Vanessa Garcia Weaves Painting and Storytelling in Her First Novel

Painters and writers have a lot in common. Writers often sketch out a scene, articulating the fine details of a tableau. Painters frequently employ elements of storytelling, weaving narratives between brushstrokes. Vanessa Garcia is a local painter and writer whose debut novel, White Light, incorporates elements of both of her passions.

For the past year, she’s been in residence at the Deering Estate at Cutler, where she’s putting the final touches on the book, all while writing for various outlets such as the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, and the Los Angeles TimesWhite Light has been years in the making. Though Garcia wrote the bulk of the novel between 2007 and 2009, it’s taken years of follower-building to persuade a publishing house to make her work available to the public.

“The frustrating part was that editors at the big houses loved the writing, were always on the verge of purchasing… but then kept saying that they needed me to gain a following first,” Garcia says to New Times. “It has become increasingly important to editors that you write small pieces, get followers, likes, fans, and so on.”

White Light, scheduled to be released this September, is an exploration of the transformative power of creativity. The protagonist, Veronica Gonzalez, is forced to delve into her work as a painter when the sudden death of her father triggers a long-simmering existential crisis.

Garcia began writing the book as a meditation on her own father’s death. “I went into this period of mourning that was like nothing I’d never felt,” Garcia says. “It’s as if I had been a kid before my father died and suddenly I was pushed toward a deeper understanding of what death is and, as a result, what life is all about.”

Though elements of the novel seem autobiographical, Garcia says White Light is drawn more from imagination than reality. “The center of the book — the loss of the father — there’s a great deal there that I took from life, but this book is absolutely fiction.”

The novel weaves the lyrical and prosaic to create a rich narrative tapestry. Garcia, in her very first book, has crafted a wholly distinct voice that's fully formed. It’s a contemplation on not only personal loss but also the healing power of creativity. Feeling bereft of a kindred spirit, the protagonist delves into her work; she hopes painting will fill the void that death has wrought on her life.

Peppered throughout the book are reproductions of various canvases that Garcia created specially for White Light. These paintings question the notion of authorship, begging the reader to wonder whether Gonzalez and Garcia are really that different.

Today, Garcia spends the majority of her time shuttling between Miami and Los Angeles, where she’s found new landscapes for inspiration. “There’s so much opportunity, but it’s also such a calm, peaceful vibe,” she explains. “I often see L.A. as a strange kind of retreat into work.” Despite the various hurdles she encountered while publishing the novel, Garcia remains resolute that art is not only a therapeutic palliative but also an essential part of the human experience.

If you're interested in finding out more, Garcia will read portions of White Light at Miami Book Fair International later this year. You can also purchase her novel in September at Books & Books locations around town.