by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
(Del Rey, 30 June 2020)
An EXCLUSIVE AUTHORLINK interview with the author
by Anna Roins
New York Times best-selling author, Silvia Moreno-Garcia offers her readers another rich, intricate tapestry in Mexican Gothic, which was recently optioned for TV by Hulu this year. Mexican Gothic is set in Real del Monte, the real British mining town located in the mountains of Mexico.
The story takes place in the 1950s, in an isolated, worn-down mansion, ‘High Place’, where anthropology student and chic debutante, Noemí, 22, arrives to enquire after her ailing cousin, Catalina. This courageous socialite-turned-detective takes us on her journey to uncover the dangerous secrets that exist between the decrepit yet expansive walls of High Place Mansion, without knowing whom to trust. Certainly, not her cousin’s new husband, an attractive but menacing Englishman; nor his father, an ancient patriarch and eugenics supporter; and, not even the shy and gentle, younger brother, who seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding troublesome knowledge of his family’s past. As Noemí digs deeper, she unearths stories of violence and madness that takes the reader on a breathless journey to a stunning conclusion.
AUTHORLINK: Thank you for your time today, Silvia. We are so pleased to be talking to you about Mexican Gothic. One aspect of your book which appealed to us and most readers, was that it was set in Mexico and based on Mexican culture. Yet when you initially pitched your book this was a “conversation stopper.”
You once said, “It also made it very difficult to secure translation rights and to sell anything for a movie or TV adaptation…There was one time where I was asked if I wouldn’t mind changing the names of the characters to Anglo names (which didn’t make sense). Someone once told me my name was too long and maybe I should change that…” (18 August 2020, Bookstr) How remarkable.
Has this always been the case when you referenced Mexican culture in your work, or only in the last few years? Depending on your answer, why do you think that is?
MORENO-GARCIA: I started writing in 2006 and back then you were much less likely to see writers of color in the science fiction and fantasy sections of bookstores or in the tables of contents of magazines. There were essentially no people of color on the covers of SFF books. Things started changing a few years ago. The success of authors such as N.K. Jemisin, along with the advent of social media, allowed authors of color to meet each other, connect in virtual spaces and discuss issues they face. But for a very long time, publishing has been a space that has closed itself off to most writers of color, offered few opportunities for development, and produced a very monochrome output.
AUTHORLINK: Interesting – so pleased the climate has changed. Mexican Gothic was based on mid-century Real del Monte, the mining town located in the mountains of Hidalgo, that was run by the British in central Mexico. However, we understand many other things inspired Mexican Gothic; from the writings of Lovecraft, Poe and Quiroga, to the paperback forms of Gothic revival in the1960s; the horror films of Taboada as well as Giallo and Hammer movies, and from Mexico’s mining and postcolonial history. Is that correct?
Your most significant inspiration was your great-grandmother, who also came from Hidalgo. Can you tell us a bit about her?
“My great-grandmother was one of the great influences in my life.”
MORENO-GARCIA: My great-grandmother was one of the great influences in my life. She told me stories and that folklore is material I draw on. She could not read or write, so she taught the importance of the spoken word. This, along with the eclectic mix of authors I discovered in my teens, helped shape me as an author that is not beholden to a single literary tradition.
AUTHORLINK: Wonderful. The Gothic genre is a unique niche that is experiencing a revival. We love how your book is a mix of psychological suspense, horror, and romance – although it doesn’t fit squarely in this category for a few reasons.
Can you tell us a bit about the ideologies behind the classification of ‘Gothic’?
MORENO-GARCIA: Gothic fiction is, in its broadest sense, romantic fiction with a prevailing atmosphere of suspense or terror. By romantic it means it derives from the Romantic artistic movement, not that it must be a love story. Its emphasis on melodrama and big feelings is what marks the Gothic. Gothic novels encompass a wide spectrum of works and have recurring tropes that make them identifiable to readers (dark castles, virginal heroines, Byronic men, etc).
