Welcome Booksnob followers. Jacob Wheeler is January's Author in the Spotlight and he agreed to answer some questions about his life, his book, Between Light and Shadow, and international adoption.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a journalist, videographer and editor who juggles multiple jobs and digs them all. I was born in Denmark, grew up in northern Michigan, and consider about six different places “home”. I’ve been in Minnesota for almost two years, and continue to dig the lakes, all the bike paths, and these days the cross-country skiing. We moved here from Chicago because my wife Sarah is completing her Master’s in Public Health. We live in Prospect Park and nearly understand the expression “Minnesota nice”.
2. What inspired you to write to Between Light and Shadow?
I fell in love with Guatemala while living there in 2003-05 learning Spanish at an activist language school in the mountains. I fell for the people, their customs, languages, beautiful volcanoes and lakes — and I felt that, as an empowered, middle-class American journalist, I wanted to help tell the next chapter and the painful U.S.-Guatemalan history. International adoption was a big and controversial topic when I lived there, and it was a story that I realized I could tell from the perspectives of people on both sides of the border.
3. Can you tell us why or when you decided to become a writer?
When did I decide I needed to breath air into my lungs to live? I can’t remember that either. It’s just always been so. I’ve always written, I’ve always communicated. I’ve always imagined myself a journalist and a world traveler, and that evolved into an editor and an author too.
4. Do you like to read? What authors or books influence you?
Hah! I like to read so much that sometimes I forget to eat. Even though I also love food. I read incessantly. The news, and blogs, and Facebook feeds, and online magazines, are usually consumed with coffee. But the fleeting time to lie in bed and read a novel, now that’s special.
What books influenced me in writing Between Light and Shadow? Rigoberta Menchu’s autobiography; Daniel Wilkinson’s Silence on the Mountain; Francisco Goldman’s The Long Night of White Chickens. Russell Banks’ novels too, the way he alternates between settings and then has his characters collide in the end.
5. How did you meet Ellie and make the decision to include her story in your book?
I met Ellie and Judy through mutual friends in northern Michigan in summer 2005. I was particularly attracted to their story because she had been abandoned and adopted at age 7, which is incredibly late in life, and she still had vivid memories of her birth village and her biological family. The three of us met, and Judy in particular was amicable to the idea of me helping retrace Ellie’s steps.
6. Since you have visited Guatemala, can you tell people who have never been there why they should visit and why you love Guatemala?
It’s the land of eternal spring, which ought to prompt any Minnesotan in January to buy a plane ticket. Guatemala is beautiful and raw, complex and heartbreaking, majestic and delicious. Mountainous and blessed with the most beautiful lake in the world. She’s like a novel, a tragic one sometimes, but one that doesn’t follow the hum-drum of predictable daily life up here in El Norte.
7. How has the adoption/adopted community reacted to your book?
The community has reacted well, and many — both adoptive parents and those who have studied this issue — interpreted the book as a complex and nuanced look at a subject that should never be judged in absolutes. To be sure, I’m sure that my categorizing of Guatemalan adoption as “an industry” has turned some off, but they haven’t reached out to me and told me so. My ultimate hope is that people read this story and learn something new about childhood, parenthood, and sense of self and place.
8. Were you adopted or do you have people in your immediate familial circle who were adopted?
Ironically, no, and I don’t have any real close friends that were adopted — at least not that I know of (except for Ellie, of course). My path to writing this book was through Guatemala, more than the subject of adoption.
9. What is the most important lesson/idea you want readers to take away from your book?
That childhood, parenthood, and sibling relationships are an open mystery, perhaps as voluminous as an ocean. And we can’t judge what a destitute and desperate mother in a poor country like Guatemala would do based on our own skewed understanding of motherhood and love.
10. In one sentence tell readers why they should read Between Light and Shadow?
Read Between Light and Shadow because you feel strongly that a mother should never sell her children into adoption, or because you feel strongly that she’s justified in doing whatever might be best for their survival, and I hope that the complexity of this subject erodes your ability to think in absolutes.
If you are interested in winning a copy of Jacob's book Between Light and Shadow please click the contest link: Between Light and Shadow Contest