A few months before 40-year-old writer Luis Felipe Garcia began his eight-and-a-half-year stint in prison, he was selling liquid acid at a party when he accidentally dosed himself with the equivalent of 200 hits.
At the time, the author of the new collection of short stories, Missing, was taking buprenorphine, shooting up heroin, swallowing ten Xanax a day, trafficking LSD, and living out of his truck. After selling a few vials to the guy throwing the party, he figured he'd hawk hits for a buck a pop before breaking a vial of the drug in his hands and another in his pocket.
"With acid, your body is a sponge, so it sucks it up. Even if you wipe it off, it's pointless," Garcia reminisces with some hesitance.
Those reckless days are behind him, but they still inform his writing. LSD won't kill you, but it can do a number on your brain. "Your body remains intact, but your mind starts to fragment... It lasted like three days," he says. "There was a point where I was scared I'd never come back."
Garcia is bright, funny, and muscular, with masculine features defining his face. He's one of the charismatic Miami characters whose escapades inspired lasting urban legends in the music and art scenes. Though he was released from prison December 29, 2015, Miami's Jitney Books is already publishing Missing, a book of his surreal short stories.
Garcia's charisma is likely why he staved off consequences worse than prison. He was born in Miami to Cuban parents. His mother did office work; his father worked with the CIA in an effort to bring down Fidel Castro until 1974, when he opened a wholesale steel distribution company. After Garcia attended military elementary school, he went to Howard McMillan Middle and Miami Sunset Senior High. But he became addicted to heroin at 17 and was in and out of jails and rehabs — never finishing one. He overdosed eight times and totaled seven cars. Even though he has 28 nonviolent drug-related felonies on his record, he maintained a relatively normal, productive life, working a regular job and attending school.
He studied photography at Florida International University and spent a lot of time partying, fishing, and "trying to make art about it," he says. He printed photographs that beautifully portrayed his experience in swampy South Florida.
But he was better known for his nightlife persona, the "Party Avenger." Wearing only sunglasses on his eyes, a sock on his jock, and a strainer on his head while wielding a machete, he'd bust onto the scene, to the shock and delight of everyone else in the room. People loved his stories and appreciated his dynamism. But Garcia remembers those times differently.
"I was just a fucking mess," he says, "partying and trying to make art but not really being successful with it. I was prolific, but my addiction was swallowing everything."
When he was caught with drugs the last time, in 2007, Garcia ate a sheet of acid and then told the federal agents arresting him what he had just done. He was convicted on charges of trafficking LSD and possession of heroin.
He was originally set to be sentenced to 37 years but got off with ten years plus two on house arrest and 15 on probation. He spent the first year locked up getting high and selling drugs. He did two 60-day stints in solitary confinement. "All you have in there is paper, pen, and a Bible. To entertain myself, I wrote stories and read the Bible out loud in a mock British accent, Monty Python-style," he recalls.
"But that doesn't interest me," Garcia explains of his deviant days. What does interest him is getting clean and what his life has been like since. He was "stoned out of my mind" when he had his come-to-Jesus moment.
"I was completely conscious in the moment; I was actually joyful. I felt like, This is OK, because this is where I'm at. There was nothing to fight; it was like a pure acceptance moment."
Garcia began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings that other inmates weren't interested in attending. "For a year, I lived like a monk in prison: meditating, working out, and reading. It was around this time that I started reading and writing seriously. I worked as a teacher and tutor, helping guys earn their GEDs, and during my last four years, I was a team leader for Re-Entry, a prison program that prepares guys for release."
Whether by fate or by chance, his friend Gabriel Morales sent him copies of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. "These were the books that set me off, and they're still my favorite works today," Garcia explains of their significance. "In prison, I read a lot, and not just a lot a lot, but a lot for real. I read everything twice; Infinite Jest I read three times." He taught himself to write by reading, and reading about writing.
"I never thought about writing before. My writing has been to help me deal with [my past] and to make sense of it and reconcile with it because a lot of shit I'm ashamed of. I'm grown up now. A lot of my stories were like an exorcism because I needed to get this out of me, not to desensitize myself, but to make sense of it."
Morales says he began writing to his friend and former bandmate "because I felt it was the right thing to do." He didn't want him to feel abandoned. But his selections and this gesture were more than just a mitzvah. "He wrote back something to the effect that he hadn't realized words could do that. He almost immediately decided to try writing stories of his own," Morales recalls. "He had years of strange, unique, and unnerving experiences from which to draw on, and it was definitely something constructive to do with his time. It all seemed like a perfect fit."
Garcia was writing thousands of pages longhand. He completed 20 short stories, a novel, the first 200 pages of an epic novel, and an outline for a comedic novella about prison. "[Morales] read pretty much everything I ever wrote and sent me letters with comments, suggestions, and edits," Garcia says. He even dedicated the book to his friend.
Morales says, "We carried on like this the eight years he was inside, otherwise discussing and recommending books back and forth while also keeping up with each other's lives. I never imagined sending two books to a friend would have this kind of impact. I'm not just moved by his achievement; I'm profoundly affected by who he's become and the dash of influence I had on his development."
As soon as Garcia got out of prison, he typed up his work and even adapted one short story to a play. He published 13 stories in literary journals, including The Antigonish Review and Bluestem. He runs an export business his retired father started and volunteers as a speaker and teacher at rehabs. He knows that if he fucks up again, he's back in prison for 30 years.
J.J. Colagrande of Jitney Books says of Missing: "This book is weird: all short stories, most of them surrealistic. Many characters are on drugs, acid, mushrooms, coke, and as a result, the narration reflects the psychedelic and chaotic nature of that experience in all its disjointedness, regardless of grammar... There's blood on these pages. Heart and soul. Spirited and honest, just like its author. Luis Garcia is home. He is missing no more."
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"I think my audience is literary," Garcia explains. "It's fun reading for someone who likes a challenge. I take a lot of grammatical liberties. My writing is very visual and literary. I don't use a lot of metaphors or similes. It's surreal. It's funny. Most of it is from personal experience, and I fictionalize and exaggerate." Though the reading might be challenging, Garcia is having fun writing. "I think writing is like masturbation, not just because it's enjoyable for yourself, but it involves someone else who is conspicuously absent. I'm getting off on this shit!"
Garcia will celebrate the launch of Missing with some of his talented musical friends at Gramps, along with a reading, book signing, drink specials, and a Q&A. Oly of Let's Sang and Lash parties will DJ, as will IDM beatmaker Otto Von Schirach. Experimental musical stunner Dino Felipe, who has possibly released more albums than anyone else ever, will perform - a rarity for a musician who's played publicly just a handful of times in the past several years. Local street artist Luis Valle, whose work is featured on the book cover, will also be in attendance.
Returning to a scene of weird Miami creatives, it's as if Garcia didn't miss a beat. He's grateful for everything he's been able to accomplish, even honoring the most punishing occurrences. "The prison experience was very transformative, and I wouldn't trade it for the world," he reflects. "I was in some bad situations, but I learned a lot about me. It gave me my passion for writing. I would have never started writing if I hadn't been sitting in a box. It's the best thing I do; it's my best therapy of all the things I do; it's what's keeping my head where it is. I'm always challenging myself. It's an endless well. [Prison] gave me that gift, and I'm so grateful for that."
Missing Book Launch Party and Reading
7 p.m. Sunday, July 16, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; gramps.com. Admission is free.