While we’re all still enjoying the (hopefully not) last of the summer weather, it seems appropriate to do an interview with author Lyn Miller-Lachmann regarding her book SURVIVING SANTIAGO, which takes place in the warm region of Chile in South America.
Returning to her homeland of Santiago, Chile, is the last thing that Tina Aguilar wants to do during the summer of her sixteenth birthday. It has taken eight years for her to feel comfort and security in America with her mother and her new husband. And it has been eight years since she has last seen her father.
Despite insisting on the visit, Tina’s father spends all his time focused on politics and alcohol rather than connecting with Tina, making his betrayal from the past continue into the present. Tina attracts the attention of a mysterious stranger, but the hairpin turns he takes her on may push her over the edge of truth and discovery.
The tense, final months of the Pinochet regime in 1989 provide the backdrop for author Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s suspenseful tale of the survival and redemption of the Aguilar family, first introduced in the critically acclaimed Gringolandia.
GG: Welcome, Lyn! We’re so glad to have you visit us here at YAB. First, I should say, you and I share a common thread—we’re both librarians, and we both write. However, I hear you’re a big traveler…something I’m not. Do you think traveling makes you a different sort of author, especially when writing a book like SURVIVING SANTIAGO, which takes place in a country very different from the United States in many ways?
LML: It certainly does! When I started writing GRINGOLANDIA, the companion to SURVIVING SANTIAGO, in 1987, I had never been to Chile. I had many Chilean friends and had written most of the book before I received a Work-in-Progress grant from SCBWI to travel there for some interviews with former political prisoners. Living with a family in Chile for nearly a month, traveling through the country, and meeting and interviewing dozens of people gave me a completely different perspective. I ended up rewriting GRINGOLANDIA completely, with a brand-new ending that reflected what was going on in the country at the time I was there, in January 1990. And my experience gave me the ideas and material to write SURVIVING SANTIAGO, which is almost entirely set in Chile at the time I was there. Like Tina, I was going to a country undergoing many changes and I was an outsider trying to figure things out.
GG: As someone who doesn’t know a lot about that area, I love that you have teacher guides for your books on your website! Not only is this helpful to teachers/students studying a book, but it can be great for teen book club discussion. Will you have something for SURVIVING SANTIAGO at any point? I feel like there could be a lot of discussion around the political/cultural aspects of this book that readers might not know about.
LML: I’m glad you asked! There’s a brand-new SURVIVING SANTIAGO teacher guide aligned with Common Core for teachers in schools that follow the Common Core standards. But anyone can use the teacher guide because the Common Core are quite broad and reflect the approach that most teachers use anyway. You can download the guide at my publisher’s website: http://www.rpcurriculumguides.com/curriculum_guides.html
GG: I’m always in awe of authors who can weave a complicated story together based on a specific time or place---and still add all of the elements essential to YA reads----love, angst, identity etc. Do you feel like it’s easier to build these ideas into a time-specific novel because there is so much backstory already there, or does that make it more difficult?
LML: World building is key to historical and international fiction in much the same way that it is to speculative fiction. In fact, I have a hard time understanding the claim that teens won’t read historical fiction when popular genres such as fantasy, dystopian, and science fiction are also set in unfamiliar worlds. Any world, real or imagined, can be boring, or it can be amazing. My challenge, of course, in SURVIVING SANTIAGO, as in any historical novel and/or one in an unfamiliar place, is to build a world both accurate and interesting. I had the advantage of setting the book in Chile, which is really an amazing place, where the world’s longest beaches and highest mountains are only a hundred miles apart. My characters go to the beach and the mountains, and what happens there has emotional significance and life-and-death stakes for them. All of the details of setting have to do double duty; they can’t only be there for historical interest. They earn their place by being key to the characters’ emotional life, relationships, and conflicts, which is where the love and angst come in.
GG: Speaking of YA books, what are some of your favourite YA reads this year? Is there anything you’re really anticipating?
LML:As an author of diverse books and a team member of We Need Diverse Books, I’ve made an effort to read YA books by diverse authors, as well as in the genre in which I mostly write, historical fiction. I lived in New York City in the early 1980s, so I was especially impressed by Sofia Quintero’s SHOW AND PROVE, which captures the city and its hip-hop culture during that time. A more contemporary look at a community undergoing change—in this case, gentrification—is at the heart of Renee Watson’s THIS SIDE OF HOME. Others that I’ve appreciated this year are Jason Reynolds’s THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT, set in a black neighborhood in present-day Brooklyn; Cindy L. Rodriguez’s contemporary novel WHEN REASON BREAKS about two classmates, one Puerto Rican and one Anglo, who contemplate suicide and the poetry of Emily Dickinson; and AUDACITY, Melanie Crowder’s fictionalized biography of early twentieth century Jewish-American feminist and labor activist Clara Lemlich. The book that I’m most anticipating (and I believe it has already been published) is Margarita Engle’s memoir in verse ENCHANTED AIR. Her verse novel set in Panama during the building of the canal, SILVER PEOPLE, was one of my favorite reads of 2014.
GG: SURVIVING SANTIAGO is a stand-alone book, but follows up on your earlier release GRINGOLANDIA. Do you have any plans to do another book with these characters? Working on anything new?
LML: I’ve been thinking about writing an adult novel from the perspective of Vicky, Tina and Daniel’s mother, but I don’t have plans at this point to write another YA novel with these characters. However, I didn’t intend to write SURVIVING SANTIAGO when I wrote GRINGOLANDIA, but so many people said they loved Tina in that novel and wanted to know what happened to her.
Right now, I’m working on another historical novel set in Portugal in the 1960s. It was the time of another brutal dictatorship, and my main character becomes infatuated with a fado (Portuguese blues) song and follows its singer into a dangerous underground resistance movement. I’m finding a lot of things in common between my story, based on true events, and dystopian fiction. I live part of each year in Portugal, speak Portuguese as well as Spanish, and have really enjoyed doing the research for this book.
GG: Wow. This is absolutely fantastic, Lyn. Thanks so much for sharing this with us today. I feel like I need to go out and read different books…I think I’m missing out!
If you’d like to find out more about Lyn Miller-Lachmann or SURVIVING SANTIAGO, you can find her at: