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Author Q&A with Allison Garcia: ‘It takes power and courage to stand up and fight’

Today we have a special guest — fellow Virginia author and friend Allison Garcia, in the first of what I hope will be many author Q&As, from time to time, at this blog.

Allison K. Garcia

So tell us about yourself and your writing. What type of writing do you do?

I write Christian fiction. Inside this genre I’ve experimented with a variety of subgenres, including speculative, mystery/thriller, children’s fantasy, and Latino. I really feel called to write Latino Christian fiction, and my book, Vivir el Dream, will be coming out on Amazon mid-May. My other favorite is my children’s fantasy series, called Prince Miguel and His Journey Home.

When did your passion for writing begin?

I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer. My first book, “My Future Car,” I wrote in 2nd or 3rd grade and included some pretty awesome pictures that still might be my current drawing level. It was revolutionary in its ideas about televisions and refrigerators in cars. Though the swimming pool car hasn’t made it to market yet, I think Honda might have stolen some of my ideas. ūüėČ

You have a new book coming out. What’s it about?

Vivir el Dream is about an undocumented college student and her mother, trying to make their way in the world. It’s about their old and new struggles, the faith that keeps them going, and, of course, there’s a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

The subject matter is incredibly current to what Americans are (and have been) dealing with. Was it difficult to approach the subject of undocumented immigrants?

Not really. I really feel like God was calling me to write this book by putting people in my path who have been through similar situations that my main characters experienced. As my job as a counselor, I have heard some pretty rough stories on why people take the risk to cross the border undocumented, the traumas they’ve experienced in their countries of origin, their hopes for their children. I have also been to several Virginia Organizing events, including rallies for The Dream Act. The power and courage it takes to stand up and fight for justice is overwhelmingly inspiring. We have also had several people in my church get deported, so I’ve seen first-hand how it breaks up a family and how unwavering faith has allowed them to trust in God’s plan in the midst of chaos. That’s what impacted me the most.

What do you hope readers will take from Vivir el Dream?

I hope my book gets people wrapped up in the beauty of Mexican culture. I hope it helps people understand why people come here undocumented and why things need to change. I hope other Latinos find their voice in this book and see their people represented as strong, loving, faithful, invaluable members of American communities. And I hope it shows how trusting in God and holding onto your faith can get you through some horrible circumstances.

Though your book is in English, you also weave the Spanish language into dialogue and chapter titles. Could you tell us about that process?

I wanted to make it authentic. I’m bilingual so it came naturally. I have loads of Latino friends, plus my husband is Mexican, so I especially know a lot about Mexican culture. I wanted the dialogue to represent how intergenerational Latino families interact. Juanita, the mother, came as an older teenager but never went to school, so Spanish was her primary language, and I wanted it to be represented accurately. Linda, the college student, is bilingual but there would be times she would need to say things in Spanish so her mom would understand. The chapter titles are all Mexican songs or movies or phrases used in Latino communities. In the end, my editor advised me that the Spanish was too advanced for non-Spanish speaking audiences, so I’m adding in footnotes for my English-speaking peeps. It wasn’t until I started using footnotes that I noticed how much Spanish was in the book. 400 footnotes and counting!

You’ve written other books, too?

Oh my, yes. Many. In terms of readable ones, I’ve got 4 adult books and 6 books in a children’s fantasy series.

Prince Miguel is a children’s fantasy series that was inspired by a real life event, right?

Yes, it was based on events after my son’s birth. In the hospital, I started writing a story and things just progressed from there.

What was it like writing a baby (your son!) as a hero of his own book series?

Weird, at first, because babies can’t do much, and I wasn’t sure how to represent how strong he must be and the journey he had to go through. In the end, my friend, Josette (wink, wink!) helped me decide to use a spirit animal to show the journey. So when Prince Miguel awakens for his journey, he is a turtle.

How’s the series coming along? Do you have more books planned?

I have 6 out of 8 books written. The first book is close to being finished while the others are still in early editing mode. I plan to finish the last two during NaNoWriMo this year.

Many of your books were started during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) — for which you volunteer as a Municipal Liaison. (As do I.) Would you share a little about your experience with NaNoWriMo?

Oh, man. I love it!  Previously it would take me years to write a book and I would be editing it the whole time and I was like a lone wolf. Then, I found NaNo and realized I wasn’t alone; there was an entire community of writers to help me through my writing journey. Plus I wrote a book in a month, so that’s pretty boss!

