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.)

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

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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.

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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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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.

No Peeking!

004Remember when you were a kid, and you tried to figure out what was in those boxes under the Christmas tree? (Maybe you still do.) Perhaps you grabbed a box and did the shake test to figure out its contents. (With the shake test, you run the risk of it backfiring if you are particularly vigorous and the package’s contents particularly fragile.) Or, maybe you were bold enough to tear off a tiny corner of the wrapping paper, which you later blamed on the dog or cat or a sibling, especially after a parent told you, “Hey, no peeking!”

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t wait for presents to be added to the tree. You went looking for them. I usually did, especially after hearing my older brother say, “I saw something in Mom and Dad’s closet.” Yes, I was gullible enough to take him at his word. And of course I didn’t find anything in the closet. But I continued the search by poking under their bed and in the living room closet. And you know what? My parents were way ahead of us. With three curious children, they didn’t bother hiding gifts in the house. A locked car trunk ensured that our Christmas gifts remained unopened until Christmas Day.

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Hello Kitty wants to peek inside this gift. But the tied string thwarts her. Poor Kitty. She failed to realize that the gift is in the envelope. The thing on top of it is a crocheted Christmas tree light stuffed with cotton.

What is it about surprises that make us try to figure them out beforehand? Some surprises, like wrapped Christmas gifts, are all about delayed gratification. But in our instant, I-can’t-even-wait-a-second-for-my-download society, we have to know NOW. “I’ve gotta peek,” we tell ourselves. But does learning the outcome right away make getting the gift any better? (I hear some of you murmuring, “It sure does.”)

Waiting is part of the magic of Christmas. Think about it. When a parent refused to give in to any demands to tell you RIGHT NOW what’s in those packages, the anticipation was all the more heightened. Consider how excited you were as you lay in bed, counting the seconds until you could spring up and rush to the tree.

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This season, is there anything for which you’re waiting? What can you do to regain that delightful sense of anticipation if you haven’t felt it for a while?

While you think about that, let me move on to another item of business. Those of you who waited for the Christmas book giveaway reveal, the wait is over! (Wondering what I’m talking about? Look here.) Drumroll, please . . .

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First up is a preorder of Audacity by Melanie Crowder.

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The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Courtney Stein!

Next is The Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson.

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The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!

Last, but not least, is Caminar by Skila Brown.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laurie Morrison!

Congratulations, winners! See? You didn’t have to shake a package or look in a closet or under the bed. Merry Christmas! When you confirm below, please provide an email address. Thanks for commenting.

Christmas gifts from ivysays.com. Santa hat from dcafterfive.com. Drumroll from funylool.com.

Deck the Halls with Three Good Books (Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la)

santa 9Ho ho ho! Santa’s got a brand-new bag. (If you’re a James Brown aficianado, you’ll have “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in your head now. Mwahahaha!) Today on the blog, I’m thrilled to welcome three great authors and fellow VCFA alums: Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson, and Skila Brown. They agreed to a quick interview without any coercion from moi or that cupcake-wielding supervillain, Hello Kitty. If you’re totally confused by that last statement, go here.

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Melanie, who also wrote Parched, is here to talk about her upcoming young adult historical novel-in-verse, Audacity, which will be coming to a bookstore near you on January 8, 2015 (published by Philomel Books/Penguin). Melanie is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Caroline is here to discuss The Terror of the Southlands, book 2 of her middle grade series, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, published by HarperCollins. If you were around last year, you’ll remember that Caroline stopped by just before the first book of her series debuted. (See here and here.) Good times. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies.

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And last, but certainly not least, Skila is here to talk about her middle grade historical novel-in-verse, Caminar, published by Candlewick Press. Skila is represented by Tina Wexler.

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After our discussion, I’ll talk about a holiday giveaway that I hope will be an annual thing.

El Space: Greetings and welcome to the blog. Could each of you provide an elevator pitch for your book to bring readers up to speed about it?
Melanie: Audacity is the inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history.

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Caroline: Hilary Westfield is a full-fledged pirate now, but if she doesn’t prove her boldness and daring by rescuing a kidnapped Enchantress, she’ll be kicked out of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates for good.
Skila: Set in 1981 Guatemala, this novel-in-verse tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

El Space: Awesome. So, tell us what inspired you to write your book.
Melanie: Clara’s story just wouldn’t let go of me. I first discovered her in 2010, while looking for topics to try my hand at picture book biographies during the second semester of my MFA at Vermont College. But the more I read about Clara, the more I was captivated. I began to suspect that this would turn into a novel-length book. And then her voice showed up—in free verse, no less! I had to follow. . . .
Caroline: The Terror of the Southlands is a sequel to my first book, Magic Marks the Spot. I wanted to continue the story of Hilary’s adventures on the High Seas, explore more of her world, and learn more about the characters I’d created for the first book. Also, I love detective stories, and this book, while not a traditional mystery, is absolutely swarming with detectives. Pirates too, of course!

pirate_clipart_ship_2Skila: I spent a long time reading and learning about Guatemala’s Armed Conflict and the role that the U.S. played in that violence. It made me angry—angry about what happened and angry that not many people know about it. There are so many things I can’t do about so many issues in the world. But one thing I can do is tell a story. So that’s what I did. I told a story about a boy who survived. I think survival stories are the best kind of stories to read.

