Today, Flashlight Commentary is pleased to welcome author Trini Amador to our little corner of the net to discuss his debut release, Gracianna. This was easily one of my favorite interviews to host and I'm so excited to be sharing it with you.
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Gracianna, my first novel, is inspired by true events in the life of my great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. I have always been haunted by the vivid memory of finding a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering at her home in Southern California. Even though I was only four at the time, the memory remained strong, and I knew I had to explore the story behind the gun. Gracianna is now the name of the family winery I run with my wife, son and daughter.
Your work is based on the life of your great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. Why did you feel her story needed to be told?
As a boy I was left with a powerful value. Gratitude. My great-grandmother used to talk about being thankful to me. What that meant I had no idea. I don’t think folks really begin to understand what gratitude is until you are in your forties or fifties or maybe even later. One needs to live longer to better appreciate what we have. At four or five years old that idea of being thankful for what one has comes to have a stronger meaning as I grew into it. I needed to discover what gratitude meant to me through the research and writing of this story.
What research went into the writing of this book and what, if any, challenges did you face in adapting your research to fiction?
At first I thought I had learned more about World War II and the Holocaust than I cared to know. But I found that the research ultimately took me to the Basque county between France and Spain and then to Paris and then eventually to Auschwitz .I had no idea when I started this project that my family had any linkage to Auschwitz until my aunt told me about a meeting she had with Gracianna’s sister and seeing the “mark” on the inside of her forearm. I had no problem adapting the work – the story is clear to me as I had been forming the story for so many years. The effort was in incorporating all the new and true portions into my vision of what the story would be. Once I started writing it just flowed. I am grateful to Hillel Black, my editor who has worked on no less than twenty New York Times best sellers. He has worked with talented writers from Sydney Sheldon to George Plimpton and Moshe Dayan.
What scene posed the greatest challenges for you as an author?
I came back to several scenes and spent days on certain sentences, writing, re-writing, trying to express and evoke the deepest emotion. There were many scenes that I agonized over but two or three come to mind and you can decide to share any or all with your readers:
These were the thoughts in Juan’s mind, kaleidoscopic thoughts that gently tumbled, night after night, in his pre-dream driftings. He dreamed of an emerald-colored good life. He saw the thoughts like a play unfolding and refolding on the inside of his eyelids, in vivid colors with his own mountaintop sound. These were his young man musings. Sometimes he would gaze skyward with his lonely imaginative eyes at the end of his night-play thoughts and sense the way the moist air would invisibly layer dew all over his bedroll cover and cap. Juan would grin, warmed because he knew his well-trimmed beard was impervious to the droplets.
I returned to this passage more than ten different times during the writing process. I wanted to accurately express the loneliness of Juan and the intensity of feelings he had for his awakening to an “emerald-colored good life” as he came to realize his love for Gracianna. This paragraph was to act as the set up for the ancient dance that was to come. It was also a nod to L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, one of my favorite books and movies. I wanted to reach for a sentence that attempted the wonderment of how Dorothy might feel as she awakened in her “new world”
It was an ancient dance of innocence. Ceremoniously, Juan moved some stump seats into place for a long evening, swept the earth for a smooth conversation pit, placed the coffee pot as sentry for the next morning, shook and then carefully laid out his thick, wool bedroll—like a Turkish carpet man rolls out his wool for a buyer to inspect and admire—careful not to look her in the eye, but using motions and hand gestures to trick her eye into looking at the welcoming spot on the ground.
Gracianna was now thoroughly adjusting the tack, with occasional rattles of buckles, snaps of leather straps, plus some light horse whispering thrown in.
Her whispering in the ear of the horse intensified his interest.
Juan leaned forward. Gracianna leaned back. Each finding a reason to circle back to the other.
He now felt her wanting to flow with him. More and more, the tension built as the inevitable moment of choice came closer.
Finally, the crack-opening of the ranch-stilled whiskey, the tinny sound of two small cups being set atop the uneven log between the stumps, set tentatively, set just right, set with the smallest of a wood-pewter clink to signal the final moment of truth and set out the evening’s field of intrigue.Gracianna turned to look at Juan, her hand curled into the horse’s mane with the reins, nearly ready to mount.
Neither knew it, but only the late afternoon cricket, with his hypersensitive saw-legs could feel the vibe-pitch of the intense duel; cleverness, wonder, and anxiety from deep inside both souls. They were closer than ever and mate-dancing so perfectly. It was hardwired. Not knowing that we know how, we just do it, involuntarily the first time. “Just one drink is fine, if you don’t want to stay for two.” Juan began to pour.
Gracianna said nothing, which meant she did not object.
Juan poured the second cup. When he was done, Gracianna had not moved, so he brought the cups to her.
But, coming closer, he’d read the truth in her eyes.
