Interview with Larry Buchanan and Karen Gans

It’s been a year since The Gift of El Tio was released, how would you describe your experience of having your memoir published?

Karen: It’s been very exciting to see ten years of writing result in a published book. It’s like birthing a baby and watching him/her grow up!

Larry: One of the best years ever. We wanted the story published, not to get rich or famous, but just to let people know what life was like when a little stone and grass thatch Quechua village suddenly leaped a few centuries into the present. Having so many people honestly say that they enjoyed learning about the Quechua through El Tío was reward enough…though fame and fortune would be nice.

What was the best thing about the year?

Karen: As an author, I could never be sure how readers might react. It’s been very rewarding to hear our readers say that they loved the book and found it very meaningful. We’re also so appreciative of those readers who’ve taken the time to write a review for Amazon. (44 five star reviews!) I have been pleasantly surprised by the geologists who have read the book who stated that it’s about time the impact of mining on social and cultural issues was addressed from a balanced viewpoint. I had wondered whether or not my husband would lose credibility in his field, but he seems to have gained respect, not lost it!

Larry: Reaffirming, as if I had ever forgotten, just how decent those geologists are.

What was the most challenging experience in the year?

Karen: Initially, we had a lot of energy to market the book, visiting independent book stores, arranging readings, etc. It’s been hard to keep that up as we discovered it’s not the best way to sell the book and often more costly than profitable.

Larry: There were challenges, but it was worth it, as someday some wise investors will want to make a movie of El Tío!! It’ll be a killer.

How did the experience of writing and publicizing the book together impact your relationship?

Karen: Having met Larry too late in life to birth a baby, I often speak of our book as our co-creation. Both the writing and the publicizing have brought us closer. I am delighted that Larry has truly changed, showing more respect for different cultures and their spirituality. Here in Mexico, we have lots of opportunities to see the impact of Catholicism on the people. He now acknowledges the importance of rituals that he would have scoffed at years ago. Hopefully, I am more open-minded to the benefits of development! The challenge that faces us now is to keep publicizing the book – one of us may have more energy for this than the other, yet we’re most successful when we both are involved.

Larry: To write we had to get away from the house and all its interruptions. We would go off to a little cabin on the beach or mountains, spending a week or so alone, writing in the mornings, hiking in the afternoons, trying some wine and warm romance at night. We have thirty-one chapters, and thus we had thirtyone mini-honeymoons. If that doesn’t bring a couple together, nothing will.

What feedback have you received from the inhabitants of the town about your book?

Karen: We did send copies of the book to the three main characters: Octavio, Senobio, and Soledad, but we’re not sure if they received them. The book has not been translated into Spanish so this will be a problem for them.

You established a very close relationship to one of the inhabitants during the years that you lived in San Cristobal. Can you give an update on Cornelio?

Karen: Cornelio was a student in the village school when I began teaching English in San Cristobal. I did not get to know him personally until he was finishing high school and requested individual tutoring. We knew his father well (he’s Octavio in the book) and I was delighted to get to know Cornelio. When I was getting ready to return to the United States, Cornelio said, “My dream is to study English in the United States.” Without thinking, I replied, “Here’s my email address. Write me when you’re ready to come.” I don’t recall that San Cristobal even had electricity at the time, and certainly not the internet. Two years later, I received an email stating, “I’m ready.”

Cornelio has now been with us for five years. He came to learn English and after eighteen months in a language course on the Southern Oregon University campus, he sat at our kitchen table, looking very depressed. When asked what was going on, he said that he saw no reason to learn English if he was just going to go back to herding llamas. He wanted to go to the university and get a degree. Fortunately, Larry’s boss is very generous and agreed to sponsor Cornelio’s education at the university as well as a year abroad, studying in Thailand. Cornelio will graduate with a bachelor’s degree this June. He has applied to master’s programs in England and Thailand with a plan to study International Development. Cornelio had many challenges from a lack of educational resources in his youth and has exhibited remarkable motivation and discipline in overcoming these deficits. He hopes to return to Bolivia one day and help change the educational system so that Bolivians will have more opportunities for advancement.

How has San Cristobal changed since you wrote the memoir? What do you think about the changes?

Larry: Well, the citizens of that little village are now full-fledged members of the 21st century. The yacho even carries a cell phone to talk to the gods from time to time.

Has The Gift of El Tio influenced the changes/impacted the community?

Larry: The book itself likely has not, except that perhaps a few folks read it and wanted to see the town, thus increasing tourism a bit. But just wait for that movie!!….Then, everyone will want to go see the Bolivian Altiplano for themselves.