by Kathleen Costa
This week we are reviewing The Storyteller’s Death: A Novel by Ann Dávila Cardinal and we have an interesting interview with Ann. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
The Storyteller’s Death A Novel by Ann Dávila Cardinal
Review by Kathleen Costa
Isla Larsen Sanchez was eight years old, in 1970, when her mother Elena took her to stay with her maternal relatives in Puerto Rico. It was the first time she would be left alone for an entire summer even though she begged to stay in New Jersey to help take care of her ailing father. She cried in the arms of her Tia Alma, her grandmother’s sister, asking her to tell her a story to help alleviate her sadness, but she’s met with “…I don’t tell stories. Abeula tells stories.” Her abuela, she knew, could mesmerize everyone with “I remember a time…” stories, but she was also antagonistic, critical, and judgmental, especially with Isla’s mother.
Although Alma and Isla were inseparable that first summer shopping in the village, gardening, and having lunch, Isla made friends with José, the son of one of the local laborers. Everyday José would come with his father to play and pretend to be detectives, almost making her forget the drama back home. However, Alma abruptly put an end to it when she saw Isla offer José an innocent kiss. That side of Alma was frightening, but worse was never seeing her young friend again. Then the worst happened. The death of Isla’s father sent her mother to find refuge in a rum bottle, Isla to public school, and more summers in Puerto Rico.
The Storyteller’s Death Earns 5/5 Storyteller Visions…Compelling & Clever!
When Isla turned eighteen, her life took on more complications with her grandmother’s death. Both she and her mother were in attendance, her mother a little worse for wear. After the funeral, the family sat around sharing stories, but Isla was grateful to find a way to excuse herself from the gathering. While she was involved in her own thoughts, she heard a sound on the roof. She went to investigate and was shocked to see one of her grandmother’s stories playing out in the night’s shadows. But, unlike the tale she’d heard many times, there’s a gunshot, a gunshot her Tia Alma mentioned when delirious in the hospital years before. When she tells Alma about her vision, Alma is adamant, frightening and threatening Isla, to keep what she saw to herself. But, how can she when the visions keep repeating themselves?
All Kinds of Bueno! I went beyond my typical cozy genre with Ann Dávila Cardinal’s first adult book, The Storyteller’s Death, and don’t regret a thing. Her extraordinary drama was clever, complex, and compelling as it followed young Isla at eight years old, then eleven, fourteen, and eighteen as she interacts with her Puerto Rican family and explores the mystery behind the visions, the conflicts, and the dangers posed by the reoccurring images left for Isla to experience, understand, and record. These incidents from the lives of her recently departed relatives, storytellers, provided Isla with shocking insights into her Sanchez family which has spurred her to want answers, especially about the death of her great-grandfather and how it relates to her grandmother, her Tia Alma, her mother, and herself. Reuniting with her childhood friend, and approaching the local spiritualist provides Isla with a few weapons to solve why, how, and for what purpose her visions have invaded her sleepless nights. Couldn’t put it down brilliant!
Ann Dávila Cardinal‘s writing is witty, easy to read, and rich with culture, island insights, historical references, and native language easily translated. I was completely engaged with Isla’s journey, surprising details challenging my efforts to figure out the connections, the bruised family dynamics, and her navigating various relationships. Her writing style was filled with descriptions and dialog illustrating well the rural and urban settings, the flora and fauna, multi-generational characters, and varied personalities. The story is written much like a flashback with Isla, in her “twilight” years, looking back on all that has enriched and complicated her life, and often, after an incident or an interaction, a comment is made giving readers a warning or a glimpse of what is to come. I relished every chapter with its insightful titles and found relief and satisfaction when truth was revealed, positive paths forward were taken, and a glimpse that Isla had found where best she belonged. Candidate for a Top Surprise for 2022!
Calling All Book Clubs! Don’t miss the Reading Group Guide included to help facilitate group discussion or personal follow up on a variety of topics: the dynamics and impact of family secrets, various character analysis of personality and motivation, the power of stories and the storytellers, cultural insights, and thoughts on Isla’s and the Sanchez family’s future. It’s a nice way to share the story and to become your own storyteller.
Be a Big Fan of Ann Dávila Cardinal!
A Conversation with the Author is included in the book and answers questions on her inspiration for The Storyteller’s Death, personal experiences spending summers in Puerto Rico, insights into her own storyteller influences, thoughts on Puerto Rico past, present, and future, contrasts between privilege and circumstances, comparing and contrasting the generations, views on love and curiosity, and her personal connection to literature. Fascinating read!
Facebook: Ann Dávila Cardinal
Website: Ann Davila Cardinal
Interview with Ann Dávila Cardinal:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Ann: About twenty years. I’ve always been an avid reader, reading under the covers with a flashlight when I was little, but I didn’t think writing was something I could even do. Now I understand my life as a book geek could only lead to this work. I’m honored to get paid for something I love doing.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called and would you tell us a little about it?
Ann: My first solo novel was Five Midnights, a young adult horror book about El Cuco, the Latine boogieman. I was always fascinated with how parents threatened their children with being eaten by this monster if they didn’t behave. How messed up is that? But when I discovered he exists in pretty much every Hispanic culture, I was hooked. In that novel, I have a group of mothers threatening their kids that if they didn’t behave, El Cuco was going to get them, so I wondered: What if he actually came?
Ann: You know, I never planned on that. I’m an accidental mystery writer. I was always drawn to horror, mainly because during my difficult childhood it made me feel better. It was like, my father’s dying and my mother’s an alcoholic, but at least there aren’t zombies chasing me! However, at the heart of horror is mystery, and the other genre that always spoke to me was magical realism, which is filled with culture, mystery, and suspense.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book?
