Perfectly Plated

I watch a lot of YouTube videos (like the Tasty and BuzzFeed Channels) and Netflix shows (The Great British Baking Show) on cooking. You’d think I would be a culinary expert by now. Naw. I’m still just an average cook.

        

When I was a kid, my parents had insisted that I learn to cook. I don’t mean throwing a frozen dinner into the microwave or oven. I mean baking a chicken, preparing rice, sautéing onions, baking biscuits—that sort of thing.

For my friends in Europe, I mean this type of biscuit.

Not this.

But I’ve never been very innovative in the kitchen. Not like my sister-in-law, who loves to experiment. (I’m going somewhere with this. Don’t worry.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I watch a lot of videos featuring culinary artists—people who went to school to master the art of food preparation. Other than the taste of a dish, nothing showcases a chef’s artistry like a well-plated meal. What do I mean by that?

According to an article entitled, “A Basic Guide to Food Presentation” at Webstaurantstore.com (click here for it):

People eat with their eyes, and creative and thoughtful plating enhances both the look and taste of your food. Focusing on presentation also allows chefs to showcase their creations and demonstrate to guests that they’re getting their money’s worth.

The article from which that quote came from has great tips on color and contrast, choosing the right plate, etc. That’s why you’ll sometimes see chocolate drizzled on a dessert plate, or your entrée artfully presented with the vegetables tucked up nicely. (Unlike what you see in the photo below.)

My usual idea of plating. Get your grub on, y’all.

  

The real deal done by experts

I love that chefs go the extra mile to make a dining experience special and to make food preparation an art form. While I’m unlikely to drizzle chocolate on a plate anytime soon (I’d much rather drizzle it in my mouth), I am inspired to go the extra mile in what I write.

I’m not sure what the literary equivalent of plating might be. Perhaps it starts with a resolve to write the best piece you can.

Speaking of resolutions, onto the winner of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s novel Dirt Cheap, which was discussed in this guest post.

        

The winner, according to the lovely random number generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Congratulations, Laura! Please comment below to confirm!

Henry’s idea of plating—just candy in a bag, baby! (I hear you, Henry!)

Pillsbury biscuits from betterbatter.org. Tea biscuits from clipartkid.com. Tasty YouTube logo from YouTube. BuzzFeed logo from siliconangle.com. Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Plated desserts found on Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.

Guest Post: Resolved to Be Prolific

Today, I am happy to introduce a guest post by the marvelous Lyn Miller-Lachmann. (Check out her previous guest post here.) Stick around to the end and I’ll tell you about a giveaway of one of Lyn’s novels.

I don’t have a great record for achieving New Year’s Resolutions. The average attainment rate for those pledges to improve one’s fitness/relationships/life is around 20%, and mine may be even lower. But I have a standing resolution, one that I’ve dutifully kept since 2000. I’ve resolved to keep writing and revising my fiction no matter what.

My resolution grew out of my decision 10 years earlier to quit. When I graduated from college, I vowed to write the Great American Novel. Ten years later I’d written and extensively revised three entire book manuscripts—one adult and two young adult, after an agent who took me on thought the best characters in my adult manuscript were the teens. She and I parted ways after the next manuscript didn’t sell, and when I self-published it—a novelty at the time—I went through three revisions of a third YA manuscript with an editor at a major house before she backed out citing exasperation at our persistent miscommunication. Having come so close to selling a manuscript, I gave up in despair.

I wrote reference books and textbooks for those 10 years in the creative desert, but without creating stories I felt something missing from my life. After finding myself writing my middle school-age son’s creative writing assignments, I decided to try again and this time never to give up. I stripped the core of that first adult novel and turned it into a subplot of an eco-thriller that I wrote and rewrote multiple times until it became my debut novel, Dirt Cheap (Curbstone Press, 2006).

