Happy Monday, reader friends!
Today, we’re featuring an interview with Allison K. Garcia, author of Finding Amor.
Interview with Allison K. Garcia about her book, Finding Amor:
Alexis: What inspired you to write this book?
Allison: I was inspired by a couple things in 2014…On the news, there was a video of little kids on a bus near an immigration detention center. Outside the bus were a bunch of angry Americans yelling at them and carrying signs. It broke my heart. I thought about how scary it must be for those small children to be surrounded by an angry mob after what was surely a traumatic border crossing. And I began to think how most likely some of those people yelling angrily at the children were also proclaiming to be Christians (as I had heard echoed sentiments in our community), and I wanted to change the narrative. This is the first scene of my book. The other thing that inspired my book was hearing the story from someone at church about how a little boy in the afterschool program came to Christ and subsequently brought many of the other little kids to salvation as well. That touched my heart, and from there my main character, Emanuel, was born.
Alexis: How did you choose your characters?
Allison: I am a pantser, so a lot of times my characters choose me. Haha. But seriously, I had the idea for Emanuel, so logically his mother, Ana, came next. I added a third POV of the afterschool teacher, Lauren, and her husband, Peter, who is a loveable slob. I’m not sure how Carlos, my antagonist, came about but my editor made me turn him into a POV character so you can thank her for that! Mamita is just this sweet little grandma that I pictured, the representation of quintessential unconditional love. Kayli, Mari, and Dwayne are my favorite of Emanuel’s buddies. You’ll see more of them in my second book. Sandra, Ana’s mother, was really fleshed out in editing, and I really love her now. There is a lot under the surface there.
I know I didn’t answer your question, but truthfully, I feel like they chose me, and they keep surprising me! Who knows what will happen in my second and third books? I have a general direction but there are plenty surprises for all of us around the corner.
Alexis: What is the setting for this book? Describe it.
Allison: Lederville, Virginia is a small city I created in the Shenandoah Valley. It has a diverse population and is loosely based off of Harrisonburg, VA, where I live. It has all four seasons, including beautiful fall foliage and occasionally disruptive snowfalls. They have a bus system and Uber. There are suburbs, trailer parks, apartments, and farms. They have thrift stores and international grocery stores, especially Hispanic/Latino, which is a burgeoning population in Lederville. There is a park called North River Park which has open fields and shelters for picnics and parties. Also, there is a nice church called Dove Peak Presbyterian Church next to the Rolling Hills Trailer Park where three of my main characters live. It is a very welcoming church that holds an afterschool program and does Christmas caroling and has a thriving Spanish service.
Alexis: What is Finding Amor about? Share in a few sentences (not the blurb).
Finding Amor is the first part of a larger series, Buscando Home, about a family from El Salvador broken through decades of war, violence, and distance. Finding Amor is the first glimpse into their world – why they are broken, some of what they’ve gone through, and how far they have to go in order to heal and find peace and home together. Finding Amor is about finding the love of family, God, and within ourselves. It also calls people to love both God and their neighbors, the two main tenants of Christianity.
Alexis: Take us inside Emanuel Martinez’s mind. What was it like to be thrown into an immigration center after he was so close to freedom at the border?
Allison: I think we’ll get a much better idea of this in my next book, but it is a horrible thing. His mother had to leave to make enough money to support him, but he was too small to travel across three countries, so he has waited so long to be with his mother, living in an abusive home environment. The coyote (the person who helps people cross the border) took him on a freight train for faster travel, where he had some traumatic experiences. Just a reminder that from El Salvador to the border is about 2,000 miles, which is the equivalent of traveling from Virginia to Arizona. To travel that far and to be so small, it is impressive. Emanuel is a strong little guy, but the journey took its toll on him. Imagine traveling all the way from east to west coast at eight years old and just as you’re about to see your long-lost mother, you are apprehended and told you may never see her. This is a truth that is happening again and again. People who are just looking for asylum, for a better life for their family, risking their lives for freedom, only to be put into cages. Very upsetting.
Alexis: Did Emanuel travel to the border by himself? I understand that he’s only eight years old. Describe his journey.
Allison: His mother paid for a coyote, someone to cross him. It is a 2,000-mile journey. Often people will take freight trains to make the trip faster. It usually takes a month or more of hiding from immigration officials in the various countries, especially Mexico, where officials are sometimes corrupt and need bribes to let you pass. Also, there is a lot of gang activity near the border and people sometimes get kidnapped. For Emanuel, he took a traumatic freight train ride with the coyote, he traveled for about a month, hiding from officials, and then was captured at the border. More info about his journey will come out in my next book. It is a horrible journey even for adults and thousands of people die trying to cross the border. Emanuel is one of the lucky ones who made it across.
Alexis: In what ways does Finding Amor reflect the current immigration debate, trauma and drama in the USA?
Allison: My main goals for writing Latino Christian fiction are to have Latinos represented in Christian fiction, share God’s word, and show authentic stories of undocumented immigrants so that people can open their hearts and minds and grow in compassion and love and understanding. In showing real stories and explaining the whys and showing the human side to immigration, my hope is that people who have negative views towards immigrants will understand more and realize that we are called to love our neighbors, no matter what their documentation status or skin color or language, etc. I purposefully put a very diverse group of people in the book, because it represents America and also in Revelations is shows Heaven as a place where “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” people are praising God. Also, there are important verses that remind us that we cannot love God if we do not love our neighbor. We cannot love God without loving our neighbor any more than we can love our neighbor without loving God. This is another theme that is represented in Lauren’s story. Seeing her neighbors in a new light and seeing the love they show her, helps her grow to love others and herself more. So, for me, the trauma and drama and debates in the U.S. boil down to a lack of love.
