Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Mona Alvarado Frazier Interview - The Garden of Second Chances

Photo Content from Mona Alvarado Frazier

After decades of working with incarcerated youth and raising three creative kids as a single parent, Mona Alvarado Frazier is now fulfilling her passions of writing and traveling. When not doing either of those she’s reading, volunteering, watching K-dramas, and tending the family’s two cats and her succulent gardens. Mona’s short stories are published in the University of Nevada, Reno anthology Basta! Latinas Against Gender Violence and Palabritas, a Harvard literary journal. She is a member of SCBWI and Macondo Writers and a cofounder of LatinxPitch, a Twitter event. She is a 2021 Mentee of Las Musas Latinx children’s literature collective, and resides in Oxnard, California.


Greatest thing you learned at school.
Respect yourself because people notice if you don’t. Some people are hurt people, and it’s not your fault if you end up in a relationship with them. When you notice a red flag, communicate your expectations. If there’s no change, get out of the relationship.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in writing?
  • 1-Be prepared to invest a lot of time and effort into writing, revising, and learning about querying and marketing.
  • 2-Read widely and pay attention to those books that speak to you. What is it about them that affected you? How do you want to affect readers?
  • 3- Read in your genre and learn the principles of that genre.
  • 4- Be prepared to have thick skin. Writers need to submit their work to one or more critique partners. It takes time to find the right people. Along the way, you may get your feelings hurt but you’ll live.
  • 5-Writers cannot not write. They are persistent. They will find time to write if they want to bad enough.
  • 6-Keep your paying job until you can sustain yourself through your writing endeavors.
  • 7-Keep a notebook or your phone handy for when you have an idea about your characters or storyline.
  • 8-Be a positive literary citizen.
What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Other stories popped into my head; some storylines disappeared while others struggled to be heard. These characters were persistent, so I began writing another novel. I was on my fourth novel before I picked up The Garden of Second Chances again.

Can you tell us when you started THE GARDEN OF SECOND CHANCES, how that came about?
After twenty-eight years of working with incarcerated youth, I had many stories vying for my attention. So many of the girls who had experienced trauma, addictions, and abandonment persisted in trying to better their lives, although they had little resources or support. Their resilience struck me, and I began writing my first draft in 2010. The story took ten years to tell, mostly because I was a novice writer and had to learn more about the craft of writing.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
It may surprise people, but characters talk to you. Sometimes they fight for the lead character or tell you they don’t want to do what you want them to do, or they surprise you with a response when you're writing their dialogue. They also don’t leave when you close your laptop or put down your pen.

  • 1-Prison canteen items can be made into tasty snacks using ramen noodles, Fritos or pork rinds, and hot sauce. Cakes can be made out of Honey Buns, crushed candy, jelly and other sweets.
  • 2- Pruno is prison-made alcohol made of fruits, bread, sugars, and stored in a plastic bag and fermented. It smells disgusting and can explode in an area that isn’t properly vented.
  • 3-Horticulture therapy (gardening) is real and exists in several state and county correctional facilities.
  • 4-There are talented artists, comedians, singers, intellectuals, and mechanics behind bars.
  • 5-THE GARDEN OF SECOND CHANCES is the third title of the book.
  • 6-There is a glossary of slang terms in the novel.
  • 7-More than half (58%) of women in prison are mothers. Only 11 states compile data on incarcerated mothers in 2022, so the percentage may be more.
  • 8-In the novel, a reference is made to a water tower with a picture of Mickey Mouse. There is such a tower in Burbank, California, the home of Disney Studios. When I had my first child, I looked out of the hospital window while holding him and viewed the Earfull Tower.
  • 9-The main character, Juana, reflects on her mother’s garden and remembers a mishap. She had picked the flowers off the zucchini before they were mature. Later Juana talks about squash blossom soup. These can also be stuffed with cheese or fried like fritters.
  • 10-This novel took ten years to write, revise and edit.
Meet the Characters
JUANA MARIA IVANOV aka Juana Maria Bravo, was born in a small town in Mexico and leaves for the US to follow her boyfriend. Her thick wavy hair overpowers her small frame. She loves gardening, nature, and her baby daughter. She was naïve and too trusting for a long time, but she is kind, compassionate, and smarter than people think.