Apparently, I’m pretty average in that my fourth full-length novel manuscript became my first published novel. And I needed all those manuscripts, rewritten over and over, to develop my craft. Recently, I’ve read the accounts of debut novelists whose eighth, tenth, or twelfth full manuscript was the first to find a home. These are heartening stories because they show perseverance, dedication, and the truth that at a certain level of craft, publishing is a lottery of having the right book at the right moment, and the more lottery tickets one holds, the better the chance of winning a prize.

So when Bad Things happened to me—smaller publishers going out of business, a poor match with a large publisher, unsold manuscript after manuscript—I found myself taking their stories to heart. Rather than quit, I tried new things. I now have, finished and mostly finished and gone out on submission, two contemporary chapter-book proposals with sample chapters, a full YA contemporary novel, three YA historical novels, and seven picture books. I’ve approached two authors with ideas for collaborations and have just started an own voices picture book for one of those collaborations. In 2018, I completed two-thirds of a draft of my first novel in verse. Before I started it, I’d never realized how much I’d enjoy writing not only the verse novel but also poetry in general. Like my protagonist in the verse novel, I’ve joined a Poetry Club, a group of people who write a poem each week in response to a prompt.

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Rather than giving up, I’ve resolved to be prolific. The more things I have ready to go out, the more chances I have of hearing the word “yes.” I’ve also looked into self-publishing again.

My plan right now is to write. Write the story that speaks to me, the one only I can tell, and tell it with passion and skill.

Then worry about what to do with it.

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As a treat for all of you who’ve read this far, I offer one of the poems I wrote for my Poetry Club in response to a picture prompt that I chose, a photo my daughter, a teacher, took on a family heritage trip to Berlin and Prague. The photo is from an exhibit at the Museum of Communism in Prague, Czech Republic, of the last day of primary school in the 1960s.

CHILDREN RUNNING OUT OF SCHOOL FOR THE SUMMER


When the final bell rings
children burst from the door
running
screaming
throwing ragged, used-up notebooks
backward
over their shoulders.

The best student in the class
waves his report card
boasting to his friends
of the present
his parents
will buy him.

The inseparable blond girls
make plans for the summer
the letters they’ll write
when one goes to camp
and the other stays home.

Behind the open door
the quiet, dark-haired boy
unwraps the chain
from his bicycle.

He had hoped to make a friend
this year.

He will go home to the line of books
he’d arranged
in alphabetical order
on his shelf.
Tales of heroes in magical worlds
where they can dream and hope
and their dreams and hopes
come true.
Tales of real heroes
of the times of his father
and his father’s father
who struggled and triumphed
when everything
seemed lost.

The quiet, dark-haired boy
will read these books
and they will save him.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of the eco-thriller Dirt Cheap and three novels for teens—Gringolandia, Surviving Santiago, and Rogue—and a translator from Portuguese and Spanish to English of children’s books, screenplays, poetry, and academic articles. Gringolandia—the story of a refugee teenager from Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship and his relationship with his father, a just-released political prisoner—was an Américas Award Honor Book and selected for the ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults list in 2010. She reviews for The Pirate Tree and blogs on travel, politics, and writing at www.lynmillerlachmann.com.

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Hi! Me again! (L. Marie, in case you’re wondering.) I’m giving away a copy of Lyn’s adult novel, Dirt Cheap. So it will be dirt cheap for you, since it’s free. Ha ha! I crack myself up. 😀 😁 Anyway, comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on January 14.

Click here to find a synopsis of Dirt Cheap.

Photos courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Author photo by Joan Heffler. Book image from somewhere online.

Branching Out

When I first learned to crochet, all I made were granny squares for afghans and scarfs. They were easy to make.

   

Yes, this is a scarf I made. I have made Granny squares like these from Pinterest.

But I searched for more challenges as the years went by. Recently, I went through an owl phase in my crocheting. The owls below were created by a pattern designed by Sarah at Repeat Crafter Me, which you can find here.

   

But in the last month, I decided to branch out and try something different. I found a pattern online for making small lambs. How small? I placed a red ruler behind the lamb it so you can see how small it is (just under six inches seated; click on the photo to see).

This amigurumi pattern was designed by Stephanie at her All About Ami blog. You can find it here. (Wondering what amigurumi means? Go here for an article.)

