JT: Love this picture of Cinda getting chummy with the dolphins in Honduras!
Today I’m posting the second half of my interview with Cinda MacKinnon, the author of A PLACE IN THE WORLD. During the first part of the interview we talked about the wonders of Colombia, the setting of her book and then we switched gears to talk more about her.
JT: When you finally settled in the U.S., what rocked your world?
CCM: I don’t know if it really rocked my world but I discovered libraries. What a joy to walk in and check out anything you feel like reading. In Latin America every time one of my friends would get a new book , we’d all pass it around like it was the greatest thing in the world. It didn’t matter if it was pulp fiction – it was a book!
CCM: I”m embarrassed to admit I also discovered television. We had a TV when I was a kid in Colombia, but only watched it once a week, when the I Love Lucy show was on. (We thought it was one of the few Colombian programs, as it was in Spanish and called “Yo Quiero a Lucy“.)
My husband was appalled that I watched Donohue etc. But in the U.S. people talk about all the shows they watched growing up like Leave it to Beaver, which I’d never seen so, of course, I had no point of reference. That whole part of the American culture was alien to me.
JT: And did you also go bonkers over McDonalds’ burgers?
CCM: No… Did I tell you about the “McDonalds’ connection” to the rainforest?
JT: No what’s that?
CM: Well, one of the reasons the rain forests were disappearing was to feed America’s love affair with hamburgers – or beef in general. Costa Rica lost a large percentage their rain forests ( more than Colombia) and the reason was cattle ranching.
JT: So to save the rain forests we should eat fewer hamburgers – or what?
CCM : Costa Rica promotes eco-tourism which helps (although it means trampling on sensitive plants etc…) And there’s reforestation, however, what regrows is not always the same as what had been there before – the plants, well, they’re just not the same. It’s kind of a double-edged sword but better than nothing. Geroge, a character in A PLACE IN THE WORLD, grows up to work on sustainable agriculture in the tropics. ( Click here for:
JT: Your novel is set in the late 1900s. Is there any particular reason you chose that time period?
CCM: It was the peak of bad times for Colombia – the drug cartels, the guerrillas, and coffee fincas being taken over for cocaine processing. Fiction needs conflict to hold our interest.
JT: You told me you considered killing off your protagonist (Alicia). Why?
CCM: During the ’70s and ’80s it wasn’t uncommon for people to simply disappear in Colombia. I knew people who were driven off their land and some even lost their lives. It just seemed realistic.
JT: You recently returned from a trip to Colombia, how was it different from the Colombia of your teen years? Did you still fear for your safety?
CCM: The embassy is, of course, telling people not to travel to certain areas (embassy personnel are not even allowed to travel by bus) however, my friends travel all over without having any problems. Enjoy the people, the scenery, enjoy the food – just be cautious at night and in rural areas.
There are certain foods you may want to avoid. In Bogota or inland areas avoid fish – except trout. I ordered bass and it came head and tail intact, fried to a dried-out crisp. Stick with trout, chicken or beef- they are big on beef. Fish is good in coastal areas of course. My favorite dish is ajaico –chicken stew with potatoes, corn, capers, herbs and avocado.
Also be sure to try arepas, corn cakes, and empanandas, sort of meat fritters, while in Colombia – and I love the platano (plantain) and yuca. By the way, the water is safe in Bogota – but not in rural areas.
JT: Last but not least, how was your experience publishing your first novel? Any words to the wise to debut novelists?
CCM: That’s a huge topic – I could write a book! There are so many aspects of preparing a book for publishing and the spectrum of options between traditional and DIY. I’ll blog about the experience in the next couple of months.
JT: And now blog followers, as promised, one last picture of Cinda’s wonderful dog, Gaston.