Tag Archives: Writing

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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The Breadcrumbs and the Tower

Some members of the Shenandoah Valley Writers and I recently held a Twisted Baby Shower for a fellow writer. Naturally, we can’t put on a normal party — even a baby shower. Two years ago, we came to a shower dressed as our favorite authors (and literary characters) and last Sunday, we gathered to give our favorite fairy tales some decidedly deadly twists.

hansel-cake

My writer friends and I (at left) were forced to destroy the Hansel cake, when no one was willing to take home the leftovers.

The theme was fractured fairy tales, and in addition to a game of Legos inspired by “The Three Little Pigs,” and food like grey gruel (guacamole) and a multi-flavored cake decorated to look like Hansel (from “Hansel and Gretel”), we also wrote our own twists on fairy tales that, I hope, would have made the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, proud.

So, I thought I’d share with you the short fractured tale I wrote for the party, based on one of my favorites — Rapunzel.

The Breadcrumbs and the Tower

I remember the day I was taken.

Mommy had warned of talking with strangers, but Miss Abigail wasn’t a stranger. She lived next door. And anyway, I wasn’t talking with her — just waving at where she stood behind some curtains in her spooky, rundown house. Later, when I followed those breadcrumbs into the forest, I didn’t know she had put them there for me. I was only six, and I thought I was following my brother and sister. They were eight-year-olds then, and they did everything together. I just wanted to be included. I wanted a friend. It wasn’t my fault.

The breadcrumbs seemed to go on forever before finally leading me to a lone tower in a small clearing. The top was so high above me I couldn’t see where it ended, but there was a ladder on the side. I didn’t want to climb it, but a voice from up there called my name, and I was too curious not to wonder what might be inside. Daddy always said I was a dreamer — that I believed things too easily. But I didn’t know this would be a bad idea.

Twenty, thirty, forty I counted as I climbed. My legs begged me to stop, while my pounding heart urged me on, ever closer, until, gasping for air, I pulled myself in through a window.

Daylight still shone outside, but it was dark inside, and my eyes couldn’t explain to me what this room above the trees was. It was small and round with a floor that circled the sides around a small hole in the center that reached down into a pit of blackness. Then before I could decide to stay or leave — the witch, Miss Abigail, grabbed me.

It really was as quick as that, and as the weeks and months passed, and I thought back over that moment again and again wondering what I should have done differently, all I could tell myself was it wasn’t my fault. I was a little kid who had followed some breadcrumbs. It could have happened to anyone. But it didn’t happen to anyone. It happened to me. And now, here I was, the little blond girl trapped in a tower with no one but a beautiful wicked witch for company.

When she visited, she tried to be nice to me, probably so I wouldn’t try to escape. She would open the tower window’s metal doors with a screech of rusted hinges and let the sun into the cold, dank room. She brought leaves and moss for my bed and berries from the forest for me to eat. Sometimes she brought bread or sweets from towns too far for me to see, even over the trees, and she told me stories from her travels. She let me sit on her lap and play with her lovely dark hair, and I wished it were mine.

She was scary for keeping me locked in there, but she was all I had, and I even started to look forward to her visits. Because when she left me alone in the dark, closing those big metal doors with a clang, I wanted to die.

Years passed, until my strings of golden hair grew so long it dragged a few inches along the floor behind me. I was too big for such a small tower room now, and during Mother Abigail’s long absences, I would sneak outside using a key I had stolen from her one time, and lie in the moonlight or cool myself in a nearby stream.

I kept outgrowing my clothes and Mother would get angry knowing I would need something new. But she always returned with what I needed — dresses or shoes or blankets. My tower now had books so I wouldn’t be bored, and in the summer there were flowers to make the stale air smell better.

But I never saw another person until the day the boy showed up —springing a hunter’s trap as I was picking some wild mushrooms. His scream sliced through the otherwise quiet morning, and after getting over my initial shock, I decided I should help him.

Through the lush green forest I ran, until I found the boy where he was hanging upside down by one sneaker-clad foot from a rope strung over a tree branch. I wasn’t sure what kind of trap this was but guessed it was meant for animals and not children.

“Hang on,” I told him, stuffing mushrooms in my dress pockets.

“Take your time,” he said. “I’ve been hoping for a chance to find out how much blood my head can hold.”

I untied the knot in the rope that held him, not at all upset when he fell and landed on his head. But I still asked if he was okay, and after saying he was, he thanked me for saving him.

