Zibby is joined by director and screenwriter Rodrigo García to talk about his debut memoir, A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes. Rodrigo explains how the book began with notes he took in the immediate period after the death of his father, Gabriel García Márquez, but only truly took shape following the passing of his mother Mercedes in 2020. Rodrigo explains to Zibby that he intended for the book to be a goodbye letter to the two individuals who were his parents before they were artists, and to serve as a way for his family to grieve the losses of the people they loved as well as the lives they helped shape.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Rodrigo. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes: A Son’s Memoir.

Rodrigo Garcia: Thank you very much. A pleasure to be here.

Zibby: I have to say, I listened to this book. I didn’t read it. I listened to the whole thing in my car on a long drive, which was great because you could actually read the whole book in one long drive. I felt enormously accomplished. At the end, I was crying as I was driving. It is so beautiful. I love how you did it. I just loved this book so much. Bravo to you. I’m so glad you did it.

Rodrigo: Thank you very much.

Zibby: I know some of what you talked about in the book is your decision to even write this book. You were sort of conflicted about it and if you should record it and if you publish it. Talk to me about this becoming a book as you dealt with your father’s illness and eventual loss. I’m so sorry.

Rodrigo: Thank you. What I describe in the book is an initial period of back and forth where he’s not doing well. They tell us he’s got maybe months to live. Then suddenly, that changed into most likely, three weeks, these best estimates the doctors can give you. We all spent a lot of time at home. As I describe in the book, we were getting calls from people everywhere. They had friends from around the world, and journalists. People began to gather at the door of the house. Then police showed up at the door of the house because so many people had gathered. When you’re essentially waiting for a person to pass, it’s a very rarified headspace. There’s really nothing to do. It’s too soon to be terribly sad. The days are like this jello, very strange. It was all very rich, so it was inevitable to think, wow, I should take some notes here to remember this. Initially, the idea was simply — I had no idea. I said I would take notes and maybe write up something that would be for my brother and myself and for our children and just to remember. I took those notes, like I describe in the book, with a certain amount of guilt and discomfort feeling that I was essentially betraying the privacy of the family in my father’s last days, but since they were private, I forgave myself.

Then when my father died, I sat down and wrote down very quickly — I wanted to put it all down while it was fresh and to write it quickly so that I wouldn’t be bogged down with guilt, insecurity, the whole thing. Even when I finished that part of it or what I thought was everything that I was going to write, I said, what can I do with this? My mother, who was still alive, she wouldn’t have looked well upon us publishing anything and breaking that line between the public and the private. It was also too short to be a book, too long to be an article. I put it aside, essentially, for six or seven years. Then when my mother died in 2020, I realized what it was I wanted to write about, which was a farewell to both of them. This discovery when the second parent dies that you should expect because it’s logical, but the feeling of it is quite concrete that when the second parent dies, this whole world dies, this religion that you grow up in, this set of beliefs that you agreed or disagree. You grew up in a church, basically. That’s what I wanted to write. This is the long way to say I never planned a book. It became a book once I realized, oh, this should be the goodbye to both my parents and not just the writing of the farewell to the legendary writer or the big artist.

Zibby: It’s okay that it’s long. That’s the whole point, is to hear you talk about your life and your book. I love it. It’s great. Some of the moments that you describe, some of the in-between while you’re waiting and what you just referred to now were so poignant, even just having the hospice person there and telling you when you’re waiting outside, yes, you should come. No, you shouldn’t come. These moments in time, now that you’ve lived through this and you had to go through it with your mom too and have to say goodbye with your cracked iPhone, which is the most sad ending —

Rodrigo: — Very 2020.

Zibby: Very 2020, exactly, yes. I said goodbye to many people on Zoom. It was horrendous. I relate. It’s awful. What do you take away from the ways we process loss? You were so in it with your dad. You were there every minute. You were back and forth. You were flying. You were dealing with press. Then you have to contrast that with just a screen. Where is, not right or wrong, but where is the balance? Is there a right way to grieve? Is there an optimal situation? How do we get our way through all these situations? Sort of a random question.

Rodrigo: I think it’s different for everyone and different for every case. With my father, he suffered from dementia. He lost his memory over eight years. The last three, four years, he was more and more out of it, certainly the last two years. That, we could refer to as the long goodbye. It was sad, of course, when he died, but he had been leaving us for a long time. My mom, it was very quick. She took a turn. In forty-eight hours, she was gone. She was very much diminished by her age, her weight, and sixty-five years of smoking. Luckily for her, that also went quickly. I’m sort of stalling to answer your question because it really didn’t dawn on me that my dad had died until the anniversary, for example. Even though we went through all that and all the sadness and all the mixed feelings and all the public stuff, and even by then, I’d written a book that was basically in a drawer, but it wasn’t until the anniversary when I thought, oh, wow, that happened. Incredible.