Have you noticed a difference between writing a novel during NaNoWriMo and writing during other months?

Haha, ever since I started NaNo I’ve only written during NaNo. The rest of the year is spent editing that book usually.

What’s next? Publication? More projects in the future?

Vivir el Dream is coming out mid-May. I have another Latino book, Finding Amor, that needs to be edited, plus the Prince Miguel books are nearly ready as well. So many choices! I’m also planning to translate Vivir El Dream into Spanish.

Which other authors do you like to read?

I love Barbara Kingsolver. I love classics like Jane Eyre, And Then There Were None, and Heart of Darkness. I love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. I’m a sucker for diverse fiction, so I love Como Agua Para Chocolate and The Joy Luck Club and Beloved. So pretty much I’m all over the map.

How can people find out more about your writing?

I have a Facebook author page  (https://www.facebook.com/allisonkgarciaauthor/) where I announce my books that are coming out. You can also check out my blog (http://allisonkgarcia.wordpress.com), find me on twitter (@ATheWriter), or look out for Vivir el Dream on Amazon mid-May!

Allison K. Garc√≠a is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a passion for writing. Latina at heart, Allison has absorbed the love and culture of her friends, family, and hermanos en Cristo and has used her experiences to cast a glimpse into the journey of undocumented Christians.

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Standing up with a good book

Curling up with a good book? Pshaw.

Meet my new DIY standing desk, perfect for reading over drafts and adding in revisions!

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Can’t believe I never thought of this before! But since we sit long enough during our day-to-day lives, I’m excited for this opportunity to stretch my spine and my imagination. It’s at shoulder level on the fourth shelf of my office bookcase, right above the writing books and “Harry Potter” collection.

This might be just the thing I need to really pound out final revisions on my work-in-progress and move onto the next six first drafts.

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A new day

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In a special Saturday edition of my blog, I voice an issue that has caused havoc here at The Unwritten Chapter: Thursday is not the best day for blogging — not anymore.

In considering the merit of the week’s other days, I’ve always shot down each one. After all, something always can present itself on those days to make blogging difficult. I recently read or heard somewhere that if you want to give God a good laugh, just tell Him about your plans. The same goes for Thursdays.

In recently weeks I’ve been able to contend with the challenges that Thursday brings by writing ahead of time, usually on Wednesday during my Shut-up & Write online group session¬†with Shenandoah Valley Writers. But when I use that two hour writing period for blogging, I’m not using it for noveling, and my novel has a vicious jealous streak.

Then this week, I abandoned all forms of creative writing. My enthusiasm for the writing I do at work suffered. When you’re on deadline and the writing has to happen, you’ll find a way to do it, but it won’t necessarily be good, and it definitely won’t be fun. I’ve been living in a sort of fog all week, and it wasn’t until Wednesday at 8:55 p.m. that I really noticed. It was time for Shut-up & Write, and I didn’t care.

It was the first time since December that I didn’t participate in that Wednesday night session, the first time that I hadn’t been looking forward to it all day. This time, it totally fell¬†off my radar.

I guess we all go through periods of feeling like life — or whatever —¬†has thrown one too many punches and has to expend very little effort to keep us down for the count. It’s the “whatever” that’s so…well, whatever.

To feel blindsided by the attack is to feel like it must have been my fault: Why wasn’t I more dedicated to what I do? How could I have let a whole week go by without breaking out of the wake up/prepare for work/drive to work/work 8 hours/drive home/have dinner/watch The West Wing/go to bed cycle? I guess I should be glad it didn’t last longer than a week.

But now the question becomes, Do I go back to how things were before, or do I try something else? Do I choose a new day for posting my blog each week or return to jumping through hoops in order to make Thursday work? I did choose Thursday for a reason. It wasn’t as menacing as Monday or Friday seemed, and I knew of at least two other bloggers who already have Wednesday, and it’s silly but I didn’t want to steal their day. Likely I’ll have to write the blog ahead of time to make¬†any day¬†work. So I return to Thursday.¬†And Thursday pummels me into the ground. Again.

I remember when Thursday was my favorite–my high school love. It was the only day that let me breathe, the only one not scheduled with an after-school activity or job. Now, 16¬†years later,¬†it’s stifling, but still I want it to be my day, even though I know it’s ridiculous to think it would be the same. We’ve grown apart, Thursday and me.