Gothic fiction has been classified as Female Gothic or Male Gothic. The Female Gothic does not have supernatural elements and the emphasis is on the heroine achieving a happy outcome and establishing a relationship with the hero. Jane Eyre is a good example of this. The Male Gothic has supernatural elements, take place in an uncaring universe, and features explicit elements such as graphic violence or rape. The Monk is a good example of this type of novel.
Gothic is interesting precisely because it’s a liminal genre that is constantly bumping against borders.
AUTHORLINK: Great, thanks. For us struggling writers, would you kindly walk us through your writing process. For instance:-
- Where is your most productive place to write?
- How many words do you try to achieve each week?
- Have you ever been advised your plot-line ought to be ‘tweaked’ by an editor after you’ve completely finished your novel?
- In general, how many edits do your books generally go through by your editor, before they’re finally ready to be published?
“…I arrange my writing around my other responsibilities.”
MORENO-GARCIA: I work a full-time job, so I write around that. I do the bulk of my writing at nights and do some research and write notes during my bus commute, my lunch, and the like. Right now, with COVID-19 I work from home, so that has been a bit strange since the bus is gone. But the point holds that I arrange my writing around my other responsibilities.
I don’t try to achieve a set number of words every week. I think it’s useful for beginning writers to map out their productivity so they can realize how much work they can do in a day or a week and get an idea of how long a project might take, but I’ve written over 70 short stories and more than half a dozen novels, so I am very much aware of how I function and such word counts don’t assist me. You have to be working regularly, though. Both because it’s easy to forget about a project if you don’t come back to it within a few days, and because it is much more logical to write 700 words a day than attempt a 6,000 word sprint on a weekend.
Most people have an inaccurate idea of how editors work. Talking to other writers and in my personal experience, most editors don’t do a lot of fine-tune editing to a manuscript they wish to acquire. So it’s mostly up to you, as a writer, to do that. I had an idea, derived from movies and inaccurate expectations, that there were a lot of rewrites and hand-holding. There aren’t. The people who do that role nowadays are for the most part the agents, if they have the inclination. — and they do it with a view to sell to editors, so that’s a different audience. But most editors are not going to go through extensive rewrites with you. They simply don’t buy the manuscript if it’s not where they think it ought to be.
For most writers under contract the major ‘tweaks’ to the plotline would probably be worked on earlier rather than later, during the stage where you write your proposal and outline. However, that’s if you have a multiple book contract. People who are starting out write a query letter and provide a full manuscript. There’s no partial and tweak, etc.
I’ve never written an outline or a proposal. This is because I’ve bounced around editorials, so I’ve been normally handing in full manuscripts which my agent tried to sell. What happened with Mexican Gothic was that we had sold Gods of Jade and Shadow first to Del Rey in a two book deal. The contract literally said Gods of Jade and Shadow and ‘next untitled novel.’ When we were negotiating the acquisition my editor at Del Rey asked what I wanted to write after Gods and I mentioned several ideas. She liked all two or three of them, so we closed the deal knowing I’d develop any of those into a new book that would come after Gods of Jade and Shadow. At some point I was in the USA for an event and my editor was there too, so we went for coffee to further discuss what my next novel would be. I had been working on Mexican Gothic for several months now and had some pages and ideas. So I explained my idea, she liked it, and I kept working on it.
There were many editing passes between the first whole manuscript and what ended in print, but the storyline and characters did not change. I’ve never had a drastic situation where an editor would say cut 70% of the book and start over. I don’t think that’s the usual experience for the average writer.
AUTHORLINK: That’s very helpful. Gothic novels usually have single points of view. Was that tricky to do? Which POV do you prefer using and why? Just briefly, what do you think are the advantages of omnipresent POV or Second-Person POV, if any.
” I like multiple points of view. I find single points of view stifling…”
MORENO-GARCIA: I like multiple points of view. I find single points of view stifling, but when a book needs it, it needs it. Certain narratives, such as mysteries, can benefit from a narrow point of view.
AUTHORLINK: We understand you had to ‘kill your darlings’ in the making of Mexican Gothic, specifically, a breakfast scene with the protagonist’s family where you met her mother and her brother, a prologue where Catalina was being chased through the forest, bits of Ruth’s journal, and more. In retrospect, was it difficult to let them go? Why didn’t you include them?
