Alex Castillo mines personal experiences for ‘When a Drone Strikes’
May 8, 2015
Author Alex Castillo, a former Summit County resident who now lives in Wasatch County, has a story to tell.
Her book, "When a Drone Strikes," has been two years in the making and tackles issues of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, love and loss, and examines the history of the Wasatch Back.
"It really is a human story and a love story about two normal human beings from the Wasatch Back that have their lives touched with what America has experienced in the past 14 years," Castillo said during an interview with The Park Record. "We had 9/11 and we still have people who go serve in the Middle East and some of these people are there to fight against al-Qaeda.
"Some of these people are from the Wasatch Back and after serving or working in these areas, come back with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other ailments," she said. "These are people who have loved and lost and are trying to put their lives back together."
The book is about two main characters who are doing just that.
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"The main is Alex, and I’ve given her my name because the story is told through her eyes," Castillo said. "She’s a world famous gemologist who specializes in jewels and comes back from the Middle East and has PTSD."
Her love interest is named Cody Grant, who lives in the Wasatch Back, but is also a recipient of the Medal of Honor, which he was awarded for his service in Afghanistan, according to Castillo.
"While he is a love interest in the story, the book also features another and his name is Faisal al Saleem," the author said. "He is an American, and is a Muslim hero who fights against extremists from his same religion."
In the first few pages of "When a Drone Strikes," readers will find Alex and Faisal worked overseas undercover for the CIA and that’s where they fell in love.
"Alex comes back to the Wasatch Back without Faisal and meets Cody, who is an ex high-school boyfriend, and they end up working at the forest station," Castillo said.
This is where all the local history comes in, she said.
"They go out to Currant Creek, which is out past Strawberry, and find the body of a young Ute Indian, who was the grandson of the Chief," Castillo explained. "This is hard for the tribe because it had a lot of expectations for this boy. He graduated Harvard and was a brilliant kid, but he ends up dead."
From there, Alex and Cody are thrown into another mystery that may or may not concern another undercover CIA operation in the Wasatch Back, Castillo said.
"I wrote about the Ute tribe and its heritage and how it connects to the local El Dorado story, which involves a sacred burying site and treasure," she said. "I’ve talked with the Ute tribal council and they know about the story and know what I’ve done with the book."
While reading the book, readers will see the effects of PTSD through a first-person perspective.
"You have flashbacks from Alex and Cody’s past and start to understand why they react to certain situations in ways they do, and how they try to put their lives back together," Castillo said. "There is a lot of meat in the story and it has a lot of themes."
Part of the book is taken from Castillo’s real-life experiences.
She has worked for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a disaster assistance response team, and other government agencies overseas in the Middle East.
Castillo has also studied Arabic and worked in Egypt with the Christian Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt in Cairo.
"I’ve had the opportunity to meet Muslims, Christians and people from all different walks of life and also had the opportunity to work with NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) and heard many stories from different people."
Still, Castillo’s experiences in the Middle East weren’t all uplifting.
"There were some pretty extreme situations that I was put in," she said. "While overseas, I was sexually abused and received death and bomb threats."
As a result, Castillo was reminded about an earlier sexual abusive situation that occurred when she was a child.
"I was also diagnosed with PTSD and realized I needed to reconnect with my roots if I was ever going to go forward," she said. "So, I returned to the states and worked in Washington, D.C., and then pulled back to work on myself."
Castillo made her way back to Utah and underwent therapy.
"My goal was to figure out what I wanted to do next," she said. "I started writing my feelings and thoughts out, and that’s how this book started."
"When a Drone Strikes" blends Castillo’s two passions, working overseas and local history.
"I’ve written reports, which was something that I liked to do, so the attraction to writing has always been there," she said. "But I’m still surprised that a novel came out of this."
Castillo didn’t think she would be comfortable publishing this type of story two years ago.
"There was no way I would have been so open with my feelings, but now that I’m building my life again, I feel it’s OK to be vulnerable and share what I’ve been through," she said. "I want to tell people that it’s OK to be broken, which is a theme in the story.
"When I first decided to turn my writings into a book, I didn’t realize how connected I would get to these characters and the story," Castillo said. "Those people who have PTSD or have been abused shouldn’t be ashamed of what they went through. I hope my story will help people find ways to deal with their own experiences and live a happy life."
For more information about Alex Castillo or her book "When a Drone Strikes," visit alexcastilloauthor.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter at #authoracast.