Today I'm thrilled to be interviewing author Lyn Miller-Lachmann about her awesome novel, Gringolandia. Which is now available!
What inspired Gringolandia?
In the 1980s I taught English to refugees and students from Central and South America. Through them and through friends who had fled the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile (1973-1990) I organized concerts of Chilean musicians whose songs protested the lack of freedom and human rights in their country. Many were living in exile, banned by the dictatorship from returning. Others, still in Chile, were forced to perform and to sell their recordings in secret while struggling to make a living in other ways and enduring the constant threat of arrest or death. I was moved by the heroism of these talented artists, and some of their stories were heartbreaking.
One of the musicians was expelled from Chile and separated from his young children, who remained behind with his ex-wife. Twelve years later, his son, then 18 years old, came to live with him. On tour through the United States, they stayed at my house for several days. Seeing them together gave me the idea for writing a novel about a son and a father separated for many years and then reunited after experiences that had so dramatically changed them both.
Maybe other writers find it easy, but I find writing well to be almost impossibly difficult-so difficult that I really can't find one aspect of it that's more challenging than any other. Characters have to be complex, believable, and likable. The story has to have enough conflict to keep readers turning the pages. The language has to be fresh and vivid. And so on. So the most challenging thing for me is not to give up because writing is so hard, and so is the business of getting published.
I did quit writing years ago, after finishing an earlier version of the novel that would become Gringolandia. I had won a prestigious work-in-progress grant from the
, which paid for me to go to Chile and research the novel. There, I spent weeks there interviewing people, taking up a lot of their time and building up their hopes that their stories would be told to the rest of the world. But miscommunication between the editor and me led to my not getting the publication contract that I had expected, and I gave up in discouragement. Even so, I never forgot the investment a lot of people made in me. Sixteen years later, I started over and ended up writing a much better book.What's the most interesting comment you have received about your books?
I enjoy speaking to teen reading groups, because the questions and comments are always interesting. Some of them have become the subject of posts on my blog or articles I've written for other magazines.
At E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, Connecticut-one of my first visits to a reading group after Gringolandia was published-a student asked me whether my main character Daniel's father is supposed to be the hero or the villain. I intended Daniel's father, Marcelo, to be the antagonist, because he's the person preventing the main character from getting what he wants. Daniel wants the kind of close relationship he had with his father before Marcelo was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured for publishing an illegal newspaper critical of the Pinochet dictatorship. Marcelo doesn't appear to want that kind of relationship-all he wants to do is return to Chile to continue the fight for democracy. That is, if he doesn't drink himself to death first.
The question, though, made me think about the fact that we usually associate the antagonist with the villain in a universe made up of good guys and bad guys. But real life is a lot more complicated, as are human beings. And I want to capture that complexity in my novels, rather than settling for simplistic battles between good and evil.
Do you have any “must haves” with you while you're writing? i know some authors like to listen to music while they write.
Music got me into this project in the first place, and it's still important to me. I like to listen to the same music that my characters listen to, which means I end up with very broad tastes, from Latin American and U.S. folk and protest music to heavy metal, reggae, and hip hop. I also need coffee in the morning and Diet Dr. Pepper in the afternoon and evening. And I couldn't live without my laptop. I take it everywhere.
Is there another genre that you'd like to write?
In addition to writing novels for teens, I've also written a novel for adult readers. Dirt Cheap, which came out in 2006, is the story of a college professor with leukemia who pursues the chemical company that he believes gave him his illness and contaminated his upscale suburb. I'd like to write more novels for adult readers, since I can't guarantee that the characters who show up in my mind demanding to have a story written about them will be teenagers-though most of them are.
Now it's time for the fun part! GIVEAWAY!!
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contest ends NOV. 10