Gaby Triana is a mother, an author, a teacher, a baker, but not a candlestick maker. She's also my interview subject today, willing to ponder my questions while celebrating the release of her most recent book for teens, The Temptress Four.
What led you to teaching?
I used to say it was because I had teachers in my family, but the more I live and breathe, the more I realize it was because I didn't know what else to do at the time. I wish I would have known myself better when I was in high school so I could have made a better career decision. I might have studied film, journalism, pastry arts.any of these would have put me on a path to the things I truly enjoy a little sooner, and I wouldn't have had to make a career change later on. But I've always been a late bloomer when it comes to realizing potential.
What then led you to writing?
I've always written short stories. I just didn't have my eyes open wide enough to realize it's what I should've been doing all along (see above). I might have 20+ books under my belt by now had I started in college. But because I was teaching, I finally got around to writing a middle grade novel one summer, saw how awesome it felt to finish writing a book, and have been writing ever since.
Your first published novel, Backstage Pass, features a girl named Desert whose father is a rock star. Do you have any performing credits on your vast resume?
Nothing professional or remotely rock star. I played violin for three years and performed in my school orchestra as first chair, first violin. In high school, I danced in color and winter guard as a featured soloist for three years, as well as performed lead rifle and sabre routines. Finally, my freshman year of college, I sang backup in a rock band, but that's it. Dancing was one of those things, like writing, that I never felt I could study seriously and would need a backup career in order to pursue. There's a theme emerging from my answers, I see.
What prompted you to write Cubanita? Have any of your real-life experiences leaked out of your pen and into your books?
Good old-fashioned Cuban guilt prompted me. I thought, there's no way I have this opportunity to be heard and not write about the Cuban-American experience. Our families didn't come here seeking a better life in the traditional sense, they came seeking political refuge from the government in Cuba until things got better, but they just never did. So rather than having the mentality of looking forward to a great American future, most of my generation's parents still have Cuba on the brain as this iconic slice of heaven of long ago, a paradise lost that they can never return to, and that's painful. That nostalgia has filtered into us, their American-born children, and we have spent our lives trying to live up, trying to imagine a country we've never seen, a life we've never lived. So then, trying to grow up "American" becomes a challenge when the city you live in has become the new Havana. Those experiences leaked out of my pen, yes, but the whole plotline with Andrew was not my own, no. It's funny, though, when readers ask me about my experiences with Andrew and my crazy mom, and I always have to tell them that it wasn't about me, it was about Isabel, the character in the book. Not that my mom's not a little crazy, but whose isn't? :)
The best friends in The Temptress Four are thick as thieves, despite their different interests and backgrounds. Are your closest friends similar or dissimilar to you?
Thank you. Making them that way while keeping them different was a challenge. I just tried to remember that it's not hobbies or interests, but genuine concern for each other that makes friends stay close. My best friend and I are very different, which makes for the type of relationship where we keep in touch regularly because I need to know how she is doing, but it's not an everyday thing, or I would surely be at her throat at all times. The fact that the T4 girls are different and want different things for their future are clues that they may not stay in touch, something I wanted to leave up to the reader. I was a lot like Fiona. As much as my friends readily accepted new direction in their lives, I was always trying to keep in touch, stay together, make it a point to stay connected. Finally, I realized that if we're meant to split, then that's what would happen, and all it would mean was that we didn't need each other the same way anymore. People grow, you meet new people, you move on. That's life.
What did you do the summer after high school?
I worked at my college's bookstore. I wish I could tell you that I took this awesome blowout bash cruise with three friends, but my young adult life was nothing to write home about. Things got interesting later...
The hardest cake I had to make was a pirate ship for a kid's birthday. Because of the shape of the boat, where the bottom is thinner than the top, I had to insert all sorts of support and boards between the layers to make sure the weight of the cake on top didn't squish the bottom. Then I wrapped the whole thing in fondant "wooden planks" and it started settling, cracking and tearing. I had to fix parts of it in the morning, then I prayed the whole way through the delivery to the party, and when it made it in one piece and everybody oohed and ahhed over it, it was worth it.
What is easier for you to construct, a cake or a character?
That pirate ship was a piece of cake next to writing characters. :) People are so complex. Nobody's all good or all evil, and that in-between gray area is rich territory that's fascinating to explore. Understanding it is one thing, then putting it together so that someone else can understand it is even harder. I still haven't mastered it, but I'm getting better.
What are your ten favorite books of all-time?
I have weird tastes. Plus, some of my favorites are short stories. Um, let's see. The Thorn Birds, Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, The Witching Hour/Lasher, The Bridges of Madison County, Forever, The Great Gatsby, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Fall of the House of Usher, and Ready or Not, Here We Come -- Surviving the First Year with Twins. :)
Booklist: But I Don't Want to Be Famous! (includes a mini-review of Backstage Pass by Gaby Triana)
Book Review: The Temptress Four by Gaby Triana
Book Review: Riding the Universe by Gaby Triana