So, I’ve come to a difficult conclusion. Since no one day will work every week, I’m¬†choosing a progressive schedule: A new day every week. You can’t see me, but¬†in just thinking of the possiblity,¬†I’m smiling. Really smiling.

Today’s post was on Saturday. Next week’s will be on Sunday, Feb. 24.

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Wyoming in my mind

My husband and I are down to one working laptop and one semi-but-not-really-working desktop.

This generally doesn’t pose too many problems for us.¬† After all, we both have Droid Razrs.¬† But smartphones aren’t the best for writing novels, or for downloading 20th Century retro video games.

So Monday night when I wanted to work on my book and Ryan wanted to play Unreal Tournament, we had to pull out the ole marriage handbook and strike a compromise: I’d get the laptop until 8:30, and then I’d go watch Biggest Loser.

Normally it doesn’t take much to get to me crash on the couch downstairs in front of the TV for several hours.¬† On one hand there’s washing dishes or putting away laundry…on the other there’s my¬†stockpile of Big Bang Theory episodes, followed by¬†Once Upon a Time, Elementary, and SVU.¬† I know, right?¬† Why am I always the one taking one for the team?

But Monday night was different.¬† For one thing, I’d already watched all of those shows over the weekend (the ones that didn’t have a bye week, that is); for another, I couldn’t get my novel out of my head.¬† I might have been listening to Jillian Michaels lament the probability of going home early after the likely demise of¬†her White Team, now down to one contestant, but really I was talking with Darby O’Dell in the forest of Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, considering¬†how to rewrite the scene that would come next, one of the many I’d tossed out in favor of a new, better-written(?) plot line.

Since reaching the end of this novel three summers ago, and actually thinking myself to have a readable manuscript, I have deleted half the book (eight chapters) and so far rewritten about seven.  I think there are another two chapters in there that will need to be rewritten from scratch too, but time will tell.

Really, not having the laptop to myself was not a good enough reason not to work on my book, but I let it be good enough as I chose reality TV over the reality of my life: That I’m a novelist who’s been editing her first complete book now for close to four years and frequently chooses almost anything to actually writing or editing.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the story, and Monday night was a perfect enough¬†example of that.¬† My head was in the game, but my willpower was cooling its heels over on the sidelines planning out strategies while taking a breather with a gallon of Gatorade.¬† The reality of noveling is, it’s hard.¬† Even if you know what you’re going to write, it’s still more difficult than flipping through the index of your DVR and scanning through shows that have piled up over several months and that you still don’t want to watch but are considering anyway because you so desperately want to feel what you feel while writing your novel, only in an easier way.¬† The crux is that nothing will make you feel what you feel while writing your novel.¬† Movies and TV and other people’s books might come close; they might give you that fix for drama or comedy or heartbreak that’s similar to what you were looking to feel, like how¬†Cadbury chocolate will do, if it’s easily accessible, even though what you really wanted was Hershey.

And that’s what ultimately made me turn down old Charlie’s Angels episodes that have been stewing on the DVR since the last time Cloo Network had a marathon sometime last summer, and instead work on my novel by hand.¬† By hand is even better, by the way.¬† It’s harder than typing and takes longer, but that’s what makes it the Cote d’Or of the writing experience.

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For the good

How easily a moment or action can determine the course of a day, or the memory of a day, when we allow it to paint reality with unforgiving bias.

On one such day, I hurried away from the downtown walking mall in Winchester, Virginia, announcing aloud to myself how bad that day had been. In truth the day had¬†been far from¬†awful. A typical Thursday, it had been a long one, but despite the tribulations that had befallen me that day, I had experienced a lot of blessings and just plain lucky moments that had made my workday infinitely easier to accomplish. In that moment, though, as I hurried to where I’d parked my car and away from the people I had been waiting to meet, I could not see any of the good.¬† Instead I saw how the daylight was waning, how the band members I had arranged to meet at 7:00 could not make it there until 7:40,¬†and how the outdoor photos I was about to take of them probably would not turn out at all.¬†In that moment, as my feet pounded against the uneven red sidewalk bricks, as I cursed myself for not having¬†anticipated the onrushing dark, the tone of the day had been decided.

However, twenty minutes later, I retraced that route to the car, this time with my tri-pod in hand — the one I’d purchased 13 years ago when completing my photography minor at college, and¬†the one that wrote a new story for me that day last week.¬†This time, as I walked back to my car over uneven ground, I had a new assertion to declare to the night: It had been an awesome day.

