Gabriela Garcia
Photo by Andria Lo

Gabriela Garcia: “There are pieces of me in everything”

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Short Profile

Name: Gabriela Garcia
Place of birth: Miami, Florida, United States
Occupation: Author, poet

Gabriela Garcia's novel Of Women and Salt is out now via Flatiron Books.

Ms. Garcia, as a writer of fiction and a poet, would you say that reading is an escape for you?

I can definitely get lost in books. I don't know if I think of them as an escape; sometimes books can be really challenging to me, or really rigorous, or the best books just leave me fully engaged in thinking about them in my actual reality and lived experience. So I can escape into books and also remain very present. I think it's impossible to improve as a writer if you're not regularly reading, so a huge part of my writing practice is just reading a ton. It inspires me, it makes me a better writer.

Is there a distinction, or perhaps a balance, between reading for pleasure and reading for your profession?

That’s an interesting question. Sometimes if I'm working on a project, I might need more information that is specific to what I'm writing, or I reread something in order to think more about the writing element, the structure, you know, really thinking about the craft of writing — so in that way, maybe my work does shape my reading. But for the most part, reading as a writer and reading as a reader, they just blend for me. It’s all enjoyable.

“I love anything that sort of challenges me to see the world in a different way.”

And what about as a kid? Were you always such an avid reader?

Oh, yeah, I’ve always been into books. I also loved being read to when I was a kid. And then once I learned how to read, I just devoured every possible book; I'd go to the library and check out the maximum amount of books allowed. (Laughs) And I think that has continued into adulthood, even before I started taking my writing seriously. If I could have more hours in the day and read more, I would do it! I love fiction that I can just fully immerse myself in, I love nonfiction. I love anything that sort of challenges me to see the world in a different way or to under to understand it in a different way.

And has immersing yourself in a world of fiction been helpful for you, maybe it’s given you strength or hope at a time where things were difficult?

Yeah, that's been true all of my life. This is kind of ridiculous, but when I was growing up, I was really into The Babysitter’s Club, I would read them back to back. And sometimes I felt like I was living this parallel life, like they were my friends. I was so present and what they were doing parallel to my everyday existence. That was something I could turn to when I didn't want to be present in my regular life, and that is a feeling that I'm always trying to capture in my writing. I am a very image based person, and I'm always interested in imbuing my writing with that kind of detail and strong images.

You once said that you sometimes start your writing process with an image in mind without even knowing where the story itself will go.

Right, a good example is in Of Women and Salt, the chapter that opens with a body washing ashore. A lot of ideas sprang from that image, and then I started to try and envision the characters and the storyline from there. It’s something I often do, and that’s true of my poetry as well as my fiction. The thing is that even if you start envisioning an ending or a general way that the plot will unfold, often you end up going in a different direction… So I try to open myself up to all the possibilities.

That kind of strong imagery really makes for an immersive reading experience, especially when it’s paired with the physical act of holding a book and turning a page.

Yeah, I think about that all the time! You write something out and then someone's literally picturing this in their mind as they're reading, it feels like this very magical act. And you're right that you're holding this book and also just very immersed mentally in a different different world… There's something about reading where the imagination is so involved. I like that people can form their own conclusions, that they can picture these characters differently. Sometimes it can be a sort of dialogue with a reader rather than just what exists in my mind. I’m always excited when readers tell me what they themselves took away from my work, and maybe it’s totally different from what I envisioned when I wrote it.

Do you experience that same sense of immersiveness when you’re writing?

Yeah, I definitely get lost in my writing especially when I'm having a good writing day. The hours can pass! And often these characters, they live in my mind even when I'm not actually writing, I'm thinking about them. The thinking process always happens simultaneously to the writing process, and sometimes can even exist in my everyday life, you know? For me, writing has had many, many different functions in my life.

“The novel isn’t autobiographical, but there are pieces of me in everything I write. That’s true of any of my work.”

Apparently you’re not the kind of writer who forces themselves to write every single day.

I think people have different ideas about this! Some people really swear by sitting down every day and forcing yourself to write, and I've tried that mode but I feel like what I produce is never as good as when I just let it come naturally to me. Writing can be difficult in that it's not always pleasurable, sometimes it's frustrating, sometimes it involves writing a lot of stuff that then I end up cutting completely. I think it can feel like torture sometimes! My work is at its best when I give myself time to think over my writing, when I allow myself enough time to go over my ideas and my research, rather than sitting down and forcing it out.

Is research also an important part of your writing process?

It’s always a blend because I feel like I can also use it as a method of procrastinating, you know? I won’t start writing until I read every single possible thing about something — I can just get really bogged down in the research. But at the same time, you can't write about something you don’t know about. So I was really thinking about that balance when I was writing the historical chapters in Of Women and Salt.

Have there also been times where you’ve had to let go of certain facts or ideas you’ve come across during your research because there simply isn’t room for them in the story?

Sure, I think that’s the other way that research can be a bit destructive! You come across a piece of information or a fact that you find so fascinating, but it doesn’t fit the narrative… And that’s something I really had to work at, remaining focused on the story. The research and background information needs to be in service of the story, and that’s something I found myself constantly challenged by. But I also included a lot of settings and situations that were familiar to me, that didn’t really require any research, and I also had to learn to keep some distance in that respect, to think from a writer’s perspective, you know? The novel isn’t autobiographical, but there are pieces of me in everything I write. That’s true of any of my work, that is the thread in all my writing.