Cover Stories: Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Lyn Miller-Lachmann's latest novel, Gringolandia, is a coming-of-age story about a son trying to reconnect with his father, who's been detained tortured at the hands of the Chilean government for five years. The father has come returned to the family's new home in Wisconsin, broken and beaten down. Yeah, big stuff.The cover is dark for a YA novel, but I adore its sense of movement, and I asked her to share the story behind it. Here's Lyn: Thumbnail image for gringolandia.jpg "For the cover, I thought about having a newspaper or a Chilean flag in the background. In the foreground I wanted a photo of Daniel, the main character, or one with Daniel and his girlfriend, Courtney. I even searched through a database of stock photos and found one of a young man playing a guitar who looked a lot like the way I imagined Daniel to look. "The marketing director asked me for ideas, and I showed her the stock photo I'd picked out as well as my idea for what should be in the background. I lost interest in the flag, though, when I saw another book with a photo in the foreground and the flag in the background. It seemed clichéd. dirtcheap.jpg"As a small publisher, Curbstone Press had no in-house art department. All their work was done by freelancers. Then my editor, Alexander (Sandy) Taylor, passed away right as the book was going into production. Along with his wife, he founded Curbstone Press in 1975. When he died suddenly, everything was thrown into disarray. His widow, who was the production editor, asked for my help in locating a freelance cover designer. Curbstone used one designer regularly, and I liked her work. She designed a nice cover for my adult novel, Dirt Cheap (right). But in the case of Gringolandia, I wanted a designer who came from Chile and who understood the history and culture. "I knew of Guillermo Prado from his work with Oyate, an organization that evaluates children's books about American Indians; he designed Oyate's catalogs, their web site, and the award-winning bibliography A Broken Flute (AltaMira Press, 2005, left). abrokenflute.jpgLike Daniel's father in Gringolandia, Guillermo had been a political prisoner under the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and had endured much of what Daniel's father in the novel went through. "When I first saw my cover I was surprised and amazed. It was completely different from what I'd expected, or what most YA covers look like. First of all, both the Chilean flag and the U.S. flag are red, white, and blue, so I thought those would be the dominant colors for a novel about a Chilean immigrant to the United States. But the dominant color of this cover was green. And there were no people at all. Just a bird that looks like a pigeon flying out of the abandoned swimming pool, and another bird at the bottom of the pool, the one that remained behind. "This is an authentic cover--it's as real as any I've ever seen. The abandoned swimming pool was from a former conference center in Santiago, Chile called Villa Grimaldi that after the 1973 military coup was turned into a prison for the regime's opponents. The pool was used for a torture called 'el submarino,' mentioned briefly in the novel--at one point, Daniel's father contracts pneumonia, which causes him to have flashbacks of this simulated drowning technique that's a cousin of waterboarding. "At that point, there was no editor. I had no complaints about the artwork, but I'm not sure the Advisory Board members who took over the operation of Curbstone Press after Sandy Taylor's death liked the cover as much as I did. But it was getting close to the time the ARCs needed to be printed, so they went with what they had, and asked for changes later. "The basic concept didn't change, though elements were rearranged. Originally, the bird and the pool were at the top, and there was no tag line or blurb. After the ARCs were printed, the designer moved the pool and the bird to the lower half of the cover, added the tag line, 'When history calls your name, how will you answer?' above it, and added Deborah Ellis's blurb at the bottom edge. I came up with the tag line during a test reading and Q&A I gave at an alternative school near where I live, after the original cover had been designed. "Guillermo Prado took the cover photo himself on a visit to Chile several years ago. Since the return of democracy in 1990, the former torture center of Villa Grimaldi has been turned into a peace park and human rights museum. In the waning days of the dictatorship, the military tried to destroy as much as possible of this terrible place to cover up what they did, but the abandoned swimming pool remained and has been preserved to remind people of those dark days so that they never happen again. "I feel privileged and honored to have worked with Guillermo Prado, that he shared his experience, as difficult as it must have been, through his art to bring home the story of Gringolandia. Beyond the significance of the pool used to torture prisoners, the bird flying toward freedom has layers of meaning. In Chile, the Spanish word for pigeon, paloma, is the same as for dove, as pigeons and doves are biologically similar. Throughout the world, doves are symbols of peace and hope. And while the pigeon is seen as a nuisance bird, a 'rat with wings,' pigeons have served to carry messages in wartime, as Daniel's father did as an underground journalist during the darkest years of the dictatorship. Finally, the idea that a bird considered ugly and disgusting can also symbolize peace and hope ties in with the challenge Daniel faces--to find the father he once knew within the damaged person who returns to him from prison. "It's fitting that the public face of my novel is itself so unique and realistic. Teens have commented that Gringolandia 'is like no book that I have read,' in the words of Readergirlz Street Team member Sarah. And the reviewer for School Library Journal commented on the unity of image and story, concluding her review, 'From the stark cover image of an empty pool used to torture victims to the intensely poignant essay that concludes the novel, this is a rare reading experience that both touches the heart and opens the mind.' I didn't want a clichéd image on the cover, and I'll admit that my involvement in the design process was a bit more hands-on than most--though not atypical for small-press published books. But writing about the legacy of torture is a bold, risky thing to do in the first place, and I wanted everything about it to be done right." I love all the symbolism in the cover, and the authenticity. I would say this cover is less commercial and more true to the story than most. What do you guys think?