I started off making the lambs exactly the way Stephanie instructed, using the yarn she suggested, which was in the usual lamb colors. But after a while, I wanted to branch out yet again:

Not the usual color for a lamb, but the color makes me happy.

Random flower break. Just because.

Speaking of branching out, I can’t help thinking of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí (1904–1989). While that might seem like a random remark to you, let me ask you this: What’s the first painting you think of you when you think of him?

I think of this painting:

It’s called The Persistence of Memory. (Instead of The Melting Clocks Painting as I always called it in my head.) What do you think of it? (I think the word you’re searching for is surreal.)

I thought of Dalí as I wrote this post, because of a conversation that took place when I was a grad student. We had a guest speaker one semester—author/illustrator David Macaulay (right). If you don’t know who he is, click here to see a list of his books. Macaulay told us about his years at the Rhode Island School of Design. He didn’t start off doing his own thing. He had to learn how to paint like one of the old Renaissance masters—learning form and color—before branching out.

So that’s why I thought of Dalí. Check out this description from Wikipedia:

Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in August 1931.

So Dalí too learned from the old masters, but took what he learned in a new direction.

Maybe there’s something you’ve learned that you’re now ready to take in a new direction. If so, dish about it in the comments below.

While you consider that, I’ll reveal the winner of one of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s translated books. Go here for her guest post.

The winner, thanks to the random number thingie, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny of the LifeontheCutoff’s Blog.

Penny, please confirm below. I believe you requested Queen of the Frogs. Do you still want that one? Let me know. I hope you will enjoy it!

Thank you to all who commented.

Granny square found on Pinterest. Dali painting from Wikipedia. Dali photo from wallpapercave.com. David Macaulay photo from Wikipedia.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Guest Post: Many “Firsts” for Translation

Today’s post was written by my good friend, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, one of my classmates from VCFA. Lyn has written novels like Gringolandia, Surviving Santiago, and Rogue. She’s here to talk about her work as a translator. Take it away, Lyn!

The months of August and September are busy times for us translators of children’s books. For the past several weeks, we’ve honored international women writers and the women who have translated their work, and next month we recognize those books for children originally published outside the U.S. and Canada, many of them translations, as part of #WorldKidlit month.

I have had the good fortune to translate six books for young readers from Portuguese to English, all but one of them written by women. I became a translator quite by accident when I attended a meeting of children’s book authors where Claudia Bedrick, the publisher of Enchanted Lion Books was speaking. Enchanted Lion’s list consists primarily of picture books originally published abroad and translated into English, and she said that she needed someone to translate a book first published in Portugal. I’d recently returned from six months in Portugal, where I took an intensive class for immigrants, after which I completed a course in Brazilian Portuguese at the University of Albany.

I raised my hand.

The result was The World in a Second, by Isabel Minhós Martins and illustrated by Bernardo Carvalho, a book that earned my first starred review ever. In addition to giving the book a star, Kirkus named it to its list of Best Children’s Books of 2015. The book also appeared on the Best Children’s Books list of the Boston Globe and was named one of the 2016 CCBC Choices of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin. That was another coveted “first” for me, because I graduated in 1990 from the University of Wisconsin’s School of Library and Information Studies, and I knew that making CCBC Choices was a rare and important honor.

The text of The World in a Second consists of brief commentary on illustrations of scenes throughout the world that take place at the same moment. For me, it was an easy transition into translating children’s books. My next project for Enchanted Lion, Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words, by Ruth Rocha and illustrated by Madalena Matoso, presented many more challenges. One was translating a story featuring a young Brazilian boy named João, who goes to school for the first time and sees his world in a new way, to make it accessible to a U.S. readership while maintaining its Brazilian feel. The popular but difficult-to-pronounce-in-English name João had to be changed out of consideration for teachers and caregivers reading the book aloud; I replaced it with the only slightly less popular Pedro. My editor wanted a new title for the book, as the one in Portuguese, O Menino Que Aprendeu a Ver (The Boy Who Learned to See), felt dull and preachy. Many of the illustrations had to be altered because Pedro learns words that begin with the letters A and D, but some of those don’t begin with A or D in English. The same occurred with billboards, street signs, and labels that begin to take on new meaning as my young protagonist recognizes the letters from school. Published in 2016, Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words also received acclaim, including another spot in CCBC Choices and one on the USBBY’s Outstanding International Children’s Books list.

