Trinidad and Tobago writer RSA Garcia wins top award for sci-fi story

Author Rhonda Garcia shows off her books on June 21 at Newsday's Pembroke Street, Port of Spain office. - Photo by Jeff K. Mayers
Author Rhonda Garcia shows off her books on June 21 at Newsday's Pembroke Street, Port of Spain office. - Photo by Jeff K. Mayers

LOCAL science-fiction (sci-fi) writer Rhonda Garcia, who writes as RSA Garcia, is over the moon, as she is the first woman from Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean region to win a Nebula Science Fiction Award for Short Story.

She won it for her short story Tantie Merle and the Farmhand 4200, which is written entirely in TT creole, another first.

The announcement was made at the 2024 Nebula Awards ceremony on June 8.

Garcia said the Nebula Awards are the science-fiction equivalent of the Academy Awards, as the stories are voted on by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (formerly of America), established in 1966. Based in the US, it changed its name in 2022 to reflect its worldwide membership.

Awards are given in numerous categories. The trophy is a transparent block with an embedded glitter spiral nebula and gemstones cut to resemble planets. Unlike other literary awards, the Nebula Award does not come with a cash prize, but Garcia explained: “The Nebula is regarded as the most prestigious award in sci-fi, because it’s from your peers...One of the previous winners is George RR Martin, who wrote Game of Thrones.

“I’m so happy for my win, for my nominations over the years, for the Nebula, and nominations for the Ignyte, the Sturgeon, sci-fi awards from other organisations, because it confirms what we in the West Indies already know: that we have a strong and rich tradition of literature.”

Garcia didn’t expect to win, but her competitor Rachel K Jones encouraged her to write an acceptance speech, and read it for her after the announcement.

“They had a fantastic ceremony, which I couldn’t attend in person, but they included us in the room online on camera. We were all supporting and cheering for each other, and they gave us our certificates and I felt I’d already won a prize.”

Garcia said while authors with Caribbean parentage in other countries had won the prize before, she was the first from TT.

“I’ve lived here my whole life...I don’t have any dual citizenship. Everything that went into that story came from TT, came from this schooling system, came from this place.”

Winning the Nebula was the culmination of an ambition she had since she was 14 and decided to become a sci-fi writer.

“I grew up in libraries. I started reading maybe when I was two, and my mother couldn’t afford to keep buying books, so when I was seven she took me to the Port of Spain library and put her head on a block for the librarian that I wouldn’t damage the books, like other children my age.

“From that moment, I would see this sticker on these books which said 'Nebula,' and I knew that was the best book...

“It is incredible to know that you came full circle, that the thing that inspired you, you are now part of its history, you can now inspire other people. It’s humbling, and crazy, and most days since June 8 I wake up, and I ask myself, 'Is this still happening, is this real?' And then I’ll be pinching myself and saying, 'Yeah, it’s still real.'"

While she adored Caribbean literary tradition, her heart was in science fiction and fantasy (SFF).

“I didn’t know how I was going to find a publisher, how I was going to write books, none of those things. I’d been writing books since I was eight, but I was like, 'There’s no way, I’m just an ordinary girl from TT, I’m struggling financially, my life is totally chaotic. Without getting into it, I can say I missed a whole year in secondary school and had to come back and play catch-up.”

Author Rhonda Garcia adores Caribbean literary tradition, but her heart was in science fiction and fantasy. - Photo by Jeff K. Mayers

Garcia finished her first book at ten, after reading that Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, published her first book at eight. Years later it became her debut book, Lex Talionis.

She wrote while at St Francois Girls' College, Belmont, then studying public relations and advertising, taking A-Levels and studying office procedures at YTEPP. She worked as an administrative professional at Royal Bank, Agostini Marketing, College and Institutes Canada and in the engineering sector.

Her professional writing journey began in 2000, when she joined the Online Writing Workshop (OWW) for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.

“I went to the website and was like, 'Oh my God, there are thousands of people on here, and none of them are related to me. I’ll get actual feedback from people who don’t care.'"

Garcia reviewed seven-nine stories daily on the site for years, working on 21 on her busiest day.

"The stories were all different lengths, between 3,000 and 21,000 words. This is how I ended up developing so fast.

"Most people think you learn from getting feedback, but you don’t really learn as much as when you’re giving feedback. It’s more important to do the work for others than to expect others to do the work for you. So I learned a lot.”

Garcia received an award from the site as one of four people who had done more than 500 reviews, having done 1,800.

