Sunday, November 1, 2009

Author Uncovered: Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Author Interview)

Hi guys! For the Gringolandia blog tour I'm doing, I had the pleasure of interviewing the author; Lyn Miller-Lachmann! This is one of the most in-depth interviews ever! I love it!

Her books:

What's the story behind Gringolandia?
Set in 1986, during the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile (which lasted from 1973 to 1990), Gringolandia is the story of a 17-year-old Chilean-American boy who sees his father for the first time in six years when his father is released from prison and forced into exile. Daniel, the son, has changed greatly in his years in the United States-he speaks English, has a “gringa” girlfriend, and has secretly begun the process to get his U.S. citizenship. Marcelo, the father, has changed, too, and not in a good way. Having been beaten and tortured in prison, he is partially paralyzed, suffers from flashbacks and nightmares, and won't let his family members touch him. He also wants to return to Chile to continue the struggle for democracy, and Daniel and his girlfriend try everything to convince him to settle down and make a new life with his family in the United States.

The story is based on my experiences of working with refugees from Central and South America in the 1980s. Many of the refugees longed to return to their country and had a hard time adjusting to life in the United States. Families were broken up, their members scattered between two or more countries. Those who arrived as refugees had often endured horrific experiences as a result of dictatorships and civil wars. In general, children had a much easier time fitting in, learning a new language, and making friends, and this upset the balance of power in families.

Why did you choose this specific time period?
When I started writing this novel, it was a contemporary story, inspired by a friend whose family was split up by the dictatorship-the father imprisoned, tortured, and forced into exile abroad while his children remained in Chile. I won a prestigious grant from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to research the novel in Chile, where I had a chance to interview torture survivors and witness first-hand the transition from dictatorship to democracy in 1990. However, some miscommunications between the editor and me caused the contract to be withdrawn, and I ended up putting the project away for 16 years. But I never could let go of my characters and story, much as I tried. And when I read of some of the things my own government was doing at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and heard people start to justify torture, I wanted them to understand why torture is wrong and how it affects its victims and their families. So beginning in 2006 I rewrote what was once a contemporary novel, but keeping it within its time period so it became a historical novel.

What do you think are the easiest aspects of writing? The hardest?
The easiest for me is coming up with a story line and complications. People joke that I'm a conspiracy theorist, that I see a plot in everything. Characters are easier too, because most of my characters are based on people I know, and I like to observe people. For me, the words themselves are the hardest, because it's important to find the right word, not to use passive or weak verbs, for instance, and to use words that are vivid, that conjure images in the mind of the reader.

What's the significance of the bird on the cover?
When the cover designer took pictures at Villa Grimaldi, the former torture center in Chile that has now been converted into a human rights museum and peace park, there were two pigeons in an abandoned swimming pool. During the dictatorship, prison officials would dunk prisoners in the pool filled with sewage to get them to confess and to turn in their friends and associates.

In Chile, the Spanish word for pigeon, “paloma,” is the same as for dove, as pigeons and doves are biologically similar. Throughout the world, doves are symbols of peace and hope. And while the pigeon is seen as a nuisance bird, a “rat with wings,” pigeons have served to carry messages in wartime, as Daniel's father did as an underground journalist during the darkest years of the dictatorship. Finally, the idea that a bird considered ugly and disgusting can also symbolize peace and hope ties in with the challenge Daniel faces-to find the father he once knew within the damaged person who comes out of prison.

That's it folks! It was great talking to the author in-depth about Gringolandia!

Peace, Love, and Books,
my signature


Jo Ann Hernandez November 1, 2009 at 10:13 PM  

Great interview Reggie. I really liked the questions you asked. they were very thoughtful and insightful. The answers taught me a lot. Good jog!!!
Jo Ann Hernandez
BronzeWord Latino Authors

Kelsey November 1, 2009 at 10:49 PM  

Great interview. The story behind the cover is just... wow!

Lyn Miller-Lachmann November 2, 2009 at 1:50 AM  

Thanks for the interview, Reggie. They were great questions, too.

I heard you guys had a typhoon a couple of days ago. Is everything OK?

Faye( Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm) November 2, 2009 at 7:37 AM  

Yeah the story behind the bird was very interesting. Good Q Reggie.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann November 2, 2009 at 8:05 AM  

I had to fight with my publisher for the cover. In general, authors have very little input into what their covers look like, which means a lot of the photos on the covers don't look like the characters (for instance, the original cover of the US edition of Liar) or are stock photos that appear on a bunch of covers. The designer of Gringolandia's cover, Guillermo Prado, is someone I knew through my job as editor of MultiCultural Review and because he is Chilean (and very talented too!), I pestered the production editor at Curbstone Press until she got tired of listening to me and hired him.

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