In the past two years, I’ve had two books come out each year. The fable, The Queen of the Frogs, by the Italian duo, author Davide Cali and illustrator Marco Somà, was published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, another award-winning publisher of international books in translation. While the story didn’t win as many distinctions as my books for Enchanted Lion, it is certainly a relevant one for our times—the story of a peaceful, egalitarian pond full of frogs where everything changes when one frog catches a gold ring dropped from a bridge, puts it on her head like a crown, and, with the support of a small coterie of advisers, declares herself the queen. With no special qualification, except maybe swimming and diving ability, she puts the ordinary frogs to work serving her and her allies while she enjoys a life of leisure and luxury on a lily pad.

My second book for 2017 is also a timely one. Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World), by Henriqueta Cristina and illustrated by Yara Kono, is the story of a Portuguese family forced to flee as a result of a cruel dictatorship in their country that won’t allow children living in poverty or in rural areas to attend school. The parents and three children end up in a country where “all children go to school,” but everyone dresses alike and there is no more freedom to speak out than in Portugal. The young narrator misses her old home and notices the lines of worry and sadness on her parents’ faces. She and her mother come up with a way of speaking without actually speaking—knitting sweaters in new patterns and color combinations and showing how immigrants and refugees enrich the lives of the countries where they settle. This book attained another prestigious “first” for me—a Skipping Stones Honor Award in the Multicultural/International Books category.

Now that it’s 2018, I have one book that launched this month, and one more in the works. Published in North America by Charlesbridge, Olive the Sheep Can’t Sleep, by Clementina Almeida, illustrated by Ana Camila Silva, combines a soothing story for young children with tips for caregivers to help establish bedtime routines and ease the little one’s journey to slumber. Although I’ve translated academic articles, Olive the Sheep Can’t Sleep is the first time I’ve translated advice for general adult readers.

And one more “first”: Earlier this year, a Brazilian publisher, Editora Caixote, contacted me to translate a middle grade novel, which they would publish in a trilingual (Portuguese, Spanish, and English) edition. Written by noted Brazilian journalist Carolina Montenegro, Amal is the story of a 12-year-old girl from Syria who must flee her bombarded village and travel alone through Turkey and Greece to Italy, where her uncle lives—along the way meeting other unaccompanied children fleeing war and poverty. This book is due out at the beginning of 2019, and although readers in the U.S. won’t have access to it, I am pleased that my translations are finding an international audience. In the coming years, however, I hope that publishers and readers in the U.S. will become more open to international literature in translation and the different perspectives that these books offer.

For more information about these books, and translation of children’s books in general, please check out these links to my blog articles:
https://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/the-americanizer-and-other-tales-of-translation/
https://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/good-news-for-lines-squiggles-letters-words/
https://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/a-fable-for-our-time-the-queen-of-the-frogs/
https://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/the-time-has-come-for-three-balls-of-wool-can-change-the-world/
https://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/olive-the-sheeps-u-s-tour/

Looking for Lyn? You can find her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I’d love to give away one of these translated books to a worthy commenter. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Tell me which book you’d like. The winner will be announced on August 27.

Book covers from Goodreads.

How Do You Know You’re in the Flow?

Ever have a time when you were writing or doing something else creative, and you just couldn’t stop? Words or ideas poured out of you, and you had to implement them. We call this a state of flow. (And yes, I wrote a post about this five years ago. I’m taking a different angle on it this time.)

