Q & A

Who do you hope Missing in Machu Picchu will appeal to, describe your ideal readers?

I wanted to introduce a generation of readers use to online dating, vampires, and angels, to the real-life, present-day, presence of Andean mummies! Like my previous novels, I think Missing In Machu Picchu is also a good fit for book clubs and I’ve included discussion questions at the end of the book to get the conversation started.

Who are some of your favorite recent authors? And do you feel their influence in your own writing?

I’m the dictionary definition of a bibliophile: I love books.  In addition to writing 12 hours a day, I collect Hispanica, and I continuously read fiction and non-fiction.  In the last few months I’ve enjoyed the works of Junot Diaz for his original voice; Ann Patchett for the complexity of her plots; Carlos Ruíz Zafón for bringing back to life Barcelona of long ago; Louise Erdrich for the accurate depiction of her culture; Umberto Eco for being so erudite, and Gillian Flynn for scaring the living daylights out of me.

Like most authors, I believe that my novels are truly original, but I’m sure that all the books I’ve read in my lifetime have been stewing inside my head like a delicious bouillabaisse, which (mixed together) hopefully makes my own writing come out tasting like an original recipe.

As an avid traveler, how have your past journeys and adventures inspired your latest novel, Missing in Machu Picchu?

In the case of Missing in Machu Picchu, visits to the ancient tombs in Egypt led to my exploration of the mummies of the Andean world, but that was not the only seminal experience.

Missing in Machu Picchu was a result of a confluence of my fond memories of my indigenous nannies from the Andes, our family’s unusual practice of believing in the present-day proximity of our long-dead great-grandmother, my understanding of the clash between the Inca and the Spanish cultures in early colonial Peru and its aftermath, and my personal goal to hike the Inca Trail and climb Huayna Picchu.

Have you travelled to Machu Picchu before and did you have any surreal or seemingly magical experiences?

I recall foggy memories of the citadel of Machu Picchu when I visited as a youngster.  Then, in 2011, I returned for the festivities surrounding the centennial anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s expedition to Machu Picchu.  It was a bittersweet time of appreciating how the travel industry and popularity of Machu Picchu has greatly improved the local economy, and of reminiscing about all that was lost of the Inca culture.

In this state of heightened awareness of the history of this region, and as a result of the effects of physical exertion of my hike and of the altitude, my mind made interesting leaps of logic.  I’ve included some of these surreal experiences in the descriptions of the tempting butterflies and welcoming birds that beckoned my characters to jump-off the cliffs along the precipitous Inca Trail.

You must have friends who have tried their luck with online dating. Were there any stories from friends or recent news stories that sent your imagination running to dark places?

Although I did hear dozens of tales of woe of online dating gone afoul from my friends, I did not use any details of their experiences in my novel.  What I took away from their online dating experiences was their general disillusionment with the process; their heartache and disappointment in their own fantasies and with the insincerity of the people they met online.

I also looked at data and read the frightening news stories.  I took my friends’ disillusionment on a dark physiological journey set in a geographical location that where one is literally steps away from life or death.

You are passionate about fighting human trafficking and a portion of your proceeds go toward helping solve this horrible problem. This theme also finds it’s way into your writing. When did you first become aware of this issue and what compelled you to take action?

I collect Spanish Colonial art and wrote about art theft of Latin American Colonial art in my novel, Gathering the Indigo Maidens.  In the process of researching for this novel, I was struck by the number of indigenous Andean women walking the streets of central Madrid back in 2009.  In talking to them and then researching their plight, I found out that many, if not most, of these young women had been victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation.

These women thought they were going to Spain to work as domestic help, but their passports were taken away by their traffickers, and the rest is a sordid tale of exploitation.  When I returned to California, I found out that the same heinous practices still occur daily in Southern California. Donating a portion of my proceeds is the least I could do to help the fight against human trafficking.

Besides travel are their other hobbies or interests that found their way into Missing in Machu Picchu?

As a jack-of-all trades, all my seemingly incongruous interests and hobbies creep into my narratives.  I’m fascinated with languages, and how they shape our identity. I’ve included dialogue in Kichwa, Corsican, French, Latin, and Spanish, and a glossary in the back of the book of foreign words.

My interest in Andean mythology and its pantheon made its way to the forefront ofMissing in Machu Pichhu.  By mixing factual and real historical details, such as including the methodical steps of an Andean shaman’s blessing, I hope to bring the reader into the world of the novel.

I also included the 17th drawings of chronicler Guamán Poma de Ayala here too. I knew of the existence of many of his drawings, but the drawing of the procession of themallqui, the mummy, had me digging in my collection and in libraries for quite some time.

Peru uncovered a new section of the Inca Trail in 2012.  Was this a source of inspiration for the novel? 

Talk about life imitating art! I wrote about a fictional trail parallel to the Inca Trail back in 2010 and 2011, and the Peruvian government uncovered the new Inca path in July 2012.

Once a person has studied the genius architects and engineers of the Inca Empire, one knows that there are many, many other roads and structures that remain hidden under the heavy foliage of over 500 years.  It will be exciting for all of us to learn what’s uncovered in the future.