MORENO-GARCIA: I didn’t think they worked, or they slowed down the action. I wrote bits of those scenes or ideas for them, but in the end they either didn’t flow well or they were unnecessary. I wanted to do a Matryoshka doll narrative at one point where you’d have a story within a story within a story using journals and letters to build that, but it just stuck out as a sore thumb. It would have necessitated an entirely different story.
AUTHORLINK: Since you started writing ‘officially’ in 2006, have there been any short stories, novellas or novels that haven’t been published and put back in the drawer? Now that you’ve achieved such success, would you ever consider revamping your old work for a new attempt at publishing? If yes, what would change? If no, why not?
“I have many novel fragments and manuscripts that I’ve never sold.”
MORENO-GARCIA: I have many novel fragments and manuscripts that I’ve never sold. I don’t consider them to be any good as they are and instead, I’ve cannibalized them for parts. Two failed novel ideas became Gods of Jade and Shadow. My novella The Return of the Sorceress, out next year, grew out of a failed short story. I’ve reworked stuff, but normally it is quite changed from the original. It’s more an idea or element that I pluck out.
AUTHORLINK: We understand Mexican Gothic was optioned by Hulu for a TV show in August this year. What exciting news! Can you tell us a bit about this yet? For instance, does the deal include your assistance with the screenplay? Do you have a say in production or choice of actors?
MORENO-GARCIA: It’s early days and TV shows take a long time to develop. So no, I can’t say anything.
AUTHORLINK: Okay. This reverberated with us, “In fiction and real life, women still have a hard time navigating the world. Mr Rochester can be much older than Jane, not very attractive, bad-tempered, and keep a wife locked in his attic, and he’s still a romantic hero. Then you have someone like Noemí, who thinks highly of herself and some people may say she’s an a——, because she’s confident. A trait that is positive in a man is negative in a woman. Women are complex and that complexity should be reflected in books.” DIY MFA, 13 August 2020. We cannot agree more.
Can you share with Authorlink, your favourite female protagonists of all time?
MORENO-GARCIA: When I read Madame Bovary, that was one of the first times I understood how you build a character. I like characters that are ‘difficult.’ Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House, the femme fatales of James M. Cain and other noir writers.
AUTHORLINK: Excellent choices. Eugenic was a commonplace theme in the 1800s, and yet ideas about miscegenation were still around in the 20th century. Mexican Gothic deals with the themes of Eugenics and colonialism. Is this the first time you referred to it in your stories? Why do you find this subject so compelling, revolting or both?
MORENO-GARCIA: I went back to university a few years ago to do a Masters’ degree and focused on eugenics. Colonialism is like a haunting. The empire may be dead, but its ghosts linger on in the land.
AUTHORLINK: How much marketing do you do per week on Social Media? Do you enjoy this (now necessary) role in being a novelist in 2020? We love the cut-out doll (paper doll guide) on your site that you can print to dress Neomi, the main character in Mexican Gothic, to learn about the fashion in Mexico in the 1950s. You also created an evocative playlist to transport readers into the terrifying yet seductive world of creepy High Place mansion.
How have these marketing tools been received by your readers?
MORENO-GARCIA: People seem to like both the paper dolls and the playlist, which is nice to know. The paperback of Mexican Gothic will include some new material at the back. Essays, a Q&A, etc.
AUTHORLINK: You launched a horror-themed zine called Innsmouth Free Press where you would publish Lovecraftian fiction three times a year, daily non-fiction and have sporadic meta-fiction masquerading as “news” items. You also worked for a post-production company (2006) called Shimmerzine and delved into the world of communications at the University of British Columbia.
Currently, you work at the inimitable Washington Post as well. How does that feel? It must be inspiring and hectic given you write so many different types of novels as well.
MORENO-GARCIA: I’ve worked all my life in communications, so that’s not very odd. I’m afraid I’ve had a very average existence. I’m not like those writers who said they were a mortician, a traveling clown, a lion tamer, a hand model and a physicist before becoming writers.
