Eric Garcia '95 has written about dinosaurs disguised as humans and con men with severe psychological issues. He's also envisioned a future where artificial organs are repossessed when patients can no longer afford them.
Repo Men, which was recently transformed into a feature film starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, tells the story of a man named Remy (Law) who seizes high-tech artificial organs if transplant recipients fail to make their payments. Everything is great for Remy until he’s implanted with an artificial heart following an accident. When he can’t pay for it, Remy becomes a target of the organization he previously served.
Based on his novel, The Repossession Mambo (Harper, 2009), Garcia co-wrote the screenplay with Garrett Lerner, a writer and executive producer for the medical drama House. Though the process of adapting the book to screenplay was not “easy,” Garcia said it didn’t feel difficult as it was written in increments over 10 years. Many scenes and subplots came and went, including those about Remy’s relationships with women, and a sequence in which one client ‘reclaims’ his own organ. Garcia tried to preserve the non-linear storyline from the novel, but found that method of story-telling didn’t make the final cut.
Garcia’s novel is based on a short story, “The Tell-Tale Pancreas,” which he wrote during a quirky Kurt Vonnegut phase following graduation from USC College. The idea, he said, originated from an afternoon drive with his wife through an old neighborhood, in which he noticed a record number of pawn shops had opened. It was near Valentine’s Day, and one of the shops had a large cutout of a heart in the window. Garcia joked that things had gotten so bad with the economy that people were forced to pawn their organs, and a story was born.
“I can easily point to a class that shaped me as a writer,” said Garcia, an English major with a creative writing emphasis at the College. “Something I can point to and say that if it weren't for USC, I'm not sure where I'd be today: English with T.C. Boyle.”
Garcia was a fan of Boyle’s before starting at USC, and said he was “envious of Tom’s prose, of his facility with the English language.” Though perhaps Boyle’s greatest skill, thought Garcia, lay in teaching.
“I have an appreciation not just for [Boyle’s] talent, but for how he helps the talent come out in others. As a professor, he is exactly what you'd want from a mentor: patient, giving, and a passionate advocate for his subject matter. I'm convinced that Tom, above all others, helped me find my own style, not by aping him (as if I ever could), but by writing and writing and writing some more, pulling out that which didn't work, reshaping, and starting all over again.”
After graduating from the College, Garcia wrote his first novel, Anonymous Rex (Villard, 1999), while he worked for Kaplan Test Prep, teaching the SAT at night and writing during the day. Back in the mid ’90s, Garcia recalled, he could get a lot more done without the distraction of what was then a fledgling Internet. He presented the first complete draft of Anonymous Rex to his wife as a Hanukkah present, and only three weeks after landing an agent, he had a deal with the Random House Publishing Group.
To date Garcia has written six novels, and though currently at work on another screenplay adaptation, said, “If you stripped everything away and forced me to choose [between writing fiction and screenwriting], I’d choose books.”