According to Wikipedia,

[F]low, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, formerly the head of psychology at the University of Chicago and currently the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, is known for his study on flow. Flow, according to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, is also known as ecstasy. And no, I’m not talking about drugs here, though in his 2004 TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi explained that “ecstasy is essentially a stepping into an alternative reality.” You’re so in the zone, it’s like you’re watching yourself create. You don’t notice anything else—hunger, weariness, etc. Csikszentmihalyi added, “[T]his automatic, spontaneous process . . . can only happen to someone who is very well trained and who has developed technique.”

I asked several writers how they know they’re in a state of flow.

Steve Bramucci, author of The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! (look for his next book this October) and managing editor over at Uproxx, said,

I recognize flow when I start to think, “This is brilliant! Have I accidentally stolen it from someone else? It’s too good of an idea NOT to have been written already! I must’ve stolen it! I’m such a hack!” At which point I google the idea furiously and, when I find it’s not stolen, I get this excited/thrilled buzzy feeling. Something akin to double fisting caffeine and green juice after a 6 am surf. I get tingly and overly emotional and write and write and write—only taking breaks to text my wife things like, “I really think I was destined to be a writer! I believe in my stories! I promise you this project will bring us financial security!” etc. If that all sounds insufferable, I’m sure it is. But it’s my process. It’s not what ends up on the page; insufferable processes can often lead to positive results.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of novels for young adults and adults, said,

It’s when I feel that I’m in the time and place along with my characters, hearing them speak, feeling the same things they do, following them as they move.

Laura Sibson, a young adult and middle grade author (look for her young adult novel debut in 2019), had this to say:

When drafting, I know that I’m in a state of flow when I’m not tempted to look at the clock or check email or social media. My environment drops away in the sense that I’m not super-aware of what’s happening around me. In those moments, I’m fully immersed in my story world and it feels like the real world. I can see it as clearly as I see the scenery outside my window.

S. K. Van Zandt, another middle grade and young adult author, said,

For me, it’s the unstuck feeling. It’s picturing a scene in my mind, the “what happens next,” and the words are just there, as opposed to seeing the scene and staring at the computer. I think the ability to get (and stay) “in the zone” has everything to do with knowing your characters and story well.

Jill Weatherholt, author of Second Chance Romance (look for her next book this July) and romance short stories, said this:

When I feel what’s happening to my characters so deeply that I’m moved emotionally and I become completely oblivious to my surroundings, I know I’m in a state of flow.

Charles Yallowitz, author of Warlord of the Forgotten Age and other books in the Legends of Windemere series, put it this way:

I never really thought about being in a state of flow. I’m usually just writing along until I stop. So it’s almost like a trance.

How do you know you’re going with the flow when you work?

If you want to check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk:

Kirstea, frazzled as always lately, took flow to a whole different level when she allowed her teacup to overflow.

My Little Pony Pinkie Pie and chicken figures by Hasbro. Kirstea Shoppie doll by Moose Toys. Photos by L. Marie.

Beauty to Behold

Recently some good friends of mine told me they’ll be taking a much needed family vacation to the Caribbean. This will mean leaving me behind, no matter how much I make puppy eyes at them and beg them to take me. I’m pretty sure I could fit in someone’s suitcase if they leave all of their clothes behind.

puppy_eyes-2

Since I can’t go with them, I decided to take a vacation on the grounds of my apartment building. Every day I have a front row seat.

Chair

Let me show you the sights to be seen.

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Flower013

Tree

I’m not responsible for the care of the flowers and trees. If I were, they would be dead by now. I lack a green thumb.

Still, the sunny day made a yard vacation worth the trip. And the sunshine remained, unlike yesterday. That day I left home, so sure of the sunshine as I ran out to run errands that I neglected to check the weather. A mile away from home, however, the clouds abruptly darkened at the north. Within fifteen minutes, you’d never believe the sun existed as hard as the rain fell.

But today, there was beauty to behold and sunshine to set it off. But after awhile, I adjourned inside to watch Fantasia 2000, which featured Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. If you have a spare 12.15 minutes, enjoy this performance by the YouTube Orchestra. (Who knew YouTube had an orchestra?) It’s beautiful. (You can watch the Fantasia segment on Vimeo. Just click here or Google Firebird Suite—1919. When you see it, you’ll know why this piece of music seemed appropriate after my tour of the flowers.)