Despite the growing dark, despite the dimness of the downtown walking mall with its canopy of trees lining the avenue, and despite my, by then, flustered countenance, the pictures turned out just about as perfectly as they could have.¬†With three or four nearby streetlamps posing for light strobes, I might have had my own photography studio right there with me to pull out of my pocket during emergencies. It’s moments like that when I think “luck” is a very pessimistic word for a practicing Christian to toss around like so much discarded grass seed.

Here’s the photo, and the story that goes¬†with it.

Yes, Thursday ended on a high note, with the result of that photo shoot managing to amaze me as well as several coworkers who saw them the following day, but it also ended with a head-smacking moment — one that I really did not notice until a minute ago, as I typed those words. It was a moment that I suppose we all need every so often as a reminder that life doesn’t need to be as bad as we make it seem, but it also was a moment that we very rarely ought to require. How many moments pass us by every day, how many moments fail to catch our attention, even though they’re there and¬†we experience them, but which we miss because instead¬†we’re focusing too much attention on everything that doesn’t happen the way we would like it to?

As I returned to my car for the second time that evening, I thought over the rest of the day; really, almost nothing had gone wrong. Everything that needed to fall in to place did. Only that one delay leading up to the photo shoot had threatened to topple over the tower of metaphorical cards that so meticulously had found their way into spots that I, myself, could not have designed.

Over the long weeks since I last posted to my blog, I have had plenty of days that I wrote off as bad. These were my excuses for not writing. I hope in the future to be more discriminating in my reasons for posting or not posting to my blog and that I, as well as each of you, may welcome the good, not merely tolerate the bad.

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Find the time

When I read author Ashley Ream’s article for Writer’s Digest last week — “How to Write a Book When You’re Really, Really Busy” — I was inspired. Ream says from the very beginning of her article that she has a life and isn’t afraid to live it.¬† During the writing of her latest book, she was working full time and taking college classes, and¬†on top of that uncovered time for friends and family and TV. At first I thought wow, yeah, I want to know her secret for finding time to write with such a hectic schedule.

Her secret turned out to be a calendar — only, not the sort of thing I expected. I was thinking something more along the lines of a play-by-play, as in, “5:00: Home; 5:05: Write for two hours; 7:05: Microwave dinner; 7:10: Eat dinner while watching ‘Mythbusters’ on DVR,” etc. Instead she offered a spreadsheet outlining the days she spent writing and the days she had off over the course of four months. I admit I was impressed that she wrote over 100,000 words over four months when some weeks she had as many as six days off. On the other hand, she didn’t say when she slept.

She said she watched “a number of¬†‘Mythbusters,’ episodes” and I’m thinking, what, like four or five over 22 weeks?¬†Did she have a Netflix marathon on one of her off days? I record¬†seven shows each week, and that’s after canceling my subscription to Glee. Excuses, I know. But TV is part of my life, people, and watching Awake or reruns of Family Guy or NCIS very often is the only time my husband and I have together. Do other novelists schedule “together time” with family, and then, after an hour, shut themselves into a room to write 2,000 words? That after spending nine hours a day away from home, in addition to all the other stuff that gets in the way of having a writing agenda?

I’m just asking because I’ve written four books — each over the span of one month — November, during National Novel Writing Month. In actuality, it was more like 20 days for each; the other 10 days I did other stuff — stuff pertaining to having a life. So I know what it’s like to shut myself off from my husband and family and friends while writing a book. I just don’t get how authors can do it for more than 20 days at a time.

At the beginning of this blog entry, I said the Writer’s Digest article inspired me. I thought Ream’s spreadsheet actually seemed pretty achievable and thought if she can accomplish all that with so many days off from writing each week, so can I. I’ve been in the midst of editing my second book (the first I’ve tried to edit) for over two years. Now in the third practical draft I’ve reached that point in my book where I need to totally rewrite the next three or four chapters. Knowing I have to return to the writing phase after so long in the editing (or evasion) phase is overwhelming. Still, I managed to work on this book every day this week, so far. The last couple of days I’ve been outlining the chapters I need to rewrite, and it’s been a big help seeing line for line how my story will unfold and what questions pop up that I need to answer in order for my story to be realistic. I realized in rereading the second half of this book just how bad it is. I’m in my third draft, and my book really sucks, but I think the ideas I have for improvement actually will make it really great. The problem now is just finding the time to make it happen.

