With me on the blog today is the awe-inspiring Lyn Miller-Lachmann who is here to talk about two more books she has written. She’s already been on the blog in recent months to discuss two other books. Click here and here for those interviews. Today, we’re celebrating her nonfiction book, Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors, which was coauthored by Tanisa “Tee” Moore and published by Chicago Review Press on September 6.
El Space: Lyn, you have been quite the workhorse this year with so many books debuting. Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors debuted last month. Torch debuts next month. There’s a connection between the two, besides you as their author. Please share that connection if you can, unless there is a huge spoiler you can’t reveal.
Lyn: No spoiler at all! I came up with the idea for Torch after watching the TV miniseries Burning Bush, which begins with the self-immolation of Charles University student Jan Palach in Prague in 1969 to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous year and his people’s passivity after losing their freedom and independence. The director of that miniseries is Agnieszka Holland, a Polish director who has made a number of significant historical films, including three that explore the Holocaust and the more recent, Mr. Jones, about the Soviet terror-famine known as the Holodomor in 1930s Ukraine. Holland is one of the groundbreaking women directors I included in Film Makers and one of my all-time favorite directors.
El Space: You have so many interests. I’m always curious as to how you choose a project to work on.
Lyn: While Burning Bush showed me the different ways the people of Czechoslovakia resisted the Soviet occupation, I never got a sense from the miniseries of the young people who bore the brunt of the repression, including Palach, who sacrificed his life. I asked myself, Who were his friends? How did his death change their lives? What consequences did they face as a result of their association with him? From there, my characters of Pavol, Štěpán, Tomáš, and Lída emerged.
In the case of Film Makers, my agent, Jacqui Lipton, represented other authors who were writing for Chicago Review’s Women of Power series, and she invited me to submit a proposal. I like films and use them heavily in researching my historical fiction, so I suggested women directors. And since one of the filmmakers I wanted to include was Ava DuVernay and Tanisia Tee Moore, who was one of Jacqui’s other clients at the time, is a huge fan of her work, I suggested Tee as a co-author.
El Space: I was only familiar with nine of the fifteen filmmakers featured in your book. How did you research it? Were you able to talk to the featured directors?
Lyn: The series features contemporary directors, ones still working in the industry, so Tee and I chose some of our current favorites. We wanted directors from diverse backgrounds, those who worked with both popular franchises and indie films, documentary filmmakers, and TV directors and showrunners. Most of the directors make both feature films and TV episodes. We weren’t able to talk to the directors personally—that’s show business—but we saw several in exclusive panels for festivals and premieres.
El Space: How did the characters of Torch come to you? Why was it important for you to tell their story?
Lyn: Pavol is based on Jan Palach and even more on a secondary student, Jan Zajíc, who followed in his footsteps a month later. The first one of his friends who came to me was his girlfriend Lída, who, unbeknown to him, is pregnant with his child. Tomáš is my most autobiographical character—an autistic child of privilege who cannot fulfill his father’s expectations because of his neurodivergence but has a keen eye for the hypocrisy of the communist elite. Pavol is a genuinely kind person, and Tomáš clings to him as his first and only friend. Štěpán, on the other hand, is the bully who has tormented Tomáš all the way through school. However, his friendship with Pavol—due in part because they share a desire for freedom, and in part because he has an unrequited crush on Pavol—motivates Štěpán to change, even though change is hard for him. I wanted to tell these stories because all four teenagers lose their dreams and their futures when the democracy and freedom of expression they’ve been promised is taken away. This freedom is precious to them, and they’re willing to give up everything—their families, their homes, even their lives—to keep it. This is a something I think many young people in our country are becoming aware of now, because we’re beginning to lose our freedom in so many areas.
El Space: Though Torch is historical fiction, it feels current thanks to recent events. How did you wrap your head around the past events? Did you have to turn off today’s news in order to stay immersed in the past?
Lyn: I’ve written about young activists and human rights, most notably my debut YA novel, Gringolandia, about a Chilean refugee teen during the Pinochet dictatorship whose father, an underground journalist, is released from a political prison and comes to live with his family in exile. I think that growing up in an oppressive social and political environment in the South and being bullied because of my differences has made me keenly aware of how societies bully and oppress. And no, I didn’t turn off today’s news. It’s in the background of everything I write.
El Space: What was your process for working on multiple projects with more than one co-author? Is there anything you would do differently? Why or why not? What advice do you have for an author who juggles multiple projects?
Lyn: For both Film Makers and Moonwalking, the verse novel I wrote with Zetta Elliott, my co-author and I were responsible for alternating chapters in the book. In the case of Moonwalking, I wrote the poems from the point of JJ, my white autistic character obsessed with The Clash, and Zetta wrote the ones for Pie, the Afro-Latinx honor student who wants to make it in the art world like Jean-Michel Basquiat. For Film Makers, we divvied up the 15 directors and drew from our backgrounds and experiences in writing their biographies. In both cases, the collaboration worked because each of us had our strengths that complemented each other. But it takes a lot of trust in each other to make that happen.
As far as juggling multiple projects, which I continue to do, what helps is scheduling blocks of time for each project. By now, I have a good idea of how much time each needs and the best environment—work space, time of day—to work on each.
El Space: What will you work on next?
Lyn: I’m working on four translations from Portuguese—two picture books and two YA graphic novels. I’m also in the middle of a YA verse novel that’s set in Portugal and inspired by several of my translation projects. There will be more exciting news to come!
Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!
Book covers and author photo courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Ava DuVernay and Agnieszka Holland photos found somewhere on the internet.