Writing Home: 5 Questions for Kimberly Garza

Reading has been my best teacher; I learn more about my own writing and how it evolves the more I read.” Kimberly Garza

Kimberly Garza is the author of the novel The Last Karankawas (2022, Henry Holt). Her stories and essays have appeared in Texas HighwaysElectric LiteratureLitHubCopper Nickel, and elsewhere. She holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Texas, where she earned a PhD in 2019. A native Texan—born in Galveston, raised in Uvalde—she is an associate professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

On Wednesday, December 6th, Kimberly Garza is teaching a class for the WLT called “Writing Home: How to Make Settings Come Alive.” In this class, you’ll gain an understanding of how setting is more than just scenery, and the ways we can immerse narrative, character, plot, and even voice in place.

Here’s what Kimberly had to share with us:

Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Kimberly Garza: Hey there, WLT! I’m the author of The Last Karankawas, a novel-in-stories published widely in 2022 that earned rave reviews and praise from such places as The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. I write fiction and nonfiction, though fiction has my heart; I would describe my writing as literary fiction rooted in vivid settings—like Texas—and diverse, complicated characters—like Texans. Some of my recent writing has been published in places like Texas Highways, the Houston Chronicle, Copper Nickel, and elsewhere. Like many of us, I stumbled my way into writing—I was a ravenous reader and aspiring writer as a kid, but since I didn’t know any writers or have any knowledge about how to publish or get a job, I found my path through school. I earned degrees in English and creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Texas, and I’m now a professor teaching creative writing and literature (dream job!) at the University of Texas-San Antonio. But deeper than all of that, I’m a native Texan. I was born in Galveston and raised in Uvalde, and I’ve lived all over the state. I’m so happy to be back in San Antonio, close to home and superior breakfast tacos.

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

KG: Those challenges never go away fully—like the waves, they come and go, and crash on us at the most inopportune times. Embrace them! I have a demanding job and I don’t always prioritize my writing as I should, but I’ve found that my best writing comes when I have to fight for it. I carve out time in my busy life; I tell myself that my writing is as important, as vital to my work and my well-being, as my day job or my hobbies or my Netflix addiction. Whether it’s 15 minutes super early in the morning or a couple of sentences I struggle to type down before I fall asleep, I fight to make space for writing. That challenge motivates me. And I believe that writer’s block arises when we either don’t know what to write, or when we struggle to write “well” (as in, every sentence I write down makes me want to cringe, it’s so icky). For the first, I kick myself through the block by either researching something I can write or simply starting with something easy, like a setting description—when I’m stuck, I reach for setting descriptions above all else. I love vivid, striking places in writing, so I’ll get momentum going by situating myself in the place I’m writing and just telling the reader what it’s like. For the fear of writing well, I have to constantly remind myself that I’m writing the first, probably worst, version of something that I’m going to come back to. I will lay the foundation for those lines now, then next revision round I’ll make it better, make it beautiful.

Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long id that feeling last?

KG: I live for those moments, and I’ve only had a few of them over the years. I remember finding that feeling in 2021 when I was struggling with a chapter of my novel, really working hard and failing to tap into the character’s first-person voice. I realized (after many failed drafts) that the problem came from how I was thinking of her. I was considering her all wrong; she had done selfish, hurtful things but she wasn’t a “villain” so much as the hero of her own story, no one else’s. Once I had that, I began to write her voice again, and it clicked. I heard her patterns of speech, her bitterness and her hopefulness, the things she said aloud and the things she kept inside. The high didn’t last longer than a page or two as I wrote, but it was enough. I’m chasing those moments every time I write and revise.

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

KG: Read—read widely, and across genres and styles. I write fiction and nonfiction but I read anything from literary fiction to high fantasy to contemporary poetry. Financial books, thriller screenplays, paperback romance novels: it’s all fair game to me. Reading has been my best teacher; I learn more about my own writing and how it evolves the more I read.

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

KG: How setting deserves more respect in writing! Often it gets relegated to sidekick status, another craft choice that a writer can just sort of fill in the blank as they’re writing. But my favorite books use setting as the foundation for the work, seeping into the flashier components like plot and character; it’s as necessary to the story as our protagonist’s quirks and desires. Where we find our characters and their plotlines can have huge impacts on our plotlines. Setting is the beginning of all my stories—how could it not be, coming from a place as rich as Texas? I love sharing the ways we can enliven our settings and use them to drive our stories.  

Thanks, Kimberly!

Click here to learn more about Kimberly Garza’s upcoming class.

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