An interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia by Derek Newman-Stille
I am really excited to have been able to interview Silvia Moreno-Garcia. She espouses a lot of the themes that I talk about in my own work around the ability for SF to include those who are traditionally pushed to the fringes, so I was really pleased that she was willing to share some insights here on Speculating Canada.
Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I am a writer, editor and publisher. My work appears in a number of anthologies and magazines, including Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. The latest anthology I edited is Fungi, with Orrin Grey. I own Innsmouth Free Press, a micro-press that specializes in Weird fiction and horror. I was born and raised in Mexico. I moved to Canada almost ten years ago.
Spec Can: What drew you to write about monsters? What can the figure of monstrosity add to literature?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Do I write about monsters? See, to me when I think monster I picture Godzilla. Vampires, zombies…they seem so normal nowadays you’d expect them to live next door and drive a mini-van.
But the monstrous…I don’t mind the monstrous. When I’m writing about a vampire I actually don’t give a fig about the stuff most people might care about, like sexy dark looks and such. I’m probably more interested in things like the ease for cruelty or the passage of time. That’s what seems monstrous to me: how a vampire can use people like tissue paper, for example. My great-grandmother, when I was growing up, would tell me stories and in those stories witches and shape-shifters were as normal as the baker and the corner policeman. The monstrous and the mundane co-existed. I grew up with that vision of the world so to me, I’m probably more scared of the Mexican police than a vampire.
Spec Can: Your work shows an interest in oppressed peoples (particularly since you are an author who has published several stories in Expanded Horizons: Speculative Fiction for the Rest of Us). What has inspired this interest?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: As a woman, a person of colour and an immigrant, I’ve found myself at the lower end of the totem pole in both my country of birth and in Canada. It’s a totally different game when you’ve got the worst cards in the deck. Obviously, due to my background, I gravitate towards fellow POCs as characters, women, etc.
One thing that has always bugged me, for example, is why do aliens always land in the USA? Why don’t people with menial jobs get featured in fantasy stories? Does the kid cleaning the kitchen pots not have an interesting tale to tell? That’s why I tell these stories. It’s the questions I’ve asked myself.
Spec Can: Although SF is often called ‘the literature of change’ it does not represent people from minority groups (whether ethnic, racial, sexual, or gender minority peoples, or people with disabilities) very often. What could SF be doing to better represent human diversity?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Foster it. That means ask for diverse stories, buy diverse stories, promote diverse authors. Don’t nominate the same old names on the same old ballots. Share books and stories that are different and exciting, and explain why they are different and exciting. Demand more than clichés in its narratives and move beyond ‘exotic’ characters to add a dash of spice.
It’s a bit of a circle. If you don’t promote and look for minority point of views, they are not going to come to you. When I started reading Western speculative fiction I could never find people like me. For that reason, I thought I had to write stories the way white Western people did. Set them in New York, have a white hero, due the whole Campbell plot, etc. I didn’t think anything else was possible, that anything else would be transgressive, because I could not find examples of other stories. When I finally decided to move from that self-confined pen is when I began to really write about the stuff that mattered to me. The point is: if young readers don’t see spaces for them in fiction, they are not going to become writers and they are not going to tell their stories. They’ll go to another space where they feel welcome. We have to make them feel welcome.
I attended the VCon festival a couple of years ago and it was in Richmond. It was a huge disconnect because Richmond has a huge Asian population. So I’d be in the convention space where everyone was white – I think I was the only person of colour walking around – and outside, in the streets, there were so many Asian people. I kept thinking: we have to tap into this market! It can’t be that we have this little bubble and all these other people are outside. And that’s what the spec community needs to do.
I’m not saying it’s easy. But, for example, for the Sword and Mythos anthology I’m publishing this year I gave the artist a brief that asked him to paint a female fighter against a monster. Oh, and the woman should be wearing suitable armour and not be white. Why? Why not? Why should the default be white? So I got back a cover with a Japanese-inspired warrior and I think it works nicely because it looks different from other sword and sorcery covers.
We can do stuff like this. We can star or review good fiction from minority groups to help promote, so it doesn’t get lost in the din. We can ask for more diverse programming and guests and cons. We can pause for a moment and ask: what happens if I make the hero gay? Get out of our default zone. There are many, many voices that have amazing stories to tell and we haven’t even begun to mine them.
Spec Can: What can Speculative Fiction do that “realist” fiction can’t?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I’m actually a big lover of realist fiction. Two of my favourite novels are Lolita and Madame Bovary – for short fiction I actually prefer speculative fiction, mind you. Some of my stuff could appear – and has appeared – in realist, so-called literary publications. I’m just…I like not having to worry about certain things when I’m writing. Like if someone suddenly dies and comes back as a ghost, sure, why is that not fair game? Speculative fiction allows you to do that. But then again, I don’t draw many distinctions between literary/realist fiction and speculative when it comes to my writing. I think a lot of what I do is fairly realist.
Spec Can: What is unique or distinct about Canadian Speculative Fiction, and, in particular, Canadian Weird Fiction or Horror?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I think it’s a bit more fluid than say American speculative fiction. The boundaries between literary and speculative seem hazier. The speculative scene here is a lot smaller. I think you eventually meet everyone, and I mean everyone. Maybe not personally, but you know a lot more people.
Also, Canada seems a lot more concerned with establishing its identity and discovering itself. It’s like Americans kind of know who they are, they are pretty sure about it, but we are constantly asking the same question over and over again. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a tick.
