Author Interview: Vanessa Garcia

I’m excited to welcome the multi-talented Vanessa Garcia to The Writing Life.

Vanessa was born in the Cuban satellite city of Miami, to Cuban parents.
Vanessa Garcia
Her plays have been produced in Edinburgh, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, among other cities. These include The Cuban Spring (a full-length, Carbonell Award nominee for Best New Play, 2015). The Crocodile’s Bite (a short, included in numerous anthologies such as Smith & Kraus’ Best Ten Minute Plays of 2016; City Theatre’s National Short Playwriting Award Anthology, as a finalist; and the Writer’s Digest annual award anthology). And, her most recent play, Grace, Sponsored by Monteverde.
Vanessa’s visual art has been exhibited around the United States and the Caribbean.
As a journalist, feature writer, and essayist, her pieces have appeared in the LA Times, The Miami Herald, The Washington Post, The Southern Humanities Review, The Art Basel Magazine, The Rumpus, and numerous other publications. She’s also a Huffington Post Blogger.
White Light is her first novel. She is currently at work on a memoir entitled My Cuban Routes.

Welcome, Vanessa!

Please describe what ‘White Light is’ about.
My book is, at its core, about a young woman navigating the world and coming into her own. The circumstances are particular, of course. She’s a Cuban-American visual artist, about to make it in the art world, when her complicated father dies suddenly. And, just as suddenly, she has to come to terms with loss and creation, that double drive. She’ll either break, or break through. I won’t tell you what happens, so you can find out when you read the book 😉
How did you come up with the title?
For a long time, the working title for the book was called Dyeing – playing both upon death and dye (color). But that didn’t seem representative, was too depressing. This book is intense, but it’s optimistic, I think. At some point, in the writing, my character figured out that the “white” at the center of the book, the white that she had thought was as black as mourning was quite the opposite – it wasn’t a void of color, but too much color, the entire spectrum. The central character’s journey is basically taking apart the strands of color that make up “white light,” trying to understand these strands, one by one. That’s why it was so important to me that there be actual bits of color in the book. In the third section, each chapter begins with a color.
Vanessa Garcia book cover
What is the reason you wrote this book?
The impetus for this book was my father’s death. This book, although it is absolutely fiction, was also a way for me to work through my situation at the time. When people die, you begin to understand love. You begin to understand what people are made of, what connects us, destroys us, tears us from each other. It’s only when people die that you see life in all it’s fullness, and when someone close to you dies, you see that very abruptly, very much in a haze, a kind of cartoonish blurt of life. It lasts about nine months, this explosion. I remember reading that in Joan Didion’s book The Year Of Magical Thinking –  how it takes nine months to lose someone (or suffer that loss). How it takes the same amount of time to mourn and lose than it takes to make. That makes so much sense for this book – I was creating the book as I was losing my father. But my character was also making art as she was losing her own father. They are different fathers – one is fiction and one is real, but the drives and the overall impulses are the same.
What is your favorite part of writing?
I feel really alive when I’m writing. That feeling of working on something that you think is important, of waking up every morning, eager to get to the computer. It’s the best. Those mornings when you want to skip the teeth-brushing and hit the keys, when your mind is fully engaged in what you are writing, that’s when you know you’re onto something; that obsession, that need to bring it out into the world.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
Sticking with something (a manuscript) when you’ve lived with it for so long that you begin to lose faith in its significance. Riding through those layers of revision is key. You have to keep reminding yourself why it matters, why you’re doing it.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I loved reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, that book really got me moving (my mind, my writing), as did Dana Spiotta. I love Nicholson Baker too. Borges and Cabrera Infante.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
I was very young when I read Reinaldo Arenas and he changed my life. I read his book The Assault when I was about fifteen and it was just that: an assault. It was like: BOOM. I read James Salter’s The Light Years very closely after Arenas, I remember, and I thought: wow, you can do that…You can write a paragraph like that at the beginning of a novel, about the water, about sailing, about the cold cutting you, and what it’s really about is a relationship. You make blueprints; that’s what you do at the beginning of a book – the blueprints a reader follows. I remember learning so much from those books.
Favorite place to write?
I like to change places. I like to move around from café to café throughout the day. I have my favorite spots in LA and my favorite spots in Miami, and I move around among them. I also like to write when I travel. I love writing in airports. I think that the idea of changing space and environment changes your writing. It makes you feel agile. It forces you outside your default settings.  
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
When I was 22, I backpacked across Europe. That’s not the surprising part. The surprising part is that I did it with my 80-year-old grandfather. It was life-sculpting, that trip.
Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?
I learned that my editor is amazing. Rosalie Morales Kearns, who runs Shade Mountain Press is spectacular. She took my book on when others wouldn’t. She took on a novel with color in it, a novel that required licensing of images (I have Matisses and Picasso’s in the book) and she did it with faith. I learned that it matters to connect with your publisher and your editor, that the book has to matter to both of you. Her passion and integrity as a publisher is astounding. I really count myself blessed in that regard.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
I wrote every single day from 6am (sometimes 5am) to 9am. Before the phone started ringing and the emails started coming in, before the rest of the world got to work, I was at work. Those quiet hours were of utmost importance to this book.
Any advice for writers looking to get published?
Stick with it. It’s a long, winding, bumpy, gravel-filled, sometimes tunnel-like road — but there’s light at the end of the tunnel if you keep trotting. If you really, really want it, keep trotting.
Where can we find your book?
Best place to buy it is from the publisher:
It’s also available at bookstores. Some of those include Books & Books in Miami; Skylight Books in LA; and La Casa Azul in New York City.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on (wrapping up) a memoir about my relationship to Cuba called My Cuban Routes. Selling that is next. I’m also developing a play called Grace, Sponsored by Monteverde. And have a couple of other projects in the pipeline – other plays, articles, and a new novel is also brewing in the brain.
Thanks for a super interview, Vanessa. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. Best wishes with White Light and all your creative endeavors. I’m looking forward to meeting you at La Casa Azul Bookstore on October 2 for our book readings!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

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Twitter: @eleanorparkerwv

A Decent Woman is available for Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.

Barnes & Noble for Nook and in paperback.

La Casa Azul Bookstore    143 E. 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029