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Author Spotlight: The Writing Spirit of Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Festival Staff / February 22, 2017

In her most recent book, Shame the Stars, Guadalupe Garcia McCall reimagines the story of Romeo and Juliet. Set in the year 1915, at the time of the Mexican Revolution and Texas Rangers’ suppression of Tejano rebels, the YA novel is interspersed with the poetry of the eighteen-year old protagonist, Joaquín del Toro. Garcia McCall’s socially aware writing is infused with the region she lives in and the students she teaches. Born in Coahuila, Mexico, she immigrated to the US with her family at a young age and grew up in a small, South Texas border town. She’s taught middle and high school English/Language Arts for almost 30 years and lives in a rural area outside San Antonio, Texas. Her debut book of poetry, Under the Mesquite, won a Pura Belpré Author Award and was named a William C. Morris Young Adult Debut Award finalist. Her first novel, Summer of the Mariposas, was an Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist.

What inspired you to write your books?

My students. Being able to stay in contact with the rich voice that comes at that time of life.

I was having difficulty with one class—mostly boys—who were passionate about basketball and would come into class sweaty after playing. I announced they would be writing books of poetry in my class. I told them it would be easy. They said, “If it’s so easy, then why don’t you do it?”

Garcia McCall went on to demonstrate that all you need to write poetry is one reflective moment (washing dishes) and a memory (family picnics along the Rio Grande) described using similes and metaphors. Each class thereafter, Garcia McCall wrote a new poem alongside her students.

I did this for ten years. Then, when I went to clean out my notebook of poems, I realized I had a book.

Garcia McCall’s second book, Summer of the Mariposas, was also inspired by her teaching. The novel was written to address the complaints of a female student upset when her class was asked to read The Odyssey.

She complained, “A guy goes on 20 years of adventure and the wife waits?” She didn’t see herself in the book; she didn’t want to be the wife. “It’s not fair!” she said, “We need our own Odyssey.” So, I wrote the book in one summer.

In Summer of the Mariposas, five sisters embark on an epic journey, encountering figures from Aztec mythology, as they attempt to return the body of a man, found drowned in the Rio Grande, to his family in Mexico.

What does the day-to-day business of being a writer actually look like for you?

I need a quiet space. I need to get in touch with “the other” – the writing spirit that lives inside and outside of me. I need to reflect and commune with nature. I’ll sit outside on our porch, with a Diet Coke and a cup of coffee. I need them both and sip them back and forth. I used to write longhand in a journal, but I need my laptop to be faster when I’m writing prose.

What book haven't you written that you would like to write?

I’ve dreamt about a great sci fi novel. It’s a trilogy – futuristic, high fantasy - but I don’t know how to write it, yet. I’ve had visions, but I haven’t seen the movie in my head. My books generally come to me as movies playing in my head. I’ll be walking through the house, watching the movie, having conversations with my characters.

What's the funniest thing that's happened to you at a book event or on a book tour?

I once went to an interview. It was being recorded to play later on the radio. The interviewer asked, “Who do you admire as a writer?” I wanted to say Meg Medina, author of Burn Baby Burn, but I said Meg Ryan instead. I went on and on talking about Meg Ryan’s books.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write with passion and conviction. Don’t be afraid to write it. Don’t censor yourself. Write the truth.

What are you working on right now?

I just submitted the sequel toShame the Stars to my publisher in November. The new story takes place in 1931 and focuses on the next generation, calling attention to a period in US history where Mexican Americans, with papers, were forced to repatriate to Mexico. During the early 1930s over 600,000 were deported; many of them had never lived in Mexico! I want to call attention and humanize the people pulled up in these times. The new book should be published in the Spring of 2018.

Where can we buy your books?

The usual: Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Amazon.

Garcia McCall plans to retire from public school teaching at the end of next year so she can focus more fully on her writing and hopefully begin teaching at the college level. She is currently working on her thesis and finishing her MFA at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Find Guadalupe Garcia McCall at the Festival: The Tejana: Another State of Mind; Racial Injustice: The Courage to Act, both Saturday, March 11. She will be signing after both events and books will be available for purchase.

Darcey Terris, a recent transplant to Phoenix, AZ, is currently working on her first novel. She is an experienced scientific writer and freelance trainer in scientific writing methods. You can connect with Darcey on Twitter at @ddterris.

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