Award-winning author Guadalupe García McCall has written seven novels for children and young adults. Her latest, Echoes of Grace, follows sisters Grace and Mercy as they pursue higher education and make a life for themselves and their families in Eagle Pass, Texas (where the author herself calls home). Except Grace keeps getting “echoes:” visions, premonitions, and memories she can’t quite understand or call her own. While Mercy is struggling to raise her two-year-old son and work to survive. When tragedy strikes, Grace tries to repair her relationship with her sister and piece together what is real – only to unravel more family secrets than she could’ve ever imagined. With beautiful prose, relatable characters, and unflinching commentary on the historical oppression of women in the Latinx community, this book is a definite must-read.
Sofía Aguilar and Guadalupe García McCall hopped on Zoom to discuss Echoes of Grace, her love for both poetry and prose, and how she blends her writing with social justice issues close to her heart.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How did you know that what you wanted to do with your life was tell stories?
GUADALUPE GARCÍA MCCALL: When I was very young, I lived in Mexico, but there was always a plan in place for my father to bring us to the United States. I didn’t want to move. I had everything in my little neighborhood – everything I loved was there. But when he started getting me ready to come to the United States, he taught me how to write and he did something really cute. He made every letter and every number into a character. The letter H turned into a helicopter and there was a little story about this little helicopter that couldn’t quite get off the ground, who only had one propeller instead of two.
It was really interesting to hear these magical stories that came with everything – we were already a storytelling family full of generations of stories – but also at the same time to understand that they were letters that built words. I’ll never forget the first time that he put a pencil in my hand. I was like, oh my God, this is magic. This is what I wanna do for the rest of my life. I wanna make magic with my pencil.
I’ll never forget the first time that he put a pencil in my hand. I was like, oh my God, this is magic. This is what I wanna do for the rest of my life. I wanna make magic with my pencil.Guadalupe García McCall
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How did your first novel in verse, Under the Mesquite, come about?
GUADALUPE GARCÍA MCCALL: I found all of these poems in a file [from when I was teaching] and realized I was writing a book of what it’s like to be a Mexican American girl on the border – living by the Rio Grande, loving your family, having squabbles with your sisters and your brothers, fighting over bubble gum, crossing the border, eating corn, going to the plaza after church. They were all in there. So I sent them to Lee & Low, who happened to be looking for a YA novel and had been actively looking for a couple of years. When an assistant editor came upon my manuscript, she helped me develop it into a novel. It all evolved from my passion for language and writing and how much, I think, it’s something that is accessible to all of us.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Your latest novel Echoes of Grace was recently published but the process of writing has been much longer than that, correct?
GUADALUPE GARCÍA MCCALL: Well, I was writing it since 2016, but I was thinking about it and making little notes and writing little snippets of poetry without realizing it was going to be a novel, since three years before. When I was going to get my MFA and it was time to write my thesis, I was like, “What do I write?” And I kept seeing all these little snippets and then I thought, “Maybe that’s a book.”
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What do you hope people take away from the novel?
GUADALUPE GARCÍA MCCALL: I want people to question all the different social issues that the novel is addressing. Once I started writing the thesis for the novel, it occurred to me that I was really writing about generational trauma, about neglect and abuse of women by a patriarchal system that I had nothing to do with establishing. And it really angered me to see how much the women in our culture, in our communities, and in other communities of people who are marginalized and impoverished and oppressed, are suffering in the same exact way. And it hasn’t gotten any better. And we think it has, but all you have to do is put a microscope on it. That’s the kind of writer I am. I always look at the global issues that are really being reflected in the families and the communities of our people of color. It’s important that we bring those issues to light, and that’s what I’ve tried doing with this story.
[I] realized I was writing a book of what it’s like to be a Mexican American girl on the border – living by the Rio Grande, loving your family, having squabbles with your sisters and your brothers, fighting over bubble gum, crossing the border, eating corn, going to the plaza after church.Guadalupe García McCall
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What was that like to sit down and write it?
GUADALUPE GARCÍA MCCALL: There were moments when I would sit there, times when I was writing, and it was too much of a cross to bear. I didn’t know how I was gonna write a particular scene. I would sit there and just cry for Grace, cry for her sister, cry for her mother, cry for her grandmother because these women have suffered so much. You can see that every chapter of what happened in Mexico is a reflection of what’s happening in the United States. I was trying to show how this generation of women who we think are doing better is actually not much better. They’re still mirroring the things that happen to our mothers just as much as our mothers are mirroring what happened to their mothers.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: After writing and publishing seven novels, what has been something important that you’ve learned from your career thus far?
GUADALUPE GARCÍA MCCALL: Whether in writing or in publishing or both, there are no shortcuts. It’s about hard work persistence and what Oprah says, you know, “opportunity meets preparation.” If you are ready, it’s because you have been working hard, being tenacious, developing a story, and learning as much as you can about the industry. Taking classes, living amongst the people who are writers, making friends with writers and writing communities. Go to retreats, go to conferences. Immerse yourself!
You have to do the hard work. And even though the pandemic is still here, publishers are beginning to find their way around it and figure out ways of bringing our books out now that the world is ready. The world is hungry for Latino voices. I’m so thrilled about that. It seems like the world is aware that we are out here now, that there are more of us, and that we have something important to say. So I feel just ecstatic.