05 Jun

A voice from the Islands: R.S.A Garcia talks about how she came to write her science fiction novel Lex Talionis

I recently asked R.S.A Garcia if she wanted to take over my blog for a day to talk about her latest novel, LEX TALIONIS. I did it because I was getting ready to give it a shout out, then thought ‘why not let her tell you all about the book?’ Publishers Weekly recently called it a ‘stunning debut’ and gave the book a star. She’s gotten props from Tor.com and SF Crowsnest, and hopefully those are the first of many reviews.

Now, this is something I don’t do too often, but I thought that if you read about her story, some of my readers might find some overlap with what I’ve been up to as well, as R.S.A Garcia hails from the south Caribbean (Trinidad).

Seriously, read on:

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Thanks, Tobias, for giving me this opportunity to talk about my book, LEX TALIONIS, a space opera mystery that just launched from the small press, Dragonwell Publishing.

THE STORY

On one of Earth’s planetary outposts, a young woman dies–and is brought back to life by a mysterious alien.

Inside a military starship, a wounded soldier is stalked by an unseen enemy.

When Lex reawakens in a clinic, she doesn’t remember who she is, or who killed her. All she remembers is a phrase she does not understand. Lex Talionis. The law of revenge. Stripped of her past, Lex focuses on the only thing she can. Retribution. She will find the people who murdered her and she will make them pay.

What Lex doesn’t know is that she’s being hunted. The alien who saved her and the soldier fighting for survival are the keys to her past…and her future. She must discover what they know before the hunter finds her. Every clue brings her closer to powerful enemies. Everything she learns draws her nearer to the person who almost destroyed her.

The only man she has ever loved.

IF YOU WANT TO HELP A STARVING ARTIST

‘Lex Talionis’ is available on Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Dragonwell Publishing.

COVER  2

THE LONG, WINDING ROAD TO HERE

As a child I was a terrible bookworm. I preferred reading over sleeping, which frustrated my mother no end at bedtime. While my many cousins were out climbing mango trees, or plum trees, or guava trees (depending on the season), I would remain inside, devouring the latest Enid Blyton book, or Nancy Drew novel, or Hardy Boys mystery. When I did go outside, it wasn’t long before I wanted to go back in again, which made my cousins laugh at me and deride me as strange and weird.

I didn’t care. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t love books as much as I did. I thought they were the weird ones. I started writing stories at 8, and finished my first collection at 10. One of my stories was about a soap dish. Ground-breaking stuff, I tell you. Despite all this, I didn’t actually realise I wanted to be a writer until I was 14 and a school friend asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. As soon as I said it, my heart sank because I knew it was true, and I knew how impossible it was that a girl from a tiny West Indian island would ever publish the kind of stories I liked to read. I had no hope of ever leaving my island to go form ties with the right people in other countries, and no possibility of being discovered while at university in the UK or the USA. But I decided in that moment to do it anyway. I would become a writer, and I would be published.

Publication in the West Indies was all about post-colonial fiction. Our close ties to the Commonwealth and England had given a voice to many revered and talented authors who wrote contemporary literature, but no one wrote modern commercial fiction. That was the down and dirty stuff. The common stuff. Everyone wanted to be Derek Walcott and win a Nobel Prize.

I was different. I wanted to write stories. Absorbing stories. Heart-stopping stories. Stories that people actually bought from bookstores. Not the stories they read because it was on the school curriculum or because it was all the rage in certain circles.

And it wasn’t because I didn’t like the other kinds of stories. Are you kidding? You’ll never begin to understand the meaning of Carnival to Trinbagonian society until you read the amazing and poetic The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace. You haven’t been scared until you’ve read My Bones And My Flute by Edgar Mittelholzer. You haven’t laughed until you’ve read Samuel Selvon.

But the truth was, none of these writers made me save money for months to buy their stuff. No one lined up in bookstores to get their books. In my country, that honour was reserved for people like Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Alex Haley and VC Andrews.

And for people like me, the books that moved me were even less popular because they were about something West Indians somehow didn’t seem to think they were part of.

The future.

