Books

Gabriela Garcia Remembers the Women Who Helped Make Her a Best Seller

MUJER POWER Gabriela Garcia dedicated her debut novel, “Of Women and Salt,” to Iraida Rosa López, her 101-year-old grandmother who emigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1968. In a photograph pinned at the top of Garcia’s Twitter feed, López is wearing jazzy sneakers and holding a Black Lives Matter sign; even without a neatly printed Spanish expletive, it would be clear that this is a woman with strong convictions.

“I grew up in a matrilineal family,” said Garcia in a phone interview. “I had all sisters, my mother had all sisters, my grandmother had all sisters. I was raised by a single mother and I never felt a lack in that. My grandmother was an important figure for me growing up; she helped raise me my entire life, so I wanted to dedicate the book to her.”

“Of Women and Salt” mines the lives of mothers and daughters across five generations and four countries, from 19th-century Cuba to present-day Miami and Mexico. Garcia worked on the book while earning her M.F.A. at Purdue University, where Roxane Gay was an early champion of her work. “I won’t romanticize the act of writing. It can be excruciatingly difficult,” Garcia said. The hardest part was coming up with the structure of the story, which is told from alternating perspectives: “When I first started I thought it would be a linked story collection. Then I brought in all these pieces that don’t really work as stand-alone stories, so it just started becoming this hard-to-define novel.”

Readers have embraced the challenge. “Of Women and Salt” debuted last week at No. 13 on the hardcover fiction list, an occasion Garcia described as “beyond my wildest dreams.”

Unlike many authors who evangelize about the practice of pounding out a certain number of words before breakfast, this Miamian turned Bay Area resident takes a fluid approach to her schedule. Garcia said, “I’m always jealous of people who have a specific ritual because I feel like I’m very undisciplined.” She doesn’t write every day; she wrestled with the novel when the spirit moved her, often in the coffee shops where the hubbub of conversation and stoneware became white noise.

“Sometimes I would get in the zone and work until 3 o’clock in the morning,” Garcia said. “I think it helped that during that time I didn’t have an early-morning job to go to. I find sometimes when the rest of the world is asleep, there’s a safe quiet. It makes it easier for me to access the writing.”

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