Today I am so pleased to welcome Erin Finnegan to Joyfully Jay. Erin has come to talk to us about her latest release, Luchador, which was just named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2016. She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Thanks for having me! It’s been a long time coming, but I’m so happy to finally talk about Luchador, since I first started working on it three years ago! I’m really honored by the announcement from PW last week, and I’m still trying to form words, other than to say that I’m incredibly grateful.
It should come as no surprise that Luchador is set in the world of lucha libre, or Mexican masked wrestling. But don’t be put off by the sweat, blood and Gatorade. Luchador is really a coming of age story of a young man who is looking to chart his own course in a world with set rules. There’s also Lycra.
Luchador is my second book. My debut, Sotto Voce, was also set in a world that I have a lot of love for—the independent winemakers of Sonoma County. I’m a winemaker myself, and I am a big fan of the somewhat smaller and mellower half of Northern California’s wine country.
What is your least favorite part of the publishing or writing process?
The waiting, which might be a little ironic since I don’t exactly move quickly from start to finish. Writing is a fairly solitary thing for me—I don’t work with betas or co-writers, so I like getting it into the hands of editors and getting some feedback. But for editors to do a good job, they also need time with a manuscript, and I’m not the most patient person.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose names based on liking the way it sounds or meaning? How do you choose your names?
Oh, names. I love them. I spend time with them. I like to study their origins, and see if I can find a name that fits the character traits. Sometimes, I’m vexed by them. I change them halfway through a manuscript if they’re not working. And names are especially important in Luchador, where most of the characters have both a real and a stage name: El Ángel Exótico, La Rosa, El Cadejo, La Tormenta Oscura, Electra, and even the burlesque artist, Fanny Vice.
Take El Cadejo, for example. This is Arturo Guerra’s character in the ring—a rudo or bad guy. And Arturo, Gabriel’s first love, is an antagonist, and quite possibly a bit of a bad guy himself. At a minimum, he’s problematic. His nombre de batalla, or luchador character name, is carefully chosen: The cadejo is a supernatural character from the folklore of southern Mexico and Central America. There is a good cadejo and an evil cadejo. Both are dog spirits that appear in the night to travelers: the good cadejo to protect them and the evil cadejo—who some interpret as the devil—to harm them.
The luchador names were doubly difficult because I needed to create original names. Luchador’s names are trademarked, often owned by the empresas, the lucha promoters. I had originally hoped that Gabriel’s in-ring character would be named El Ángel de Oro, but there already is a Golden Angel, a super estrella who can be seen on some US broadcasts (and who I got to see in the ring in Mexico City), so Gabriel became El Ángel Exótico.
How long did it take to write your book?
I’m slooooooooow. Tortoise slow, and that’s a little ironic for someone who used to write deadline news.
I first got the idea for Luchador and began researching and outlining about three years ago. One of the reasons it took a while to get it finished is the juggle of “the day job” which often has me working seven days a week. But another reason is because I’m a little old school when it comes to research. It comes from my time in journalism, but if I’m going to write about something, I want to research it extensively—no, looking it up on Wikipedia does not count as “extensive”—and experience it for myself. I had attended lucha events here in Los Angeles prior to writing Luchador, but once I committed to this idea, I read everything I could get my hands on, including a PhD thesis on lucha. I traveled to Mexico City to experience lucha libre in its home. And I’m glad I did—it gave me an entirely different perspective on lucha libre to see it in context, in its home, and to talk about it with its local fans. Some things you can’t learn from a Google search.
I was at an event recently where another author talked about how she can jam out a book in six weeks. I’ll never be that person. A book every two-to-three years is more my speed.
How long have you been writing?
Not counting the second grade reimagining of Misty of Chincoteague? I got my first paycheck for a writing job at age 18, and I’ve been chugging away ever since. No, I will not do the math. Let’s just call it “lengthy”.
What hobbies do you enjoy?
If you’re familiar with my first book, Sotto Voce, you know that I’m a winemaker. I have a small vineyard where I grow, harvest, and bottle (and drink) Syrah and Zinfandel. It can be a lot of hard work—during the growing season, it’s constant maintenance (those vines grow fast!) and a battle against mildew, insects, wild rabbits and birds. It’s also worth every minute, and the occasional sunburn. I find that time therapeutic, and a great time to think about characters and plot points—or to sing along with the radio, for which I probably owe my neighbors an apology.
The announcer turned to the técnicos, and the energy in the room shifted; the music was brighter, the luchadores were more accessible.
Ray emerged first, slapping hands as he bounced down the ramp in a fighter’s bob and weave from fan to fan. As La Tormenta Oscura, he had adopted a costume of rich blue Lycra tights trimmed with pewter. When he had booked his first professional bout, he’d told Miguel that he had decided The Dark Storm would wrestle without a mask. He said that the American pro circuit would welcome his unconventional brand: an Olympic medalist for Team USA, a black wrestler from South Los Angeles joining the U.S. pro circuit by way of Mexico City’s lucha libre leagues.
“Besides,” he had reasoned, “why would I hide this pretty face?” Yes, Ray Michaels had a game plan.
Though it was unusual for someone of his seniority, Miguel had decided that La Rosa should be introduced second, along with his entourage. To the strains of the exótico’s signature dancehall party music, the bikini boys burst from the dressing room, tossing roses to fans. They parted as they approached the ring, revealing La Rosa in a shimmering multi-colored unitard and his rose-colored knee-high wrestling boots. On his head, he’d added a crown of deep red roses. He raised his arms over his head and swung his hips from side to side in a ringside salsa, encouraging the crowd to follow suit.
