I want to thank author and artist Vanessa Garcia for answering my questions. Garcia is happy to interact with readers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Also, you can learn more about her multimedia interests at her website.
Grab The Lapels: What would you like readers to know about your book, White Light?
Vanessa Garcia: White Light is a book about a visual artist, a young woman, who is about to make it in the art world when her father suddenly dies. It’s a book about grappling with loss and creation at the same time.
It’s also a book very close to my heart. I wrote it after my own father’s death. And, what’s more, I worked very hard to keep certain creative, artistic elements in the book. For instance, the later chapters of the book are divided by color. Literally splashes of color. Some publishing houses refused to take this on because of the cost of printing. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful editor (Rosalie Morales Kearns at Shade Mountain Press), who found real value in those chapter openings and, like me, thought they were integral to the book.
GTL: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
VG: I feel like I’ve always written. The first writing experience I remember vividly was one in which I was about ten, maybe a little younger. I was at my grandparent’s house. I got hungry for fast food and asked my grandfather whether we should have McDonalds or Burger King. He responded by saying: “that is the question.” Then he brought out Hamlet, and taught me the “to be or not to be” speech. He told me that in order to figure out what we wanted we’d have to write a poem about it. I wish I still had it. It was called “McDonalds or Burger King? That is the Question.” I’m pretty sure we decided on Burger King, because there were so many kings in Shakespeare. Ha!
Then I had another really eye-opening experience, while reading Reinaldo Arenas and James Salter. I was sixteen or so. I remember I thought: Woah! You can do that with writing? You have to have guts to write, and you can explode language. It did something to me, reading those two writers so young.
GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?
VG: I think the moment I really became a writer, even though I was writing long before, was in my twenties, when I decided to create a writing regimen. I decided I would wake up every single day to write at 6am and write through until 9am. I did that, and that’s where White Light came from. I have other novels I wrote before that, and short stories, poems, etc, and plays, in fits and starts, but true discipline came with White Light, and it made all the difference in my writing life. And, in my life as a writer. It made it sustainable, it made it not only my vocation, but also my work.
GTL: Why do you think your book would be a good choice for a book club pick?
VG: White Light has many layers to it. It’s also really fun to look at because of the images embedded in the book, the literal color. It’s a book about visual art, and loss, and mourning, and life; about the immigrant experience, the children of immigrants, and relationships, family, and love. It’s, for me, about coming into oneself. Something that has really surprised me is the wide variety of readers it has moved. It has found a home among women, AND men. Much of the fan-mail I get about the book comes from men, who love it! This is so surprising in a wonderful way to me because, for such a long time, editors told me that only women would read my book. Not so. The audience is far and wide, and people really like to talk about the book, which is something I really enjoy engaging in. I love when readers point to things not even I had seen. Sometimes the unconscious mind works in mysterious ways and the readers pick it up. Readers are really smart. I’m totally happy talking with book clubs, I think it’s great fun.
GTL: In what ways has academia shaped your writing?
VG: I think we live in the culture of the MFA, so it’s difficult to say academia hasn’t had an effect. I also have a PhD in Creative Nonfiction — there’s also that long conversation I had with academia. I would say that there are still people that consider scholars and creative writers as world’s apart. That is a mistake in the 21st century. I was guilty of that early in my life. I worked for another writer that came from a world in which writers didn’t get an MA, they just wrote, and that was okay (he belonged to another generation). But soon the MFA became the Parisian Café for writers in the late 20th and early 21st century, and very few people that did not submit to a program got published. For good or bad. That part is very complicated…
I will say that I also come from a world in which you could read an essay from Borges and then read his labyrinthine fiction, and that was totally okay. You didn’t have to separate those worlds like one was the plague to touch. Aka: There’s no need to divide the two. Creative writers bring a great deal to analysis, academia, and vice versa. Creatives are essential, in fact.
GTL: Does your writing include any research? If so, why/why not, and can you talk about why you made that choice.
VG: Sometimes I research and sometimes I don’t. When I write nonfiction, and longform journalism, and journalism in general, there’s research, research everywhere, and in depth. Lots of it. You have to get the facts right, even if the language makes the story feel like fiction or narrative. It still has to be true. Absolutely true. As for fiction, that becomes trickier. It depends. With White Light I did very little research because I knew the world of art well. I’m also a painter. Still, I remember doing some background work on artists. Sometimes in order to world build, however, you have to stop researching, in order to make your fictive worlds work, and paradoxically, more true.
Special Note: Vanessa Garcia’s publisher, Shade Mountain Press, is now accepting submissions from African American women until September 1, 2016. If you, or anyone you know, is interested, please head to the guidelines page!