AUTHORLINK: Fair enough. You once mentioned that you moved a lot as a child and had a hard time fitting in and that you feel you might be someone on the autism spectrum albeit undiagnosed (NPR, 27 June 2020). What would you say have been the benefits or disadvantages of this to your writing, if any?
MORENO-GARCIA: When I was child, I didn’t have many friends, so I spent a lot of time reading and watching movies. If I hadn’t been such a loner, I wouldn’t have had time to do that. I think it gave me an advantage in college. I never did an MFA, but I read so much I think I did one by osmosis.
AUTHORLINK: You have won the 2020 Sunburst Award for your novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow, the 2016 World Fantasy Award for the anthology, She Walks in Shadows, won the 2016 Copper Cylinder Award for your novel, Signal to Noise and was the Finalist for the Aurora, British Fantasy, Nebula and Locus awards.
How does that feel? Did you feel more confident as a writer with every award or are do you still have moments of doubt, if at all?
“I can get very anxious. And it’s not necessarily about the big picture but some tiny detail.”
MORENO-GARCIA: I don’t know if there is doubt, but anxiety. I can get very anxious. And it’s not necessarily about the big picture but some tiny detail. I have periods of time where I can go to sleep because I’m afraid of dying, which sounds very odd, but it happens. And that anxiety can translate to other things, such as opening and reopening a manuscript 10 times to make sure a sentence looks ‘perfect.’ I worry about whether I pronounced a word correctly in an interview. I worry about the next contract and whether I can sell more books. But I also know that this is my anxiety talking and it’ll pass.
AUTHORLINK: That sounds like something you need help with. Apart from perhaps, Lovecraft, which three writers, dead or alive, would you invite to your literary dinner party?
MORENO-GARCIA: It would have to be an ice cream or a cat cafe party if you want to have HPL there. I dunno, I guess Joyce Carol Oates, Gustave Flaubert, and Amparo Davila.
AUTHORLINK: Ha! Great choices. Tell us a bit about your next releases and what you’re working on now? We understand you have a crime novel called Dangerous Eagerness to be released soon, another book on the horizon called The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, a vampire novel called Certain Dark Things and a romance novel with a hint of fantasy called The Beautiful Ones. If we’re not mistaken, you also have a sword and sorcery novella. You’re certainly prolific! What are they about?
MORENO-GARCIA: A Dangerous Eagerness is a noir. It has no fantastic elements. It’s set in 1971, in Mexico City, against the background of student and government clashes. Certain Dark Thing and The Beautiful Ones are reissues of books that went out of print.
AUTHORLINK: Right, okay. Well, thank you for your time today Silvia. We appreciate your insight and inside knowledge and wish you the absolute best for all your future publications!
AUTHORLINK: Thank you.
About the Author
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the bestselling author of the novels Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, Untamed Shore, to name a few. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters).
Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel, Signal to Noise, about music and magic, won a Copper Cylinder Award. Her second novel, Certain Dark Things, focused on narco vampires in Mexico City. It was one of NPR’s best books of 2016.
Gods of Jade and Shadow was the 2020 American Library Association Reading List winner in the Fantasy category and won the 2020 Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.
She has edited several anthologies, including She Walks in Shadows (World Fantasy Award winner, published in the USA as Cthulhu’s Daughters), Fungi, Dead North and others. Silvia is the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press. She co-edited the horror magazine The Dark with Sean Wallace from 2017 to 2020. She’s a columnist for The Washington Post and reviews books for NPR.
She has an MA in Science and Technology Studies from the University of British Columbia. Her thesis can be read online and is titled “Magna Mater: Women and Eugenic Thought in the Work of H.P. Lovecraft.”
You can find out more about Silvia Moreno-Garcia at https://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/, and https://www.facebook.com/smorenogarcia/
About Anna Roins: About Anna Roins: Anna Roins is a Senior Lawyer, previously of the Australian Government Solicitor, as well as a freelance journalist.
She has studied creative literature at The University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London. Anna is a regular contributor to AUTHORLINK assigned to conduct interviews with best-selling authors. She also tries to write novels in her spare time, reviews books and writes community pieces for reputable publications.
You can find out more about Anna Roins at https://www.facebook.com/anna.roins, and https://twitter.com/Roinsstar.