I guessed he was about my age, but I wasn’t sure exactly what age that was — maybe 12 or 13. I hadn’t seen anyone that age since the girl who played with me one time while her dad talked with my parents about some medicine they thought might stop the dreams I was having. Dreams that seemed to scare them more than they scared me.

But this boy wasn’t a dream. He was here, standing in front of me in the middle of the forest that for six or seven years had been all mine.

He was about my height, with light brown, combed hair and bright blue eyes. He carried a nice backpack and wore a sweater and corduroy pants, as if he had been on his way to school. His eyes took in my aging, tattered clothes.

“You live around here?” he asked.

“I, uh…” His question had snapped me out of my memories, and now I thought of Mother Abigail. “I got to go.” I turned and ran, ignoring his calls from behind that grew quieter the closer I got to my tower. There was no telling what Mother would do if she found me gone, and I couldn’t risk it.

My feet pounded back up the ladder steps, not pausing until I had reached the top. Then, turning, I scanned the forest floor. There was no sign of the boy, and I sucked in a relieved breath before climbing inside, and closing the doors behind me.

It was a week before I saw the boy again. I had been avoiding leaving the tower in case he was lurking around, but I’d already gone through all the food Mother had brought and, let’s face it, I was lonely. I kind of wanted to see him again.

We began arranging our meetings in the forest, on his way to or from school, and I learned his name was Peter.

“I’m Rapunzel,” I told him.

“You’re kidding,” he said. “Like the fairy tale?”

“It’s what Mother calls me.” I told him about the breadcrumbs and the tower.

“Why don’t you just leave?” he asked.

“I don’t know how to get home.”

“I’ll help you,” he said, but I was starting to get anxious now at the idea.

“She knows where my parents live — she has a house next door. She’ll find me again.”

“We’ll tell the police,” he said. “I’m sure they’ve been looking for you all these years.”

“I don’t know…”

“You can’t seriously go back to that tower.”

“I have to…” And, with that, I was away and running. But, a few minutes later, as I reached the top of the ladder, he was already climbing up after me.

I stepped into the room, searching around wildly, as if I might find a place to hide from him. And then I saw her. Mother. She had returned while I was gone.

“Rapunzel…” Peter’s voice said as he reached the top. “You know, I think this used to be a water tower.”

But as his sneakers touched the slick metal floor, Mother flew at him. She wacked him on the head with a frying pan, and he crumpled to the floor, dazed.

Mother tore up pieces of cloth from my old clothing to use around Peter’s wrists and ankles. He was writhing in pain too much to fight back.

“Rapunzel,” he said, coughing through his tears. “No.”

But Mother only cackled at his poor attempt at pleading.

“Who is this boy, Rapunzel? How’d he get here?

“I met him in the forest.”

“You dare leave this tower!”

“I heard him screaming — he was stuck in a trap. I cut him down.”

“One of my traps?”

“Who are you talking to?” Peter said, his eyes wide with horror. “W-why are you doing this?”

“You were trying to take her away from me, weren’t you?” Mother said, rounding on him. “She’s mine! She’s never going back.”

His jaw fell open, but he seemed unable to voice the thought he was going for.

“That trap,” Mother said, her tone suddenly soft, her eyes glazing over, “was for catching food. We get so little food here.”

As if in response, my stomach gurgled.

Then, with a quick shake of her head, Mother refocused on Peter.

“Sorry it’s come to this.” Mother reached for him, and he screamed, cringing away from her.

“Rapunzel, you’re sick! You need help. Let me go. I’m your friend, I’ll help you.”

But Mother wouldn’t listen. If Peter took me home, everything would be ruined. Home meant doctors and medicine and no more fairy tales. I glanced across the room to where my old clothes lay in scraps beside a set of steak knives and a camping stove I had stolen from town sometime last year. I remembered the mushrooms in my pockets — perfect for the sauce I had in mind. A quick dash into town later today for some milk and breadcrumbs would provide the remaining ingredients.

I liked Peter, but friends had never saved me before, and they weren’t going to save me now. I stood back and let Mother take over.

Mother gripped the cold frying pan handle with both hands, raising it above her head.

“Won’t you join us for dinner?”

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Loving the life well-lived

“Loving life includes loving the fact that it goes.” – Rick Brookhiser, critic

I came across this remarkable quote while reading about the staying power of the film Groundhog Day – a highly acclaimed movie I watch every year, usually more than once, because it leaves me with a feeling of such inspiration that I immediately want to run out my front door and change the world.