Alexis: Who is Lauren Barrett and what is her significance to this story?
Allison: Lauren is an overweight, churchgoing legal secretary who has trouble saying no, especially to church activities. She gets roped into helping with the afterschool program at church, which is hurtful because she has been dealing with infertility for over a decade. She represents the average churchgoing person who looks fine from the outside but has a lot going on inside, while at the same time finds herself lacking compassion for others and losing perspective on where she is in her life. Her interactions with the Martinez family and the other families in the afterschool program make a drastic impact on the way she views the world.
Alexis: How does Lauren’s family dynamics and a background that made her insecure affect her life as a grown woman? In what ways does her personal history endear her heart to Emanuel?
Allison: Lauren grew up in a very unsupportive family with some emotional abuse that made her more vulnerable towards abusive relationships. In high school, she had an abusive boyfriend, but thankfully, she met Peter, who showed her unconditional love. Even though she has God in her life and Peter, she still has the burden of those early days, and she struggles with that need to please and make people happy and also with loving herself. I think she sees herself in Emanuel a little bit, plus Emanuel just has a good heart and is kind to her right off the bat, which endears him to her.
Alexis: What role does Lauren grow to play in Emanuel’s life?
Allison: It’s a little bit the other way around for this book. Lauren wants to help the kids in the afterschool, but really they are the ones who impact her life. I think that happens a lot with mission work, we want to help and then we get way more back than we ever gave out.
Alexis: What does Emanuel think of Lauren at first and as the story progresses?
Allison: She views her as someone who is sad and has “nerves” like Marta from home. He wants to make her feel better and is kind to her. I think as the story progresses, he sees her as a mentor and friend and someone he can confide in and learn from.
Alexis: What do you want readers to remember most about Finding Amor?
Allison: That everyone has a story. We often judge a book by its cover and as Christians, that’s not okay. We are called to love everyone, unconditionally. I hope that sticks with them.
Alexis: Who is your publisher for Finding Amor? Is it a CBA publisher?
Allison: CreateSpace/Me! I had to go indie because it is very hard to get diverse fiction published traditionally in the Christian market. Plus the undocumented immigration is seen as controversial and they didn’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. But God wants me to write it and get it out to the world, so I am thankful for Amazon and all my indie published friends who helped me figure out how to indie publish.
Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Allison! Would you like to share closing comments?
Allison: Alexis, thank so much for the insightful interview questions. I really challenged me to look at my book in detail. I feel totally prepared for some events I have coming up in September now! Thank you for this opportunity! I hope people pick up a copy and enjoy it!
*Interview conducted by Alexis A. Goring, contributor
About the Book:
Escaping a violent and abusive environment, eight-year-old Emanuel Martinez attempts to cross through three countries to be with his mother, Ana, whom he hasn’t seen since he was a baby. When la migra catches him at the border and he’s thrown into an immigration center, his dreams for being a real family start to disappear.
Vowing never to be like her own mother who abandoned her and never looked back, Ana has worked for six years to get her son to the United States, Now Ana has to rely on her distant mother and her alcoholic boyfriend, Carlos, to finally get her son to her side so they can build a life together.
When Lauren Barrett agrees to help with the afterschool program, she soon realizes she’s bitten off more than she can chew. Growing up in an unsupportive home has made her insecure and vulnerable, plus suffering through years of infertility hasn’t helped matters. Yet she longs to do something meaningful with her life and wonders when that opportunity will come along. When a special young boy named Emanuel enters her life, he turns her worldview on its head.
As their lives intersect, will they help each other understand what family and love and home really mean?
Buy Allison’s book on Amazon
About the Author:
Allison K. Garcia is a Licensed Professional Counselor, but she has wanted to be a writer ever since she could hold a pencil.
She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), Shenandoah Valley Writers, Virginia Writers Club, and is Municipal Liaison for Shenandoah Valley NaNoWriMo.
Allison’s short story, “At Heart,” was published in the Winter 2013 edition of From the Depths literary magazine, along with her flash fiction. Her work, “You Shall Receive,” was published in GrayHaven Comics’s 2014 All Women’s anthology. Winning an honorary mention in the ACFW Virginia 2015 short story contest, “Just Another Navidad” was published in A bit of Christmas. Allison finaled in the 2016 ACFW Genesis Contest and is a 2018 Eric J. Hoffer Montaigne Medal Finalist for Vivir el Dream, published May 2017. Her highly-anticipated novel, Finding Amor, releases in September 2018.
Latina at heart, Allison has been featured in local newspapers for her connections in the Latino community in Harrisonburg, Virginia. A member of cultural competency committees for work and a participant in several pro-immigrant rallies and other events in her region, she also sings on the worship team and enjoys get-togethers with the hermanos in her church. With the help of her husband, Julio, and their son, Miguel, she has been able to nurture her love for the Latino people.
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