A September Writers Read event at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) will feature alumna Allison K. Garcia, a licensed professional counselor and “Latina at heart.”
Garcia will read from her novel Vivir el Dream (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017) at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13, in EMU’s Common Grounds Coffeehouse.
In the book, protagonist Linda Palacios, whose mother brought her to the U.S. from Mexico as a child, nears graduation from college but has little hope for her future due to her undocumented immigration status. Her mother and a suicidal businessman, too, struggle as they face past trauma and career uncertainty. “As circumstances worsen,” the book synopsis asks, “will their faith carry them through or will their fears drag them down?”
“Vivir el Dream is a touching read full of twists and well-drawn characters,” reads a review on Amazon.com. “The story is timely and emotionally charged, but written with a hopeful outlook. Ms. Garcia writes with palpable empathy and genuine compassion for her characters and the struggles that they endure.”
Garcia came to EMU after studying writing at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and then deciding to pursue graduate studies. EMU was the fifth school she visited, she said, “but when I walked into the EMU Counseling space, immediately a sense of calm and ‘this was where I was meant to be’ washed over me.”
The time at EMU proved influential to her ongoing writing. Her counseling internship was at Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board, where she continues to find inspiration for her writing in her work as a co-occurring disorders clinician. While a student at EMU, she also met her husband Julio, and subsequently began attending a Spanish-speaking church service she calls her “church home.”
A second Writers Read, featuring EMU Professor Kimberly Schmidt’s Magpie’s Blanket (University of New Mexico Press, 2016), is scheduled for Thursday, February 21, 2019, at 6:30 p.m. in EMU’s Common Grounds Coffeehouse.
In anticipation of her September Writers Read, Garcia answered several questions about the book and writing:
Your bio on Amazon describes your various passions. In what ways does Vivir el Dream reflect those passions – or not?
They are all reflected in Vivir el Dream in some way or another. In my book there is a lot of food. One of the most frequent comments in reviews is how people feel hungry after reading it. That’s because I love to cook and I love to eat, so that appears in all of my books. Also I love music, so there is a lot of music and dancing in the book as well. I love learning about different cultures, and I love re-examining things that I thought I knew about my own culture, so that has a place in the book, too. For me, bringing God’s love in the world is a passion of mine as well and that is the main tenet of my book, as it is also the main tenet of the Bible: to love God and love our neighbors. All of the commandments can be captured in those two categories. It is all about love. And that is what my Vivir el Dream is all about.
On your book’s Facebook page, you note that a newspaper referred to you as a “rebel,” and you wrote that you were “feeling pretty boss about being called a ‘rebel!’” Could you elaborate on that?
I had forgotten that. That made me smile. :-) I believe God has called me to write in a certain way. As I mentioned above, Vivir el Dream is all about love. In the Bible it says that if we don’t love our neighbors, how can we love God? I believe lack of love and compassion is currently a very big problem in America, and it is especially upsetting for me to see Christians lacking basic love and understanding for other human beings. The things I write about in Vivir el Dream are real things based on the real stories of many immigrants. By reading books, people can begin to put themselves into the shoes of the main characters and begin to understand and love them, and by understanding and loving them, perhaps they can begin to challenge some of those unloving ideas and attitudes towards immigrants and begin to truly understand and love their neighbors. Perhaps they will begin to see everyone as neighbors. It doesn’t seem like this idea would be “rebellious” really, because it is the Gospel. But then Jesus was the biggest rebel of them all. He confronted the “experts” in the law and reminded them what God really wanted. He didn’t want hundreds and thousands of laws. He wanted love. So, if being a rebel for loving others puts me in the same camp as Jesus, then yes, I do feel pretty darn good about that.
How does being a counselor shape your writing?
Being a counselor, I listen to people’s innermost thoughts and secrets, the horrors that have happened to them, how they have resilience despite those horrors, and I try to put myself in their shoes to understand and help them. This is a skill I take to my writing. It is part of being creative, imagining what a character would be thinking, even when it goes an uncomfortable direction. I think being a counselor has helped me to listen better as well, which is an important thing for a writer, to listen and be aware of the world around you, to pay attention to body language, to create authentic dialogue, to set a scene, etc. Plus it gives me fuel for the creative fire.
Is there anything about your experience as a graduate student at EMU that you have found particularly formative for you in your counseling work and/or vision as a writer?
EMU helped me to be more open to the right side of my brain, which helped me from being too logical in my counseling practice. It also got me started as a counselor and all the tools for that and led me to my internship at the Community Services Board, where I am still working 14 years later! I stopped writing for a few years after I felt like God told me to step away from that dream, but while I was at EMU, we had a final project for a class and I chose to write a short book. It was actually pretty cool. It was about metaphorically traveling to God on life’s path through the temptation of the seven deadly sins. In a way, it was my first Christian fiction piece. That was the first time in years I had allowed myself to write again. It was an important moment.
What do you find exciting about coming to EMU to read from Vivir el Dream? What do you hope your listeners will take away from your visit?
It is an honor to be able to speak and share my book at my alma mater. I’m very excited for people to hear about my book. I feel that I’ve had a very good reception from the Mennonite community in general with my book, as it aligns with Mennonite values in many ways, I believe. I look forward to good questions and an interesting discussion. I hope that people will come away from the Writers Read event with a renewed interest in loving God and their neighbors and, hopefully, also with a new book to read.