We have read another great book for our Book Club, and this time, it was such a pleasure to read a book by one of our own: Brynn Barineau, also known as Brynn in Brasil. I had the pleasure to interview Brynn Barineau about her new book. We’re reposting the interview here, and of course, it has been edited for clarity and length. You can also check out the Live session MKB did with Brynn here.
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Brynn has been a reader her whole life but only became serious about writing when she started blogging about her experiences as an American in Brazil shortly after arriving in 2006. She contributed essays to the anthologies Once Upon an Expat and Knocked Up Abroad Again. Her guest posts and articles have appeared on Multicultural Kids Blog, Pack-N-Go Girls, and Hackwriters.com.
Writing essays and fiction
O.M: You have been a blogger before you wrote this book. How did you find the switch from blogging to writing a whole book?
BB: They say you need 10,000 hours of practice in order to master a skill. I don’t think I was anywhere close to that, but blogging and writing creative
non-fiction about my life as an expat definitely gave me the skills and confidence to try my hand at fiction. Blogging helped me find my voice, which I might call snarky compassion. I always tried to get one laugh out loud moment in any blog post or essay because I personally deal with stress and challenging times in life with humor. That voice comes out in my fiction. I really hope everyone who reads Jaguars and Other Game laughs out loud at least once.
For me, the biggest challenge in switching from blogs to novels was finding the self-discipline to write and repeatedly edit 90,000 words. A blog post might only be 700 words. You can write, edit and publish in a day then move on with your life to a completely different topic. Novels take a little bit longer. By the second round of editing, I was definitely ready to work on something else, and that was just to submit it to agents. There’s more editing to come with your agent and then an editor. Writing definitely becomes a job at that point in a way essay writing never is.
O.M: And how did you find writing fiction as opposed to writing non-fiction (as blog posts and essays are both examples of non-fiction).
B.B: Creative non-fiction helped me find my voice. Fiction allowed me to try out different personalities and world views. Each of my tropical Three Musketeers has a very different personality and I loved writing arguments between them and making each have very good reasons for their positions and reactions. I love imagining the world from a different person’s point of view.
One of the most fun scenes to write was the villain’s speech. I had a blast tapping into the angriest most self-righteous part of myself. The part that wants everyone else to just agree with me because I’m right and deal with anyone who doesn’t by making them disappear. Fiction allows you to try out behaviors you’d never do in real life because they’d either get you killed or make you the villain.
Also in fiction, I can make sure the good guys always win. No morally ambiguous endings or tragedy that ensures everyone loses in my stories. I can turn on the news for that. In fiction, I am the god, and heroes always triumph in my world.
O.M: I remembered a study that said living abroad makes you more creative. Did you feel that was true for you?
B.B: Absolutely. If a person can’t empathize with the experiences of others and consider world views different from their own, they won’t make it living abroad. They will pack it up and go home. Empathy is the key to thriving outside your own culture and imagination is the key to empathy. There’s no way to live abroad for years and not become a more creative person.
O.M. How did living in Brasil inspire your writing (other than the fact that Jaguars and Other Game is about Brasil)
B.B. I was inspired by the realization that I knew almost nothing about Brazil. Living in Rio, my husband was constantly pointing out buildings and explaining the history behind them, and there were so many amazing stories that I had never heard of. I studied a lot about colonialism in college and never heard that the Portuguese royal family fled Napoleon and moved the entire court to Rio de Janeiro. They packed up 10,000 people, sailed across the Atlantic, and established the United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil. I wouldn’t have learned amazing piece of history if I hadn’t moved to Brazil, and I wanted to share that history with Americans who were never going to learn about it in their school curriculums.
O.M. On your website, you mention there aren’t many books about Brasil. Why do you think that is?
B.B: The short answer is because publishing executives don’t think there’s an audience for them. I was explicitly told that by two different editorial boards when my agent was shopping Jaguars and Other Game. An individual editor loved the book but the marketing department thought it would only have international appeal so they didn’t buy it. If a book doesn’t match the gatekeepers’ assumption about what’s interesting to the public they won’t publish it. It’s business decision and they won’t take a risk on something that might potentially have a tiny audience.
And in the United States, there aren’t a lot of popular cultural ties to Brazil or Portugal. Traditionally, gatekeepers in the US have identified with Western Europe and that’s where most stories were centered and even though publishing in the US is diversifying the stories they tell, there are more cultural ties between the US population and Hispanic countries in Latin America than Brazil.
Based on the responses I’ve gotten to Jaguars and Other Game, the marketing departments are wrong. In reviews people consistently write about how much they loved reading a story set in Rio. I’ve been to several bookclubs and listened to rooms full of older white ladies from Georgia talk about Googling capoeira and Prince João to see if he really was as eccentric in real life as he was in the book. The feedback I’m getting is that readers love reading a book set in a new (for them) time and place.
O.M: What was it like, doing research for the book?
B.B: I love the research process! I read books by sociologists about the daily routines of people in Rio in 1800. I studied paintings from the time the Portuguese Court arrived to get clothing and architectural details. I spent hours on YouTube researching whip and knife fighting. The problem with research is making yourself stop and actually writing the book. Also, not putting every interesting fact because it is a story with a plot that needs to move and not history text.
O.M: Are you planning to write any more books? What’s in store for the future for you?
B.B. I have another historical fiction that my agent just sent out to editors. It’s about star-crossed lovers on Henry Ford’s Amazonian rubber plantation.
In the 1920’s Henry Ford decided he was going to grow his own rubber so he bought a piece of the Amazon the size of Delaware and tried to build a mid-western town complete with pool and picket fences in the Amazon. It doesn’t go according to plan.
My story takes place during the first two years of the venture. Keep your fingers crossed for me! And if you loved it, leave a review for Jaguars telling publishing that we want more stories set in Brazil!
Get Jaguars and Other Game
O.M: Where can people buy a copy of Jaguars and Other Game?
B.B: If you live in the US, you can buy Jaguars from any bookstore or order a copy online through Bookshop.org. Bookshop is a great alternative to Amazon. You can order a book online but designate an independent bookstore to share in the profits.
Signed copies are available directly from my publisher, Orange Blossom!
For everyone outside the US, eBooks are available anywhere in the world through Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble.
If you have a copy, I love seeing where Jaguars and Other Game has gone! Post a picture on social media and tag me or send it to email@example.com So far I’ve gotten pictures of Jaguars in Brazil, Lagos, the UK, and Huaine in French Polynesia! It’s the most amazing thing that figments of my imagination are traveling around the world.
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