I spent my formative years in the library reading stories by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Katherine Kerr, Anne McCaffrey, Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, L. Ron Hubbard, Margaret Weis and Ursula K. Le Guin. And don’t get me started on my fantasy list, or my mystery list, or my horror list, or any of the other genres I was into. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a lover of genre fiction. Even more importantly, I was in love with speculative fiction before I knew what it was.

My library was outdated, of course, so I didn’t even discover writers like Octavia Butler until I was an adult, after the Internet opened up the world to my corner of it. No, before the internet, I was eating a steady diet of people from other countries and other societies, and there weren’t that many women in those stories that were more than just the girl the hero gets.

I started thinking about that. Really thinking about it. Because a little known fact of the West Indies is that women rule here. We hold the family unit together. Grandmothers often babysit so mothers can go to work. Grandmother’s word is often the law, whether there is a grandfather or not. Strong women are the norm here, a holdover from the centuries of slavery and the splitting of the family unit that came with it. The children stayed with the women. So it was then and even now, it’s often the same. Wisdom is the old women in the neighbourhood. Families emphasize to girls that they have to get an education if they want to get up and out.

At the same time I started noticing how important the women in my family were to the family as a whole, I fell in love with space opera. Star Wars and Star Trek changed my world. Dr. Who was wildly popular in my school. Any story that featured multiple aliens and cultures had my attention. Was that because I was growing up in a society that was more cosmopolitan than most in the West Indies? Perhaps. Trinidad and Tobago is no Canada, certainly not in size, but it has a diverse population and I grew up with best friends who were East Indian, Chinese, American, Creole, Spanish and so many more. I am a black woman, but I am also East Indian, Chinese and Spanish, and that’s just what I know of up to my great-grandparents. The rest of my large family’s past is clouded by the centuries.

All I knew for sure was that I loved this. I loved thinking about the what ifs, and the future and the big ideas. I didn’t have much access to science articles or the latest advancements, but along came the internet and everything changed. Suddenly, my library wasn’t so outdated. And if it was, a simple search at my workplace after hours could change that. The stories I’d been writing had always had bits of my Trinbagonian heritage and mythology in it. Now I could branch out into the future too.

LEX TALIONIS was partially born of this. I wanted to write about a strong woman. I wanted her to be part of those space adventures that only men got to have in the books and movies I grew up with. I wanted to write a story about how it feels to be a small cog in a big machine, a tiny island in a big world. A story that came at the future from a slightly different angle–what if humanity was a tiny, unimportant world in a universe of strange and powerful races? What if we were discovered by the aliens and they didn’t want to blow up our seats of government, or take our planet–they wanted to trade? What if we spread out amongst these huge galaxies and almost no one knew that we carried within a singular bloodline the most important part of the universe’s future?

Yes, I cheated a little. Yes, I made humanity simultaneously important and not. But that reflects what I believe–that even the smallest amongst us has a purpose and can be important in the vast scheme of things, whatever their history. I think I’ve told a story about a strong woman, with an unusual background who overcomes her past and takes hold of her future.

It’s something the West Indies has done and is still struggling to do. We are struggling to find our place in the world and the discussion of power going on now. As a region, we are trying to make our voices heard over the more ‘important’ ones. To chart a course in a vast, unfamiliar world that touches ours more and more intimately every day. And I think, whether we are successful or not, we deserve a chance to talk about this journey, in our own words.

In the end, I hope that’s what LEX TALIONIS is. Part of a discussion on power and morals and so much else that society makes decisions on every day. A personal journey that looks into the dark side of humanity and tries to pin down what the light side is and isn’t–and how much that might matter to our future.

A BIT ABOUT ME

R.S.A. Garcia lives and works on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean with a large family and too many dogs.

Her debut novel, LEX TALIONIS, a science fiction mystery, is out now and has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and advanced praise from award-winning author, Elizabeth Bear.

You can find out more about the author at her website, rsagarcia.com. She’s also usually hanging out on:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lextalionisrsagarcia
Twitter: @rsagarcia
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21806455-lex-talionis
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/rsagarcia/