Inside a Writer's Mind: Gabriela Gonzales

I sat down with my friend Gabriela Gonzales, a senior Creative Writing major from Denver, Colorado, in order to explore what it’s like to identity as an author and pursue that career path. Here’s what insights she had to give.

Photo credits: Rachel Cromer

So, you’re a writer. When did you start writing?

I have been writing since I was very young. I used to write this play every Christmas called “Santa Mouse” and force my cousins to act it out. I would scrawl it out on these big, long trails of continuous stationery (this really old type of paper that my grandma had at her house because she had a really old printer).

What side do you take on the great debate of pencil versus pen?

Pens. Hands down. I carry a little case of colored pens with me everywhere I go and then set them up before class in rainbow order on my desk. I’m sure many people in my classes think I’m nuts.

What genres do you typically write?

I try to write in a lot of genres but my true love is slipstream. I didn’t know that that was the name of the genre I work in until last year actually, when I was researching Kelly Link, a writer whose work is really similar to mine. Slipstream is a blend of sci-fi, magical realism, and fantasy. A lot of dystopian fiction fits into that genre. It’s a post-modern genre, really, that looks at the idea of our inability as humans to really know what we think we know.

Who are your favorite authors?

Stephen King is the love of my life, but I also really appreciate Tim O’Brien, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe.

What book has made the biggest impact on you/your writing style?

I think I have to answer both these questions separately. My all-time favorite book is called The Orphaned Anything's by Stephen Christian. This book changed my life (I understand this is dramatic, but I mean it) because of its honesty and vulnerability and the scary parts of it that I also saw reflected in myself, which made me sit and think about the next steps I needed to take in my life, especially in regards to mental health and faith. It also breaks every writing rule ever.

Two books that I’ve been noticing pervading my writing style are It by Stephen King and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, two books that I love dearly. It is this epic piece of work that looks at the monsters that exist in our everyday lives as well as the power of relationship, two themes that I explore a lot in my own work. I’ve also been studying Gatsby a lot for its organization and the way it moves through time. Basically, any time I can’t figure out how to do something in my own work, I just go figure out how Fitzgerald does it in Gatsby because Fitzgerald does everything in Gatsby. I believe that The Great Gatsby is a perfect novel.

Do you plan to pursue writing as a career? If so, have your parents been supportive?

Absolutely. I love writing more than anything in the whole world. There is nothing else I would be happy doing. My parents have been incredibly supportive, ever since I was young. Never have I felt like they disapproved or had other plans for me. I always say that I knew my parents were all in on this with me when I came downstairs from working on a story and asked my parents how a dead body could be lifted up with a rope. “Deborah, come here,” my dad said and they proceeded to act out my father lifting my mother’s “dead body” so that they could give me an accurate idea of how to do it.

Have you gotten published before?

I have some old poetry published on the website for the scholastic art and writing awards from 10th grade, a poem in a publication for the Live Poet's Society of New Jersey, a piece of flash fiction in the 2016 Belmont Literary Journal, a flash nonfiction piece in the Awakened Voices Literary Journal, and I’ll have a poem published in the January edition of Waxing and Waning.

What are your favorite pieces you’ve written and why? Is there anything that makes them particularly stand out to you?

Two pieces of mine that I really appreciate right now are my poems “He Calls Me Patchouli and I Get Upset” and “Sunday Morning Girl.” I think these pieces work because of the specific details I use that create specific feelings. Often, the more specific your details are, the more other people can relate to the sentiment, which is something crazy that I’ve learned recently and have been working to employ.

I also really like my short story “Intelligence”, which tells the story of a man finding out that someone he is close to is a robot and trying to come to terms with that. It’s fun to read this one aloud because there’s a very unexpected scene involving said robot going rogue and it really freaks people out. I like getting intense reactions from my work and this one definitely does that.

I know you have done work with a poetry organization. Can you tell me about that?

