was onto something great. One reviewer proclaimed, “The Seclusion is scarily wonderful. I couldn't put this book down and ended up finishing it all in one day.”

“I miss talking to live groups and doing readings,” Castle said about quarantine. “It’s harder to read people’s reactions during a virtual event. It feels like I’m talking to myself.” Jacqui spoke about discovering narrative as a young person in the theater: “I always loved story. I reenacted stories in front of my family then acted in high school and college. I love making a story come to life in any form. I like challenging myself.” Someday, Castle hopes to work in a television writer’s room to collaborate directly with a community of writers.

“My whole life, I’d only seen pictures of books like this on vintage newsreels,” Castle’s protagonist says, amazed to see ink-and-paper books. Castle expressed her gratitude for the Indie Author Project, especially the national network of librarians who make it possible. “It’s a great pathway to schools,” Castle said, hoping her book will reach young readers. “Librarians help tear down dividers between traditionally-published titles and authors like me. It’s all about reach.”

Interested in learning more about the Indie Author Project and finding local indie authors in your community? indieauthorproject.com.

 

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