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Rebecca Hirsch Garcia on her debut collection and ECW’s BIPOC writers mentorship program

Rebecca Hirsch Garcia

Toronto-based independent publisher ECW Press launched a mentorship program in the spring of 2021 to promote diverse and inclusive voices in the book trade. More than 40 BIPOC mentees have taken part in the program since its inception, working on manuscripts in nonfiction, poetry and fiction of all genres. The program includes one-on-one manuscript attention, but also offers a demystification of some of publishing’s more opaque processes.

Rebecca Hirsch Garcia was one of the first-round mentees in spring 2021, and she was paired with in-house ECW editor Jen Albert. The manuscript they worked on during the program became The Girl Who Cried Diamonds and Other Stories, which will be published by ECW Press next week.

The pair recently reconnected to talk about Garcia’s experience with the program and how the process led to the book’s forthcoming publication. 

Jen Albert: You are a bit of a rising star now, with your first book coming out and another on the way, but where were you at with your writing when you applied for the mentorship?

Rebecca Hirsch Garcia: I had always felt confident about my writing even before I was published, but what attracted me to the mentorship was all the next steps: working with an editor one-on-one, seeing what goes into publication. Just being able to see things from an industry perspective.

JA: I feel like a lot of mentees come in a little bit uncertain of themselves, but when I looked at your application, that was exactly what I thought: this writing is confident. You seemed like you already knew what you wanted to write.

RHG: Writing was just something that came out of loving to be a reader. I knew what I wanted to write about, but I was always looking more for the industry side, which is not something I’m as comfortable with. I have a degree in English, but I had no industry connections whatsoever. It was my first time participating in a program like that, and I found it a really fun experience.

JA: We got on well! We had a lot of great chats about art, not just about your work. You gave me so many recommendations – you are so well-read. What was the mentorship like for you? What stood out to you about it? 

RHG: You definitely stood out. I had the same exact experience where the second we started talking, I thought, “This is someone who totally understands me.” When I was applying, I was confident in the writing, but I wasn’t as confident in getting published, because from an editorial perspective, people either get you or they don’t. I was getting a lot of noes at that point, and I was wondering, “Is it me?” And when I met you, it was like all the things I liked about my writing were things you liked about my writing. I feel like that’s so rare: that we had a good relationship and I felt very understood by you. Immediately we were able to build trust.

JA: When I first read the story that you sent in your application …

RHG: “Damage Control.” 

JA: Yes! It is still one of my favourites in the collection. From that first moment, I said to myself: this is the kind of writing I want to read. Sometimes as an editor, you’re pushed to be commercially minded, to take on the thing everyone wants to read, and publish a hugely popular book that ends up being pretty generic. But your stuff immediately stood out, and fit my personal taste. I loved everything you were doing with it. Also after the mentorship, you landed an agent. I’m really glad you ended up with Ron [Eckel]. He has a real passion for the kind of work that you do, too.

RHG: It’s really funny. I had talked with other agents, but ultimately the reason I went with Ron is his personality reminds me so much of my sister, and I adore my sister. I have a similar relationship with him where we just understand each other. He’s incredibly supportive.

JA: We worked on the manuscript of The Girl Who Cried Diamonds and Other Stories, your forthcoming collection, during the mentorship, and I approached you a couple of months after we finished the mentorship with an offer because I couldn’t get your stories out of my head. Could you tell us a little bit about the stories in the collection and about the collection itself?

RHG: The collection is mostly set in and around Ottawa and there are speculative elements in it. A lot of it has to do with what I call mundane horror. The horror of being a woman in a city alone. Rereading the collection I started noticing my patterns, and I noticed that almost every story contains a weird body experience. There’s “Woman into Cloud,” where someone transforms into a cloud; in “Damage Control,” the story you talked about, someone is in a car accident and thescarring on their face affects their life.

JA: That’s definitely one of the recurring themes in your writing. I feel like a lot of authors have a hard time pointing out what those things are for them until they look back at their body of work. And your body of work is growing, with the collection, the novel. You have the agent, have had success with grants and publications; I feel like you’re in the position to be the mentor now. Would you ever participate in a program like this again, maybe from the other side?

RHG: I would love to teach people all my mistakes, like all the things I waited too long to do, or didn’t know how to do.

This interview has been edited and condensed.