JESTER spent her childhood in foster care in Los Angeles. She’s tough, pulls pranks, is a gang leader, and is artistic. She and Juana have something in common: their mothers died when they were young.

XOCHITL is a bright young woman who is an outspoken activist. She’s from Oakland with an immigrant father who fled the civil war in El Salvador and a mother born in the US. Her brother is in law school.

MS. MONTES is the young counselor who has her pre-conceived ideas about girls who are incarcerated and it shows in the way she treats them. She’s impatient, controlling, and distant at times.

Your Journey to Publication
I didn’t take any creative writing courses in college. During my career, I learned how to write case reports for the parole board. These were just the facts. In 2008, I took an adult ed course on preserving your family memories. This led me to write a short book about my mother’s history for the family. The writing bug hit me, and I took a few more writing workshops.

In 2009, I began writing TGOSC. The book took a year to draft and several years to revise. In 2013, I submitted the first chapter to Amazon’s Breakout Book, and it made the quarter-finals. I received a writing fellowship from that first chapter to A Room of Her Own (AROHO) writer’s residency, where I learned much more about writing. The Association of Writers Program (AWP) selected me for their 2014 mentorship program, and my mentor, Fred Arroyo, helped me revise the manuscript again.

After approximately 50 queries, I put TGOSC aside for a couple of years and wrote another novel. After writing two more books, I returned to Juana’s story in 2020. I revised it again and had a publishing contract in 2021. So, it took about ten years to write and revise.

Writing Behind the Scenes
I try my hardest to be consistent with my writing. Five to six days a week for at least two hours, oftentimes more if I’m revising. Because I’m sitting a lot, I take walks, hike, read novels, or watch K-Dramas. I meet with my critique group of six other women who write non-fiction, children’s picture books, YA, and poetry twice a month. Most of us have been together for fifteen years. We go on annual writing retreats together.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?

What is your most memorable travel experience?
Each trip is memorable for its positive or negative aspects. Most negative is landing in Paris without a suitcase. Luckily, I had one change of clothing and underclothes in my small carry-on. My bag arrived a month later. I discovered Monoprix, the French version of Target clothing. The most magical trip was to Cinque Terre, with its colorful cliffside dwellings surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
My experience with breast cancer changed my lifestyle and perspective. This November of 2023, I’ll be eighteen years cancer free.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I wouldn’t have gotten married at 22 years of age.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
A TV antenna sticking out of the ground. The home was built underground. This was in Guadix, an Andalucian town in Spain. They call the residents trogloditas (troglodytes).

She didn’t run because she killed him, she ran because she didn’t. But no one believes Juana, an undocumented seventeen-year-old incarcerated for her husband’s death. Amid the chaos of prison and her grief, she creates a garden in the yard. A safe space. A place where she gains strength to take on the system before she loses her child.

Juana, a seventeen-year-old mother, is sentenced to prison for murdering her husband. She claims she’s innocent—but no one believes her, including the prison staff and a gang leader in her block who torments her.

Juana’s troubles aren’t confined to prison, however—she’s undocumented, and her husband’s bereaved family is now threatening to take her baby from her forever. Feeling hemmed in on all sides and desperate to stay out of trouble, Juana creates her own refuge in the prison yard: a garden she created. As she digs in the soil, nurturing the plants, she remembers her courageous, long-deceased mother, who she knows would never give in or give up. Juana’s only hope for saving herself and her baby is to prove her innocence—but how?

You can purchase The Garden of Second Chances at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MONA ALVARADO FRAZIER for making this giveaway possible.
Winners will receive a Copy of The Garden of Second Chances by Mona Alvarado Frazie.


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