When Lyn Miller-Lachman contacted me about reviewing Gringolandia, she also mentioned that on May 25th she'd be at the Battery Park City branch of the New York Public Library on a panel with two other authors, Andrew Xia Fukuda (Crossing) and Peter Marino (Magic and Misery and Doughboy). Even though the panel was scheduled to be right in the middle of BEA (aka, craziest time of the year at work), I worked through my tiredness yesterday and made it all the way down to Battery Park City for the panel.
The library was extremely hot and stuffy - summer is hitting New York but the library doesn't get to turn on its air conditioning until June 1st. A small group was gathered for the presentation and despite the fliers saying it was a talk for 12-18 year olds, it was just adults in attendance. Before the panel got started I introduced myself to Lyn and chatted with her for a few minutes and she introduced me to Pegi Deitz Shea, author of the upcoming Abe in Arms. I also met a few book publicists who I hope to catch dinner with as part of the Book Blogger Con festivities later this week.
But enough about me - let's get to the panel!
Peter spoke first, presenting us with the PowerPoint presentation the dean of his college has dubbed "death by PowerPoint." About halfway through the presentation, I was agreeing with the dean and wanted to point Peter towards the Slate article on how not to do PowerPoint presentations. He spoke about a 1999 incident in upstate New York where a 16 year old gay boy turned on his harassers after days of anti-gay harassment by hitting the other boys with a stick. As this was five months after Columbine, the school's zero tolerance policy was put into effect and he was suspended for months while the boys who harassed him escaped punishment. This set up some of the dynamics in his book Magic and Misery about a girl and her gay best friend.
Next the presentation detoured into talking about Dough Boy, with some statistics about obesity and bullying.
Then we were back onto LGBT bullying with statistics from the 2007 GLSEN School Climate Survey. He said that the results of the survey seemed more dire than what he heard was going on in schools - but his only point of evidence supporting his claim was that girls are going through "bi-phases" in high school and that's seen as okay. I really wanted to point out that of course girls acting bi is going to be seen as okay thanks to the sub-genre of lesbian porn, the aesthetics of which permeate our culture even if you aren't looking for it. Until it's okay for not-conventionally-attractive girls to identify as bisexual, or boys can walk down the hallway hand in hand without harassment, school culture is going to remain unsafe.
Ahem. Moving on.
Lyn spoke next, with her own PowerPoint presentation that was much more succinct than Peter's and was clearly tailored for this specific panel. She gave us a lot of stats on Chile and Pinochet's reign of terror. She showed us chilling drawings made by political prisoners documenting their torture. She also gave more background on the story of Rodrigo Rojas Denegri, which plays a small part in the story of Gringolandia.
Finally Andrew Xia Fukuda gave us a PowerPoint-free talk, explaining that when Lyn had first asked him to be part of the panel he didn't think his book was a great fit because there was no specific crime that inspired Crossing. However, the more he thought about it he realized that two very different crimes had, at least subconsciously, inspired him. First in 1997 while he was living in Japan, his city was terrorized by a knife-wielding lunatic who went from threatening school children with knives, to stabbing them and finally progressed to brutal murders. The entire city was on edge and the fear was almost palpable, much like the community in Crossing feels. The second inspiration came from the Virginia Tech Shootings. At the time Andrew was struggling with the book and felt his protagonist was missing something, and then the shooting happened and with it the news that the shooter was an Asian-American man. Andrew actually shelved the book and vowed to never publish it because at the time his protagonist was also a dark character who could be seen as supporting some of the worst Asian-American stereotypes a la the Virginia Tech shooter. But over the following weeks and months Andrew re-thought the character and figured out how to add subtleties and nuances to make him much more than just a stereotype, and gives us the book that is out today.
Next was Q&A time. I didn't write down every question and answer as usual because there was just too much going on, but when the inevitable inspiration question came up, Lyn shared a specific (non-criminal) incident that inspired Gringolandia. When she was living in Wisconsin in the '80s, she taught English to immigrants, mainly from Central and South America, including Chile. She also worked with a cultural group that sponsored artists and musicians from Central and South America, bringing them to the US to share their work both with the immigrant communities and to spread awareness to US citizens. At one point Lyn played host to a Chilean father and son musician pair - the father had been exiled from Chile when his son was just a boy. The boy's mother had chosen to stay in Chile with the kids, but when the son turned 18 he decided to join his father and study music. Lyn was hosting them when they were still getting reacquainted, which inspired the relationship Daniel and his father Marcelo have in the novel.
Andrew was asked how concerned he was by stereotypes while writing and got the biggest laugh of the evening when he said that Xing is a character not seen very often in YA lit: he's male, Asian and not a vampire. He said he didn't want to be preachy in the book and instead hoped he'd created a well-rounded enough character that he could stand on his own and influence readers to think beyond stereotypes.
When asked what do they hope readers take away from their novels, Peter said he wanted readers to see the truth of the characters and to have their eyes opened to situations and people they may never have thought of before. Lyn wants readers to be inspired to explore the world, which is how she signs her books, and to think about taking risks, both good and bad.
And that brings me to my first giveaway!
I've mentioned before that I live in a tiny apartment with minimal bookshelf space - that's why most of the books I review come from the library. So not only do I not need another book weighing down the shelves that I do have, but I think Gringolandia is a book that deserves to find new readers. So Lyn was gracious enough to sign the copy she had sent to me so I could give it away!
In order to win a signed copy of Gringolandia, leave a comment answering one of the following questions, inspired by Lyn's final answer on the panel last night:
1) Whats the biggest risk you've ever taken?
2) Where in the world would you most like to visit and explore?
Answer either (or both!) questions for a chance to win, and make sure to leave an e-mail address so I can contact you if you win! I can only ship to US addresses, unfortunately. I'll leave the contest open through Memorial Day (Monday, May 31st). The winner will be announced on Tuesday June 1st - chosen through a random number generator (answering the question is just to make the entries a little more interesting!).