Friday, September 18, 2020

L.B. Gschwandtner Interview - A Place Called Zamora

Photo Content from L.B. Gschwandtner

L.B. Gschwandtner has attended numerous fiction writing workshops – the Iowa Writers Workshop and others – studied with Fred Leebron, Bob Bausch, Lary Bloom, Sue Levine and Wally Lamb, won awards in Writers Digest and Lorian Hemingway fiction competitions and published 4 adult novels, one middle grade novel and one collection of quirky short stories. She lives on a tidal creek in Virginia.


Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I was lucky to meet some wonderful writers who also teach writing. The first, and for that reason alone the most important, was Fred Leebron at the University of Iowa. His book Creating Fiction A Writer’s Companion is simply the best book on writing craft I’ve ever studied – and I say “studied” because you don’t just read it. It’s a full course. It’s funny that the cover on Amazon is upside down. I took other workshops with Fred over the years and each one gave me deeper insights and uinderstandings of the process of putting a book together.
But I have to add to that, the following writer/teachers: Bob Bausch, Lary Bloom, Sue Levine, and Wally Lamb.
I also have to give a shout out to a little book about plot called Novelist’s Essential Guide To Creating Plot by J. Madison Davis. After years of workshops about “literary” writing where plot is a never-uttered word, I really found this little book of great help. My own copy is so highlighted, starred and notated that it’s almost im possible to read anymore. I’m pleased to report its cover on Amazon is right side up.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
There’s great satisfaction in the process of finishing a book length work. And there’s immense joy when readers get what you meant. But I think the surprise when readers find meaning I never saw in my own work is the most rewarding. A book, after all, is for the readers.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?

They’ll probably see parallels between my fictional story and the reality of America today. Not only America, but any country where corruption has dug deep roots and is affecting the lives of millions or hundreds of millions of people. Hopefully they’ll see the struggle the book’s characters go through – both the internal and external struggles – to find their own paths through the corruption to a better place. I hope they think about resilience and how people can make a difference leading to a better life.
But really, I just hope they enjoy the story and save the thinking for after they’ve finished.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
My anger and frustration about America’s corruption. It was both my distraction and my push forward.

What part of Niko and El did you enjoy writing the most?
It may seem odd but my favorite characters to write were Old Merrie and Huston. Old Merrie’s scenes just seemed to write themselves. Both Huston and Old Merrie are characters in hiding. That is to say, they’re not what they seem to the world. Both of them are playing a game, seeming to fit into their society and at the same time working secretly to undermine it. One from a position of powerlessness and subservience and the other from a place of immense power and authority.
I liked both Niko and El and enjoyed writing them, but they take up more real estate in the book and that required much more of my mental agility and plain old hard work.

Can you tell us when you started A PLACE CALLED ZAMORA, how that came about?
The idea really began because of an article I read about a fancy high rise in Caracas, Venezuela. Known at the time as the world’s tallest slum, it was also dubbed the Tower of David because it was the work of a wealthy developer named David Brillembourg. The city was as corrupt as they come, in a country headed by Hugo Chavez, who was elected with a substantial plurality on a promise of reform and democratization but in actuality he was a Marxist-Leninist aligned with Cuba’s Castros. Supported by the high price of oil, his initial programs did well but faltered when oil sales collapsed. 

As oil went so went the dreams of a gleaming financial center with its most lavish building designed as a bank and office building, which was never completed and abandoned after the sudden death of Brillembourg from cancer. Thereafter the building, which was essentially a concrete and steel shell, was taken over by squatters who formed a defacto city state inside its walls and lived in unspeakable conditions for years that way. That got me thinking about when a society collapses in on itself how people will adapt to any inhumane conditions just to stay alive.

After reading as much as I could on the Tower, its demise and aftermath, I was intrigued by the resilience and resourcefulness of the people who eventually made it their home, a complicated and daunting feat on many levels.

And then my own country seemed to come unraveled with the election of Trump and all the corruption he brought with him. I see this endemic corruption as a kind of disease that eats away at society and culture and, rather than simply rant about it, I took out my disgust, rage and sadness through writing this story. So I think of it as a harbinger, a warning and a call to arms against the corruption we now have in America.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d like to introduce Old Merrie’s cat to Black Beauty. They’re both survivors.

  • 1. “I’m not a thief,” Niko said but kept hold of the pipe.
  • “Of course you are,” the man said and dropped his arms. He took a last puff on the meskitta. “We’re all thieves at the right price. I have nothing against stealing.” He shrugged and dropped the stub to crush it underfoot then looked up and smiled at Niko. “What’s your price?”
  • 2. A cat lay under the slab, curled into a round ball of orange fur, its nose hidden between its front paws. It seemed peaceful, except one ear was missing a wedge, and one front paw was mangled so its pads splayed like leaves from a branch.
  • 3. There, on certain bright, sun-filled days, at the very apex of the sun’s path, by leaning so far over that a person felt in peril of falling and being lost forever to the ground below, a tantalizing glimmer appeared. It was mesmerizing, frightening, beckoning, enthralling.
    “There is a better place,” some of them said and nodded knowingly. “We still remember.” Niko had heard them whisper: “A place called Zamora.”
  • 4. El moved closer to the edge but, instead of looking out to the horizon, she peered over to the street below.
  • “Tonight they’ll face this,” she said. Inadvertently she weaved slightly toward the abyss.
    “Nothing you can do about that,” said Old Merrie. “You got to look out, not down. You got to think about what’s better than what you got.”
    Then El raised her chin and fixed her eyes on the faraway place that now shimmered a hot green against the lowering sun.
    “What is it?” she asked, her voice filled with wonder.
    “The glimmer,” Old Merrie said simply. “And beyond that, somewhere, Zamora.”
  • 5. “Sometimes one must have faith in the future. Even when the present seems hopeless, we must remember that God is all around us. He manifests in the kindnesses we do for others and in the faith we keep.”
  • 6. “So tell me,” he said. “about love. Does it always end badly?”
  • 7. Remember: There was a time long ago when the Pope led an army across the continent of Europe. I may be a man of God, but He commands us to be righteous. Each of us must decide what ‘righteous’ means and how we must fight for it.”
  • 8. Fuller patted one of the closed computers. “I make it my business to know things.” He squinted at Gruen. Light was beginning to filter through the windows in the other room. The sun would be up soon.
  • 9. “So, change is coming to Infinius,” Fuller said. “Let’s hope we survive it.”
  • 10. “Back there … back at Infinius … I knew who I was. I knew how my day would start and probably how it would end. I had confidence in myself back there. Now I don’t know anything anymore. I only know that you’re the only completely good thing that ever happened to me. And I ruined it.”
What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
Haha. That’s a funny question. When you lasso a calf for branding you tie 3 of its legs together.