Lex Talionis was published in 2014, after a writer she’d met on the OWW acquired it after buying the publishing company Dragonwell Publishing. It received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and Garcia said she got calls from film and TV studios about buying it. Unfortunately, Dragonwell wasn't able to push the book sales, as the Amazon sales algorithm changed.

After her grandmother died in 2007, Garcia stopped writing for almost a decade.

“I just lost interest in writing. My sister, my cousin and I had been taking care of her for years. She was our whole life. She took care of me and my mom, gave us a place to live, she helped me finish my education. It was just a huge loss..."

She began again when her sister encouraged her to write something she enjoyed: “Something that was interesting and light for me, and that book was The Nightward. Writing it helped me move on from the loss. It was a mess as a book – I took years to edit it.

"I decided to start writing short stories because it would allow me to have fun, work on things and finish them, get into the habit of finishing things..The first one was The Bois in 2017, which was the first thing I set out to sell since 2006. I can say with some pride I’ve sold something every year since then...

"I’d written 11 books by the time I started writing Lex Talionis. I used to say I could never write short stories, but it turns out if you work at something, you can get good at it.”

Her short stories began to get nominated for awards and recommendation lists. In 2022 she heard an editor from Harper’s Bazaar was open to looking at scripts, so she sent The Nightward and then didn’t think about it again, as she lost her job, was diagnosed with cancer and had chemotherapy.

"Thank God for the people who donated to my GoFundMe for medical expenses: they helped me pay my medical bills and fix up the house a little bit. There are so many people with cancer in the country right now and the system is overloaded, especially after covid19. I was able to do some tests and procedures privately, but I wouldn’t be here if wasn’t for the people at St James Medical Centre and the women’s clinic."

She sold a novella in December 2022 and then an editor from Harper Voyager contacted her to say he loved the story and advised her to get an agent, which she did, after a lot of searching. She was shocked, because she had been shopping the book for years. She then had to finish The Nightward, which will be published on October 15, as the first in a Caribbean duology, The Waters of Lethe.

She's happy not only for her own success in SFF, but that of others from TT.

“I feel like we’ve been making waves for a while now. You have people like P Djèlí Clark, Shari Paul, who’s also from Trinidad, and Suzan Palumbo, who was the first person to get a Trini-creole story nominated for Best Story.

“It’s good to see us making inroads into a genre that unfortunately has not been very open to people that are not white at the upper echelons.”

Lower down, she said, "It’s a fairly open genre in terms of joining, making community, getting help, but it’s very difficult to push your way to the top.”

Author Rhonda Garcia wants local people to read her stories, which she said are love letters to them and to her country. - Photo by Jeff K. Mayers

In 2023, when she was chatting with Palumbo, Paul and other friends via WhatsApp, Tantie Merle and the Farmhand 4200 dropped into her head fully formed and she wrote it down immediately and sold it to the online publication Uncanny Magazine.

“That’s my writing journey up to now, and I write full time.

"I want people to see it’s one part really hard, persistent, unrelenting work, and one part pure luck. That’s basically what it takes to be a writer. 'Overnight success' took me about 24 years. Also, this is a certain level of success...

“I’m no NK Jemisin (Broken Earth and Inheritance trilogies), Nnedi Okorafor (Binti and Akata series) or George RR Martin (Game of Thrones). There’s always another level, and I think a lot of writers keep looking for the next level, and they don’t stop to look around and appreciate where they actually are.”

She had advice and a warning for writers.

“If you want to get into this business, you have to decide and keep reminding yourself why you’re getting into it. There are going to be so many points where you feel dejected and rejected, because this industry chews you up and spits you back out. It has no problem digging at your self-esteem: 'It’s not that you wrote this story badly, it’s that you’re a bad writer.'"

She said getting into writing for outside validation came at a high cost.

“When I started doing this, I wanted to tell stories and have people love and connect with them. I also wanted to be able to do this for a living, so hopefully it was plenty people. I used to tell people I wanted to be Stephen King, because he was secure. I just want to have my family around me and be able to pay my bills.”

Now in her late 40s, Garcia lives in Barataria with her sister, close to other family members.

She wants local people to read her stories, which she said are love letters to them and to her country.

“There are so many things that are in there for us, and I would like to have more Trinidadians and Tobagonians to see themselves reflected in work that is coming to them internationally, so they could feel the sense of pride I feel at being a Trinbagonian.

"That is very important to me, it’s what has informed my work for many years. I wanted to talk to my own people – that is what has brought me so much success in this. We are enough, we have always been enough and I really want Trinidadians to know that.”

To read Garcia's work, go to


"Trinidad and Tobago writer RSA Garcia wins top award for sci-fi story"

More in this section