Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a talented writer with a knack for writing colorful, inspiring, and exciting stories no matter the genre. Kat tells us about Silvia's life and what drives her to write. Gabe shares information about the diverse books Silvia has written and how her existence in the genre fiction world has changed Gabe's reading life.
When Everything Feels like the Movies: The Life & History of Silvia Moreno-Garcia by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Fun Facts about Silvia Moreno-Garcia -
They’re the same age as NK Jemisin, only 41 years old.
They have a masters degree in science and technology studies from the University of British Columbia, and their thesis was on eugenics, women, and the work of H.P. Lovecraft.
They don’t stick to just one genre, and write many different kinds of books.
One of their books has a cool playlist - Signal to Noise
Her Life -
Just as a general note, alive and fairly young people don't always have a ton of information out there about their lives, their histories, etc. I searched a lot, and ended up having to piece together a bunch of different interviews to have somewhat of an overview on their overall life. For this reason, there may not be as thorough of a background as might have been expected. There are many interesting stories and anecdotes however, that are definitely very interesting. Many of the interviews I read from her were very interesting, so I definitely recommend checking them out, they’re linked in our blog.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia was born in Baja California, Mexico on April 25th, 1981. Her parents both worked at a radio station as journalists, so they always had a lot of books in the house. Her mother was very into science fiction and fantasy. There were the classics like Dune and Tolkien, and then more modern authors for the time (1970s) like Tanith Lee, Anne McCaffrey etc. In an LA Times article she mentions “My mom was a sci-fi and horror fan. She read [Frank Herbert’s] ‘Dune,’ Stephen King — and she had a love affair with H.P. Lovecraft’s work.” These are the stories she grew up reading as well, and her mother had many books in the house translated from English into Spanish, and some in English as well. This love of books and stories was generational, as her Great-Grandmother was an oral storyteller. In the same LA Times article, she spoke on the influence of her Great-Grandmother. She could not read or write but spoke her stories, and Silvia recalls “So for her stories were told, not written, and everything had a pace. You couldn’t rush my great-grandmother when she was speaking. You let her talk. You trusted her.” Silvia was very impacted by the stories her Great-Grandmother told her, and said that they helped shape her, and her love of storytelling.
Growing up in Mexico, Silvia learned English from Kindergarten on. She noted that there weren’t many children’s books available for her growing up so she immersed herself in older fiction, specifically The Three Musketeers at the age of eight. This helped develop her vocabulary at an early age, and influenced her to read many different kinds of books. She read everything, in Spanish and English, from the Bible to mythology, anything she could get a hold of. Reading was her passion, and she spent a lot of time in the Mexican chain bookstore, ‘Gandhi Bookstore’. She noted that reading wasn’t especially common in her social class growing up, but because her parents were journalists, they had lots of books, and people thought she was odd in her love of reading. Books were the main thing that they would spend their money on, and luckily older books were inexpensive. When they were young they were very impacted by the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, and this was their first introduction to horror Literature. After Poe, they discovered H.P. Lovecraft and that is something that deeply impacted their life, and they went on to write their masters thesis on Eugenics, women and Lovecraft. They eventually also edited anthologies inspired by Lovecraft’s stories. Ultimately they read as much as they possibly could, across genres, fiction and nonfiction, whatever they could read they read.
