Editor’s Note: Columnist, Sara Farmer, is writing a limited series for DIY MFA in which she interviews authors of color who write thrillers. She is kicking off the series with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, Untamed Shore, and more. Check back in two weeks for the next installment!
About Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the best-selling author of the novels Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, Untamed Shore, and a bunch of other books. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters).
SARA FARMER: In all the buzz about your latest release Mexican Gothic, the most frequent comparison I’ve seen is with Daphne duMaurier’s Rebecca. I do see those parallels in the plot and story. But when I read Mexican Gothic, it was strong echoes of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that struck me the most – the moving golden pattern on the wall, the golden woman, and the yellow dust. An argument could be made that Gilman’s work is horror, like Mexican Gothic, while Rebecca is more of a thriller. Do you like du Maurier’s and Gilman’s work? Was this book influenced by either?
SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA: I like du Maurier’s work, especially her short stories “The Birds” and “Don’t Look Now,” but I was not trying to invoke her specifically. I think Rebecca is just one of the titles that people think automatically about when they think “Gothic” because it’s very famous, but I pulled from a large body of work that includes both short fiction and novels (The Monk, Poe, etc.), Latin American influences (Quiroga), and film work (the movies of Carlos Enrique Taboada). Gothic is a very big category that includes horror (Dracula) and the more romantic suspense stories such as Rebecca and even works like Wuthering Heights. It’s a huge category.
The explanation behind the strange happenings at High Place was so intricate. It was imaginative, but made perfect logical and scientific sense within the world you created. How did you construct the plot and keep it straight? What is your process for plotting and world-building?
This book was inspired by a real-life town called Real del Monte, which was a British mining town located in the mountains of Mexico. So, the setting really was like the grain of sand around which the pearl grew. It became like a fever dream of a real place. That’s what happens with me. It’s one or two ideas that I keep circling around and around until something emerges.
The other thing that happens is I like my characters to talk. So, once I have an idea I start having conversations with my characters. I know it sounds weird and it even looks a little bit weird when I’m doing it, but it allows me to figure out their physicality. I start hearing them in my head and then I start speaking in their voice, if that makes sense. Once that is there, then I can do further research and sand off some bits and fill some holes.
Plotting is normally a series of Post-It Notes and sometimes napkins, where I can hammer out beats. This rough outline is refined either by removing or adding scenes, which can consist of a simple line or even a couple of pages. Scenes that were removed for Mexican Gothic early on included 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. Once I’m more or less happy with this outline and I have all my research notes in order I can write.
I’ve read that some authors who wrote books set outside the United States were pressured to change the setting, because Americans supposedly only want to read books set in the U.S. Have you experienced pressure to set books in the U.S.?
I was told that something set in Mexico wouldn’t sell which is one reason why, perversely, I called this novel Mexican Gothic.
Many of your books showcase strong females who want more like Noemí in Mexican Gothic, Viridiana in Untamed Shores, and Casiopea in Gods of Jade and Shadow. But they often don’t know exactly what they want, just that it’s not what they currently have. I like that you’re not afraid to portray them as uncertain and that you send them on quests, sometimes literally like with Casiopea. You also show Noemí facing condescension and criticism for her many different career choices and romantic entanglements, but standing her ground with spirit. Is this aspect of feminism (women not having to be perfect to be equal) an important part of stories for you? Do you wish for your books to be seen as feminist works?
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.
Noemí is twenty-two. At her age, my grandmother was forced to get married. She felt great pressure to do this and so I gave Noemí some of that pressure, but I also gave her opportunities my grandmother did not have. Noemí has many aspirational traits. She is smart, she is beautiful – I like making my women dark-skinned and beautiful, because my mother felt very poorly about herself due to colorism – and she is determined. But she’s also young and hasn’t quite figured out everything in life, which I think is fine. Part of feminism, I think, is allowing women the time to find themselves.
I plan for this to be a regular question in my interviews, because I find it fascinating and encouraging as an as-yet-unpublished novelist. How long did it take you to write your first book? Do you have drawer novels?
I’ve written so many novels and partial novels that I can’t remember neither how long it took, nor how many I have. Some are just a few chapters and there’s a full-blown book somewhere that I finished and I never sold. (Which is a good thing. It’s not very good.) I just cannibalize a lot of stuff. Some things simply don’t work out and there’s no shame in going back and stealing from yourself. Certain Dark Things, my vampire novel, grew out of a short story that I wasn’t quite happy with. It’s hard to accept when you’re starting out, but you’re not always ready for publication right off the bat. It can take time to find what you want to write and discover who you are as a writer. Which I guess ties in with the idea of allowing women time to discover themselves.]
Sara Farmer lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, three kids, and two cats. When she’s not chasing kids and cats, she reads and writes mysteries. You can find her at www.kittymomma.com and on Twitter @avonlea79.