Author praises chaos as fresh path to creativity in Peninsula College talk
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Novelist and Peninsula College Writer in Residence Cristina Garcia signs a flier for a student after her lecture on the Port Angeles campus. —Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Cristina Garcia, National Book Award nominee, Guggenheim fellowship recipient and former Time foreign correspondent, aimed her keynote speech, “Cultivating Chaos: Fresh Paths to Creativity,” at anyone seeking to shake up a creative project.

“You might think: My life is total chaos. Why seek out more?” Garcia, Peninsula College’s 2014 Writer in Residence, said Thursday in her public lecture in the main campus’ Little Theater.

Answer: Chaos is good for the mind and art. Garcia, author of six novels including A Handbook to Luck, The Lady Matador’s Hotel and her latest, King of Cuba, is an advocate of play, of wandering away from the routine.

But isn’t it a virtue to be organized, to plan out our days, weeks, years?

“Perhaps, like my ex-husband, you do,” Garcia said.

But “my two non-negotiables,” she said, are “pleasure and obsession.”

Pursue what you care fiercely about, Garcia said. Don’t insist on planning everything.

As for writer’s — or artist’s — block when facing the blank paper, Garcia gave a handful of tips.

Tips for writers

No. 1: Read poetry. Every day for 10 minutes or more.

This slips sensory details into your head, unlocking your subconscious, said Garcia, who’s been practicing this for years.

No. 2: Stay open to input from the everyday world, be it a photograph or a conversation you catch on the street.

When writing her first novel, Dreaming in Cuban, Garcia came across Havana 1933, a book of photos by Walker Evans.

Images inside it helped her envision the Cuba of the past, and helped her write in Dreaming’s passages in the voice of a woman who lived through that era.

No. 3: “Get out from behind your computers and iPhones, and listen,” Garcia said.

You’ll hear the most evocative things from people on the sidewalk.

No. 4: Go deep. Reveal your secrets. “Do not flinch. And if you flinch, keep going anyway . . . Write until it hurts, and till the hurting sings.”

After her speech, Garcia stayed to sign copies of King of Cuba and her other books for a line of fans.

She also read a passage from King, a break from her previous books. It focuses on a bunch of macho figures, including a fictionalized Fidel Castro.

Her earlier novels, Garcia said, were criticized for marginalizing men. They were a “testosterone-free zone,” while King of Cuba starts out as an estrogen-free zone.

After a while, though, “I got sick of these guys,” she said.

So she brought the women, one a painter who lives in a dusky, narrow Havana apartment with her cat and her Galapagos tortoise. With its salty language, this artist’s tale had Garcia’s audience laughing.

The men might be in power, the writer said. But in her world, “the women provide the unofficial histories, the lived histories.”


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at

Last modified: May 04. 2014 5:47PM
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