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From the Firebird Suite segment of Fantasia 2000

And speaking of beauty, I have three books to give away by three wonderful authors. You remember them:

9780762456338Lyn_photo

HagarHeadshot2color22929066

9780803739260_NearlyGone_JKT.indd CordeliaJensenAuthorPhoto

If you’re thoroughly confused about what I just mentioned, click on these interview posts:
https://lmarie7b.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/check-this-out-surviving-santiago/
https://lmarie7b.wordpress.com/2015/06/04/check-this-out-julia-child-an-extraordinary-life-in-words-and-pictures/
https://lmarie7b.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/check-this-out-skyscraping/

Huge thanks to the authors for donating signed books and other swag! After consulting the random number generator, I have three winners. The winner of Surviving Santiago is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!!!

The winner of Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marilyn Warner!!!

The winner of Skyscraping is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

One of the authors I’m featuring: Lyn Miller-Lachmann!!! (Yes, authors who comment are eligible for the drawing too.)

Winners, congratulations. Signed copies will be coming your way! Please comment below to confirm, then please email me. Thanks for commenting!

Iris

I’m ready for my closeup.

Author photos courtesy of authors. Book covers from the authors and Goodreads. Flowers, tree, and chair photos by L. Marie. Puppy eyes photo from jinglegraphicdesign.blogspot.com. Fantasia 2000 image from pinterest.com.

Check This Out: Surviving Santiago

Please join me in welcoming back to the blog my good friend and classmate at VCFA, Lyn Miller-Lachmann. It’s my pleasure to help her celebrate today’s launch of her young adult historical fiction book, Surviving Santiago, published by Running Press Kids/Perseus Books. (Click on the publisher to read a synopsis of this book.)

9780762456338 Lyn_photo

Lyn is represented by Ellen Geiger at Frances Goldin Literary Agency. Her publicist just happens to be another classmate of ours: Val Howlett.

book birthday

El Space: Happy Launch Day, Lyn! When you wrote Gringolandia (Curbstone Press, 2009), did you envision a sequel to follow? Why or why not?
Lyn: I didn’t expect to write a companion or sequel. Technically, this is a companion rather than a sequel because it has a different protagonist, one who was a major secondary character in the previous book. When I started Gringolandia as a contemporary novel back in 1987, I saw it as a stand-alone. Then, when it lost a contract with a major publisher and I couldn’t find another editor to take it on, I didn’t think I’d get one book out of all my work, much less two.

Over the next fifteen years, I’d occasionally return to the shelved manuscript, rewriting it from different characters’ perspectives because I loved the story and characters so much and couldn’t bear to let them go forever. However, Tina was never one of the characters I chose. For serious Gringolandia fans who want to know, the characters tapped to tell parts of the story over the years were Daniel, Courtney, Papá, Mamá, and one of the solidarity committee members from Chile, Patricio Wheelock.

hbc_gringolandia_front_med

In Gringolandia, Tina appears as more of a victim of her family’s turmoil, struggling with her own problems. Had I written her story, it would have become the focus. I think that’s one of the reasons my late editor at Curbstone Press, Sandy Taylor, suggested I write an entirely different novel from Tina’s point of view. He wanted to know what happened to her. Over the years, Gringolandia readers asked the same thing, and that’s why I wrote the initial draft of Surviving Santiago and kept working on it even after my editor had passed and my publisher had gone out of business.

El Space: Please walk us through the development of your character, Tina Aguilar. What traits, if any, do you share?
Lyn: Unlike her older brother, Tina never knew what it was like to live in Chile under democracy. She was born in June 1973, at a tumultuous time three months before the military coup. There were strikes, food shortages, and continuous demonstrations on both sides that sometimes led to violent confrontations. After the coup, her father, like many other supporters of the previous government, was detained for a few months—she was an infant then—and after that he went from being a sports journalist to a taxi driver who practiced his real profession underground. So insecurity and fear were in the air even though she remembers her childhood before her father’s lengthy imprisonment as an idyllic time. Along with losing her father, though, she lost her home, her country, and her language, and when she saw her father for the few months after his release, it was yet one more traumatic experience.