“You’ll stay won’t you?”I reached way back to the moments when I felt the first inkling of attraction and tried to help readers feel the innocence of the “ancient” pull that we all feel inside us. The innocence of that “pull” to another person is one of the most magical moments in our life. I wanted to help the reader teeter on the edge of that moment before ‘falling” (and that was why I had Gracianna literally “fall” for Juan…oh, I love telling these back stories. Thanks Erin). I had several of these moments. Once was in my English class in 9th grade in Santa Rosa California at Comstock Junior High School. I was in Mr. Archer’s class (a particular fervent English teacher who gave me a double shot of Melville’s’ Bartleby, the Scrivener and Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage igniting a fire of the written word) and sat next to Virginia Bacigalupi. I sat next to her each day for most of the year. But one hot afternoon, the door was open and a warm breeze entered the room and I looked over at her and realized she was the most beautiful woman in the world. It enveloped me. I was overcome. I never told her but it hit me Pow! Who else can recount that sort of experience? Gracianna is filled with moments of realizations. This is what I was aiming for. I hope that is realized.The last passage was this:The Nazis arrived with efficiency at 8 p.m. sharp. Black ink had arrived in the dining room; their dark boots wrote evil words on the tiled floor as they cracked. Gracianna wondered how she would scrub the evil imprints of their footsteps off the floor.My brother Mark, a powerful writer himself, actually sent me a note about this line and said it was magic. I spent days on this line. It was the first line of the chapter “Gracianna’s Shock.”The “floor” plays an important role in the story. It acts as the place where Gracianna plays out her life. I used her relationship with the floor as an allegory for her life…it was sticky, she needed to clean it in her drive to be perfect, it has evil imprints, “words written” on the floor by the Nazi’s “dark boots.” Everything needed to be just right and it all started with the floors. This surely was a link to my own life when the time to be “perfect” was reflected in all acts including a floor being clean and perfect.Gracianna's relationship with her sister Constance is a central element of the story. How did you approach re-creating the connection between these two women?Piercing question Erin! As you rightly point out it is one of the major themes of the story. The unique love and awakening of and between siblings. I studied these types of relationships around me but especially between my son and daughter. Ashley and Trini (IV) were the drivers of the characters. My belief is that inevitably siblings (of any gender) vie for attention, affection and resources from each other, their parents and their extended community as they grow into their own self. Our kids do not have the exact characteristics of Gracianna and Constance but the dynamic is the same. I wanted to make it a realistic portrayal of siblings that any person with a brother or sister could relate to. In my view, as each matures into their own person they come to better accept the other for who they are realizing that one does not control the other, one must respect and appreciate that their shared experience has led each to a place that hopefully each will find comfort. “I am who I am and you accept me, love me and celebrate my successes and failures for that.” At the end of the day, the archetype is that siblings unconditionally love each other and simultaneously are most critical while being the biggest fan of one another. Maybe I have over-thought this but who doesn’t relate to that?If it isn't too impertinent a question, how do you think Gracianna's war time experiences influenced the person she became after the conflict?Obviously the war, in her true-life experience was a major influencer in her life. It made her (and her generation) not take things for granted and to be wary of the future. They made conservative choices as a result of the war I think. But it gave a powerful sense of gratitude. To be grateful for what we have now, life, health. family.Being a history nut, I have to ask. What happened to the German Luger your great-grandmother kept in her bedroom?I am finished saying “great question Erin.” You are full of great questions! My Aunt Kathy tells me that the Luger was sold to a man that was friend of the family. She could not remember his name or for how much but it was more to get “rid of it” than anything else. You need to understand, as far as I know, no one knew or remembered about the incident with me and the gun.How do you think your great-grandmother would feel about your work? Assuming you could sit down and discuss it over a glass of wine, what do you think she would say?Wow, that made me tear up. I am overwhelmed at the thought. She would be so proud. She would probably touch my hair or face—even though I am a grown man—and say that I must have heard her well when I was a boy. How pleased she is that I have gone my own way. Then say, “Why did you make me so short in the story?”What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?Courage to act can be a powerful driver of our day to day activities. Folks tell me that we are filled with the mundane. Deciding to act in a way that breaks that monotony of life takes courage. Try it. Write a book, change careers, stand up for what you believe in, speak up, take a stand, act.Finally, what is next for you? Any new projects waiting in the wings?Funny you should ask, Greenleaf has asked the same thing and like the idea of the follow up to Gracianna and there is a story. But before I started thinking about writing the sequel I had already outlined a book, based on true events, about my time working in the music business in Hollywood. I think at the first of the year I will decide if that is in the stars. I would love to hear from your readers and let me know what they think. Trini.Amador3@Gracianna.netThanks you so much for asking such wonderful questions Erin. I absolutely enjoyed spending this time with you. Let’s do this again whenever you want.════════════════════════════ ❧ ════════════════════════════About the Book: The gripping story of Gracianna--a French-Basque girl forced to make impossible decisions after being recruited into the French Resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris. Gracianna is inspired by true events in the life of Trini Amador's great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. As an adult, Amador was haunted by the vivid memory of finding a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering his great-grandmother's home in Southern California. He was only four years old at the time, but the memory remained and he knew he had to explore the story behind the gun. Decades later, Amador would delve into the remarkable odyssey of his Gracianna's past, a road that led him to an incredible surprise. In Gracianna, Amador weaves fact and fiction to tell his great-grandmother's story. Gracianna bravely sets off to Paris in the early 1940s--on her way to America, she hopes--but is soon swept into the escalation of the war and the Nazi occupation of Paris. After chilling life-and-death struggles, she discovers that her missing sister has surfaced as a laborer in Auschwitz. When she finds an opportunity to fight back against the Nazis to try to free her sister, she takes it--even if it means using lethal force. As Amador tells the imagined story of how his great-grandmother risked it all, he delivers richly drawn characters and a heart-wrenching page-turner that readers won't soon forget.
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Check out all the stops on Trini Amador's Gracianna Virtual book tour