I had a chance to interview one of my favorite science fiction authors Rebecca Ore, the author of the Becoming Alien series of books, and easily doubled my knowledge of Nicaragua.
Rebecca: Those tend to be the ones that are still being read. All of my books are available from Aqueduct or Harper Collins as ebooks.
Brandon: How do you feel you have grown as an author over the years?
Rebecca: I think most of us peak in our thirties or forties and are good for about ten to fifteen years of the best work we can do.
Brandon: What authors, genres and books do you read?
Rebecca: I have an English MA, and two years on a Doctor of Arts in English, so I’ve read everything from Chaucer through a fair amount of popular fiction. My favorite period is the English Renaissance. Favorite SF writers were LeGuin, Delany, Russ, Tiptree/Sheldon, some of Niven (“The Soft Weapon”), William Gibson.
Brandon: How has your move to Nicaragua affected your writing, life and outlook on the world?
Rebecca: I wrote “Time and Robbery” here to avoid studying Spanish. Living here is rather overwhelming since here isn’t like anything I’ve read by North Americans writing about Central America. I’m in a couple of Nicaraguan Spanish language groups and have some Nicaraguan FB friends and am also in one expat group. The Nicaraguans are normal and there’s an interest in aquarium culture and photography that go beyond Nicaragua. The better off people here are part of the global culture. The expats who are here tend to fawn on the poorer Nicaraguans and treat the place as though it was a Special Child. People end up bringing home poached parrots and macaws, and a couple of Nicaraguan children they plan to educate. They get rooked by contractors and think they speak Spanish better than they do. The Real Nicaragua to them is the poor agricultural Nicaragua.
The SF writer who had the reputation for knowing Central America doesn’t appear to have been here. A friend tried to find anyone on Roatan who’d met him and couldn’t. I read Spanish language accounts of some of the issues he said he was involved with and didn’t find him or the guy he claimed was a specific bad guy in either the lobster divers’ support sites or the sites reporting on the kidney disease among cane field workers. A woman I know from online and phone conversations for years was traveling in Guatemala and what she observed about the bus drivers there matched what I observed about the bus drivers here (they take pride in being able to get a bus through anything and it’s a good job for a guy with limited education). The writer was talking about Jake the Israeli (who had a bar with no internet presence — really rare these days) and posting someone else’s photo of a place he’d claimed to stay in one night, and talking about a mystical intuitive woman he’d met years earlier. I have met one mystical Catholic leftist who was a 15 year old pregnant political officer for the FSLN army during the Contra War, but she is also more complex than that.
It was hard to break through the stereotypes about Appalachia in the Alien Trilogy. A instructor at Virginia Tech said that when he taught Becoming Alien, the northern Virginia urban kids said they didn’t find the protagonist believable. He, being from a similar background but being a clever teacher, knew if he argued with them, they’d simply parrot back what they believe he wanted to hear. But then in final papers and exams, the country kids said they found Tom to be believable.
So writing about Nicaragua takes playing against stereotypes to an even more complicated level. I dunno if it’s possible to write about the place other than writing about expats. And there’s a sort of global type that tends to move to poor and pretty parts of the world to run hotels, restaurants and yoga centers. They don’t vary that pattern whether it’s rural Virginia or Matagalpa, Nicaragua, which threw a tourism promoter in jail after he insisted a bit too much that they should really be teaching the children English for more tourism (studies show that most mountain tourism is regional, and here, that’s Spanish speaking most of the time).
I’ve written one story set here and another writer who lives in Costa Rica thought it was still too colored by our stereotypes.
The US citizens here tend to be the weird and strange ones. The fantasy is that here will be easier for them than the US was. I also hear a lot about US crime, and how Nicaragua is safer, which is really not true. I think that some white right wingers are fleeing the US not because crime is up, but because blacks are doing better. Here, having a black grandfather or even a black parent, doesn’t make anyone black particularly, and most of the population looks like they had no more than one Spanish great grandfather. Becoming mestizo apparently had tax advantages. I find it really strange that people who are biased against blacks and Mexican immigrants in the US move here. One of them was flying Confederate flags at his bar in Granada.
Brandon: Why did you move to Nicaragua?
Rebecca: I moved here for a range of reasons. One was I was curious about the place given the US history of messing with it. Second was I always wanted to live in the tropics. Third was my money goes further here as long as I don’t try to live a typical American life with a car and air-conditioning. It’s rather like living on the Lower East Side in the early 1970s — cheaper but with serious need for street smarts and a sense of humor. I’ve had a old woman and a five year old girl try to rob me.
Brandon: What is the name of the story you wrote about Nicaragua? I think it would be very interesting to read.
Rebecca: “Adulterer and Bandsaw” in Big Click, an on-line magazine. It’s based on a real story, but the guy may have been nastier to the girl, who was only 17 at the time she or someone else shot the 50 something year old gringo. She finished high school in prison, apparently, and told the press that she was going to nursing school when she was released.
We’ve also had a gringo kill a Nicaraguan here and try to claim self-defense. Really weird and rather macabre story there — just haven’t tried to turn it to fiction. A gringa decided to “help” him and ran off to Mexico with $1K of his money that he gave her to pay his lawyers. I got a phone call from a local government lawyer who was trying to find her. An NGO guy gave her $1K to get back here from Mexico, but I don’t know if she repaid the murderer, who is now serving a 15 year sentence.
As I said, the gringos are the odd ones here. A lot of old guys imagine that the young women are in love with them and the young women go around with mask like frozen faces rather than show any expression at all, which I suspect would be exasperation.
You can learn more about Rebecca Ore on her website.