Q&A with Chamorro author Shay Galloway

The Valley of Sage and Juniper is a new novel by Chamorro first-time author Shay Galloway.  She recently sat down with Angelo Villagomez to discuss her book.

Angelo: Can you tell me about your personal connection to the Marianas?

Shay: My grandfather was the late Justice Ramon Garrido Villagomez from Saipan and my grandmother was Phyllis Eileen Selk from Guam.  They met while they were at University of Guam, married, and had a daughter, Tiana, who is my mother.  I was born in California, but lived in Saipan for a short time when I was very young.  I haven’t made it back since.

Angelo: And what have you been doing since ever since?

Shay: After living in California, we moved to Colorado and then Wyoming just outside of Jackson Hole when I was in highschool. I attended Utah State University and got a Bachelor’s in English, then a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Now I teach English composition at a community college in Washington State, where I live with my husband and son. 

Angelo: And what made you want to write a book?

Shay: I’ve always really loved reading. I read a personal essay in middle school about a kid who decided to become a writer, and that was the first time I realized you could actually be a writer as a job. Basically since then, I’ve wanted to be a writer.

Angelo: How did you decide on this genre and story?

Shay: It was a little on accident. I really didn’t like the idea of writing about the West and rural life, or even historical fiction because I didn’t think anyone would want to read about it. But the characters just sparked and I couldn’t stop writing about them. All my most raw, real, and natural writing ended up being about rural life and living in the West, and my professors encouraged me to pursue it. 

Angelo: And who did you write this book for?  Who is your audIence?

Shay: Whenever I get asked this question I always joke “Who ever reads it and likes it.” But in all seriousness, the people that will probably like it best are adult women who like more literary work with a kind of historical lean and gritty edge. 

Angelo: I’m sure you’ve seen some of the news stories from across the United States where books are being banned from schools and libraries.  Your book has some very adult themed-passages, do you find it ironic that your book could be banned in the mountain town where you grew up?

Shay: Well, it’s not a book meant for children, or even young adults. I think people can get confused because the characters are minors for the first half of the book, but I never intended it to be for anyone other than adults. 

Angelo: What do you think about the renewed interest across the United States in banning books from schools and libraries for their adult themes?

Shay: It’s ridiculous. While I can understand being concerned about curating age-appropriate material, just completely removing access because some of the younger students might potentially pick up a book that wasn’t meant for them in the first place isn’t helpful. As a kid who had a high reading level, I read books that were more “mature,” but I never picked up anything at school that was “graphic.” There was a lot of stuff I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t pick up some of those books. All banning is going to do is encourage kids to look for those books even more. I mean, I used to read my mom’s “grown-up” books behind her back, so unless they’re going to somehow cut off complete access to the internet, these “bans” aren’t even going to work in the way they want them to, and will potentially have the opposite effect.

Angelo: That makes sense.  I’m going to shift gears a bit.  There’s a lot of parallels to your life in this book.  You also grew up on a mountain surrounded by religion.  How much of the book is from your own life?

Shay: The only real intentional parallel is the location. The other stuff just sort of wove its way in, which I think all writers do, even without meaning to. Parts of themselves and their experiences make their way into the pages. One (slightly outdated) adage that pops up in writing classes is to “write what you know,” and I knew about religion and small mountain towns.

Angelo: There’s a lot of religious imagery in your book, including a flood, false prophets, and characters quoting scripture.

Shay: Yeah…I grew up reading a lot of scripture. The Bible has been a huge influence on Western/English-speaking literature basically from its conception. Really, the Bible is pretty good in a literary sense, regardless of what you believe about it. There are some great one-liners, and brutal stories that are at least entertaining–action and romance, dystopia and fantasy, poetry and song–it’s all there. 

Angelo: Your book has two main characters, two sisters named Isaiah and Genesis.  In the book, the characters put a lot of thought into the selection of baby names.  Is there a deeper meaning to these names that may not be obvious to someone who isn’t as steeped in the words of the Bible as you may be?

Shay: Initially not really. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of traditionally masculine names given to girls, so I was just playing around with that and came up with Isaiah. But that then influenced what type of people would give their kids these names and where they would grow up. I liked the name Genesis, and considering it’s the first book in the Bible, it only made sense to make her the oldest.

Angelo: The book has a character who is one-quarter Native American, and you’re one-quarter Chamorro.  Was any of that biographical?

Shay: I didn’t draw that connection until you just asked me. Truthfully I wanted a love interest that also feels somewhat isolated due more to circumstance rather than personality like Genesis is, but he also needed to be allowed to move around like he does in the book, and historically, movement was limited for certain demographics unless they could “pass.” 

Angelo: And finally, how can people get a copy of your book?

Shay: The Valley of Sage and Juniper can be purchased as paperback and ebooks on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. We’re working on an audiobook edition. You can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter @TheGallowCat and subscribe to my newsletter at ShayGalloway.com for updates.


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