I’m sure it sounded strange, following up a wine country romance to set my sights on lucha libre, the extravagant Mexican masked wrestling circuit that combines sport, art, and performance. But the two were actually connected.
I was working with a winemaking co-op harvesting and salvaging old Zinfandel vines from a vineyard scheduled for demolition about three years ago. As I worked, I listened to NPR’s Weekend Edition on the radio, which featured a story about the exótico wrestlers of Mexico’s lucha libre leagues.
The story (You can listen to it here) spoke of how these luchadores not only wrestled as gay characters, but were for the most part gay and out in the macho confines of professional wrestling. 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.”
Not long after, I started scratching out the outline of the coming of age story of a young, gay luchador.
I already had a passing interest in lucha libre, but my experience with it was limited to a few visits to Lucha Va Voom, the Los Angeles-based burlesque-meets-lucha show, the largely accidental viewing of lucha libre matches on Spanish language television, and the movie Nacho Libre.
This much I knew going in: A burlesque show and a Jack Black movie would not make for a solid foundation for a book set in the world of lucha libre.
I got my hands on everything I could read: biographies, histories, a PhD thesis. I programmed my TiVo to automatically record Lucha Azteca and Lucha Underground. I began following luchadores and lucha fan blogs, and engaged more than a few of them.
And it still wasn’t enough.
I decided to take a working vacation in Mexico City, where I would spend a week immersing myself in my protagonist’s world, in churches and museums and most importantly, at the lucha matches at Arena Coliseo and Arena México.
It altered my view and changed my book. No matter what I might have found in a web search, I had been viewing lucha through American eyes, and what I saw at the home of lucha libre gave me an entirely different perspective of this performance sport.
Readers have told me that they never would have considered reading a book about lucha libre until they read Luchador. Here’s the thing, Luchador is more than a book about lucha libre. In fact, I’d argue that it’s not about lucha at all. The ring is a backdrop, a metaphor, in the larger coming of age story of Gabriel Romero as he goes on a bit of a quest for his authentic self—from behind a luchador’s mask.
Luchador is at its core not a story about wrestling, but about being true to yourself, and doing what it takes to figure out what that means.
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.
You can buy Luchador here:
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.
Luchador was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2016. In its starred review, PW described it as “glorious”. Kirkus Reviews hailed Luchador as “an unconventional romance”.
I had no idea about the lucha libre! What a fascinating journey that must have been. Thank you for sharing your story with my readers.
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