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Author found magical inspiration in her hometown of Santa Ana

Santa Ana resident Marytza K. Rubio holds her book, "Maria, Maria and Other Stories."
Santa Ana resident Marytza K. Rubio holds her book, “Maria, Maria and Other Stories,” at the Heritage Museum of Orange County in Santa Ana on July 21.
(Raul Roa)

In Marytza K. Rubio’s new book “Maria, Maria and Other Stories,” she imagines a world full of magic, nature and animals. It’s a world greatly inspired by her hometown of Santa Ana, where green parakeets screech in the sky and all manner of fruit ripen on trees.

“I think growing up in Santa Ana, that had a massive impact on my imagination,” said Rubio. “I really think that being around the parrots, and in my neighborhood there are so many fruit trees and a lot of beautiful gardens, and being of Mexican descent and my community is Mexican. So never being far away from my culture.”

Rubio spoke about her writing on a recent afternoon at the Heritage Museum of Orange County in Santa Ana, which hosted her book launch party in April and also influenced her writing.

Santa Ana resident Marytza K. Rubio at the Heritage Museum of Orange County.
Santa Ana resident Marytza K. Rubio poses with her book, “Maria, Maria and Other Stories,” at the Heritage Museum of Orange County.
(Raul Roa)

“It’s so good that we are here at Heritage Museum because the Gospel Swamp — I heard just a little bit about that and I felt like that was really inspiring,” said Rubio, referring to the revival meetings held in the riverbed regions of what is now Santa Ana and Costa Mesa. “There is a piece in the book that is based on just the information of learning about the Gospel Swamp.”

“Maria, Maria and Other Stories” is a collection of short stories published by Liveright Publishing Corp., a division of W.W. Norton & Co. publishing company. Stories are set in the Americas with some other calls to local landmarks like the tiled Santa Ana train station or the reflective Discovery Cube.

Rubio says she has enjoyed the feedback she has received on her interactive book, in which readers are encouraged to color and draw in its pages.

“I am very excited and it is so cool to see people reading it,” said Rubio.

Writing has always been part of Rubio’s life. She received her master of fine arts in Creative Writing: Latin America and is a recipient of the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship. The majority of the stories in “Maria, Maria” were written over the course of a decade, while she was earning her degree and beyond. Initially, Rubio had written a novel involving a Chicano tarot card reader and a talking snake.

“I had manuscript — I wrote a novel that didn’t sell,” said Rubio, “and then I started cannibalizing it and ripping it apart and I saw these themes of resurrection, regeneration and just women that are doing wild things with nature and mysticism.”

Maria, Maria and Other Stories, written by Santa Ana resident Marytza K. Rubio.
“Maria, Maria and Other Stories,” written by Santa Ana resident Marytza K. Rubio, shown at the Heritage Museum of Orange County.
(Raul Roa)

She trimmed 13 short stories down to 10 for the collection, with connected themes.

“When the book sold and I was doing revisions, it kind of hit me again that for the past couple decades I had been focused on these main themes of eggs and tarot and brujeria [a form of witchcraft in Latin American and Afro-Caribbean cultures]. It felt really good to put it all in one book.”

Those themes of magic were also present in the nonprofit library she opened in Santa Ana in 2017, Makara Center for the Arts. Named for a mythical animal in Hindu iconography, Makara was a lending library and art center that served the Santa Ana community even through the pandemic, via mail-order library. As priorities shift, the center is closing permanently, but Rubio said not without a bang.

“We want to have a big party where we pretty much give out all our books. We still have a lot of inventory,” said Rubio. “What we are also trying to do is make sure we document everything that we did in the years that we were open and making a manual so anyone who wants to do something similar can learn from our mistakes.”

But after she writes a manual on how to start a nonprofit 501(c)(3) lending library in your community, she said she’s ready to write about the new things that are inspiring her.

“There is another novel in me somewhere, that might take another 10 years to write,” she laughed.

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