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If you’ve been following me online, you know I’ve been raving about my new favorite horror novel, Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. As a reader, it’s clear there’s something special about the setting and plot, and after interviewing Silvia for the blog, I began to realize just how much research it took to create this incredible book. I hope you enjoy the interview, and if you haven’t picked up Mexican Gothic yet, you should go add it to your TBR right now!
What inspired you to write Mexican Gothic?
Silvia: A whole host of things. Gothic novels, the horror films of Carlos Enrique Taboada, the aesthetic of Hammer films, giallos, Mexico’s mining history and postcolonial history. Even a bad dream.
Noemí is easily one of my favorite characters. I love her confidence and her charm, but there’s so much more to her. How did you develop your main character? What did you most want readers to take away from Noemí?
Silvia: I think we have different standards for men and women. A male hero can be ugly, have a temper and literally keep his wife locked in the attic (yes, Rochester is not described as handsome in the book and he is twice the heroine’s age) and he’s still quite a catch. But if a woman is anything but perfectly nice she’s suddenly not ‘likeable.’ Which I think is a bunch of crap.
Female characters should come in all shapes and forms. Noemí is cocky, she’s ambitious, she knows her worth. If she were a male character, all those would be great pros. Because she’s a woman, all those can be bad points. Who does she think she is, thinking she’s pretty? Who does she think she is trying to charm her way to an answer?
Yet Noemí understands the stakes. She knows that as a woman in 1950 she is playing a social game. Women don’t have the right to vote in Mexico at that point. She lives in a society that is definitely machista. She’s in a tight spot and she’s doing the best she can.
Can you talk a little about the significance of ghosts, specifically the mining ghost towns in Mexico that shaped your novel?
Silvia: The town in the novel is based on a real town located in the mountains of Hidalgo. It was mined by the British and has a British cemetery. It’s rather chilly up there and misty and it rains buckets certain times of the year (you can see the mist clearly in this photo, and there’s more info about the British cemetery here).
Yuri Herrera, by sheer coincidence, released a non-fiction book about the same region where my novel is set the same month my book came out. He details a mining accident that happened there, at El Bordo. The book is called A Silent Fury. What happens often, like in the case of the Bordo Mine accident where more than 80 Mexican mine workers were tossed into an unmarked grave, is not that no one knows about this history, but it’s not the stuff that people talk about openly.
Your family might mention it but there’s a certain elusiveness to it. And there are scars that are left on the land when stuff like this happens. Here in British Columbia, where I live, there was a huge copper mining operation over at Britannia. The mine polluted the water and there have been many cleanup efforts for many years.
But that doesn’t help all the Indigenous people who must have been severely affected by the pollution running down Howe Sound and the Squamish River. The sins of our present will haunt our future.
You created an incredible playlist to transport readers into the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place: the creepy, decaying mansion that is almost a character in itself. What was it like to create such a place? What inspired you?
Silvia: One of the elements of Gothic novels is The Bad Place. Sometimes the bad place is a house, but it could be a castle, etc. I wanted to have a great Bad Place and one that reflected the personality of its inhabitants. I like looking at real life, old mansions and houses. In my travel and where I live I had access to a number of them.
One of the great things about Victorian houses is the wallpaper. There is a book that has the most amazing title: Shadows from the Walls of Death: Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wall Papers. And no, I couldn’t read that because it’s an extremely rare and deadly book. But I read Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home. And all that makes it, in some way, into the book.
I have to admit I’m not as familiar with mid-century Gothics. What was the research process like? What would you say makes a Gothic horror book great?
Silvia: I’ve been marinating in books for so long that I can’t say it was a chore. Gothic novels are weird books because they straddle genres. They have an element of psychological suspense and even horror, while they can also dangle romance. Gothics are actually divided as “male Gothics” and “female Gothics” by scholars to differentiate them depending essentially on whether they are more horrific/supernatural or more romantic/non-supernatural.
This is why Wuthering Heights and The Monk are both considered Gothics, even if they feel very different. Mid 20th century Gothics tended to be more romantic, so you’d have, at the end, a woman who got together with a brooding Byronic hero and solved a mystery. That’s the formula for Victoria Holt.
Gothic books, they are not quite one thing or quite another, and yet they come with easily identifiable tropes (the dangerous and seductive man is one of them). They are therefore an interesting puzzle to toy with. As a whole they are, in a way, the parents of modern domestic suspense, romance and horror.
One thing in most of them is that the pacing is quite slow. If you’ve ever read The Turn of the Screw you know the ‘ghosts,’ if there are ghosts, don’t show up until we are all well into the narrative. Incidentally, Joyce Carol Oates did a short story that is a retelling of The Turn of the Screw from the point of view of the ghosts, it’s called “The Accursed Inhabitants of House Bly.”
And, of course, one of the things that is also quite common in Gothics is ambiguity. Going back to Turn of the Screw the governess might simply be mad. Same case in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” And Gaslight, which was a play before it was adapted into a movie, uses this as a main plot point. The heroine is being literally driven to madness by her husband.
Many Gothics flirt with the supernatural, and you did this so well in Mexican Gothic! How did you decide to include this element of the supernatural?
Silvia: I have a file folder that is called “ideas” and there’s all kinds of random stuff in there. I originally was writing a different horror novel but it wasn’t working out and in the file folder I had an idea that I hadn’t used. It was a nightmare I’d had years before and I hadn’t employed yet because it was too disgusting. Well, I pulled that note out. That original scene doesn’t make it into the final novel but it had the elements that went into a number of other scenes. The hardest part was this was a single point of view novel. I default to wanting to write multiple points of view but if you thumb through Gothic novels what you have most often is single points of view. So there I went.
Are you working on anything now? If so, can you tell us anything about it?
Silvia: As we speak my agent is trying to sell a noir of mine titled A Dangerous Eagerness which is set in Mexico in the summer of 1971, when political turmoil due to government repression against students exploded into violence.
Thank you so much, Silvia, for taking the time to answer these questions!