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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. 😉

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. García 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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Measuring our worth

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Recently I met a fourteen-year-old screenwriter and director.  He was eight when he realized he wanted to make movies, and since then he’s read everything he can get his hands on that has to do with screenplays.

He’s taken workshops, he’s studied movies in his genre of choice — horror and suspense — and he’s practiced his craft.  Most of what he’s produced have been five-minute movies he and some friends made in his garage or elsewhere around our community— until recently, when he made the leap to more ambitious scripts, like the thirty-minute movie he filmed last summer in preparation for this summer’s sixty-minute feat.

As a writer, I applaud him.  Right before I apply his experience to my own.

We never should measure our own worth by the success of others, I recently read by coincidence.

But how can we not?  At fourteen, this Stephen Spielberg or Peter Jackson in the making has been at it for nearly six years.  I’ve been writing novels for five, and before that, I was doing nothing.  And I’m thirty-three.

Of course there are extremes at both ends, like people who don’t start writing until retirement. Most novelists don’t begin their writing careers until adulthood — but then there’s always that fourteen-year-old out there who writes Eragon and makes us all feel like slouches because instead of spending our summer vacations writing novels and studying up on every book on writing we could find, we were watching cartoons and making Suncatchers window art.  We were the ones working meaningless summer jobs instead of pursuing internships, or studying for career paths we would choose not to pursue in adulthood.  We worked in coffee shops or grocery stores or at pools, coming home at night to fall onto a couch and wither away in front of the TV — for years.

What drives children at eight or ten or twelve or fourteen to a dedication so great it makes them think and act like adults before their time?  To abandon the games of their youth and the habits of all their friends and close themselves in their rooms and rattle off ten or fifteen pages of a screenplay each day after school instead of play some game online or shoot hoops down the street?

When I was all those ages I wasn’t writing, but I was pursuing other hobbies — I was learning to play the clarinet; I was joining the chorus at school and drawing for hours at a time and spending weekends alone in the woods behind my house raking out paths for a world only I would enjoy.  And children who choose baseball or dancing or art over their friends’ activities oftentimes choose to follow those passions into adulthood as eagerly and with as much training, experience, and maturity as those writing screenplays or novels do.

I did — eventually — start writing, and I kept at it, and still keep at it, long after others would have quit.

I guess I won’t know why I never felt the need to pursue a career path before I could spell the word “career,” but I’m not sure it matters at this point.  When he’s thirty-three, shooting his own equivalent of Jaws, maybe Peter Spielberg will look back on the movie he’s working on now and think it’s all too telling of the work of a fourteen-year-old.

Or maybe he won’t. Maybe it will be exactly how he hopes it will be. Maybe he’s on a faster track than the rest of us are because he has more to accomplish in his life. Maybe the rest of us took longer to come around to our purpose or we needed to live more so we would have more to write about when we did finally sit down to our writing desks.

When I was fourteen, I didn’t have any ideas yet. So that’s why I didn’t write anything then. The ideas came later, built upon a foundation of imagination facilitated through artistic expression and time spent with loved ones. Only now would I be foolish enough to ignore the ideas I have to the promotion of meaningless pursuits.

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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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Write a killer query letter

The most important thing I learned from writing coach David Hazard at a recent free workshop was that you’re not the only one invested in your book. You might have addressed your query letter to an editor, but the description you give of your book actually needs to appeal to a room full of publishing professionals who will weigh in on the odds of your book being worth their time and money.

The publisher, marketing director, and sales director are just as important as the editor, and your tiny one-page, four-paragraph query letter has to woo them all.

The publisher

Hazard calls this person the captain of the ship, the CEO whose choices will secure or unravel the future of the company. When he reads your query letter, he’s wondering if your book will add to the company’s stock. Will it help grow a trend or even start a trend? Does it in any way fit in with what today’s readers want, and if so will it be only a pebble on a beach of a market already too saturated with books just like yours? What can your book do that others’ can’t? What would you say to convince him/her that the company needs what you have to offer?

