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I was born in Nicaragua and lived there until the age of eleven. Due to the economical and political crisis in Nicaragua, my family and I were left with no choice but to emigrate. After having lived in Toronto for twenty-five years now I’ve grown accustomed to its way of life. Yes, it’s a place I call home but deep within me I still have no sense of belonging or patriotism; I have yet to find my place in the world.
I am faced with a challenge that (I believe) other people also face, and that is the challenge of finding a place to call home, not only because it’s where we physically reside but also because it’s where our soul can truly belong. This confession leads me to this month’s interview with Cinda MacKinnon, author of A Place In The World, a romantic-adventure story of a young biologist and a multicultural cast of characters.
My pleasure – thanks for taking the time to welcome me to your blog and being part of my blog tour!
My dad worked as a U.S. advisor to governments during the Cold War and shortly after I was born we moved to Salonika, Greece; a couple of years later to Germany. From there we moved to Bogotá, Colombia and dad became an attaché with the embassy. We were lucky (except for a revolution) to live there for six years and I cried as we flew out. But Costa Rica proved to be a welcoming and nurturing place and my parents retired there – putting a hiatus to our nomadic life. I came to the U.S. for college, feeling very much like “fish out of water” culturally, and after graduation moved with my husband to New Zealand. Thus I didn’t really begin living in the U.S. until my early thirties. I have now been here long enough to put down roots and feel like a northern Californian.
The beautiful places and people in Latin America stayed in my heart and mind through the years even though I felt “cut off”. And then, like most writers, a story was spinning in my head. It was my also an excuse to write about the cloud forest (I originally wanted to be a rainforest biologist.)
Well the research involved studying both the political and sociological settings of the times and consulting Latino friends. I also made trips to Latin America to study the rainforest and coffee growing – but the latter was the fun part. As for literary challenges, I don’t know how I would have managed without my writer’s group – all published authors – who suggested improvements as the story took form. Psychological? Perhaps not projecting myself into the story by forming characters who saw things realistically or differently. Logistical: I didn’t know that writing is only half the battle – editing, publishing and promoting has taken up much of the last year and a half.
A story needs conflict and action to be interesting – if I just wrote about the happy Carvallo family it would be boring. Colombia is a place where dramatic things were happening from 1970 through the 1990’s – when the book takes place. The coffee market was volatile, but the guerillas and drug lords looming in the background made everyday life hazardous.
Everyone writes “what they know” i.e. from their own experiences or those of people they knew. The novel is fictional, but many of the scenes were prompted by life and then expanded or exaggerated. For example, my family lived through a volcanic eruption that mimics the one in the story and I have friends who own a coffee finca. Don Felipe, Pepe and Jorge are men who could very well exist in Latin America and remind me of men I knew – in a general sense. Carmen is the one character who is modeled after two remarkable women I knew who had tough lives, but managed to remain warm and cheerful. Other than that, all scenes and dialogues are strictly products of my imagination.
It is a double entendre as it is both about a magical place (in the eyes of the protagonist) – a coffee finca surrounded by an emerald cloud forest – but also about a young woman without a country finding her place in the world.
In the story Alicia decides that it isn’t the place itself that matters so much as the people you surround yourself with. I think you have to appreciate wherever you live without losing your own sense of identity and roots. Time and acceptance helped me. Actually I think you have been an expat all your life – you can probably tell your readers as much as I. I suspect you are a man who has learned to fit in anywhere.
My family enjoyed it immensely. I think it is often easier for the kids than for the grown-ups. (I remember one pathetic woman who wanted to go home because she couldn’t buy a certain spaghetti sauce she was used to!) Adults often gravitate to their own countrymen whereas little kids do not distinguish and pick up languages quickly. This allows them to assimilate easier, but by high school there is awareness that you stand out because of your looks as a foreigner or “this isn’t really my country”. For the parents, coming back home really is just that but not for the kids. Their parent’s homeland is a strange place they are supposed to fit into – but they don’t. When I moved to the States at 17, I don’t know if I was expecting the culture shock. When people asked me where I was from I would say “Costa Rica” and when someone said “No, you’re not!” I realized I didn’t have a place I was “from”. So it is a double-edged sword, in that you have little sense of belonging – but in exchange to get to immerse yourself in other cultures and languages that will give you connections and insights and behoove you all your life.
Probably not. I changed it so many times – deleting characters and scenes, rewriting the beginning and ending over and over – that I think this is the book it is meant to be.
I have 3 or 4 ideas I am experimenting with – none longer than a chapter as yet. One is about a group of multinational teens in a boarding school in Europe. The idea is to give perhaps four characters the leads and follow them into their adult lives. I will have to see if it pans out or something else takes over my mind.
I think you a have given me that opportunity. For those of you who are curious about the novel I’ll just give you my “elevator pitch”. The story is about a young biologist who marries a Colombian and goes to live on a remote coffee finca. Calamities befall one after another and Alicia ends of running the finca alone.
Cinda is happy to respond to questions/comments about this post or her book. http://cindamackinnon.wordpress.com
Site to see some great photos of the rainforests and Colombia: http://www.pinterest.com/CindaMac/boards/
To see reviews or to buy the book (available in various formats) : A Place In The World – Amazon