June: JUAN M. GARCÉS

During my first stint in graduate school working toward my Master’s in Spanish, my best friend Linda Duncan and I met a delightful Colombian studying for his advanced degree in chemistry. Juan had many stories he shared with us, but one in particular captured our attention. It had to do with a used bookstore and an old copy of Don Quijote. He and Linda would eventually marry, raise a family, and pursue other interests. We drifted into different worlds but kept up a holiday correspondence until one year, we decided to renew our strong friendship via Zoom.

An accomplished scholar, chemist, and father, Juan finally found time to research and write the tale he had discovered in the words of Cervantes’ masterwork,  the story he had shared with us all those years ago. Amor en cuatro puntos ( Love in Four Dots ) is historical fiction centered around the 1000-Day War in Colombia, but at its heart, it is a love story. I’m so excited to share this book and this author with you this month.

 

 

Janet Irvin: Bienvenido, Juan. Welcome, my friend. Let’s begin with telling readers a little about your background — education, work history, and family.

Juan M. Garcés: I was born in Cali, Colombia in 1945 at the onset of the atomic era, just after the end of the Second World War. I was one of fourteen children. My father was a teacher. My education in Catholic Schools had the flavor of life in a monastery in the XIII century. I received a BS in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering from the Universidad del Valle, with minors in languages, philosophy, and economics. I graduated from Ohio University with a PhD in Physical Chemistry supported by a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation.

After two years as an assistant professor at the U. del Valle, I joined the Central Research Labs of Dow Chemical Company in Midland, MI. My 30 years with Dow resulted in 30 US patents of inventions and over 60 papers in various academic journals, covering a broad variety of topics, some in collaboration with professors associated with prestigious academic institutions. During the last 20 years, I have worked as a consultant to the chemical and petroleum industries and have started a new life as a historical fiction writer.

JEI: I recall so vividly the evening you first told Linda and me about the pencil dots in that volume of Don Quijote, but it’s worth telling readers. How did you first discover the story that inspired your novel Love in Four Dots?

JMG: When a college student in Cali, I purchased volume III of an old edition -in four volumes- of Don Quixote published in Spanish in Madrid in 1844. A year later, I discovered six letters written in code in the text of that volume. Pencil dots under certain letters between the lines led to words, sentences, and eventually, the letters exchanged between Federico (a prisoner of war) and his girlfriend Sofia in Popayán, Colombia, during the One Thousand Days War (1899-1902), the most violent of all wars in the western hemisphere. The events in that war and the content of the letters between the lovers gave me the opportunity to write a historical fiction novel by using the letters, the contents of the book of Don Quixote, and my imagination to create a novel entitled in Spanish  Amor en Cuatro Puntos, a reference to the first four pencil dots associated with the word Amor, Love in English.

 JEI: When did you decide it was time to set the story down? How long did it take to finish the manuscript?

JMG: After I retired from Dow in 2004, I decided to start writing a novel about Sofía and Federico. It was just a beginning, trying to write chapters of what eventually became a novel. The main activity was learning about writing novels and doing historical research about the early 1900’s in particular the war in Colombia and the construction of the Panama Canal. In the meantime, I was consulting and traveling. In 2015, I traveled to Colombia to complete my historical research in Popayán, at the Archives of the University. The information obtained there allowed me to fill a few gaps in the story. The actual writing of the manuscript to be published was done between 2015 and 2020.

JEI: Did you ever consider writing it as nonfiction or was the book always going to be fiction? Why?

JMG: I was committed to fiction from the start. It would have been very difficult to fill in the gaps in their lives when I knew only a few details extracted from the content of the letters. The data from the Archives provided additional information that in part I didn’t have to use because I already had written the manuscript.

JEI: Who was your most important mentor during the writing?

JMG: I cannot point to anyone as my mentor. I used a multitude of sources to educate myself but in the end, I concluded that it is the doing that makes the writer not what other people say.

JEI:  What was the most challenging aspect of the writing process? the most rewarding?

JMG: Without question, I found the gathering of background information to be very challenging. In some ways, I got lost in the fascinating stories behind the Panama Canal and the One Thousand Days War. The most rewarding was to realize that the story was not about them but about Sofia and Federico as the key actors of the microhistory before and after the war.

JEI: Is your writing journey over now that you have completed Love in Four Dots, or do you have other stories in mind?

JMG: It is not over; better, it is just starting. Telling somebody else’s story made me realize that my own story is more fascinating. I am currently involved in writing a series of short novels comprising the various stages of my life. The first one takes place during my early life, from my first memory, when I was about two, to first grade, when I was six years old. I have also written a few episodes about later periods. These are seeds for other novels. I also have accumulated a large amount of historical information about the people and events associated with the Panama Canal and the War that could be used to create historical or historical fiction novels.

JEI: Has anything surprised you after the release of the novel?

JMG: The most surprising thing was to receive a phone call from an 80-year-old reader who had discovered when reading the novel that Sofia and Federico were her grandparents. She didn’t know much about them and was fascinated to learn about their love letters and their time.

I also realized how little I know about marketing a novel and how enjoyable it is to have meetings with people who have read it and would like to know more about Colombia or the One Thousand Days War.

JEI: What would you most like readers to take away from the story?

JMG: Many readers have already told me how much they learned about the war by reading between the lines about the struggles of the two lovers and the ordinary people not directly involved in the military side of the war. This was one of my key objectives and I am pleased with their comments. I also appreciate that my readers feel how much effort and reflection it took to go from a few hundred pencil dots to a novel.

Juan M. Garcés is a historical fiction writer who published his first novel, Amor En Cuatro Puntos, in 2020. The book is available in English and Spanish and in paperback and ebook at Amazon.

Love in Four Dots: a novel

 

For more information about this author, visit  juanmgarces@icloud.com
By |2024-05-31T12:03:44+00:00May 30th, 2024|Author of the Month|0 Comments

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