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Diana Garcia began her career as a minor romance novelist whose works feature Hispanic heroines. Since making the transition to poetry, she has contributed to a vital body of contemporary Hispanic American literature.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
California to Arizona
Born in a migrant-labor camp in California’s San Joaquin Valley in 1960, Garcia’s family moved to Tucson, Arizona, soon after her birth. As a result, Garcia considered herself an almost-native” of Tucson for many years. For Garcia and her family, the mountains surrounding Tucson offered not only a beautiful view, but also opportunities for camping and hiking with her three sisters and their children. Along with the mountains, Tucson’s rich Hispanic heritage plays a significant role in Garcia’s works.
The Romance Novels
Before the publication of Love Lessons, Garcia worked for many years as a systems analyst for an international computer company. She found the job both interesting and challenging. A devotee of romance novels by authors like Jude Deveraux, Garcia found herself drawn to writing in that genre. In an interview with Cathy Sova, she says, The lovely thing about romance is that it includes every kind of book you can think of—history, mystery, suspense, humor—and you’re guaranteed a happy ending . . . a happy ending is very important to me.”
A casual writer for many years, Garcia believes that writing is the greatest possible escape from the demands of life because the worlds she creates in her works are all hers. After discovering online writers’ groups, Garcia was introduced to the Romance Writers of America, a group that matched her with a partner who critiqued one of her manuscripts. Though her helper’s assessment was harsh, she was driven to get better. While most romance writers enter contests with the hope of being discovered, Garcia chose not to follow that path. She explains:
Personally, I know that I am the harshest critic of my writing. By the time I’m happy with a story, someone else’s subjective opinion means very little to me. Since the contest judge is probably not going to buy my manuscripts, I just keep writing and getting my subjective opinions where it counts—from the editor’s desk.
Garcia’s first romance novel, Love Lessons (Lecciones amorosas), was published in 1999, and it was followed by Help Wanted (Aviso oportuno) in 2000. Both of these works feature Hispanic American heroines who are single mothers, none of whom is looking for love when it strikes. In 2001, Garcia published her third romance novel, Stardust, which tells the story of a doctor who meets a rugged, reclusive man who offers her hospitality when she lands her private plane in a remote area. All three of Garcia’s romance novels were met with lukewarm reviews.
From Migrant Worker to Professor
Between publishing romance novels, Garcia debuted her first collection of poetry, When Living Was a Labor Camp, in 2000. In this collection, which is a tribute to the Chicano workers of California, Garcia explores the joys and heartaches of living and working in a migrant-labor camp. Migrant workers are people who travel from place to place for temporary employment, usually on a seasonal basis. Early in the twentieth century, the numbers of Hispanics rapidly increased with the growth of the agricultural and cotton industries. Each spring, these workers would travel from Mexico or towns on the Mexican border to the Pacific Coast states and return home at the end of the season. Born in a migrant-labor camp herself, Garcia offers an insider’s look at the sorrows and joys of camp life. The book won the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award.
Garcia’s poetry has also appeared in The Kenyon Review and in several anthologies. In addition, she has read from When Living Was a Labor Camp at various universities, including the University of Arizona, where she was featured in the poetry center’s visiting poets and writers reading series. Currently, she is a professor in the Division of Humanities and Communication at California State University, Monterey Bay.
Works in Literary Context
Garcia has said that her love of romance novels made writing her own a natural choice. Her influences in this genre include Jude Deveraux, whose ”writing is so perfect yet unpretentious” that Garcia remains ”truly in awe of her craft.” She also cites Karen Robards, Theresa Medeiro, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips as inspirations to her romance writing. In regard to her poetry, Garcia’s heritage provides a rich background for her character portrayals.
Selecting the Perfect Setting
Selecting an appropriate setting for her books did not come easily for Garcia. For her first stab at writing, she chose to set her plot in India, a location virtually unknown to her. As a result, she says, ”it was just awful.” After that attempt, she began writing long historical romances set in the seventeenth century. However, researching the specifics of that time period—the language, dress, food, transportation, and other details—proved daunting. Determined to refine her writing skills, Garcia decided to ”pull … [her] characters back home.” Consequently, the heroine from Love Lessons is from Phoenix and Help Wanted is set in Tucson. By trading the foreign settings of her earliest novels— places she had never been—for familiar territory, Garcia was able to focus on developing her characters more fully and realistically. With When Living Was a Labor Camp, Garcia returns to her roots for the setting: California’s San Joaquin Valley. By doing so, she allows the setting itself to give voice to its people.