Playa Viña del Mar, Playas de Chile

Like me, Tina has a lot of difficulty adjusting to change. Her problems, though, are due more to trauma and growing up with a lot of stress and insecurity that I didn’t experience in my own childhood—though being on the autism spectrum and not knowing why one is different and/or struggles with social relationships creates stress of its own.

El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Lyn: The hardest part was getting inside the head of Frankie, Tina’s Chilean boyfriend. While he’s not the protagonist, he has needs and desires, and his relationship with Tina changes him as well as her. I needed to know him well to make him a convincing character, but while I knew a lot of immigrants to the United States from Chile, I didn’t know any teenagers personally who’d never left the country and thus spent their entire lives under dictatorship.

El Space: What excites you about historical fiction and this time period in particular?
Lyn: I like the world-building aspects, using my research and writing skills to recreate a different time and place. In terms of world building, historical fiction is a lot like speculative fiction because you’re taking the reader somewhere else and hopefully making it worth the trip. Historical fiction also allows readers to see history from the eyes of ordinary people who generally don’t make it into textbooks, except, perhaps as statistics.

I grew up with the us-versus-them mentality of the Cold War, and learning that the United States installed and maintained regimes as oppressive as those of the Soviet Bloc was eye-opening and disturbing. And while a growing number of authors are writing books about the Cold War era in the United States—Deborah Wiles and her award-winning linked titles Countdown and Revolution come to mind—and some have written about the Castro regime in Cuba and life behind the Iron Curtain, very few books have addressed the experiences of people living under repressive anti-Communist regimes.

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El Space: What do you hope readers will glean from this story?
Lyn: Violence flourishes when we cease to see our neighbor as a human being just like ourselves because of politics, religion, race, ethnicity, class, or sexual orientation/gender identity. And sometimes we get so wrapped up in our us-versus-them patterns of thinking that it takes an outsider—someone like Tina—to point out the truth. Most teenagers feel like outsiders, but they also have fresh perspectives that deserve consideration. I hope Surviving Santiago inspires teenagers to speak out when they see hatred and injustice directed against anyone.

El Space: Which authors inspired you on the journey to making this book happen?
Lyn: I’m a fan of the late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, and a central element of his novel Distant Star (New Directions, 2005) appears in Surviving Santiago. I also want to let people know about two outstanding works for middle grade readers that depict violence by the U.S.-supported military government in Guatemala during the Cold War—Marge Pellegrino’s Journey of Dreams (Frances Lincoln, 2009) and Skila Brown’s Caminar (Candlewick, 2014).

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Distant-Star

El Space: How would you encourage an author to write historical fiction and make it relevant for a teen audience?
Lyn: Like the popular genre of speculative fiction, historical fiction sets the reader in a different world and addresses big themes. Too often, though, readers have been turned off because the author’s extensive research shows through. For my own writing, I read a lot of dystopian fiction and try to capture that vibe in Surviving Santiago, which is set in a very real dystopia. We history buffs enjoy sifting through minutiae, but more than a little to provide the atmosphere and world building bogs the story down and contributes to the reputation of historical fiction as boring and too much like school. Surviving Santiago is above all an innocent romance that turns very dangerous very quickly because Tina is unaware of the depth of hatred in the society. It’s a story that could happen anywhere—past, present, or future—and I tried to put in enough detail to make it tangible and interesting without slowing down the action.

Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!

Searching for Lyn? You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Surviving Santiago can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

I’m giving away a copy of Surviving Santiago. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on June 10.

Happy Launch Day also to another classmate of mine, Cordelia Jensen, whose novel in verse, Skyscraping, debuts today. She’ll be here June 8 to talk about her book! Stay tuned!

Book covers from Goodreads. Book birthday sign from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com. Map from platoslatinos.net.