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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flower from Castile Trilogy Author, Lillian Gafni, Stops by for a Chat!

Lillian, you have an interesting background, would you share that with the readers?

I was born in Cairo, Egypt and schooled in a non-denominational, French Catholic School of St. Vincent de Paul. The school accepted Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish girls. I loved the nuns, and they were good to me. In Egypt all spoke Arabic besides the international languages found there.

My father came from a Greek background so he spoke Greek in addition to Italian. He spoke seven languages. I never picked up the Greek language, because my paternal grandmother died young. We spoke French at home, but when my maternal grandmother visited we spoke to her in Ladino, a mixture of Castilian Spanish and Hebrew words. The word Spain in Hebrew is Sepharad, and my family is of Sephardic background.

My ancestors were exiled from Spain in 1492, but Ladino was kept as a spoken language throughout the centuries. When the state of Israel was born in 1948 we became the target of mobs in Egypt. My parents then immigrated to Israel where I had to learn Hebrew. Later on I served two years in the Israel Defense Forces and transferred to the Negev Desert where I met my American-born husband Joel. Afterwards we came to California to raise our two children. Since I spoke Romance languages the transition to English was easy. I was able to finish high school, then college, university and graduate work.

Tell us about the genre of your work.

I write both fiction and non-fiction, although, I did discovered later on that fiction is where I want to be.

Why did you choose this genre?

I feel comfortable in fiction, which helps me create without bounds. I still adhere to portray accurate historical events within the parameters of creative fiction. In fiction I find that characters speak to me as live persons. They take a life of their own and dictate which way they will evolve. I believe that we draw these characteristics from real live characters from the past. These can be an amalgamation of several characters into one.

What are some of your books, stories that have been published?

In addition to my three books, Living a Blissful Marriage, Hello Exile and Flower from Castile Trilogy, I also published a short story called Rusty in the anthology L.A. My Way. Rusty is the story of a vagabond using many stratagems to trick his unsuspecting victims to help him survive. I had fun writing it and it falls into a satirical category. ISBN: 0-9627735-0-6

Can you tell us more about your books?

My first book “Living a Blissful Marriage” is non-fiction where I tapped into my education in clinical psychology. Afterwards I did the lecture circuit for a number of years teaching couples marriage education. In addition to the sales market in the US, I was very lucky to have landed a foreign publisher in India to carry my title. Living a Blissful Marriage teaches couples to understand each other through empathic communication while mirroring their partners’ pleas and requests to be heard. Through a series of exercises they learn to rediscover their deeply buried love for each other and bring it back to the surface. The book also has a chart they can use to keep goals in their marriage to keep building a life together.
Living a Blissful Marriage: 24 Steps to Happiness is on and all other booksellers. ISBN-978-0970273505
For my second book I switched to fiction where I wanted to explore. My second book Hello Exile is historical fiction based on a true-life story. In the 70s I worked in the US for the commission on Soviet Jewry, where our efforts centered on helping Soviet Jews leave an oppressive regime in the Soviet Union. I corresponded with prisoners of conscience in exile, and with Ida Nudel, the main character in my book on which this book is based. At the time, I used the fictitious name of Klara Abramovna Abramovitch for my main character to disguise her real identity and not endanger her life. I then classified Hello Exile as historical fiction even though it was biographical. I wrote Hello Exile back in 1987 then put it away in a drawer, not knowing what to do with it. I published it in 2004, which makes my first written book to become my second book to be published. I guess it’s never too late to reactivate a dormant book. Hello Exile is the story of human strength in the face of everything meant to destroy it.
Hello Exile, ISBN: 978-1413724844 can be found on, B&, Powell’s books, Abebooks and others booksellers.

In my newest book, Flower from Castile Trilogy I used my Sephardic background for insight into the exodus of Jews from Spain in 1492.  My main character is the sixteen-year-old Catholic girl, Isabella Obrigon, who discovers a secret to her birth. She becomes caught between two faiths and two people. She must decide on whether to stay in Spain or join her brethren in exile. When her path crosses with Miguel Costa, an eighteen-year-old Converso (a convert to Catholicism) her fate becomes sealed with his.

Flower from Castile Trilogy is a story about redemption, love and forgiveness. Two unlikely individuals who hate each other fall in love despite harrowing events pulling them apart. This period in history can be learned through the lenses of real characters that lived at one time in an uncertain world. I also tried to recreate in Flower from Castile a lost world where a peaceful way of life ended and religion ruled with an iron fist.  The book is geared to adult fiction, but can also be a YA book.