While reading was her passion, writing became her passion as well out of financial necessity. They spend a lot of time in school, but don’t mention that leading to much, if any financial prosperity. They got a Bachelor's degree in the states and in 2004 they moved to Canada to get their masters degree as I stated above. It seemed that a lot of their motivation came from just loving learning, and wanting to learn as much as possible as a way to make sense of the world. Growing up they didn’t have a lot of money, so the need for money was something that heavily motivated them to get into writing. They even go as far to say that writing was their only marketable skill, so they got into writing because that was the only way they could think of to make money and help their family. In an interview on LocusMag they say “I started writing fiction because I needed money and I was depressed. I wrote ‘King of Sand and Stormy Seas’ and ended up selling it to Shimmer, and that was one of the first stories I sold. After that I realized I could sell – that I had maybe a marketable skill. We had immigrated to Canada, my husband was working two jobs, and I had a baby and couldn’t get full-time work. I was doing journalism for this little weekly rag, writing stories for like $40 a pop. Sometimes they wouldn’t pay with cash – they would pay with food coupons to a bar where I would take my baby and eat. My mother was sending money from Mexico, which was very shameful. You move to another country to make a better life, and then your mother sends you 100 bucks so you can cover the rent. We were burning through our savings, so I was in a lousy place. When I sold that story, I thought: I can do it. The good thing about commercial speculative fiction, as opposed to literary fiction, is that markets tend to reply fast and they tend to pay. They may not pay much, but at the time getting $20 or $30 was big, and I could write with a baby on my lap. I was doing freelance journalism anyway, so fiction was one more thing I could do, and then at least I wouldn’t feel like such a horrible, piece-of-shit loser. You graduate magna cum laude and everybody says you’re going to be great – I’d gone to the States with a scholarship, I was supposed to be this smart person – and then you live in a horrible place and you’ve got no money. I was hanging out with a baby all day and wondering what happened. My friends were doing great things, and I was like, ‘How did I end up here?’ Writing stories made me feel better, because somebody appreciated what I was doing, and it brought in this trickle of cash. Then I got a job – a horrible full-time job. I was working in video production, and it was terrible, minimum wage, and soul-destroying. I got a better job, doing communications in an office, and things were economically stable, but I kept doing the short story thing, because I had gotten used to it. I could crank them out. When you’re a journalist, there’s a deadline. A lot of times writers talk about, ‘Oh, writer’s block,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s bananas.’ If you’re a journalist and it’s 5 p.m. and you don’t have your copy done, you’re fired. I come from that mentality. Even with a full-time job, if I had an hour in a day, I could crank a story out in a couple of weeks. It’s just a process. It’s not magic. I had a friend who was studying creative writing, and she was writing one story a year. When she was done with her degree she had two or three stories, like 5,000 words each. That’s ridiculous. You need to exercise your writing muscles. The only way to get better is to write.” They worked with their friend Paula Stiles, who was living in Vancouver as well, and in looking at the gaps in the publishing market, they noticed that it was heavily saturated with white men, and very little else. If there were women, they were white women. The industry was missing BIPOC and women. They looked online and noticed the internet was filled with forums of women who were really into weird fiction, Lovecraftian horror, and other themes. There were women who were fans of the genres and some that wanted to write it or were already writing but weren’t getting published. Silvia and Paula came together and realized if they weren’t getting published but had the energy, the skill, and the passion for it, maybe they had to create a place for it. They had to make a space for them, since one didn’t exist yet. They created Innsmouth Free Press from this idea, and it started as a magazine and small website. They made several anthologies and books, which resulted in the all-women Lovecraft anthology She Walks in Shadows, and it ended up winning the World Fantasy Award. They described it as a place for “the women men don’t see, and therefore nobody sees”. Which is just really awesome, that they created that kind of space, and that it’s working. They also work to translate works by authors who haven’t been translated, to help get their work to English reading audiences.
In terms of what she’s been doing lately - she’s been getting published and winning awards!
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels, including Gods of Jade and Shadow (Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, Ignyte Award), Mexican Gothic (Locus Award, British Fantasy Award, Pacific Northwest Book Award, Aurora Award, Goodreads Award), and Velvet Was the Night (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Macavity Award). We’ll be covering Certain Dark Things by her next week.
In another interview I recommend checking out, on pen.org, THE PEN TEN: AN INTERVIEW WITH SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA written by: Jared Jackson she answers some cool questions, i’ve quoted some below: (I didn’t include all the questions because we’ll be covering Mexican Gothic at a later date, and didn’t want to give accidental spoilers ahead of that content)
2. What does your creative process look like? How do you maintain momentum and remain inspired?
I look at my checking account. I know that sounds flippant, but I feel many times you’re not supposed to accept the material realities of working in the arts. I like writing, but I also like eating, so I’ve taught myself to write efficiently within the constraints of my life, which include a day job, a family, and stuff like that. The hard part is not inspiration. That’s easy. It’s the other stuff that takes a bit of juggling. But I tell writers who are starting out to figure out what their pace is like and stick to it. If you write 500 words a day Monday to Friday, you’ll have a short story in a few weeks.
3. What is one book or piece of writing you love that readers might not know about?
Thomas P. Cullinan wrote three great novels beginning with the letter B: The Beguiled (1966), The Besieged (1970), and The Bedeviled (1978). I had to fish The Besieged from the vaults of my library. You just can’t find it in print. His other two novels have been recently reissued. The Besieged is what might be called a “potboiler.” It’s a multi-point of view novel where every point of view is unreliable. I wish more people would know Charles Williams, who was a great noir writer and has been oddly forgotten. And not enough of Rolo Diez’s work has been translated. He’s a wonderful noir writer, too. I think the only book available by him in English is Tequila Blue.
5. What advice do you have for young writers?
Read everything—nonfiction, fiction, memoirs, novellas, pulp, obscure stuff, the canon and the obscure. Writing is a constant conversation with yourself and with literature. You can’t have that if you’ve only tasted one dish.