With my mom, I think about it every day. It’s been a year. You have these thoughts and feelings that are a little — I feel that they’re, in some ways, more present than ever. I feel that they’ve become giants after their death. This is not to idealize them because bad parents, as you know, can also be huge giants, and dead parents and parents you never met, parents who left you, and biological parents that you may not have met. They can be huge presences in your life. I think because my mom was very present, very conscious throughout her last years, her brain was intact, I’m a little closer to her right now. I don’t really have an answer for you. I think it surprises you. I’ve been doing well. Then in the last three or days, for reasons that I can’t imagine, I was thinking about her all the time. I don’t know. I think for every person, it’s different. Some people cry their heart out and move on. Others cry their heart out two years later. Others never have the feelings. Then they go out and beat up some people in a bar. At the heart of it is a notion that is totally normal and that we mostly accept but that is absurd, which is that life ends. A person that is is no longer. This is so evident. I’m sounding like an idiot.

Zibby: No, you’re not. You’re not at all.

Rodrigo: When it has happened to you, you’re like, wow. I remember when I walked into the room and my dad had just died. I thought, wow, that was so easy. I’m not saying it was easy for him. Easy for us. It really is like turning off a light, like crossing a door, like going through a veil. Yet it’s everything. Part of you just can’t wrap your mind around it.

Zibby: There must be a reason. Maybe that’s the way it was programmed.

Rodrigo: Yes, and we must live in denial of it. Otherwise, how do you get out of bed in the morning?

Zibby: True. In addition to your really interesting and thoughtful writing about loss and grief, there’s a lot, also, about being in a public family and how much to keep private, how much to expose, and growing up in that way. I’m curious about your own career, this book aside even, with your whole film career and everything, how you get out from the shadow of somebody who’s super successful and growing up with that and making your own way in the world. Tell me a little about that aspect if you don’t mind.

Rodrigo: I think there were two facets to it. When we were kids, my dad was not known until he wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude, which came out when I was eight. That was a phenomenon of a book. We lived in Mexico and some years in Barcelona with what was essentially a very middle-class life. Yes, everyone we knew were artists or people who worked in advertising because they were artists making a living. My brother and I didn’t know a single businessperson growing up, not one, nobody in business. Even when we lived in Spain and his reputation through the book and throughout the world as the book got translated grew, we were still fairly protected. It was, after all, the late sixties and seventies. He was a writer. He wasn’t a rockstar. He wasn’t a soccer star. This was, of course, way before the internet. I think people have forgotten what fame was like back then. We knew very little of how people lived. We often didn’t even know where they lived. That was okay. Obviously, as you get older, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, and you start to think about the future, then you have as a reference, someone who’s very successful.

I think for children of very successful people, the risky thing is that a part of you, unconscious, even if consciously you know that there are no guarantees that you will have as much success, there’s a part of you unconsciously, just because of the way you grew up, that says to you, this is going to happen to me too. It’s a little voice that you ignore. Then as the years go by, it doesn’t quite happen because it’s very hard for lightning to strike like that. I’ve been lucky with a good career. There’s been people who have had extremely frustrating careers after their parents had enormous careers. After he won the Nobel Prize in 1982, then his fame definitely multiplied. He was more recognized everywhere. By then, I was out in the world. I was out of college. I was finding my way. It would be crazy to say that his fame and talent didn’t hover over me. It did, but I always had this feeling that everyone, and artists included, everyone has baggage that they need to deal with. My baggage was very acceptable. Yes, there is the ghost of the great artist, but I also had a good father. There are people who have a terrible father who may be a great artist or not even that.

For me, all in all in the balance, my father was very family oriented. He always worked in the house, as I describe in the book. He worked every morning from nine to two. We had lunch together every day. It wasn’t some jet-setting lifestyle. I remember once there was a girl who was in high school with us, with my brother and I. She came to lunch at the house one day. When she got home, her mother said to her, “Oh, you met the author. What was he like?” She said she thought about it for a moment. She said, “He was this man eating soup.” We were seated in the kitchen having lunch eating soup. It’s not all diamonds. To make a long story short, it’s always been a mixture. Yes, the success was the stature that — like I said in the book, the biggest difficulty is that it creates many different Gabos. Some are my dad when I was little, my dad when I was a teenager, my dad when I was a grown-up. Some was Dad at home. Some was a very famous dad. Some was a super famous dad. I remembered yesterday that someone once said to me, “How does it feel that your dad is one of the great authors of the twentieth century?” I was like, “Make that a double vodka, please.” It’s crazy. Someone sent me a tweet yesterday. Just to give you an idea of the things that sometimes remind you of the stature of things, someone sent me a tweet yesterday that Mia Farrow tweeted. She said, “What is the best novel you’ve read not including One Hund Years of Solitude?” It’s like, wow.

Zibby: Wow. You described in the book, the trance-like state that your dad would get into while writing. Tell me a little more about that. You said you would talk to him and say, you’re not even hearing me. He would just kind of look through you.