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El Space: You’ve all intrigued me! If you had a choice of educating, astounding, amusing, or challenging a child or a teen with your writing, which would you choose? Why? You can pick a combination of two if you wish.
Melanie: Challenging. Definitely. This is a book for teens, and Clara was a teen when she became an activist. I absolutely want readers to find her story and to know that they, too, can change the world.
Caroline: I love reading and writing humor, so one of my main goals every time I sit down at the keyboard is to amuse both myself and my eventual readers. That said, I hope that while kids are laughing, they’re also being challenged, astounded, and only very occasionally educated.
Skila: Challenging. I was the kid who loved to be challenged and also who loved to challenge. There’s always that one kid in every class, right? Raising her hand in class to say, “I think you’re wrong,” to the teacher. I would love the idea of my book challenging what you might believe about war, or the way you think about the world, or the capabilities of a child. I love books that make me think. I hope Caminar is a book like that.

El Space: If your main character had a Christmas stocking or made a Hanukkah wish, what would this character wish for? Why?

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Melanie: Books! Clara loved poetry, and she loved learning—languages, social theory, literature—all of it!
Caroline: Hilary’s Christmas stocking would probably include a sword-polishing kit, a packet of homemade cookies from her governess, and a good book she could read aloud to her gargoyle.
Skila: Carlos would probably wish for food, for obvious reasons. But on a lighter note: candy! And maybe a radio.

Thanks, Melanie, Caroline, and Skila for stopping by! I’d love to have you guys come back again!

And if you’ve popped over to check out these authors, thanks for stopping by. There are other places where they can be found. Looking for Melanie? Look here. Looking for Caroline? Look here. Looking for Skila? Look here. You can find each wonderful book by clicking on its title:

Audacity (preorders only)
The Terror of the Southlands
Caminar

You can also find each book at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. If you’ve been wishing for more books this holiday season, your wish is about to be granted. I’m giving away a preorder of Audacity and a copy of The Terror of the Southlands and Caminar. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners will be announced on Monday, December 22.

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Jordie and his archnemesis have agreed on a truce during the holidays. Each is hoping Santa will bring him/her books by Melanie, Caroline, and Skila. Um . . . yes, Jordie and Hello Kitty still believe in Santa. Don’t you?

Christmas ornament from realestateyak.com. Hanukkah menorah from tucker-tribune.blogspot.com. Christmas stocking image from dryicons.com. Santa bag from its-so-cute.blogspot.com. Pirate ship from free-clipart-pictures.net. Strike photo from historymatters.gmu.edu.

Cover Reveal: Skyscraping

Stand by for some awesomeness. Are you ready? Boom.

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Now that I have your attention by this gorgeous cover, let me give you the stats. This awesome novel in verse was written by a friend and fellow VCFA alum, the fabulous Cordelia Jensen.

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But wait, there’s more. Check out the synopsis for Skyscraping:

A heartrending, bold novel in verse about family, identity, and forgiveness

Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he’s kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family’s fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time.

Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.

And check out this blurb:

Skyscraping is brilliant, sharp and bright. A stellar story. Jensen has written a powerful tale about love and loss, a story that will stick with readers long after they’ve reached the end. Her poetry is vivid, tangible, and visceral. She’s a rising star with a breathtaking debut. This is a novel made of star stuff.
       —Skila Brown, author of
Caminar

Skyscraping, edited by Liza Kaplan and published by Philomel, debuts June 2, 2015. But you can preorder it right here. Look for it on Goodreads also.

If you live in the Philadelphia area, you can preorder Skyscraping from the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. Email orders@bigbluemarblebooks.com or call 215-844-1870. In January, you also can preorder Skyscraping at Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores.

Stay tuned! Cordelia will be interviewed on the blog a little closer to the pub date for Skyscraping. In the meantime, you can catch up with her at her website and Twitter. Here’s more about Cordelia:

Cordelia Allen Jensen graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 and 2007. She is a Writer in Residence at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids and teens and conducts author interviews for their blog. She also teaches in the creative writing department at Bryn Mawr College. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.