Silvia Moreno-Garcia on successfully trusting her instincts
Someone once told me that if I wanted to make it as a writer, I needed a shorter name. Silvia Moreno-Garcia doesn’t roll off her tongue. You can’t just spell it. Baristas don’t get my first name right and it’s only six letters. Do you classify me under the letter M or under G?
This unruliness of identity is also reflected in my work, with each of my works occupying a different niche. I’ve written a swords and magic noir, but also a dark coming-of-age noir set in northern Mexico. I’m best known for a horror book. Do you put me under fantasy or under history or under crime?
As you can see, I’m giving people headaches.
I’m often asked why I write across genres. To be honest I get bored easily and switching categories helps me focus again. On a deeper level, I like the challenge of having to transform myself into a different kind of writer.
There’s also the fact that some of the writers I most admired showed nimbleness and fluidity. Walter Tevis wrote the chess drama The Queen’s Gambit, but also the sci-fi novels The Man Who Fell to Earth and The Hustler about a billiards player hoping to break into the big leagues. Ranging from family drama to horror, Joyce Carol Oates’ amazing output also captured my imagination. Growing up, I was delighted when I found a writer who seemed to defy classification, be it British novelist Tanith Lee or Mexican novelist Sergio Galindo.
You can also attribute this desire to straddle categories to two things at once. I spent my early childhood in the Mexico-US border zone in Baja California. My parents filled our home with eclectic books. They were in many ways hoarders, avid readers who didn’t care what shelf something was on. I learned to read in Spanish and English because they had books in both languages, and I was just as likely to stumble upon award-winning Mexican writers, French poets, or pulp American novels from the early 20th century corner of our untidy house.
Anyway, I’ve grown into someone who wants to be many things, maybe everything at once.
When I first started out as a writer, such ideas seemed foolhardy. I was told that it would be best to write a series and stick to one genre. In speculative fiction, almost every deal I’ve heard of involved some sort of trilogy. Agents and editors just weren’t interested in a single novel. My breathless explanations of how I wanted to write fantasy, but also horror, noir, drama and maybe even a western, were met with astonishment.
At the same time, I felt like I could do whatever the hell I wanted. After all, I received rejections that my books were not for sale because they were set in Mexico, and even that my name was too long to print on the spine of a book. On the other hand, the act of crossing categories seemed to me a small sin.
When I finally had a hit with “Mexican Gothic” you might have thought I would change my tune and write a sequel to this novel. Calm down, so to speak. But I had been working on a noir set against the backdrop of Mexico’s Dirty War and couldn’t let it go. It wasn’t exactly what the publishing people would have thought was a commercial idea, but I pushed it.
“Velvet Was the Night” was well-received by critics, garnered several award nominations, and even made President Obama’s recommended reading list this summer. I probably alienated a whole crowd of fans with this release. Readers who only knew me from Mexican Gothic seemed surprised as they were expecting a horror book. Instead, I gave them politics, death squads, a chubby secretary petting her neighbor’s cat, and a hired jerk with a penchant for rock music, all caught in the tumultuous summer of 1971.
My most recent novel, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, set in the 19th century Yucatán and loosely inspired by HG Wells, can be described as a historical drama with a touch of science fiction. Once again, it deviates sharply from the horror of “Mexican Gothic”.
Should I have written something else then? A sequel to Mexican Gothic or even a prequel? That would have been the logical choice, it would have increased the chances of success. I probably would have hated the result.
There’s a lot of bumps in the road when you’re trying to transition as often as I have. Take your time, my friend found my manners fantasy The Beauties in the horror section of a bookstore. It’s a romance with a touch of magic, more akin to an old Merchant Ivory costume drama than Stephen King’s Carrie. I feel sorry for whoever took it home thinking about blood and guts. And then there was the disgruntled reader who contacted me to demand a refund because my vampire-and-narcos novel, Certain Dark Things, wasn’t a romance, it was a dark urban fantasy.
What has become clear to me over time is that I develop a work the way a painter would develop an oeuvre. It’s like trying different materials, brushstrokes and colors. While my books are difficult to market, and while I may confuse some readers, there are readers who enjoy the element of surprise and are never quite sure what they might be getting.
I am determined to continue my genre shift. After all, I could have changed my name when I started. I could have become Sylvia Brown and based my work in New York City and wrote a trilogy. But I didn’t. I decided to molt and evolve into myself, not become a stranger. So hello, I’m Silvia Moreno-Garcia and I write books. What kind of books? That’s a good question.
Book Club: When you go
What: The LA Times Book Club reads Silvia Moreno-Garcias novel The Daughter of Doctor Moreau in September and she will be in talks with the editor of The Times Steve Padilla.
When: 6 p.m. PT on 27 Sep
Where: This virtual event will be live streamed on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Get tickets and autographed books on Eventbrite.
The information: Sign up for the book club newsletter to get the latest news and events. latimes.com/bookclub
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2022-09-19/silvia-moreno-garcia-genres-daughter-of-doctor-moreau Silvia Moreno-Garcia on successfully trusting her instincts