Rodrigo: I say that in the book. His concentration — I suffer a little bit from attention deficit. For me to watch that now, he would really go there and become totally entranced. You would talk into his office, especially when I was a kid when he was still smoking — he quit soon after. He’d have a disgusting ashtray full of cigarette butts and a cigarette going and another one going in the other hand writing at superspeed with basically two or three fingers because he never had any of that. The sound of the typewriter is one of the musics of my childhood. You’d go in there and say, “Mom wants to know if we’re going to go to this thing tonight or not.” He’d look at you. “What do you think?” Then you’d leave. You’d stay there. Finally, he’d turn around and keep writing. I did grow up thinking that with that level of concentration one could achieve anything. It was just so focused. Then to shut it off at two PM to try to rest his brain, he would force himself to do that.

Zibby: Part of ADHD, though, is this hyperfocus. I’m well-aware. You get so into something. Everything else just fades away.

Rodrigo: I have the other flavor, which is, after ten minutes, I have to change the channel of my life. I can’t sit for more than ten minutes. I do when I have to. It was remarkable to watch. My brother has it. He inherited some of it. He’s an artist. He can sit down and draw for five hours and never look up.

Zibby: Did it help you to get this book out into the world? Do you feel like you’ve made some sort of peace with the events that have happened? Do you feel more connected to your parents? Do you feel like it’s helped you?

Rodrigo: Yeah, all of the above, just by having to write stuff, having to put down not just the events, but your feelings about it and the very fact of going public with it and then the perspective. Like I said, I sat with most of it for years until my mother died. Then having to go back to revise that and incorporate it to what I wrote about my mother made me live through it again. The stuff that I feel is some of the stuff we started off by talking about. I feel the dead are not dead. I’m not a religious person, but that’s what I feel. The dead are not dead. They become these big figures. You do understand them more. It doesn’t mean your frustrations, your angers with whatever issues are not there, but you do understand them more as people. You forgive them. You wish you would’ve known them better. Also, I have to say that as sad as my parents’ deaths were for me and for my brother, for all of us — for their grandchildren, they were very sad. That was very pleasing to see. It sounds like a contradiction, but it was lovely to see how much it meant to my brother’s children and mine. They were both eighty-seven when they died. There’s a difference between seeing a life cycle lived — it’s sad, but it’s not tragic. It’s not people dying young in accidents or with brutal diseases. They did live extraordinary lives. They had as many years as anyone can hope for. One of the hardest things — I mention that because you said you heard the book in the car. One of the hardest things for recording the audiobooks, which I did in Spanish and in English, reading, rereading, and then when it went out to publishers, there was a little bit of editing and back and forth and correcting proofs. There was a point where I was so done with the book. I just couldn’t face it anymore. Then they said, “You’re going to do the audiobooks.” I said, “Oh, yeah, I love audiobooks,” because I do. Then when you’re in there, you’ve got to live it again. There’s a director in your ear that says — have you done audiobooks?

Zibby: I have, actually, yeah.

Rodrigo: It’s much more work than people think. They won’t let you off the hook. Sometimes I would just read through something that I didn’t want to be reading. Then he or she would say, “I think that part was a little more intimate. Let’s go back and take more time with it.” It was like, oh, my god. The audiobook, that was tough to have to go back and live it again.

Zibby: I’ve been struck by, so many authors find that to be super emotional, having to live through it by recounting it. You’ve already relived it by writing it. Now you have to say it. It’s this whole other immersion.

Rodrigo: I think even if you’re reading a fiction book, all authors are in their fiction, so you have this sense of nakedness if you really read it like it should be read, like you feel it.

Zibby: It’s true. What is coming next for you in life? What is your next professional thing? What are you up to?

Rodrigo: I am in Richmond, Virginia, today. I’m prepping a movie that I wrote called Raymond and Ray about two half-brothers who have a father that they hated. The father has died. Now they have to deal with the remnants of that. I’m in preproduction for that.

Zibby: Exciting. My husband actually is in preproduction for another movie in LA. I’m like, this is the most endless process. I’m getting, every day, his schedule. Now I’m finally seeing what that really means.

Rodrigo: A movie he’s producing or directing?

Zibby: A movie he’s producing.

Rodrigo: It’s a lot of work, then of course, in the middle of the COVID protocols and the COVID this. As I always like to remind myself, when you’re a film director, it’s grotesque to complain. It’s a super privileged profession, so no complaints.

Zibby: Awesome. Just one final question. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Rodrigo: I am really not an author.

Zibby: You are, though.

Rodrigo: No, but not — you know what I mean? I’ve written screenplays and pilots for TV. First of all, do it. Sit your ass down and do it. Then reach the last page of your draft. This is something I say to screenwriters also. The objective of your first draft is to reach the last page. The things that are learned about writing and about your book or screenplay by reaching the last page can only be learned by reaching the last page. So many people start writing something and then when things get tough in the middle of it, they say, oh, I have a better idea for something else. I would say get to the end. Then you can look at all of it. Good, bad, or ugly, it’s going to teach you a lot about your rewrite.

Zibby: Good advice, very good. Amazing. Thank you so much, Rodrigo.

Rodrigo: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: I really, really loved it. Thank you for coming on. Well done.

Rodrigo: Thank you.

Zibby: Have a great day.

Rodrigo: Buh-bye.

Zibby: Bye.



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