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Linda Castillo was living in the bustling metropolis of Dallas when inspiration struck for a thriller set amid Ohio's Amish community. On a trip to Fredericksburg, a village just north of heavily Amish Holmes County, where her brother-in-law grew up in a 200-year-old farmhouse, she was swept away by the sight and sound of an Amish man driving a horse-drawn buggy down the road.
"At that moment it was like being transformed back in time," Castillo recounts. "It was so quiet, and I thought to myself, what a juxtaposition of our world and their world."
Although the Amish are typically associated with Lancaster County, Pa., Castillo, a veteran romantic suspense author for Berkley, Harlequin Intrigue and Silhouette Intimate Moments, notes that Ohio, her home state, now has a larger Amish population than its neighbor to the east. A native of a small town called Ithaca ("I checked online a little while ago, population 79."), Castillo remembers riding the school bus with some Amish children. "Of course, when I was a teenager that was not very interesting to me," she says. "Basically they just dressed funny, and that was all I thought about."
That changed when Castillo created Kate Burkholder, the protagonist of her hardcover debut, this month's Sworn to Silence (Minotaur). The 30-year-old police chief of tiny Painters Mill, Ohio, a town comprised of Amish and English (the term the Amish use to describe anyone not part of their community), Kate was raised in an Amish family but left the community when she turned 18, her faith shattered by a brutal attack that happened four years before, during a serial-killer crime wave. Now it looks as if the rapist and murderer -- who mutilated his victims before they died -- may be back, only Kate thinks it can't be the same person. She's sure she shot him dead in self-defense 16 years ago. Her family covered up the killing and disposed of the body to protect her. Can she solve the case without telling with her colleagues?
"I think I always had a big crime thriller inside of me trying to get out," says Castillo, who's already finishing up the third installment of Kate's exploits. (Book two is due for release in 2010.) "Kate is a culmination of a lot of things. The biggest thing about Kate is she's a little bit of an ambiguous character, and I love writing characters -- at least female characters -- who are not perfect. Kate is an outsider. She's balancing these two very different worlds, and the combination of those things really is the essence of Kate."
Castillo's rosy disposition stands in sharp contrast to the bleak pasts that Kate and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation agent John Tomasetti are trying to escape. And life these days is considerably different now that Castillo's left Dallas for the Texas countryside, where she has two horses, Missy and George, and a more balanced life.
"It got to the point where I was working all the time, and I needed something else in my life, so on Valentine's Day 2004 I bought George, and he has really helped me try to balance work and life."-- Diane Snyder
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