A man sitting ringside shouted “¡Viva La Rosa!” and tossed him a rainbow flag. La Rosa caught it in mid-air, and continued to wave it as he danced around the ring, until he tossed it to one of his dancers and vaulted over the ropes to the cheers of his fans.
Though he was La Rosa’s junior, the Silver Cloud served as the team’s captain. He had become an enormous celebrity in the lucha world since his transformation from El Diablo Azul to La Nube de Plata, and crowds clamored to see the recently “baptized” técnico.
The bout began with El Cadejo and the Cloud confronting each other, both crouched and ready to charge. The Cloud pounced first, running at El Cadejo with arms outstretched, aiming for a tackle. But El Cadejo ducked, diving at his knees, aiming for an off-balance takedown. They both landed ass-first on the mat, and El Cadejo used his speed to roll out of the fall, up and over the larger wrestler, scrape at his face, pull at his mask, tear at the fabric. He wrapped his forearm around the Cloud’s elbow, pulling it behind his back and locking it down.
The cue is coming. Deep breath. Focus.
The Cloud reached his arm toward the tecnicos’ corner, just shy of his partner’s Fingertips, trying to evade the referees’ count. With seconds to spare, La Rosa slapped at the Cloud’s outstretched hand, granting him a break from the ring. La Rosa ran toward El Cadejo but the Phoenix, on cue, countered his move, entering the ring without a proper tag, as a rule-breaking rudo would do.
The two luchadores lunged at each other and missed, aiming instead for a rebound o the ropes, propelling themselves back toward each other with renewed momentum.
La Rosa struck first, hitting the Phoenix with a last-second flying dropkick that set the young rudo off balance, falling into the ropes. The Phoenix recovered, turning and hurling himself toward Rosa, his high kick landing with his ankles wrapped around the técnico’s neck, twisting his body to take his mentor down head first onto the mat. Both luchadores somersaulted together out of their falls, but the Phoenix grabbed a handful of La Rosa’s glittered hair, pulled the exótico on top of him, and locked his legs around La Rosa’s waist.
Miguel reached for his back as if in pain and whispered to Gabriel, “Good. Now, flip me.”
Lock your leg. Roll. Stay focused.
The Phoenix rolled La Rosa onto his back, using his foot to lock down the exótico’s leg while the referee began his count. Writhing in apparent pain, La Rosa rocked back and forth, dislodging the Phoenix as the referee counted down. The Phoenix was slow to rise, but La Rosa bounced to his feet and swayed to his salsa victory dance.
As if incensed by the action, The Henchman and The Dark Storm both rocketed into the ring and began grabbing at each other’s faces, fighting for leverage. The Henchman slapped at the Storm’s exposed face, striking with a vicious smack. The Storm reached for his forehead, burying his face in his hands. When he pulled his hands away, his face and hands were covered with blood.
The crowd gasped as one.
Gabriel fought his instinct to rush to Ray’s aid, stopped by a hand on his forearm and a quick glance from Arturo. It was planned, staged between the two combatants, who had cut and patched Ray’s forehead in the dressing room before the bout so that it would bleed on impact in the ring.
The Storm stared at his blood-stained hands, then countered by slamming the Henchman face-first into the mat, the collision ripping through the arena like thunder. When the Henchman rose, he also seemed injured: blood dripped from the corner of his mouth.
What the hell?
The Dark Phoenix lingered at a far side of the ring as the fray continued. After a confirming glance indiscernible to the crowd, he charged and lifted La Rosa off his feet, heaved him over the ropes toward the ringside seats. He strutted and posed for the crowd amidst cheers and boos. The move drew a heated response from the Cloud, who lunged toward the young rudo, with El Cadejo fast on his heels. The Phoenix darted away, circling to El Cadejo’s side. They ran at the Cloud and pushed him out of the ring, toward La Rosa, and then both backed up to rush the ropes. They vaulted into spinning tornillos over and onto the mats below, at the feet of ringside ticket holders, and landed on their prey.
Miguel, rolling from side to side as if injured, winked at Gabriel. He broke Gabriel’s hold and threw him to the floor. The match had followed its script to the letter.
Until it didn’t.
Each week, Gabriel Romero’s drive to Sunday mass takes him past “El Ángel,” the golden statue at the heart of Mexico City that haunts his memories and inspires his future. Spurred by the memory of his parents, Gabriel is drawn to the secretive world of lucha libre, where wrestling, performance art and big business collide.
Under the conflicting mentorships of one of lucha libre’s famed gay exótico wrestlers and an ambitious young luchador whose star is on the rise, Gabriel must choose between traditions which ground him but may limit his future, and the lure of sex and success that may compromise his independence. Surrounded by a makeshift family of wrestlers, Gabriel charts a course to balance ambition, sexuality and loyalty to find the future that may have been destined for him since childhood.
Erin Finnegan is a former journalist and winemaker who lives in the foothills outside Los Angeles. A lifelong sports fan and occasional sports writer, she has had to dive out of the way of flying luchadores at matches in both the U.S. and Mexico. Her first novel, Sotto Voce, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a Foreword Reviews Indiefab Silver Book of the Year Award.
Connect with author Erin at Erin-Finnegan.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/ErinGoFinnegan and on Twitter at @eringofinnegan.
Erin has brought a tourwide giveaway. A grand prize winner will get a $25 Interlude Press gift card and a copy of Luchador. Five more winners will receive a copy of Luchador. Just follow the Rafflecopter below to enter.
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