Flower from Castile Trilogy Book One: The Alhambra Decree, ISBN: 978-1463744588 as well as the other books can also all be found on my website and online bookstores. Both Flower from Castile and Hello Exile are paperback as well as eBooks. Excerpts can be read on ‘Look Inside the Book’ on, and on my Facebook Page,
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

The places I selected for the narrative in Spain had to be the seat of power in Seville for the monarchs and the place from which a whole exodus of exiled Jews will sail from its largest port. The character’s names were easy to cull from history, but the main character’s name had to be the same as Queen Isabella. Isabella Obrigon shared the same name as the Queen as her Godmother, and shuu . . . there’s a spoiler here, and the answer is in the book.

How did you develop the character of your protagonist in your book?

My protagonist is a young, privileged noblewoman who is confronted with the secret to her birth and the decision as to whether to remain a Catholic or to follow her brethren of a different faith. I chose Isabella to be a young adult who hadn’t been exposed to prejudice and hate, but could see from both point of views, one being exclusively Catholic and the other selectively Jewish. Through her untainted eyes she leads us to question why do some individuals, or nations, inflict pain and suffering on others.

What about the antagonist . . . is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?

Unfortunately, there’s always been a recurring nemesis throughout history. There’s always been a “bad guy” to oppose. The antagonist in this narrative is Father Thomas de Torquemada who makes the strong wince. Everything he touches is marked by torture and death. What I wanted to portray is an antagonist carrying within him ignorance and prejudice under the guise of faith. Faith alone does not discriminate and pass sentencing. It is in the hands of the few that hate resides.

What is your favorite thing about your book?

My favorite thing about writing historical fiction in particular is opening a door into the past to see how people lived. How they survived danger? What made them choose one decision over another? How they sacrificed their lives to save others? And how the human spirit wins in the end over tyranny and oppression?

How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?

I believe writing historical fiction gives you the freedom to create, expand and design a story according to your own beliefs. You find a voice for the beleaguered character and speak for them. In historical fiction you can change a world about to destroy itself, and superimpose a world the way you see it fit. 

Why and when did you begin writing?

As far as I remember I wanted to write. As a child, I read copious number of books. My quota for books was then curtailed from the school library because my school studies fell behind. Perhaps, as a child I made a conscious decision that if I can’t have more books I’ll have to write them myself. With the years writing fell to the side as life happened. I began writing in earnest when I became acquainted with the plight of Soviet Jews in the 70s. I wanted to help beyond the capacity of commiserating with their plight. I wanted to help with action and words. I found this vehicle in sitting down and putting my thoughts on paper.

What is your writing schedule?

I try to write each day for several hours then after a break read what I wrote and edit what I don’t like.

What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?

I have a big agenda. I’m completing the second book of Flower from Castile Trilogy and hopefully the third by the end of 2013. Afterwards, I would like very much to dabble in mystery dramas in the genres of Daphne du Maurier.

What kind of advice or tips do you have for someone who wants to write and get published?

The best advice I can give is to spread Crazy Glue on the chair then sit down. Kidding aside, discipline is the most important ingredient in writing every day, following a plan to write a chapter or two per week, and a book in a year. Apparently, I tried hard to follow this routine at the beginning of my writing career, and had to fight for every inch of it. I once hung a banner for my kids from my office door that read: “Disturb only in case of fire.” In the past I also tried to find a balance between writing and spending time with my family. Now my children are grown and I can be a full-time writer.

Are there other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?

There’s always a beginning, a middle and end to everything. I was a beginning writer and wrote by fits and spurts. Another way to motivate us to write is to be inspired by using a banner, a photo or a motto of a famous or prolific writer on the wall above your computer that quotes in his or her own words why they write. Mine is framed on the wall above my computer and it says:

“Writers help summon people to a vision of human betterment. It is not unnatural for writers to be concerned about the human estate or to deal with those universals of human experience. Their primary goal is to their consciences. They create an awareness no just to things as they are, but as they ought to be.” -- Norman Cousins.

Another belief beginning writers should follow is to believe in their power to create and be published, that their voices have weight and should be heard. I equate the struggles to write and being published as being armored with a pen, a saber or lance and fighting for our own personal time to write. Be a soldier for your own cause.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I enjoy spending time with my husband and family, reading, watching classic films, walking and admiring the numerous mountains in my hometown.

What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?

The most significant moment in my writing career came when I held the first book in my hands. To feel that it was real. Then it was the second and now the third. You never stop enjoying the results of your hard work, glued to your chair and shutting the world around you while opening another on your page. Author Page:

Facebook Books:


Note from Sylvia: You can visit my other blog at: features a preview to my new book released in 2012, Traveling a Rocky Road with Love, Faith and Guts.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sylvia,

Thank you very much for hosting me on your Thoughtful Reflections Blogspot.

I appreciate the time you took for this interview, and for your kindness to help authors promote their books.

Lilian Gafni

Thoughtful Reflections said...


It was a pleasure. I enjoyed every minute. Best wishes on your books, may they become best sellers!