Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we talked with George Fillis about his writing and his recently released novel, A Heart to Survive, the first book in the Collingwood Series (read the review here).
George Fillis is the author of the Collingwood Series. He is the second generation son of Greek immigrants, a graduate of Trinity University, and lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his wife, Karen. Although winning an essay contest at 11-years old and a trip to Washington, D.C., professions in securities, real estate, venture capital, biotech, and consulting sidetracked his love for words and writing. His mother’s death-bed wish was for him to write a novel, and he eventually found his way back to writing. A Heart To Survive is the first book in the Collingwood Series, and the second book, An Unexpected Father, will be available in February 2021.
Do you find writing therapeutic?
I learn more about myself through the process of writing stories, discovering a creativity and a release of expression within me that continually amazes me in the true sense of the word. When crafting a storyline based on people experiencing real events and then dramatizing plots around these data points, I become fully connected to the characters.
Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma, or something else?
Hearing individual stories about immigrants awakens something in me because of the parallel to my family’s coming to America. Especially those filled with hope for a better life and the courage to overcome overwhelming odds.
The first seed for the book was planted during an MBA panel discussion where I met a young man from a remote village in Malaysia. The sixteen members of his family lived in a one-room house with no electricity or facilities. He excelled in school and was offered a scholarship to the University of Kansas. When he arrived in the U.S., he displayed a humble character, worked harder than his peers, and always endeavored to do the right thing. Consequently, he ascended the ranks of corporate America, but it was his spirit and demeanor that stayed with me, and his name was Winson. At the time, I had no idea I would write a book about an Asian man.
Several years later, my wife and I traveled to Collingwood, Ontario, located on the shores of Georgian Bay. At a dinner, we met an Irish Canadian woman who shared her remarkable life story of marrying a Chinese ‘paper son.’ She told us of his immigration and life as a human chattel.
The following summer, while hiking in the Blue Mountains, we heard some Chinese hikers singing in Chinese. We paused on the trail, and I greeted them in Mandarin. We ended up visiting and when I told them I was writing a book about a Chinese boy and human trafficking, they told me about the Snakeheads, a human trafficking ring, which I believe was shared from their personal experience.
Tell us some more about your book.
It is a 20th-century historical fiction novel about the plight of human trafficking victims and how one of those victims, Tao Wen Shun or Winson, went through a heart-wrenching experience of separation from his family and entrance into a tumultuous new world. The story begins in China in 1949 during a bloody civil war and continues to a Canadian society where Winson is judged based on his skin color and racial background.
Although this is a story of coming to Canada, it could be anywhere. The hardships of immigration are brought to life through Winson’s struggles, and his triumphs are aided by the intervention of people he encounters in his journey.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
First, to learn about courage and what it means to stand alone in the face of overwhelming odds; second, the importance of character and always choosing to do what is right; and third, understanding what it is like to live outside of one’s comfort zone. All of these come at a cost.
How do you come up with names for your characters?
I keep a journal of intriguing names and their meanings when meeting people from various ethnic backgrounds. In writing this story, I auditioned names with characters, and from living with them, the name and personality eventually find each other. I changed the names of many characters, but Winson’s remained constant.
What’s more important: characters or plot?
Both elements are at work. Initially, this story is plot-driven, as the protagonist faces events beyond his control. But in the end, I think it is the characters that move the story forward and either charm or anger the reader.
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
A villain in the story is a man named Dung. It was straightforward to give him evil characteristics. Still, we are all multifaceted and not all good or bad, so to provide good qualities and create a back story to illicit compassion for who he had become made him the most challenging character to develop.
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