Monday, July 02, 2018

La Bloga’s interview with Linda González regarding her memoir, “The Cost of Our Lives”

Linda González

Linda González was born in Los Angeles and has made her home in the San Francisco Bay Area for over thirty years. She is a writer and life coach who believes in the power of stories to inspire and heal. González has published essays in literary journals and anthologies and loves performing her work on stage. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, an MSW from USC, and a BA in English literature from Stanford University.

González’s debut is a family memoir, The Cost of Our Lives (WiDo Publishing), which could be viewed as a difficult and even risky way to begin one’s book-publishing life. But where avoidance of the truth often filled her childhood with confusion, González tears down the walls of denial to bring forth an honest and powerful memoir of one Latina's life. She kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her new book.

DANIEL OLIVAS: Some writers decide to confront difficult family dynamics under cover of fiction. Why did you forego that route and make your first book a memoir?

LINDA GONZÁLEZ: There was a moment when I thought it had to be fiction because there was so much I could never know since my father had passed away and my mother had Alzheimer’s. However, non-fiction has always been my passion and I decided it would be best written in the form I loved. I am a truth teller by nature and reputation so the challenge of escarbando for clues to the silence in my familia and their meaning preoccupied me. My family is full of interesting characters who were willing to share their perspectives, so I had a lot of juicy material. I could write in first person with a touch of the omniscient narrator because I was much older than when many of the events unfolded.

DO: You begin your narrative with the explosive first meeting with Miguel, a brother you did not know existed until your father decided to introduce a child from an earlier marriage to you and your siblings. Two other secret sisters would eventually be revealed. Can you talk a little about how you decided to structure your narrative and why you began it in this way?

LG: The structure of the memoir was the most challenging part of the book. I wrote what I thought was the best structure throughout my MFA program and sent it off to an editorial consultant, Marcela Landres, convinced she would send me off to agents and editors. Instead, she said I had a much better book if I was willing to change my structure to focus on my father’s secrets. I took this route for several years until I was in a writing class with Chris Abani. The consensus there was that my mother had the most to lose in this story and she should be the focus.

After several more years of re-working the manuscript, I settled on a hybrid where my father’s secrets were the thread that wove the story together and my mother’s panache dictated the pattern of the cloth. The first chapter where we meet Miguel lays out all the stakes and captures my parents’ lifelong struggle to manage an incident that was the first crack in the vault of family secrets.

DO: By writing a memoir, you have given your children something you had to fight for: a truthful and—at times—painful mapping out of a very complicated family tree. What has been the reaction of your children to this unusual gift?

LG: My twenty-two-year-old twins are mostly quiet on this topic as they do not yet understand much of my efforts were for them and for their generation in our family. As a parent, I have always taken the long view in terms of my legacy to them, knowing my actions will take time to be absorbed.

I remember sitting in an airport waiting for our plane on our last trip to México a number of years ago. I explained why these trips mattered to me—the importance of breaking harmful patterns and re-connecting with our family and they nodded but had no verbal response. They are both good listeners and thoughtful individuals who are keen observers of life in very different ways. I am, as one friend laughingly said, now truly an “open book” and my children can’t compare their lives with what I had. They usually think I say too much so we’ll see if they change their minds as they get older and understand the cost of silence and secrets. In speaking with a young adult in my larger family circle, he expressed a wish that one of his parents would answer his questions with more than silence, and deeply appreciates my willingness to answer any question he asks.

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