Ann: Just like the main character of The Storyteller’s Death, my mother used to send me down to spend each summer with her family in Puerto Rico. At the time it felt like a punishment, but in retrospect it saved my life. So, Isla’s story in some ways mirrors my own. So, mostly it is in the town of Bayamón, Puerto Rico, and I tried to capture the lush glory of that time and place. I’m in love with the island, it has half of my heart. Though Isla is different in some ways, in others she is a way to honor that girl I was whose life was hard. And I have her José as a love interest, the boyfriend I used to wish I had when I was a teen.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Ann: I write for the same reasons I read: in the hopes of connecting with the hearts of people, in having conversations with humanity. I never saw myself in books as a child, so I write hoping people will relate to my characters or their stories in some way. I want to move people more than entertain them. I love books that move me.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Ann: I have worked full time the whole time I’ve been writing, so I learned long ago about the “myth of sacred writing time.” There’s no such thing. I wrote after putting my son to bed and waiting for planes. I wrote Five Midnights during lunch hours at work. I am moving towards reducing my jobs at the college in 2023 so I can have more time to write, but by the time that happens I will have written seven books in the crevices of my life.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Ann: Lately I’m finding I actually like mornings best, and I’ve accepted that unless I’m up against a tight deadline, I write in two-hour sprints. I need to move, so I like walking or riding my bike after, and I work out issues from the writing session in my head.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Ann: So, I was what you call a pantser, I wrote by the seat of my pants, but I realized it was because I was afraid of plotting, and I would write myself into corners. A dear friend and mentor, Cory McCarthy, taught me a method based on movies that they developed. It took him a year or two to get through to me, but now I have no idea how I wrote without plotting. He plots before, in the middle, and after drafting a novel. It is really helpful as things change.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Ann: I think 99.9% of authors would say yes to this, and I’m no exception. I worked on The Storyteller’s Death for seventeen years and published three books before this one sold, but it was meant to be. It evolved over those years, and it took my current editor, Christa Desir at Sourcebooks, to get me to really dig down for some additional chapters that I really wasn’t ready to go there for until I had her support. For any aspiring writers out there, the only way you can fail as a writer is to stop writing. Keep. Going.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Ann: I started writing The Storyteller’s Death in my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I hit a point at the end of my second semester where I was ready to give up on it. It just wasn’t working. At the start of my third semester, my advisor, Ellen Lesser, pointed out that the middle section of that draft was a different book, the teenage story of my punk rock years. I heard the feedback, reflected, and realized she was totally right. I pulled it out and the novel took off. I wrote a new middle and finished it in six months. It was revelatory.
KRL: Do you have a most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Ann: Oh, at BookCon in 2019 in New York City, a group of young Puerto Rican readers came up to me and talked about how much it meant to them to read a book and see the island represented, a whole book that took place there. It meant so much to me! I have a picture of us together and it’s still up on my author Facebook page. It warmed my heart so much.
KRL: That’s great! What are your future writing goals?
Ann: To try new forms and new genres and keep growing as a writer. I wrote a scripted podcast series and found telling a story only through sound so exciting. I’m doing a lot of screenplay work of late, and I’m hoping to do even more of it in the future. Oh, and to win a Bram Stoker award. It’s a great organization and the coolest statuette in the history of awards (google it…I NEED one!:) But mainly to keep doing this for as long as they let me.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Ann: Number one, Julia Alvarez. Her books are gorgeous, and she is a spectacularly warm and lovely human. Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits made me fall in love with Magical Realism. And I’m a total Tolkien nerd, I have two LOTR tattoos. And Cervantes (I also have a Don Quixote tattoo), he speaks to my Spanish roots and my knight errant heart.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Ann: I only do research when I’m writing in a new area (I just finished a middle-grade horror novel and read nothing but middle-grade books for months), or, in the case of my next book with Sourcebooks which has a storyline about Saint Teresa of Avila, I’ve been reading her books and about her life. And I’m so excited to say I’m going to Avila in November for three weeks so I can walk the same streets she walked centuries ago.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Ann: Horror, but you probably guessed that by now. I alternate young adult and adult literary fiction, and I try to read books by authors I know. I think as writers we should always raise up other writers. It’s hard enough to put your heart and soul on a page and hand it to strangers, we need each other’s support.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Ann: Lucifer and Schitt’s Creek got me through the pandemic – they are pure joy! Our Flag Means Death? LOVE. And I’m a huge Star Trek fan, have been my whole life. The newer shows have really brought the franchise up and keep it current. And I adore Reservation Dogs. ADORE.
KRL: Yay a fellow Trekkie! Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Ann: Yes, keep going. It is a hard career with a lot of rejection no matter who you are, but listen to feedback from people you trust and build a community of writers to support each other. It’s a solitary craft and we need each other.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Ann: I worked as a publicist for the New York City Ballet for five years in my twenties and it was the best job I’d ever had. To be backstage in the finest company in the world was a privilege.
KRL: How interesting! Do you have any pets?
Ann: No, and that makes me so sad. My biggest regret in life is being allergic, especially to dogs as I prefer their company over people. I believe they are more noble creatures than we are, and they bring me tremendous joy. They know it too; they greet me like a friend and it means so much to me.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Ann: I cannot wait for The Storyteller’s Death to be out in the world. It is like a child I’ve been gestating for seventeen years, and I want you all to meet it!
To enter to win a copy of The Storyteller’s Death, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “storyteller’s,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 22, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win–we will delete it after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week.
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The Storyteller’s Death A Novel by Ann Dávila Cardinal sounds like an intricate tale that would be an engaging read.
Sounds like an interesting book. Adding to my TBR list.
Sounds interesting! Count me in!
This is a new author for me! tWarner419@aol.com
We have a winner!