Works in Critical Context
Because of the vast difference between the genres of Garcia’s work, criticism has naturally varied greatly. Overall, Garcia’s romance novels have received lukewarm reviews, the general consensus being that they are quick, light reads. Garcia’s collection of poetry, however, has received critical evaluation from an academic standpoint not afforded to her romance novels.
Love Lessons, Garcia’s first published novel, tells the story of Susanna Diaz, a single mother who is also an aerospace engineer, and photographer Daniel Stephens, whose daughter joins Susanna’s in trying to fix their parents up with each other. Despite its many lines of dialogue written in Spanish, Love Lessons, says critic Kristen Ramsdell, reads at a ”fast pace.” Reviewer Cathy Sova, however, points out that ”it will take more than some Spanish sentences and a reference to a quinceanera to bring a Latino flavor to [publisher] Encanto romances.”
While Ramsdell praises the novel’s ”likable characters” and Sova says the novel ”offers creditable characterizations,” critic Monica Schwarze deems the characters to be ”repulsive people.” She calls Susanna a “too-stupid-to-live heroine” and Daniel a ”testosterone-driven hero.” Even the daughters, says Schwarze, ”who had the potential of being the most interesting characters, never rose above the level of mediocrity.” On the other hand, Sova finds that ”the two girls are as strong as the hero and heroine, and natural-sounding in their interactions.” Though Schwarze concludes that Love Lessons is unrealistic and trite, Sova is more forgiving, citing restrictions by Garcia’s publisher as a possible reason why the plot is ”forced and predictable.”
When Living Was a Labor Camp
The poetry collection When Living Was a Labor Camp has been highly praised not only for its poignant depiction of the lives of California’s migrant workers, but also for its vivid sensory details. Noting the power of Garcia’s experience, writer Leroy V. Quintana observes, ”There is no doubt she knew ‘the sweet-salt toil of harvesting the fields.”’ The result, he continues, ”is a volume of poetry that examines and instructs about life on the margin where, toiling in the vineyard, you continually find yourself in a row ‘as far from the beginning as the end.”’ Some of Garcia’s poems impart a sense of deep-rooted anger, while others exalt life’s small victories. No matter their tone, however, all of the poems are pointed, lyrical, and exacting.
According to scholar Tey Diana Rebolledo, When LivingWas a Labor Camp is more than a poetic account of the world of the migrant-labor camp. Indeed, it exemplifies the ”Chicano movement and its effect on migrant workers, the difficulties of Chicanos who were trying to get an education . . . the Vietnam War, the difficult relationships Chicanas have with Chicano men, and the friendships between women.” All of this, critics agree, is done with humor, beauty, irony, and, perhaps most importantly, with hope. Rebolledo concludes that what can be learned from the collection is that ”we have a tradition and we have a history; we each need to take responsibility to remember them and to pass them on, and we can do so with creativity and with pleasure.”
- Rebolledo, Tey Diana. The Chronicles of Panchita Villa and Other Guerrilleras: Essays on Chicana/Latina Literature and Criticism. Austin: University of Texas at Austin, 2005.
- Ramsdell, Kristin. ”Review of Love Lessons/Lecciones amorosas,” Library Journal (August 1999): 70.
- Galloway, Teresa. Review ofHelp Wanted. Retrieved December 1, 2008, from http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=4672.
- Quintana, Leroy V. Diana Garcia.. Retrieved December 10, 2008, from http://www.tucsonweekly.com/gbase/CityWek/Content?oid=45069.
- Schwarze, Monica. Review of Love Lessons. Retrieved November 30, 2008, from http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=4673.
- Sova, Cathy. New Faces 48: Diana Garcia. Retrieved November 30, 2008, from http://www.theromancereader.com/nf-garcia.html.
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