But, in spite of the effect Groundhog Day has on me, that quote is such a foreign idea, I can hardly wrap my mind around it. And considering the popularity of the recent nostalgia boom, I would imagine it’s just as foreign to most other people trying to resurrect wonderful things about the past that they wish were still true today.

I find myself doing that all the time – trying to make aspects of my world today mimick parts of my childhood. Or else longing for the feelings I associate with former times, which I fear aren’t possible anymore.

But that’s a dangerous game, because if you ignore the present to live in the past, then one day you’ll wake up and wonder where in the world the last 15 years went.

Plus, memories are deceptive. We can remember things being better than they were, focusing on the good and glossing over the bad. We start living for the past and ignoring our present, and that gets us in trouble. Because the present can never live up to the past we’ve built in our mind, and dragging the past into the present doesn’t let us live with honesty.

So I think that’s where that quote I mentioned above becomes so important.

If you were truly happy right now, this very moment, would you happily let go of that feeling so that tomorrow you could experience something else? Something new? 

Would you be okay packaging away today’s experiences and leaving them in the past? 

How do we even go about living for the present and not longing for that moment to last forever?

And when it all ends, can we really expect to love “the fact that [life] goes” and embrace death as the next great adventure?

Well, yes, I suppose that’s exactly what we’re meant to expect, isn’t it?

“Don’t be afraid of death,” Natalie Babbitt wrote in her book Tuck Everlasting. “Be afraid of the unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

And that’s one of the conclusions of Groundhog Day as well.

Bill Murray’s Phil Connors is a cynical man who doesn’t realize how very stuck he is in life until he gets trapped in a time loop on the worst day of his life. He eventually learns from the experience not only to embrace living, but also to be a hero for others whose misery and pain might have gone unnoticed by others if not for him.

“The curse is lifted when Bill Murray blesses the day he has just lived,” Brookhiser wrote. “And his reward is that the day is taken from him.”

I guess it’s an idea I’ll have to mull over. Because for me, the idea of devoting one’s life to others sounds a whole lot easier than loving the passage of time – and the changes that come with it.

But I don’t suppose great ideas like this are meant to be understood easily. Otherwise they wouldn’t be meaningful.

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Ten years I almost forgot

Usually when people who haven’t seen me in the long time ask what I’ve been up to, my answer is the same: Nothing.

Everything is the same, nothing has changed, this is my life.

But it’s not true.

I might not be where I expected to be by now, or have what I thought I’d have, but my life has been far from tedious, and it’s about time I admitted it. So, without much emphasis on details, here’s just a quick list of some of the things I might have forgotten to mention if you ever asked me what I’ve been doing since 2006. And after reading this, I hope you’ll make your own list — for your blog, for your Facebook page, or for yourself – just a reminder of all the little things in life worth remembering and celebrating!

latte

At Le Pain Quotidien, with my niece, in NYC

  • Bought a house
  • Started playing the old clarinet again
  • Photographed three weddings
  • Went to my 12-year high school reunion
  • Gave the sermon at church five times… with a sixth coming up soon
  • Took four overnight skiing trips — and didn’t die
  • Met my best friend
  • Ran a 5K
  • Wrote a 50,000-word novel in November — seven times
  • Performed the Verdi Requiem, Carmina Burana, and Bach’s St. John Passion with the Masterworks Chorus at Shepherd University
  • Was a bridesmaid in my brother’s wedding
  • Attended a Pakistani wedding reception
  • Become an aunt twice over
  • Took my husband’s niece on a “Christma-Birth-uation” road trip to NYC
  • Took another niece to the local premier of a 14-year-old writer/director’s horror movie
  • Saw Aerosmith and Hootie and the Blowfish in concert
  • Interviewed LeAnn Rimes over the phone and Candace Cameron Bure in person
  • Saw Phantom of the Opera twice at the Kennedy Center
  • Saw various other local stage productions
  • Traveled the entire East Coast, from Montreal to The Bahamas
  • Went tubing and kayaking on the Shenandoah River

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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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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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For a friend

This week’s blog post is short, a tribute to a friend going through a rough time:

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Broken

You can’t hear words…

They all sound like hers.

You can’t taste food

It’s all wrong.

You can’t concentrate…

She fills all the voids.

You can’t harmonize

With her gone.

You can’t fall asleep…

It brings only fear.

You can’t see the stars

Once so strong.

You can’t be alone…

It only reminds

That you can’t be with her…

Anymore.

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