The reason why I’ve been able to work on my book each day this week is because I didn’t do anything else. I went to work, I came home (okay, yes, I watched TV), I heated up leftovers for dinner, I talked to my husband on the phone¬†while he drove home from work, I worked on my book for an hour or so, and I slept 6-7 hours a night.

Then I berate Ream for not presenting us with a more clean-cut example of how and when she wrote 2,000 words on any given day, but, you know what, she probably doesn’t know any more than I do how she manages to accomplish anything from one day to the next. She writes two to five days a week, and over the course of 22 weeks, she wrote and edited more than a hundred thousand words (320 pages).

Is she really asking so much from the rest of us that we maybe save those seven recorded TV shows for a Saturday TiVo marathon and, on the other days, write a novel?

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Once a Gleek, no more

This week’s episode of Glee was more than disappointing. More like insulting. It’s very possible I’ll erase the entire series from my DVR queue based on this one episode.

After the winter finale ended with Quinn’s car being T-boned while she’s texting while driving on the way to Rachel and Finn’s quicky teenage wedding, I admit I was psyched for the result. Six weeks later, the series returned, but instead of picking up with that final scene, instead of showing the waiting wedding party learn the news of Quinn’s fate, instead of us all watching as the ambulance rushes Quinn to the hospital where the doctors might, just might, tell a stricken family of Glee members that their Quinn didn’t make it … instead of all of the possible drama and suspense and despair that might have followed such a haunting last moment in that previous episode, this week’s began with Rachel wondering aloud to Finn in the halls of McKinley High if the two of them might still have married if not for Quinn’s accident.

It took me a moment to realize that this episode takes place many weeks later, and that Quinn apparently is alive and well and is, at that very moment, preparing to sing a cheery song about being alive in her new wheelchair. If not for the wheelchair, you’d never know anything had happened to her, because she’s just as shiny and glowy as always. All of her parts work quite fine, she tells the group after singing a very stupid song with Artie. Except for her legs, which are paralyzed…oh, but only temporarily. It’s okay, see, ’cause she’s going to be dancing again in time for Nationals. Real dancing, not wheelchair dancing, which she apparently has already learned how to do. Artie’s not too sure about that. Neither are the rest of them, but they’re all willing to hope for Quinn’s speedy recovery. With the exception of Rachel’s guilty tears (for having been the one texting Quinn) and Artie’s concern for Quinn’s obvious denial of the probable possibility that she won’t walk again, the episode all but ignores the fact that Quinn so easily rolled away from an accident that should have killed her.

After a one-liner about almost becoming a sad tribute in their senior yearbook, Quinn spends the rest of the episode warning others of the dangers of texting while walking (because that’s how she started), before she joins Artie at the skating park where all of Lima, Ohio’s, physically disabled hang out. All the while, she insists to anyone who will humor her that her situation is only temporary. She’s going to be on her feet again in a month. Delusion or not, this episode does not seem to have any kind of message at all. After the cliffhanger ending of the winter finale, you’d think Glee would have more of a moral for teens who text and drive, but it seems that all anyone will take away from Quinn’s situation is that bad things don’t really happen to young people. Then again, maybe the only point of Quinn’s accident was to postpone Finn and Rachel’s wedding. The episode begins and ends with them. Everything in between is just for show.

I haven’t been enamored with this season, but this episode, especially, felt like it was written by the kids from the Glee Project, last year’s reality show whose winning contestants have been stretching this season’s cast of Glee. It really could not have been any more insulting to viewers who expect better quality writing from a show that has revolutionized the definition of the Emmys’ comedy category.

I guess it’s kind of funny that I’m getting all riled up about how lacking this comedy show is in the realistic drama department. But Glee never was a typical comedy. The one week my mom caved and tuned in to the show was the week when Finn learns that his father was not the war hero he’d thought. “I thought this show was supposed to be funny,” my mom said, before never tuning in again. It’s usually funny, I told her. Except the other half of the time, when it isn’t. Some weeks the only laughs Glee elicits are from Sue Sylvestor’s ability never to let her stream of vicious quips run dry. The rest of the time Glee members get in car accidents, are attacked with rock salt, are locked in Porta-Potties and rolled down a hill, and deal with daily torment from their fellow students. But maybe that’s what happens when clever comedies turn into dramedies. In Glee’s case, I don’t see it leading to any more Emmys.

Glee, I think it’s time to return to what you do best: comedy. And leave the drama to writers who can handle the challenge.

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