Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review, the author of the award-winning reference book Our Family, Our Friends, Our World: An Annotated Guide to Significant Multicultural Books for Children and Teenagers (1992), the editor of Once Upon a Cuento (2003), a collection of short stories for young readers by Latino authors, and the author of the novel Dirt Cheap (2006), an eco-thriller for adult readers. For Gringolandia, she received a Work-in-Progress Grant from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
I had the honor of interviewing Lyn Miller-Lachman, I hope you enjoy.1. What, or who were your inspirations for Gringolandia? How was your trip to Chile for research in 1990?
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, 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.
In fall 1989 I received a work-in-progress grant from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to conduct research in Chile. Several of the musicians whose concerts I had organized in the U.S. invited me to stay with them. My husband and I went to Chile in January 1990, less than three months before the official transition to a democratically elected government. So it was during the final months of the dictatorship, a particularly dangerous time because it was their last chance to settle scores against those who had put them out of power, as well as their last chance to cover up the atrocities they had committed over the previous 17 years.
In the month we were there, police or soldiers stopped vehicles in which we were riding four times, checking IDs and searching the vehicle. They never gave a reason. The scariest of these took place on a deserted road near the coast. The person we were riding with-a popular musician who was one of the most outspoken critics of the dictatorship-had taken a short cut to his in-laws' beach house. I suspect that he had taken this route that day, rather than a safer, more traveled road, because we were with him and our presence protected him. Anyway, when the soldiers saw our U.S. passports, they let all of us go.
The people I met in Chile were enthusiastic about the idea that someone would be writing about them and telling their stories to people in the United States. All of them knew about the U.S. government's involvement in the 1973 military coup that brought the dictatorship to power, so the welcomed a writer who would reveal the consequences of that event to U.S. readers. They were very open in sharing their experiences and their culture with me. I interviewed dozens of people in Santiago and in the south of Chile, which is a very beautiful part of the country.2. You had quite the bumpy road for getting Gringolandia published. What did you learn most from that experience?
In the year and a half before I won the SCBWI grant and went to Chile I had been working with an editor at a large publisher. During that time, I would send her drafts of the novel, she'd send back suggestions for revision, and I'd make the revisions. Somehow, there were misunderstandings or miscommunication, because shortly before I was to leave for the research trip, she sent back the manuscript and said she no longer wanted to work with me. Nonetheless, I interviewed people and took notes as if the novel were going to be published, and I suppose on some level I believed it eventually would be published. When I shelved the manuscript, I felt guilty about all the time and hope that these generous and heroic Chileans had invested in me. In the end, it took less time for them to get rid of a dictatorship than for me to get the novel published!
The lesson I learned from this is never to give up, as things happen for a reason. After losing the contract from the large publisher, I shelved the manuscript for 16 years and said I'd never write fiction again. But in 2000, I started writing an adult novel; like Gringolandia, it was a story that wouldn't let me go. After much persistence, a few semesters of creative writing classes, and many rewrites, the adult novel, Dirt Cheap, found a home with a small nonprofit literary publisher, Curbstone Press, and came out in spring 2006. Knowing that I now had a publisher and an editor who loved my writing, I took out that old manuscript I'd researched in Chile and gutted it-keeping only the basic premise, the three main characters, and one and a half chapters (out of 33). The original story was written in third person-I changed it to first person. I even changed the title. The new version is so much better than what I'd written years ago, so in a way, I'm glad it came out now and not then. Since Curbstone Press was established in 1975 to publish fiction and poetry on themes of intercultural understanding and human rights, it really was the perfect publisher for Gringolandia, and I truly feel that the version I gave my editor there was the best novel that I could have written.3. What do you love about writing Young Adult?
I've taught full-time or part-time at the middle and high school levels for nearly 30 years. I enjoy teaching and being with young people. It's such an exciting time of life. You're trying things for the first time and trying to figure out who you are and where you fit into the world. And it's a time of rebellion against what your parents and society want you to be, as you get to decide what you want to do with your life.
Writing young adult fiction allows me to capture that, whether it's a first love, or an immigrant teenager's choice of whether he wants to hold on to a place that doesn't hold great memories, or someone angry about an injustice in his or her life, in school, or in society. In Gringolandia, my protagonist Daniel deals with all of those issues. But the biggest issue he faces is who he is-a Chilean, an American, or a combination of the two. He has terrible memories of the country where he spent the first twelve years of his life, especially of soldiers breaking into his home and beating and arresting his father. When he gets to the United States, he doesn't want to hear anything about the country of his birth. He hasn't even told his mother, but he's started the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Then his political prisoner father is released and rejoins his family in the United States. Although Daniel's father is permanently damaged from imprisonment and torture, he wants nothing more than to return to his country to continue the struggle against the dictatorship. So right away, you know there's going to be a huge problem between Daniel and his father, and how Daniel solves it will determine the person he will ultimately become and the life he will have.4. What do you like about being editor-in-chief for MultiCultural Review? What are some of your favorite experience from being an editor?
