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.
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Erin Finnegan, author of Luchador, which was just named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2016. Congratulations, Erin, and thank you for the interview. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your current book.
Thanks for having me! It’s a relief (and kind of exciting) to finally be talking at length about Luchador, since I first started working on it three years ago! I’m really honored by the announcement from PW, and I’m still trying to form words, other than to say that I’m incredibly grateful.
Luchador is my second book. My debut, Sotto Voce, is 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.
Luchador is, no surprise, 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. And yes, there’s Lycra.
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I remember the exact moment I first got the idea for Luchador. I was out with a group from a winemaking co-op harvesting and trying to save old Zinfandel vines from a vineyard scheduled for demolition three years ago. I had driven a truck I’d borrowed out to where I was working and listening to Weekend Edition on NPR, which featured a story about the exotico wrestlers of Mexico’s lucha libre leagues.
The story (You can listen to it here: https://www.npr.org/player/embed/218990776/219964245) talked about how these luchadores not only wrestled as gay characters, but wee, by and large, gay and out in the macho confines of lucha libre. But what really intrigued me was the dichotomy of these wrestlers, who are credited in part with contributing to social change, but who also often play characters based on aging stereotypes. I dropped everything, sat in the car and thought, “There’s a story in here.”
Talk to us about your characters in this book. What makes them unique?
The thing that I loved writing about this ensemble of luchadores and luchadoras was how they slipped in and out of their professional personas. Just because someone plays a rudo in the ring doesn’t mean that he is a bad guy behind the scenes. Some of the kindest and most supportive characters in the book are the characters who play “tough guys” in the ring. I liked playing with that, and how that reflects on their community.
Have you ever gone to a convention? If so, how was it? If not, do you think it’s something you’d like to do in the future?
Since I also work in publishing, I go to a lot of book and publishing conventions and festivals. They’re all a bit different, but there’s so much to learn and take home from all of them.
The big conventions, BEA and the American Library Association annual convention, in particular, are great for making new industry contacts, meeting librarians (librarians are the very best), and maybe fangirling just a little over some big, big name authors. Okay, maybe a lot. Did I wait in line to get Carl Hiassen to sign his last book at BEA? You bet I did.
Then there are the reader events, like the RT Booklovers Convention or book festivals in Decatur, GA or Los Angeles, and they are completely different vibes. The enthusiasm of readers at RT is totally infectious! If you haven’t experienced that book fair, it is a graphic illustration of just how much romance means to its dedicated readership.
Design the ultimate pizza.
I don’t need to—it’s already been done for me. I can’t take credit for the glory that is The Orts Special, but I can certainly share it! This is from an old pizza parlour—Who am I kidding? It was a bar that made pizza—in my hometown that was the best of all possible dives and the enormous rugby player in the kitchen made the best pizza, ever.
If you’re a pizza traditionalist, avert your eyes…
On a thin crust, add spicy red sauce, cheese, and the following toppings: pepperoni, onion, cashews, and Ortega chilis.
Even better cold out of the fridge the next morning.
Once Gabriel had thought that he had a sophisticated knowledge of lucha libre. But the more he spent time with Miguel, the more he realized that his understanding of the sport and its significance in Mexican pop culture—even Mexican political movements—was on a novice level at best.
Lucha libre was no longer the simple entertainment of his childhood. Leaps, flips, and locks were trained, drilled, and earned. Masks were symbolic and served a purpose in defining characters and telling their stories. It was not just the show on television—“A circus,” Miguel would complain—but a serious mélange of art, sport, and metaphor that Gabriel was only beginning to understand.
The more he learned, the more he wanted to absorb. Campus gradually took a back seat to the gym, his new source of higher learning.
So he listened to Miguel and did as he was told—usually—to ensure that his education continued. If that meant standing by a piss-soaked pillar outside a crumbling civic arena to meet someone he couldn’t identify, he’d do it.
In many ways, the little venue reminded him of Arena Coliseo, the one-time boxing arena in north-central Mexico City now dedicated full-time to lucha libre. Arena Coliseo was close to fans’ hearts for its history in the sport—and its cheap beer—and had seen better days. Its beach ball-colored seats were crusted with grime and acrylic paint. The sound system squawked. Its lighting bore down on the ring with little concern for staging. It didn’t hold a candle to the relative glitz of Arena México, its cross-town rival that featured light shows, fog effects, booming music, and ring girls—all on display for the weekly lucha libre broadcasts.
“Excess,” Miguel would say, if the topic came up, though Gabriel took it with a grain of salt. La Rosa had wrestled on some of those broadcasts, after all, and with some of the flashiest costumes and biggest entourages of all the luchadores.
Miguel clearly preferred Arena Coliseo, despite its aging surrounds. He said it brought fans closer to the authentic purpose of lucha libre—the good-versus-evil narratives played out by the técnicos and rudos each week—rather than light shows and loud music. Gabriel suspected this was why Miguel still agreed to perform in these small, unsanctioned, questionable events outside of the city.
This was a lot lighter than I’d thought it would be, as well as sweeter. I think that seeing it was set in the lucha libre world, I expected this to be somehow rougher, even more angsty; but it wasn’t. I’m not saying this as if it was a bad thing, on the contrary, I liked the book and its tone a lot.
I loved sharing Gabriel’s journey: from being a lucha fan, to being a big part of lucha libre himself. And that’s what I think this story is, it’s certainly more than a romance, even if romance plays a part in it. It’s Gabriel’d fight to be someone better, to grow, to make the world of lucha proud of him. And in that the author really succeeded.
I knew nothing about the Mexican lucha libre before reading this book, but now I’d love to see some of it. I love the idea of the exóticos, the out and proud luchadores that are there for all the world to see them. But as Gabriel, I’m not so sure about the way the league makes him an exótico just because he’s out. That said, the way Gabriel, with the help of Miguel and Rosa, redefined his character, was probably my favourite part of the book and something very inherent to Gabriel. He doesn’t conform, he wants to be out there but he doesn’t want to be just an exótico, even if he has a deep respect for them. I was completely invested in the way Gabriel went after his dreams and I just couldn’t stop reading.
But the book doesn’t stop there, because there’s an amazing cast of secondary characters, too. I think the most important relationship in this book, at least for me, was a non-romantic one. I loved Gabriel’s relationship with his mentor Miguel, who fights as the exótico La Rosa. And I adored Ray, I would read a book with Ray as a main character without thinking about it twice.
Finally, I could see how the author respected the world she was writing about, and how she has done her research, but I found two or three Spanish words that jumped at me. I really appreciate the effort both the author and the publisher have put into it, and it didn’t take from my enjoyment of the book at all, but as a native Spanish speaker, I couldn’t help but notice them.
In short, I would totally recommend this if you’re looking for a character that doesn’t conform and is determined to build his own life.
Grand Prize $25 IP Gift Card + Multi-format eBook of Luchador // Five winners receive Luchador eBook (Click on the Graphic to enter)
About the author:
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.
Get to know Erin at Erin-Finnegan.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/ErinGoFinnegan and on Twitter at @eringofinnegan.