We have a wonderful interview with political thriller author Caroline Alethia today. Caroline is the author of the new book, Plant Teacher.
Hailed by Huffington Post contributor Joel Hirst as a compelling and powerful story, Plant Teacher begins in 1972 when a hippie in Oakland, California flushes a syringe of LSD down a toilet. Thirty-five years later, the wayward drug paraphernalia has found its final resting place in Los Yungas, Bolivia, the umbilical cord between the Andes and Amazonia.
Enter into this picture two young Americans, Cheryl Lewis, trying to forge her future in La Paz and Martin Banzer, trying to come to terms with his past in the same city. The two form an unlikely friendship against the backdrop of a country teetering at the brink of dictatorship and revolution.
Bolivia sparks the taste for adventure in both young people and Martin finds himself experimenting with indigenous hallucinogenic plants while Cheryl flits from one personal relationship to another. Meanwhile, the syringe buried in the silt in a marsh in Los Yungas will shape their destinies more than either could anticipate or desire.
Plant Teacher takes its readers on a fast-paced tour from the hippie excesses of Oakland, to the great streams of the Pacific Ocean and to the countryside, cities, natural wonders and ancient ruins of Bolivia. It reveals the mundane and the magical, and, along the way, readers glimpse the lives of everyday Bolivians struggling to establish equanimity or merely eke out a living during drastic political crisis.
Thank you for this interview, Caroline. Can you tell us what this book is about?
Thank you for this opportunity, Tracee. In brief, Plant Teacher explores the sometimes powerful and surprising connections between people and events. In the book, a hippie in California flushes a syringe of LSD down a toilet in the 1970s, and more than three decades later this simple act affects the lives and destinies of people living a continent away.
Political thrillers are hot these days. What sets your book apart from the pack?
Most people do not know a lot about Bolivia. It isn’t a common tourist destination, and it isn’t covered well in the North American media. I lived in Bolivia during a time of political unrest, and I saw a story unfolding—a story of impending dictatorship—that did not receive the attention it deserved in the North. I think that even news hounds will learn things that they did not know when reading Plant Teacher.
It’s interesting to find out that there’s more to Bolivia than most people know. Can you tell us some things we might not know?
This is a tricky question because I do not want to give away too much of the plot. The North American media has reported that Morales amended the Bolivian Constitution in 2007. Morales is characterized as a populist leader in the United States, and it is true that he later held a referendum on the new Constitution. But, how many people know that the original amendment was made in an armed encampment with only Morales’ followers—and no members of the opposition parties—present for the vote?
In writing your book, did you go with the flow or did you outline?
I outlined in excruciating detail. I placed each of the main characters’ actions and histories on a timeline. I wrote all of the diary entries separately from the main narrative and arranged and rearranged them until I felt they complemented the story with precision.
How hard is it to write a political fiction? Did you ever get writer’s block?
I never went through writer’s block, but I did go through information block. I wrote primarily from my memories of what I had experienced and what I had gleaned from the Bolivian news in 2007 and 2008. Sometimes, I needed a fact that I did not remember or that I hadn’t learned at the time, and I had to stop writing and look these up.
What genre have you not written that you would love to write one day?
I would love to write a play. I found it fun to write the scenes with dialogue in Plant Teacher, but I wonder whether I could sustain the kind of compelling and lengthy dialogue that is needed for a play.
Back to your book, the cover is really intriguing. How well does the cover suit the story in your opinion?
In a moment you will discover that I am being immodest here, but I think the cover truly captures the emotional content and the plot of the book. We see a young man looking out of a window and that window is framed by a South American plant. In Plant Teacher, the main character, Martin Banzer, looks at the world through new eyes after experimenting with plant-derived hallucinogenic drugs.
What was your first thought when you saw the cover?
Here is the immodest bit: I designed the cover. I even took the picture of the plant. I have worked in marketing for several years now and have some experience with graphic design. I started the design by looking for my “Martin.” When I found the picture of a young man with the thoughtful, distant eyes, the rest of the cover fell into place.
What advise can you give to aspiring political fiction authors?
It is quite difficult to write an entire novel drawing on political facts without making some mistakes in your content. At the same time, you owe it to your readers to be as accurate as possible. Check your assumptions, recheck your facts, and make sure that others who are familiar with the politics you are describing also review the novel.
Thank you for this interview, Caroline. Can you tell us where we can pick up a copy of your book?
I greatly appreciated this opportunity to discuss Plant Teacher, Tracee. The book is available exclusively online at www.PlantTeacherTheBook.net or on Amazon.