It is my pleasure to introduce Elizabeth Gonzalez James, who will be taking on the the role of News Flash Organizer and Topic Whisperer which I have managed for the past Debutante season.
Elizabeth is the author of the forthcoming MONA AT SEA, a sharp and witty debut launching in the Summer of 2021 that asks, When we find what gives our life meaning, will we be ready for it?
Elizabeth has been published in the Ploughshares Blog, The Idaho Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She has received numerous Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. Originally from South Texas, she now lives with her family in Oakland, California.
Please join me in welcoming Elizabeth to her new role with The Debutante Ball! Read on for her responses to some of our classic interview questions.
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The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
Yes, I can attest that the road to publication is long, and seldom a straight line. I started MONA AT SEA in 2011 when my daughter was a baby, writing the rough draft while she napped and sometimes even typing with one hand while she slept on my shoulder. I finished it and sent it out to agents in 2015, and to my great fortune, I got an agent right away. My agent sent the manuscript out to publishers, and we got close at a couple of the big houses, but for one reason or another things fell through, and in 2016 my agent informed me that she was leaving the industry, and that I would be on my own. I was crushed, of course, but I still very much believed in the book and myself, and so I kept sending the manuscript out to small presses every now and again. In 2019 I saw that Santa Fe Writers Project was holding a manuscript contest and I entered, thinking if I was lucky that I might get an honorable mention. To my utter shock I not only was a finalist in the contest, placing in the top 6 out of over a thousand manuscripts, but I was also offered a contract for publication. By the time the book comes out in 2021 it will be ten years from when I first started writing it, but I am thankful for the long journey, for everyone who has helped me, and everything I’ve learned along the way.
Tell us about some of the authors who inspire you.
There are so many, but I especially love Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Juan Rulfo, Rainer Maria Rilke, and George Saunders. Kurt Vonnegut and George Saunders are both so funny and dark, but never pessimistic, and I love the slanted ways they have of looking at the world. Virginia Woolf has such lush lyricism to her writing, and she’s so erudite–it’s really something I hope to emulate. Marquez and Rulfo are masters of magical realism and Latin-American literature. Most people credit Marquez with creating magical realism but it was Rulfo who actually inspired Marquez. Being Mexican-American myself I am keenly interested in Latinx writers and the poetic-political worlds they build on the page. And Rilke is one of the greatest writers on matters of spirituality and grace of the human spirit. I go back to him again and again when I need inspiration.
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
My hidden talent is that I can sing like a Disney princess! I sang competitively in high school but don’t get to do much singing these days outside of my shower, so it’s fun sometimes to bust into some “Little Mermaid” at parties and surprise the heck out of my friends.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
Well since I said I can sing, the strangest job I’ve ever had was also my first job ever: singing opera at Macaroni Grill when I was in high school. I would get up on a counter in the middle of the room, the manager would cut the music and dim the lights, and I’d belt out some Verdi, Mozart, Beethoven…whatever I had in my repertoire. Also, whenever a patron would have a birthday, it was my job to go over to the table and sing happy birthday to them in operatic Italian and embarrass them in front of the whole restaurant. It was a really fun job and quite a high paying one for a high school student. But it also left me with a lot of funny observations about corporate upscale-casual chain restaurants in mid-tier markets, and a chapter of my book takes place in one such place just so I could put all those observations to good use!
Have you ever traveled to do research for your writing? Where did you go?
I am working on a second novel, which is totally unlike my first. The second book is a magical realism western, a real swashbuckler, and part of it is set in Mexico City. So in 2016 I traveled to Mexico City for a long weekend and did book research, visiting the Churubusco and Jardines del Pedregal neighborhoods in particular in order to get a sense of the geography, the feel of the air, the ambient sounds, and all that. It was an amazing trip and I cannot wait to go back!
We’re excited to learn more about Elizabeth’s writing life and creative worlds in the weeks and months to come!