This is my fourth year working with the non-profit Southern Word. I help facilitate performance and do administrative work, but I also co-lead a poetry workshop on Thursdays at the downtown library (Studio NPL—WHOO!!!) for high school students. Southern Word works to support literacy and performance skills for students around Tennessee, and the community it builds is absolutely amazing. I love seeing these students come in who are so scared to talk or perform, but who also have these incredible stories to tell and truths to speak. By practicing their art, as well as being in a weekly group where we as mentors get to encourage them as well as their peers, they grow into these amazing performers with such strong voices. My favorite part of workshop, hands down, was this tradition our students created where during workshops, if someone said their writing wasn’t good and then it turned out be killer (which it always was), each student would take turns lightly flicking the writer in the knee. It was precious.

Have you ever doubted the validity of your own voice in your writing?

Absolutely. I guess I have a couple of examples of this. I went to an arts school for middle school and high school where I majored in creative writing for seven years. The other creative writers so often wrote this beautiful, flowery poetry and literary work, and my writing has never really been beautiful. My writing is very raw and very simple and more often than not, it includes some really unsettling and creepy stuff. I tried for so long to write pretty stuff and use words like “ephemeral” and “dichotomy” and all the flowy stuff they used, and I hated writing. It took me a while to realize that I hated writing during this time, because I was writing something that was not me in the slightest. I’m a rogue robot and evil government and malicious murder writer and that’s okay! I think that science fiction is the ultimate form of satire. Every time you write about the future, you are commenting on the present, you are writing the now. I can talk about so many important and timely topics by writing science fiction.

Sharing writing is daunting for anyone, especially when submitting writing because of the possibility of rejection. How have you learned to overcome that?

I don’t think I have really overcome it. I honestly don’t think there’s ever going to be a day when a rejection doesn’t hurt. I put a lot of time into my work and a lot of vulnerability and so when the work is rejected, it can definitely feel personal, even though it’s not. Being an artist means so much rejection for a couple of acceptances and the question I ask myself often is whether touching people with my words is worth all the pain of rejection. And it always is.

How have you balanced chasing your passion with academics?

I’m a senior and I’m still trying to figure this out. Being a creative writing major really helps. So many of my courses enable me to be creating often so that helps me to build my portfolio. I’m trying to finish up a novel right now and it’s so hard to get myself to sit down and just do it since I’m going to classes and also working and also trying to love my friends and family and also like, you know, eat and sleep.

How does writing impact other areas of your life?

Writing impacts every part of my life. Because I’m a writer, I’m definitely a lot more observant and I’m also really good at listening to people so it helps me to be a better friend. My writing is really important to my faith because I believe in a creative God whose image I’m created in, so I get to be creative. I feel closest to God when I am writing—especially writing fiction. Everything new that I learn, I store away for a story. Also, as a writer, everything you write must mean something. You can’t use a word that you don’t need. Because of this I assign meaning to everything . . . so I read into everything that anyone does. I act like everything is a symbol for everything because in a story it is, even though that’s not true in real life.

How have you seen the power of words in your life?

Words are the most powerful human construct in the world and I am in love with them. I write things that invade people’s nightmares: things that replace the nightmares about mom and dad’s divorce, about childhood abuse, about your best friend’s suicide attempt. I want to create subjects of nightmares that take over your real world. I want to make people have nightmares that they can wake up from and whisper, “It wasn’t real.” I write because no one hears me when I speak. I write because I’m scared of people. I write because I like control. I write because my plans fall through. I write because I’ve been destroyed by words. I write because I can’t sleep. I write to make people say, “Wait, someone else feels that too?” I write because I feel too deeply. I write because I love too deeply. I write because words are weapons. I write because words are shields. I write because words are poison. I write because words are medicine. I write because I don’t understand the world. I write because I don’t understand people. I write because I don’t understand myself. I write because I am okay when I write and I am alive when I write and I am safe when I write and I am real when I write. I write because I can only be taken away by words and because Lina might break up with her boyfriend and Ellie’s dad died and Jon gets in his own head and Abby is scared of her own shadow and Michael can’t sleep and Alicia’s dad hit her and everyone needs to be taken away and I need to take them.

What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career in writing?

Write. Read. Writing takes a lot of energy and you have to put forth the energy. Sometimes you have to say no to things so that you can write. Sometimes you have to say no to friends. Sometimes you have to say no to an extra couple hours of sleep. Sometimes homework can wait. Also, there is no possible way you can write without reading. Always carry a book.

If you’re interested in getting involved with Southern Word, you can check them out here

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