The best thing about the job is seeing all the new books coming out each year, about all the cultures of the world. I learn a lot from them, and from the writers I work with. I also like shaping an issue, pulling together a variety of articles that touch on common themes, identifying those themes, and writing about them in my editorial or on my blog (web.mac.com/lynml), which often gives a preview of the upcoming issue.
My most memorable recent experience-which was both stressful and gratifying-was pulling together a debate involving a historical young adult novel that had been condemned by Native American reviewers and scholars for its inaccuracies. But I also wanted to give the author, who was not Native American but who lived in the community featured in the story, a chance to respond. And I wanted the entire debate to be a learning experience for anyone who's writing a novel about a culture to which they do not belong-in other words, anyone who's a cultural outsider. In all, four articles on this topic, along with my editorial summarizing the key themes, appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of MultiCultural Review. I'm very proud it how the issue turned out.
This debate is important because many books for teens are written by cultural outsiders-for instance, I am not Chilean but I'm writing about a Chilean family, and I am not Methodist, but Daniel's girlfriend, who narrates part of the story, is. People should have the right to write about other cultures besides their own, but they should also understand that there are right ways to go about it, and it's really easy to get it all wrong.5. Is there anything that you would like to add?
I'd like to thank you, Sarah, for offering me this opportunity to be interviewed, and everyone who's reading this for your interest in my work. These were great questions, and I enjoyed thinking about them and responding to them. Please feel free to ask me any other questions, and if you miss me now, you may e-mail me later at email@example.com.Papá coughs and turns toward my mother in the back seat. “Has the other one adjusted this well?”
She hesitates as if she too is surprised by the way he's asked the question. I think he should be proud of how we've done. Except for poor Tina.
“It's been hard,” Mamá says. “Daniel's helped a lot, especially with his sister. I thought he'd have the worst time, being older.”
“It wasn't that bad,” I mumble. I don't like to think about the first few months, when I couldn't understand what anyone was saying. I had no friends and sat alone in my bedroom playing the guitar my favorite uncle, Tío Claudio, had given me before I left Chile. My first soccer team changed all that. After a year or so, I learned enough English to avoid being a complete social and academic zero, and now I speak it with an accent that makes girls go wild.
“Well, don't get too comfortable,” Papá says. “We're going back to our country.”
My mouth drops open. “Marcelo,” my mother says in a low voice, almost a growl.
“As soon as I convince the rest of you to come with me.”
You're crazy, I want to say. After all they did to you, you want to go back? And what about our lives here? But I wait for Mamá to answer first, the way I've been raised to do.
“They gave you three days to leave. I assume you're banned from returning.”
Papá takes a final puff of his cigarette, drops it on the floor of Willie's van, and grinds it out with his good foot. “I have my ways.”
“Forget it. It's too dangerous.”
Papá glares at her, like she's not supposed to backtalk him either. I press my lips together as tight as I can and ease the van onto the interstate. I can't go back to Chile. Not even Mamá knows this, but I've written for the papers to get my U.S. citizenship, and when I turn eighteen, it's going to be official. I glance at Mamá through the rear view mirror. She looks helpless, confused, and small.
I turn the radio on low while Mamá and Papá talk about the situation in their faraway country. On the sports station they're still rehashing the Bulls game that finished a couple of hours ago. I listen until the station begins to crackle and fade. (from Gringolandia, pp. 27-28)
Leave a comment with an email address below and be entered to win a SIGNED copy of Gringolandia! (Open Internationally) Thank you to the author for this wonderful opportunity A winner will be picked tomorrow. So be sure to comment.
Also, be sure to check out the other stops of the tour!
Oct 29 Kelsey at The Book Scout http://thebookscout.blogspot.com/
Oct 30 Lilibeth at ChicaReader http://lilibethramos.blogspot.com
Nov 2 Reggie at The Undercover Book Lover (Not Really) book http://theundercoverbooklover.blogspot.com/
Nov 3 Mariah at A Reader’s Adventure! http://mariah-readingadventure.blogspot.com/
Nov 6 Sarah at Sarah’s Random Musings http://sarahbear9789.blogspot.com/
Nov 9 Faye at Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm http://fayeflamereviews.blogspot.com
Nov 10 Melaine at Melaine’s Musings http://melanies–musings.blogspot.com
Nov 11 Melaine at Melaine’s Musings book review
Nov 11 Hope at Hope’s Book Shelf http://www.princess2293.blogspot.com
Thanks to Jo Ann Hernández at BronzeWord Latino Authors for setting up the tour. You can find her at http://authorslatino.com/wordpress