Spec Can: The image of “home” and ideas of home and belonging feature strongly in your work (particularly in short stories like A Handful of Earth). What have influenced these ideas and why is home such a prevalent concept in your work?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Guilt. I left Mexico and moved to Canada. I love Canada, but there’s always a bit of guilt for abandoning my family, my old city.
The last time I went to Mexico I saw how much the old street where I grew up as a teenager had changed and I realized in a couple of decades I might not be able to recognize it. What happens when the things I grew up with are completely gone and erased? All the landmarks, all the bits of my childhood. Who will put flowers at the altars of my dead relatives? Who am I, then?
At the same time, when people were asking me if I’d ever go back to Mexico, I had to say no. Canada is now home. I miss it when I am away. And yet when I walk down the street sometimes someone will be friendly and we’ll chat, and they’ll ask ‘where are you from, where’s home from you?’ and I’ll think about Mexico.
But I can’t go back. That Mexico is gone. But it lives in my memory. It’s a weird thing. It’s like a ghost. It’s the ghost of a past life.
Spec Can: What ideas of feminism influence your work?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: The whole thing? There’s nothing like reading a help wanted ad in the newspaper that says “Secretary wanted. 20-35 years of age. Good looking” to get you on a feminist path. That’s what I grew up with. I couldn’t stand the macho culture around me. It was so stifling.
I remember going to work when I was living in Mexico City. And I’d always wear this long, black, leather trench coat. It was the only way to stop men from whistling at me or trying to touch me in the subway. It didn’t matter if I wore a long skirt or a short skirt or trousers, nothing helped. Except the trench coat. That covered me completely and it made me look like I might be with a gang or something, so they left me alone. Imagine that. Having to make sure you look scary and non-female enough to board the subway every day. I wrote “Nahuales” which is coming out in Bull Spec based on that.
It was so odd when I went abroad and I was living in Massachusetts to suddenly learn all these feminist ideas. Like your body is your own. Eureka! It’s like a light bulb went inside my head. Suddenly I understood everything that had been making me uncomfortable all those years. Feminism. It was awesome.
Spec Can: What are some of the questions that you hope your work will evoke in the minds of readers?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I don’t know. Each story is different. I hope it’ll evoke a feeling more than a question. I remember an e-mail I got once from an editor rejecting one of my stories saying he couldn’t buy it because, although it had made him cry, he didn’t understand it.
I don’t want people to understand my stuff. I mean, they can if they want. But I’d like if they could feel it. When I was growing up and me great-grandmother told me stories I didn’t ask ‘why.’ Why did the witch turn into a ball of fire? Why is there a lion loose in the sierra? I accepted it all. But it did evoke feelings and it painted pictures in my mind.
Spec Can: How do ideas of the mythic influence your work?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I’m not sure they do. Legends influence my work. Folklore influences my work. That’s what I was exposed to growing up. But the mythic seems to vast and grand for what were much smaller discussions.
Spec Can: What is the importance of mythic narratives for the modern world?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Yeah, I wouldn’t know. Legends, I know. Oral tradition is a pretty big deal to me. One of the things I’m trying to do with my son is tell him all the stories I was told as a child, so that he’ll tell them to someone else. It’s the only way our ancestors will be remembered and our stories will live on.
Spec Can: H.P. Lovecraft and Lovecraftian ideas appear to have influenced a lot of your work. What is the appeal of Lovecraft for you and why is he such a big influence on your own writing? How does he speak to you as a writer?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Lovecraft is a huge influence for the field of horror, so eventually you bump into the guy one way or another. I like his sense of dread and madness. I also enjoy how the past tends to came back to haunt his characters. Like an ancestor will influence current events.
I think I have a subversive relationship with his writing. For example, when reading “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” I felt like the fish people were me. He’s talking about scary minority people in his stories and those are me. I am the outsider he fears. But because I’m the outsider, it’s not scary. I think “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” is a happy story. Guy finds true heritage and reunites with family. Doesn’t that feel like a happy ending? Sure, a bit creepy ‘cause fish people and all, but I was always identifying with the bad “other” guys.
It’s like Lovecraft didn’t invite me to the party but I crashed it anyway.
Spec Can: Memory and nostalgia feature strongly in your work. What has inspired your interest in memory?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: My great-grandmothers stories, her oral narratives, had a big impact on me. If she hadn’t told me stories, I wouldn’t write today. I write because of her. She told me stories of her childhood, folktales, she sometimes narrated movies she’d seen. The funny thing is when I actually saw the movies — like I sat down and saw Dracula — it was slightly different from what she’d told me. It had morphed in her mind. Memory is really unreliable and yet it is the foundation of our lives.
There is a movie I saw as a child, an anime flick about a girl who gets some kind of artificial body. I’ve never been able to find it. I’m not sure it exists. Maybe I imagined it or clobbered it together from other stuff. Isn’t that funky? I may be recalling something that never happened.
Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to our interview? Any other comments you would like to add?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Um…let’s see. You can find me blogging at silviamoreno-garcia.com. I’m also at innsmouthfreepress.com with some irregular reviews and such. Oh, and my first collection, Shedding Her Own Skin, is out later this year.
I want to thank Silvia Moreno-Garcia for her incredible insights and for sharing so much of herself in this interview. She really shows the power of SF for social justice.
I was really fascinated to see how much the mythic and the power of stories, folklore, legends, and tales have influenced her development as a writer. She really illustrates that the mythic is alive and well in our world.