Lyn Miller-Lachmann.Â How has your family background affected your writing, if it has?
My family background didnâ€™t play a role in my writing of Gringolandia but rather my work in the 1980s teaching English to students and refugees from Central and South America. There, I got to know people who had to flee their countries due to dictatorships and the challenges they faced making a new life in the United States. It was especially difficult for families with children, because the children adapted more quickly than their parents and wanted little to do with the country where they were born.
What gave you the nerve to attempt your first novel?
Gringolandia was my third novel manuscript. The first one is in the back of my closet collecting dust. I self-published the second as part of an alternative press that I started in the 1980s. The success of that YA novel, Hiding Places, gave me the courage to write a novel about a refugee family from Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship. One of my friends from Chile, who was having trouble with her teenage son at the time, read Hiding Places and asked when I was going to write her story as a novel. What she didnâ€™t know is that, as a YA author, Iâ€™d be taking the kidsâ€™ point of view.
When I first started Gringolandia, it was a contemporary realistic YA novel, much like Hiding Places. I was working on revision with an editor from a major publisher, but the promised contract never materialized. After she let me go in 1989, I quit writing fiction for ten years, and when I went back to the story (which originally had a different title) in 2006 after Curbstone Press published my adult novel, I rewrote it completely as a historical novel.
Interesting…do you know that I am from Chile? Please describe your writing process. Where you do your best work?
I spend a long time thinking about my stories, and I usually donâ€™t start putting them on paper until Iâ€™ve pretty much written them in my mind. As a result, it doesnâ€™t take me long to write the first draft, and I can write it anywhere. I wrote the first draft of Surviving Santiago, Gringolandiaâ€™s companion that will be coming out from Running Press next year, on a family trip through Spain. At the end of every day, my then-teenage daughter would read what I wrote and add her comments. In fact, she insisted on writing a chapter herself. I let her, but unfortunately the chapter was just cut in revisions.
Give us a brief rundown of the plot of Gringolandia.
Gringolandia is the story of a 17-year-old boy, Daniel, who fled to the United States with his mother and sister from the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile six years earlier, following the arrest of his father, an underground journalist. When his father is suddenly released and rejoins his family in exile, Daniel hopes for a relationship between them. But both he and his father have changed, and while Daniel has begun the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, his father wants to return to Chile to continue the struggle. As conflicts mount and Danielâ€™s father deteriorates physically and emotionally in exile, Daniel comes to realize that he may have to give up everything of value to him to save his father.
So much feelings in this topic… What goal did you originally have for your books and/or writing?
I returned to Gringolandia when I learned that the U.S. had tortured prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan and primetime TV shows like 24 justified torture as a means of gaining crucial information. Leaving aside the fact that torture doesnâ€™t work in this case because people will make up anything to end the pain, it has no place in a country that considers itself civilized. Torture destroys people, their families, and their communities, and the effects last for generations. That is what I wanted to show in Gringolandia, because some of the refugees I knew had been tortured and I saw how they were damaged by it. Danielâ€™s father has been tortured, and it upends Danielâ€™s life as well.
So sad. How did you decide whether to self-publish or find a mainstream publisher?
I wanted to use a mainstream publisher for Gringolandia, and Curbstone Press, because of its focus on Latin America and human rights, was the perfect publisher for me. However, when the novel was in production, my editor, who founded the press, passed away suddenly. Curbstone ended up being sold to Northwestern University Press, and I appreciate how the new publisher has kept the novel in print, promoted it, and sold its translation rights.
Congratulations. How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
I like writing about subjects that no one has covered before. I know itâ€™s not always good in this business to be too original, but I donâ€™t like to read copycats, and I like to write the kind of book that Iâ€™d like to read.
I noticed and that is good. Where can we find your books?
If the book isnâ€™t in your bookstore (because itâ€™s an older book), the store can order it. Itâ€™s also available through online booksellers. For links to the bookseller of your choice, please visit the Gringolandia page on my website: http://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/gringolandia/