6. Which writer, living or dead, would you most like to meet? What would you like to discuss?
I think I’m obliged to say I’d like to reconstitute Lovecraft using his essential salts. I did my thesis work on him and feel in a strange way that I grew up with him. In a way, he was one of my best friends as an awkward kid growing up in Mexico City—which sounds bizarre, but it’s true. I don’t know, however, how the conversation might go. It would probably be very stilted. But for the most part, I’m like a turtle and don’t want to meet anyone, and I just want to live inside my safe, cozy shell. That’s why I like the internet. I can interact without having to let people see me. As for talking, I like to talk about books nobody knows about and old movies, so I’d probably show Lovecraft Get Out and Annihilation, and see what he thinks.
7. Why do you think people need stories?
Humans seem to love explaining the world through narratives. With many of my characters, I think one of the elements that unites them is that for good or ill, narratives shape them or have a great impact on them. In Gods of Jade and Shadow, my protagonist is on a quest while also understanding that this is a quest. And in Mexican Gothic, Noemí has read Gothic novels. I probably lived my entire youth through books and films. You know that line from “Iris”? “When everything feels like the movies.” Well, to me, everything felt like the movies. And the books.
All in all Silvia Moreno-Garcia is super interesting, hella inspiring, and paving the way for writers who often don’t get the recognition, financial backing, etc. that they deserve. I’m very much looking forward to reading as many of their books as I can, and recommend you do the same!
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: The Genre Chameleon by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work. I have read three of her novels so far and am on a fourth. Each of them is a phenomenal, entrancing piece of literature and no two are the same. What I really appreciate about Moreno-Garcia’s work is that you never know what you’re going to get when you pick up one of her books. She crosses genres so fluidly, with extreme care for each. There is an appreciation for the genre and also, that magic that is only hers. Gods of Jade and Shadow is my favorite, a brilliant folktale journey that was hyponotizing and the world, addictive. I appreciate Silvia’s knack for creating protagonist flawed, simple, and beautiful.
She explained in an interview with Pen.org her love for the absurd genre works. “I love genre fiction, and I love horror. Poor horror gets treated like the cousin we don’t talk about. He doesn’t get invited to dinner. On the one hand, I joke that the industry that gave us Crabs: The Human Sacrifice—please look up the 1988 cover of that book—can’t be taken very seriously after going there. And the horror boom of the ’80s produced plenty of dreck. But between possessed children and sewer mutants, there’s sometimes a space to touch on something special and no less poignant than a realistic drama. It’s the space of shadows on the wall that we stared at before we went to sleep when we were children and the frightful darkness around a campfire.”
We won’t discuss Mexican Gothic in next week’s episode but it was my introduction to her. (It was also my introduction to Book of the Month and my wallet has yet to forgive me). I had found it while doing a deep dive into gothic literature. I had been planning to write a script in that genre and so wanted to submerge myself into literary works to get into the right mindset. The genre was ripe with classic tales of white women woes and I wasn’t entirely interested. That’s when I discovered Mexican Gothic, knee-deep in searches for gothic tales with any amount of melanin. While reading it, I fell right into the story. It was simple at first, so much like other gothic tales, and yet intriguing in a way I couldn’t find in the others. I found myself caring more for Noemí than I ever could care for Rebecca. But there was one moment that struck me and had me rethinking my reading journeys. In the book, Noemí, a young Mexican woman with a wild streak is sent on a mission so to speak. She is tasked with checking on her cousin, Catalina who is married to a wealthy white man. Something has happened to Catalina, her letters are full of mad spirals and ramblings. When Noemí arrives by train to her destination, a man who works for the estate is there to pick her up. Noemí, upon seeing this man for the first time, remarks at how absolutely pale he is. As if he had never seen the sun. And it was at this moment that it dawned on me, that Noemí isn’t white. Of course, I knew she wasn’t but I had been so used to doing the work on my own, swapping the identity of the characters to fit my experience that it struck me to realize, I didn’t have to do that here. Noemí already looked like me. I had to reckon with all the other tales I’ve read, and ponder how many times I’d simply ignored character descriptions, making them up as I had wanted them to be. With Moreno-Garcia’s work, I never have to do that.
