Monday, October 30, 2023

Q&A with Guadalupe García McCall


Photo by Michael Mercado Smith



Guadalupe García McCall is the author of the young adult novels Echoes of Grace and Secret of the Moon Conch. Her other books include Summer of the Mariposas. Also an educator, she lives in Texas.

Q: What inspired your novel Echoes of Grace, and how did you create your characters Grace and Mercy?


A: TRIGGER WARNING: Grace came to me out of a very sad experience. Years ago, I heard about a tragedy in our neighborhood wherein a young child had gotten away from his young aunt on the porch and rushed out into their yard. The mother, who was backing out of the driveway, ran the child over and he died.


This event traumatized me, and I remember thinking this tragedy was going to affect these young women very deeply. And I wondered, How will these sisters ever recover from this loss? How can they ever come back to love and sisterhood?


The tragedy resonated with me because, when I was in college, my sister and I were young mothers and we often entrusted each other with the care of our children.


Soon after the tragedy, Grace shared with me an image of a caterpillar changing, morphing, turning into a giant leopard moth, and then perishing and decomposing in her hands. She didn’t know what it meant—but I knew I had to find out. So, I wrote it down, along with all the other “images” and bits and pieces of narrative she gifted me.


This went on for years until, one day, I had to turn in a story idea for my thesis novel and I opened the file with all my notes on Grace and put it together. And that’s how the story was born, I had to make something out of all those images, all those little scenes and bits of dialogue.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between the two sisters?


A: SPOILER ALERT: I think the relationship between Grace (Graciela) and her sister, Mercy (Mercedes), is tenuous, at best. Even before the tragedy that took Mercy’s son’s life in that first chapter, Grace and Mercy had issues.


After that, however, they have so much more to contend with—like regret, grief, and forgiveness—not to mention the persistent ghosts and echoes from the past, generations of trauma, begging to be dealt with. It’s all very intense and dark, but also full of love and eventual hope.


Q: You also have another new novel, Secret of the Moon Conch, which is coauthored with David Bowles. How did you come up with the idea for this book?


A: This one is more fun. Somewhere in the middle of revising Echoes of Grace, I came up with another story idea. I was sitting on the couch, watching the credits roll by on The Lake House, when I mused aloud, “Now, why can’t someone write something like that for YA?”


My husband, who was in the kitchen nearby, said, “Oh, I don’t know. If there was a YA writer in the house, maybe we could ask her.” It was funny, but also meant to challenge me.


Which is exactly what happened, because I immediately asked myself,
“Now, what would it look like if I wrote that book?”


In a flash, I knew that “She” (named Sitlali later) was from a small village in Mexico, and she would be traveling to the US to at once find her estranged father and get away from the low-level criminal who wants to take advantage of her grief and possess her (as she’s just lost her grandmother).


At the same time, I thought that “He” (named Calizto later) was a fierce young warrior, fleeing from the Spanish invaders, Cortez and his forces, during the Fall of Tenochtitlan. And that’s how the story was born, because I watched a Rom-Com.


Q: How did you and David Bowles work together on the book? What was your writing process like?


A: David and I “talked about” the book, the characters, the plot points, what we wanted to do with it, for two years before we sat down to plot it together. Using the 3 Act structure, we formulated a graphic organizer that put several factors into play.


First, we wanted to make sure we had alternating chapters, with two different points of view, so we had to create three columns (to help orient us).


We also had to make sure the phases of the moon were included because the moon conch is magical. It used to belong to Calizto’s mother who’s a priestess, so it works with the moon to help the lovers connect mind to mind and heart to heart.


As the moon becomes more visible in the sky, the two can hear, see, and eventually fall in love, touch, hold hands, and, yes, kiss.


After we plotted the whole thing in a 45-page, single-spaced document, we started writing in sequence. It was an interesting process, because we would write our alternating chapters then send it to each other.


However, when we got it back, we had to 1. “Review” our previous chapter, read the notes we left each other, and make revisions, 2. Read the other person’s last chapter and give them notes, 3. Write our next chapter, and 4. Return the manuscript so that we could continue this cycle.


It was an interesting, complex process but, because we revised/edited as we went along, it allowed us to have a pretty solid first draft when we were done.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: David and I are putting the finishing touches on our second book collaboration, Hearts of Fire and Snow, coming Spring 2024 also from Bloomsbury.


HOFAS, as we like to call this book, is a re-imagining of the myth of the two volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl (also known as Sleeping Woman), named after the warrior and princess fated to rest beside each other as landmarks in eternity near Mexico City.


We reimagined it in Reno, Nevada, with two affluent, very worldly teens who find out they are the reincarnated Popoca and Lady Itza of ancient times.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Right now, I am in the middle of writing Spring of the Cicada, which is the 2nd book in Seasons of Sisterhood, the sequel series to Summer of the Mariposas.


This book is Juanita’s story—wherein she discovers that life is a god(s) given gift. That’s all I’m going to say about it other than to share that it features many more myths, gods, and monsters from Mexican American lore and the Mexica pantheon.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Guadalupe García McCall. 

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