That was a trivial pursuit question I had to answer at a party once and the guys on the other team challenged it but it was correct. I know because I’ve lassoed a calf. I doubt anyone else at that party had ever seen a calf close up.

What were you doing the last time you really had a good laugh?
My five-year-old granddaughter and I were on a bed pretending it was a cruise ship and she kept throwing stuffed animals overboard and then we had to do sea rescues. Finally I got tired from these rescues so I said it was time for wine and cheese on the promenade deck. And she repeated:
“Everyone, it’s time for wine and cheese on the promeNOSE deck.”

It just got me laughing so hard I couldn’t stop. So her mom came in to see what was going on and we all collpased and couldn’t stop laughing. I do think laughter is catching.

Best date you've ever had?

I met a tall Austrian in Evian, France at a lovely inn overlooking Lake Geneva where a girlfriend and I had stopped for dinner. It was a very romantic place. He was having dinner at the same time. We decided to stay for a few nights. He was already vacationing there. On my last night, he asked me to have dinner with him. My friend had left that day. After dinner he asked me to marry him. That was 46 years ago. We’re still married.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
Hmmm. I’m not a person who looks back much unless it’s to tell a story. I’ve had a blessed life. It’s had its challenges and heartache mostly during childhood and through my early twenties. I have some wonderful times to look back on and also some terrible ones. I don’t really want to go back to one time or place but I will say that many of my memories have to do with being on or near water – a river where my grandmother lived, beaches in Florida, lakes in Maine, the Long Island Sound in Connecticut where I learned to sail, scuba diving in the Keys, snorkeling in Bonaires, tarpon fishing with my father, the endless beaches on Ocracoke Island, kayaking from my own boathouse on a tidal creek … I’d go back to any of those if anyone has a magic wand handy.

What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?

A woman who owned a flower shop that sold only silk flowers and plants hired me and another teen to make little papier maché flowers that would end up attached as decorations to four-foot tall papier maché caroling angels. These angels held open papier maché song books and attached at their backs they had large wings. They also had halos and flowing gowns. My flowers were stuck along their sleeves and dresses at various points. Two gay men were in charge of this operation. They were, as I remember it, quite chatty and fun. The shop owner was also chatty but not fun. After fabricating these tall angels, they were painted gold and ended up as Christmas decorations in some large department store in New York City.

It was a fun job since I was also an art student at the time and enjoyed making things and had worked with papier maché before. After a couple of weeks of making flowers I was graduated to making the angels’ caroling books which were quite large. That went well until one day the woman who owned the store started ranting about her black maid. She went on and on and finally said something about the woman not knowing her place. The two gay men glanced at each other and I cringed. I finished the book I was working on and quit the next day. I regret that I was not brave enough to tell her why I was quitting and what place I thought she should occupy.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
Maybe my 25th birthday when my mother called and said: “I need you. Your father’s sick.” And when I went over to their place, this energetic, smart, hedge fund founder and former Marine was sitting in the bedroom in a catatonic state and I learned that he’d lost fifty million dollars (some of it mine) in the market. Later I realized that luckily for me, when I was fourteen I’d used some bonds my grandmother had left me to buy a Georgia O’Keefe flower painting. But at the moment it seemed like my whole world had collapsed.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Fall in love.

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
I’m scared at some point every day these days. I know I’m not alone in that.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?

I think the time when I read my writing mentor’s comment on the first manuscript I ever worked on seriously. He wrote: “Transportive.” That’s what fiction should be – transportive.

Niko and El are trapped in a politically corrupt dystopian city where brutality rules. After winning a cynical race where only one rider can survive, Niko tosses aside his chance to join the city’s corrupt inner circle by choosing lovely, innocent El as his prize―thus upsetting the ruling order and placing them both in mortal danger. With the Regime hunting them and the children of the city fomenting a guerrilla revolt, the two attempt a daring escape to the possibly mythical utopia, Zamora. But as events unfold, the stirrings of love El once felt for Niko begin to morph into mistrust and fear. If they reach Zamora, will Niko ever claim his secret birthright? And what will the future hold if he loses El’s love?
You can purchase A Place Called Zamora at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you L.B. GSCHWANDTLER for making this giveaway possible.
2 Winners will receive a Copy of A Place Called Zamora by L.B. Gschwandtner.