This sweet yet startling memoir starts with a deeply buried family secret. As such, the reader is immediately drawn in, and just as the real life family drama unfolds, so too does this compelling narrative. “The Cost of Our Lives” is told from the perspective of Linda González, who was sixteen at the time she and her two younger siblings met her half brother. This was no normal introduction because prior to that, they not only had ever met him, but they had never known of his existence. Along with the newly realized half brother, Miguel, came the discovery that while she and her siblings were born and raised in Southern California, her father had a whole other family in Mexico.
'When the door opens, so will the first of many secrets that crack our familia apart over the years, giving way to the liquid mantle layer underneath tectonic plates. Everything moves below the quiet crust until the plates crash into and rub against each other. These often silent and jarring interactions do serious damage over time. Two voices insinuate themselves into my head. One is my father’s- curt and low. The other is expansive and rapid-fire; it must be Miguel’s.'
“The Cost of Our Lives” is a complex and tender story of family, secrets and how such things carry over into adult life. It all inevitably contributed to González’s, personal life journey as a sister, daughter, and single mother. Beyond that we see this real life protagonist taking on challenges in other aspects of life- as a talented LatinX woman learning to tap into her creativity and profession.
González and I caught up recently to talk about her journey as an author and other projects, but with particular focus on her unique experience of writing a memoir that was thirteen years in the making. Below is our discussion:
PF: What inspired you to write a memoir, especially involving deep family secrets and issues? Was it a cathartic project for you to dive into, or more emotionally challenging because of the delicate family matters?
LG: I had been writing multiple non-fiction stories, particularly about my mother, because she was ill and it was a way for me to help process the impending challenges. I went to a weekend workshop where the teacher had encouraged me to think about the story that really bothered me. In that moment I thought of the story of my father having two families. That was the beginning of it and I was determined to follow that thread and see where it leads me, and thirteen years later it led to the completed book.
I didn’t think of it as being cathartic, but rather as something writers can relate to, which is this need for the truth. Somebody called it “escarbando,” meaning digging underneath. There’s always been a part of me that loved telling stories and pushing for the truth, and that is what kept me connected to this particular story. It was a healing discovery.
PF: Were you concerned about the reaction of your family to it, specifically your siblings? Did you feel you needed to let them know what you were working on and get their approval?
LG: I had enough good teachers that told me that you really cannot think about your family as you write the book or you will end up having them editing the book along the writing process. Once you do that, it is not your story, so early on I knew I had to write it the way I wanted to write it. I did end up interviewing many family members for it because I wanted to honor their voices. More than that, the truth about family lives in each of us and that was part of what I wanted to ensure got conveyed.
PF: Am I correct in assuming that writing memoir specifically is a very different process than writing other types of non-fiction?
LG: Yes, for several reasons. Firstly, I have really began to understand the art of memoir. It is telling the story, but in many ways, making it feel like a novel. It is literary in that sense of you’re really thinking about the metaphors, images, and structure is so important. Next, it is an especially challenging genre to work in, more so than most non-fiction because you are doing two things- telling a very intimate story while working as an editor making sure everything makes sense.
PF: You touched on the importance of structure for this sort of writing, and yours for this is not linear. Was that an original intent or did it just unfold that way organically?
LG: It was me getting advice and instruction, as well as a reflection of me maturing as a writer through the process. Those thirteen years was a tremendous growth period for me as a writer. I had to learn what good writing is and be willing to make changes to things I personally liked. If it doesn’t move the story forward, I had to let it go no matter how attached I was to an aspect of the story or how I wrote something.
PF: For new or young writers considering work in this genre, what advice would you give?
LG: I would advise that you ask yourself this: Of all the stories you can tell, because we all have a lifetime of stories, what is the one that burns in you? Think of the one that you not only have a lot of curiosity about, but the one that also terrorizes you on some level. That is the story that will have the suspense and interesting arc, and make you grow as a writer. That, and you have to write it without concern of how people, even family, will react.
PF: I know you took writing and memoir writing classes. Was that a good experience for you? Do you think any or all aspiring writers should do so at some point?
LG: I absolutely recommend that writers seek out feedback, especially at the beginning of a project. One of the most important skills a writer can have is to hear feedback and give it some space, and to even reject certain feedback, if doesn’t feel right for you and your project.
Gonzalez experience the benefits and pitfalls of a writing group interaction, specifically as to how an all-white class setting can be insensitive to the writing process of a person of color. “For me, I integrate Spanish in my writing. Any time I was in a workshop with white writers, there would always be this problem with the Spanish,” she describes. Despite the questions and negative feedback to incorporating Spanish in her writing, she stuck with her decision, knowing it was the best thing for her writing and her stories.
PF: How has it been for you as a writer during such chaos and uncertainty in the midst of the pandemic and ShelterInPlace?
LG: Sometimes when there are crises we forget that writing is our anchor. In these times in terms of being a writer, I have kept reminding myself of my goals, pre-pandemic and questioning the best way to keep them alive during it. There were more challenges in writing initially because of all the distractions, and I gave myself permission to not write so I could figure out how to function and live. After some time, I got back to more of a rhythm. I thought of what the new structures that need to be in place in my life to continue my art.
PF: Who are the writer that have most influenced you?
LG: There was the era of black women writing in so many different ways, giving me examples of the way that writing can happen. Writers like, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde. Eventually, there were Latina writers that came into my life and had an impact. People like Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez.
PF: What are some of the books that have influenced you, professionally and personally?
LG: Almost everything by Luis Alberto Urrea, books by Toni Morrison, especially “The Bluest Eye,” and Octavia Butler. Their books remind me that no matter what I write, it is all amazing and it is all possible. It is all part of this amazing cannon that we are creating together.
In addition to being a writer, Linda González, is a highly sought after life coach and speaker. You can get information about her services, as well as a copy of “The Cost of Our Lives” at her website, http://www.lindagonzalez.net/. Her next book offers simple, proven prosperity practices to address power dynamics faced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and other underrepresented communities. “Breaking Through Your Own Glass Ceiling” is due out soon.