(510) 859-4718 customersupport@namw.org

Carlyn Montes De Oca

Junkyard Girl: A Memoir of Ancestry, Family Secrets, and Second Chances.

March 9, 2023
4 PM PST | 5 PM MST | 6 PM CST | 7 PM EST 


I grew up surrounded by secrets. I never knew my dad was a marine during World War II or that my beloved grandmother hired kidnappers to bring my mom home after my parents eloped. My parents took an even bigger secret to their graves…. my identity.

Four years ago, I took a commercial DNA test to learn how much Jewish blood was in my heritage. Instead of learning that I was one of the chosen people, I discovered I was adopted at birth and most of my family, including 63 first cousins, knew the truth but never told me. A wrecking-ball crashed into my identity and left me scrambling to put the pieces back together again. Unable to focus and crying at the drop of a pin, I realized that in order to move forward I needed to learn the whole truth of why my origin story was kept so secret. This urgency fueled my year-long adventure to find the answers to, Who the hell am I really, and where do I belong? 

My memoir, Junkyard Girl, weaves together two stories. The first begins with this astonishing revelation and how like a detective, I followed every clue towards the truth. Story two shares how I re-examined my childhood memories with a new lens. My parents were Mexican immigrants and proud of their heritage. As a first-generation Latina teenager, I just wanted to be more American. My overprotective mother and I fought, loved and bled. My parents were also hoarders. As a kid I’d sit on a doghouse with my dogs, looking up at the clouds, saying, “This can’t be my life. This can’t be my family. I know one day my real parents will come for me.”

One should take care for what they wish for.

Writing Process ala Montes De Oca
I was in the midst of writing a memoir about a little girl growing up in a junkyard with her dogs when my adoption bombshell dropped. I couldn’t believe the timing. I now had two stories that worked well as one. Though I could not have written this book any sooner than I did. The first year, I felt emotionally raw and had no wisdom to impart. So, I journaled and took notes and followed the breadcrumbs. Twelve months later, I checked in with myself, and realized I was seeing my adoption experience in a new light and with greater understanding for the other players involved. Once I found clarity, a new urgency took over, one whose force silenced my inner critic. It was as if my survival depended on my book’s completion. I didn’t WANT to write this memoir; I HAD to write it. The words on paper helped me make sense of my new normal and allowed me to find my bearings again.

Since I’d never written memoir before, I took a class and read books by Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner, and read The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. As I stepped into unknown waters, timeless memoirs like The Glass Castle and Educated, primed my creativity pump and nourished my confidence.

The Wisdom is in the Words
Historically, I was not a fan of memoir. I mostly read fiction and fantasy. But writing my memoir helped my perspective in a powerful way. Growing up, I felt so much shame that I vowed to keep my past under wraps. The writing and publication of this book revealed that the world does not reject you when you share who you are and where you come from. In fact, I’ve never felt more embraced. Readers contact me daily to share their experience with my book and how it’s affected them. Although their life experiences are 180 degrees different from mine, the themes of identity, belonging, and the true meaning of family connect my readers and me in a meaningful and fulfilling way.

What You Will Learn from Our Conversation

  • What it feels like to wake up one day and discover you are not who you thought you were.
  • How to write a memoir when so many people depicted in the book are still alive—and might object.
  • The ups and downs of my journey as an independently published author
  • How I make marketing fun
  • How writing my memoir is inspiring my future books


CARLYN MONTES DE OCA is a multi-award-winning author of Dog as My Doctor, Cat as My Nurse  She is an international speaker, animal-human health expert, and animal advocate.

A former film editor on such movies as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Three Men and a Little Lady, Carlyn holds a bachelor’s degree in communication arts and a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Montes De Oca was voted PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian Over 50 and is an ambassador at Animal Protection of New Mexico. A sought-after speaker and founder of The Animal-Human Health Connection, Carlyn talks with non-profits, corporations, and at international conferences on the powerful ways human health, happiness, and longevity are improved through our connection with our pets. She has been featured on ABC, CBS, NBC, Woman’s Day Magazine and her powerful TEDx talk is entitled – The Life-Changing Power of the Animal-Human Health Connection.

A longtime resident of Northern California, Carlyn now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband, Ken Fischer, an award-winning sound editor, and her beloved rescue dog, Grace. Her latest book, a #1 Amazon bestseller, Junkyard Girl: a Memoir of Ancestry, Family Secrets, and Second Chances, is available now.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from NAMW.

You have Successfully Subscribed!