It is always a treat when one author gets to interview another. We know the work that goes into each book, love to hear about what inspires a fellow scribbler to turn thoughts and imagery into words, and can’t resist probing to find out what parts of another author’s background is revealed in a book’s pages.
This week I was lucky enough to chat virtually with Agustin D. “Gus” Martinez, the author of the Prize Americana-winning novel, The Mares of Lenin Park, and am delighted to share the experience with L4LL readers.
Carmen Amato: You write in many genres. Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to become such a diverse writer.
Guz Martinez: I grew up in Miami, Florida and taught English in Miami before moving to the Washington, DC area where I currently reside and still work in the field of education. In high school and college, I was involved in theatre, and therefore, I began my writing career writing plays. From there, I began writing short stories, and ultimately, my first novel, The Mares of Lenin Park.
When I write, there are certain topics or characters that I feel should be written in one of these forms, plays or fiction. Sometimes, it is necessary for me to tell a story using only dialogue and stage directions, while there are certain topics, such as Uli’s story in Mares, which I feel could only be told in the form of a novel, one reason being that the setting in the novel is as much a character as are the actual characters in the book.
CA: Your book, The Mares of Lenin Park, has an unusual title. Tell us what it means and how you chose it.
GM: Students of mine used to tell me about a park they visited as children, Lenin Park. I developed almost an extended metaphor of mares in the park, old and graying, with blinders on, yet they carried on not knowing what existed outside of their line of sight. In the novel, this image comes up a few times symbolizing how, unfortunately, we sometimes live within the confines of what we see or hear, not knowing of other worlds that exist outside our own. The image I painted in the book is almost the same as that in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
CA: The Mares of Lenin Park address many themes; Cuban life, the Russia-Cuba relationship, drug culture, and coming-of-age issues. How did you research all this and how much is drawn from your own background?
GM: Growing up in Miami, I constantly heard stories of what Cuba was like before and after the Revolution, what my parents and immediate family experienced and how they were divided on the political beliefs early on. In fact, some family still remains in Cuba. Aside from stories I heard growing up, students of mine in Miami told me numerous stories of what life in the early ‘90s was like in Cuba without the support of the Soviet Union. This period interested me, and I decided to set the novel during this “special” period, as Castro referred to it. I further interviewed family who visited from Cuba, and through the Internet, I was able to communicate with my aunts, uncle and cousins who still reside in Havana.
CA: Describe the ideal audience for The Mares of Lenin Park.
GM: Some people believe that since the book’s protagonist is a teenage boy that this is a young adult novel. It may be; however, I think it is a true crossover novel and many of my readers, who are mostly adults, seem to enjoy the novel just as much as some of the teenagers who have read the book. I believe that the themes are universal, not just themes that relate to the coming-of-age of Uli Aguilera.
CA: What author or book has influenced you the most?
GM: I was immediately hooked to the writings of Mark Twain as an adolescent. His stories, themes, and use of satire have influenced my writing greatly.
CA: Do you think that much Latino literature is widely read outside the Latino community? Why or why not?
GM: I’m really not sure about this. I know that I am always on the lookout for Latino literature. I think more and more, Latino writers such as Junot Diaz are making a big splash in the literary community.
CA: What should Latino authors be doing to promote literacy and the love of reading?
GM: As an educator, I believe that Latino authors must promote literacy by working with schools or colleges around the country. Whether it be doing readings, signings, or just letting those in education know that our books are out there is vital. For example, I have contacted various school districts around the nation to consider my book as one of the books taught in English classes. I was surprised at all the positive response I received!
CA: What are you currently reading?
GM: I’m currently reading and almost finished with Yoani Sanchez’ book, Havana Real, based on her blogs that she wrote as a Cuban dissident. It’s fascinating! I should’ve picked it up sooner.
CA: How can L4LL readers get in touch to find out more about your books, plays, and short stories?
GM: They can always visit my book’s Facebook page, or contact me directly at email@example.com. I love hearing from readers!
Thank you, Gus Martinez, for such thoughtful answers. We wish you continued success with both The Mares of Lenin Park and your other writing. You can find The Mares of Lenin Park on amazon.com.
And remember to help both readers and writers like Gus by leaving reviews of great LatinoLit. Here is how to write a review in just a few easy steps!
Carmen Amato is the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and CLIFF DIVER, the first book in her Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco which was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “consistently exciting.” The next book in that series, HAT DANCE, will be released next week!
In HAT DANCE, Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz will risk a dance with the devil in a desperate attempt to stop an arsonist and find a missing girl. But when the music stops, the consequences will be deadly.
Check out all Carmen’s books at http://amazon.com/author/carmenamato and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects or Facebook. Her Pinterest boards illustrate her books and can be found at http://pinterest.com/CarmenConnects.