The marketing director

Her main concern is where to sell your book, and who will buy it. Authors today already have to be their own mini marketing machines, advertising themselves through social media formats. Will you be able to bring a fan base with you when the publisher sells your book? Do you have a whole network of Facebook friends and Twitter followers salivating over getting their virtual or literal hands on your book? If so, you might be a good investment for a marketing director. Still, you have to know your audience. Just because your high school graduation class will buy your book doesn’t mean anyone else will, and the prospect of selling 250 books is not going to impress the marketing director. Knowing your audience will help you sell your book. Will it appeal to historians? To knitters? To mystery buffs? And if so, what age group? A sleuth story that intrigues teens might not appeal to their parents, nor would a writing style that would exclude a large portion of the population.

How you package your book also matters. Study the publishing house. Does the publishing company require a minimum number of words from its novelists? If the publisher is going to invest money in your book, s/he’ll wonder how much it will cost to produce it. A 200-page book will cost significantly less than an 800-page tome will to produce. Is your book really worth the expense? Will the publishing house even recoup its expenses, much less make a profit? Can it even project a possible second printing, or will interest in your book fizzle out before it sells half of what it prints?

Be able to compare your book to others the company has produced. Your book should fit into a mold, but it should also be unique. Also be ready to divulge if you’re submitting your book to other places.

“If they’re interested, they want to publish your book if it’s good business for everyone,” Hazard said.

The sales director

Imagine you step into an elevator and bump into an old acquaintence, who now works at Random House, and you have only seconds to make him understand how great your book is. This is the elevator speech. What could you say in two or three sentences that sums up your book and also leaves the listener wanting more? This guy needs to know your book’s plot and how it builds intention toward a resolution. Does the character in your novel react realistically to situations or events, and is the plot realistic? Can the reader connect to the character, and will the reader care about the outcome of the novel?

“Writing isn’t about getting the words really, it’s about communicating and connecting,” Hazard said.

If your book is nonfiction, explain how you’re an authority on this topic. How do you know what you’re talking about and why is your book preferable to someone else’s? Do you have a story that no one else has, something you alone experienced?

Your query letter must say what your book is about, but it also should say which other books are like yours. Books fit into catgories. Where will yours fit?

The editors

Your query letter is almost like a miniature book. How you write it will tell editors how you might have written your book. A friend of mine who wrote a humorous how-to book modeled her query letter on the style of her book, which helped her gain the attention of an agent who realized that if the query letter was this funny, then the book must be even better.

A well-written query letter tells editors that the author cares about his or her wordcraft, Hazard said. “The A-1 author is the one who really works on their craft … so work on your craft whatever you have to do,” he said. Also, don’t be afraid to hire a writing coach.

The letter

So you’ve written your letter, keeping all of the above-mentioned readers in mind as you wrote. Read it over, and imagine that round table of professionals discussing your letter and your proposed book. They look around and ask one another if they should take the risk. What would you say? If someone else had written your book, would you take the risk?

Show why this book matters to you. The more excited you are about the plot, the characters, the book’s message, the more excited others will be to read your book.

The agent

Once you have your query letter finished, send it to agents whose job it is to fight your cause. Many publishers don’t accept submissions from un-agented writers anyway, and your agent will be your first line of offense. Then, keep in touch. Ask your agent when you should follow up to check on the status of your queries with publishing companies.

Self-publishing

“It works if you know how to work the system,” Hazard said. If you’re thinking about self-publishing, get a publicist, he said — someone who can get your book out there where people will see it.

David Hazard is an author, publishing consultant, and writing coach in Loudoun County, Virginia. He’ll offer a free program, “Secrets of Narrative Writing — That Sells,” at the Purcellville Library at 7 p.m. on April 17. Contact him at ascent@itsyourlifebethere.com.

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