On Twitter, Moreno-Garcia explained her decision to feature dark-skinned women front and center in her work as a direct critique of colorism in Mexico. “The women in several of my books are dark and beautiful because my mother was told she was ugly due to her dark skin and Indigenous heritage. It’s a gift to my mother each time she can picture herself as the hero.” In Gods of Jade and Shadow, this critique is strong and imperative to the story. Though each of her books are different, embodying whichever genre and sub-genre combination she fancies at the time, there are pieces that she brings with her to each adventure. Strong Mexican women as protagonists, an entanglement of magic and the very real, relatable struggles of those protagonists, simple and honest romance that pilots the journeys and always, a vision of Mexico. Whether that be a near-future, neo-noir, fantastical 20s, or the toxic colonized 50s.
I am not Mexican but it does seem many of my memories of acceptance and understanding myself, have often been inspired by Mexican women (looking at you, Selena!). So I just wanted to say how thankful I am that Silvia Moreno-Garcia is in this space, spinning wondrous tales of heroic and beautiful protagonist that look like me. I am also eternally grateful to have the opportunity to learn more about Mexican folktale, the indigenous experiences, and more through each of her books. It’s a breath of fresh air and I am addicted to the stories and history!
Her debut novel, Signal to Noise, is an urban fantasy novel about a teen girl in 1988 who discovers how to cast spells using music. Her and her friends use this magic to repair broken relationships, families, and hearts. The novel begins with Meche, the young girl now older, returning to her hometown to attend her father’s funeral. Here she revisits her childhood, the places, people, and the magic. (I am currently reading this one!).
Her second novel, Certain Dark Things, we will cover in depth next week is a neo-noir vampire tale set in an alternate Mexico City. I will geek out much more next week but this book was so exciting and captivating. Moreno-Garcia envisions a world where vampires live amongst us and even more interestingly there are different species of vampires! From the native, Mexican vampires inspiring visions of Gods and bountiful earth to the sickening, pale, colonizer vampires that serve as our villain. Published in 2016, I am envious of the young people who get to experience this novel in their foundational years. All I had was Twilight and Holly Black novels to satisfy my supernatural literature cravings. What I wouldn’t give for the representation, the world building, and the education! In an article on LA Times titled, How Silvia Moreno-Garcia's shapeshifting visions of Mexico took over the bestseller list by Paula Woods they explain how appreciative readers are of her honest and magical worldbuilding, Science fiction critic Amal El-Mohtar hailed the novel for its “representation of Mexico City as a real place, a city with history, districts, subways, with beauty and ugliness, with problems. It is not a book that renders Mexico City according to its distance from New York City, or even from the United States; this book’s face is turned towards Guatemala, Cuba, Brazil.”
Mexican Gothic is a terrifying novel that gets under your skin. It plays with magical realism, leaving readers with a blend of a logical, scientific answer and a haunting mystical one. Our protagonist fights for her life against racism, colonialism, eugenics, and mysticism. Most people know her for this work and can often be caught off-guard when reading her other books, expecting something equally spooky. But Moreno-Garcia is a chameleon, molding her voice to reflect the genre of choice’s background flawlessly. The only threads that connects them is an intense love and appreciation for her homeland, Mexico, relatable and realistic protagonist and an intense hate for colonialism. In that interview with Pen.org they explain some of the depth with Mexican Gothic, The novel, set in mid-century Mexico, not only utilizes the tools of gothic horror to unsettle and surprise the reader, but to also examine the worst and most fearful truths of society. In Mexican Gothic, this includes the racist ideologies and theories of eugenics. If we were to call this genre fiction, what are its inherent strengths? At its best, what can it reveal about society because of its specific rules and demands?
Gods of Jade and Shadow, is my favorite book of hers (so far!). It is a gripping journey full of magic, repression, and rebellion. It is familial trauma, internalized racism, and the deconstructing of both. Akin to Cinderella, protagonist Casiopea finds herself serving a family that does not serve her. One night, while cleaning her grandfather’s office she encounters an old box and like Aladdin, she unleashes something otherworldly. She frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother.
On my TBR shelf sits, Velvet Was the Night, a dramatic neo-noir set in 1970s Mexico City during “the Dirty War.” The Daughter of Doctor Moreau reframing the H.G. Wells story of human-animal hybrids into an anticolonial adventure set in the Yucatán Peninsula full of romance and suspense. The Return of the Sorceress, a fantasy novel about a broken-hearted sorceress on a path to revenge and power. Prime Meridian is a futuristic tale about a girl working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to rich old folks who use it for rejuvenation. The Beautiful Ones is a telekintetic, fairytale, gothic Bridgerton-esque tale of high society, mysticism, and as always, love. Untamed Shore, published in 2020 is a crime noir featuring a bonnie and clyde inspired couple, murder, and romance. Then there are the 70+ short stories I couldn’t even begin to recite. I implore you to pick up a Moreno-Garcia novel, you will not be disappointed and further, you will not know what to expect.