An Interview With Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia bought one of my short stories for the Fungi anthology she edited with Orrin Grey, and so it was an absolute pleasure to meet her at Keycon 30. I’m very excited about her latest project, Young Blood, a YA vampire novel set in Mexico. She’s currently crowdfunding the book on Indiegogo. I hope you’ll consider donating, there’s still ten days left to make this book happen and I really want to read it.

CG: Young Blood started out as a short story. Why did you decide to expand it into a novel?

SMG: I worked on two previous novels that didn’t pan out and I wanted to try something different, something that was short and had more clear-cut fantastic elements. I decided “A Puddle of Blood” could be extended and work as a YA, and it had been well received, so it seemed like a natural fit and I didn’t think there was anything like it around, so it might have some potential to attract readers.

CG: What appeals to you most about vampires as a monster in general, and your vampires in particular?

SMG: I think vampires are creepy fuckers. Nowadays they are popular romantic heroes, but if you look at legends and folklore, they are scary things. Emblems of the plague. You watch Nosferatu, the black and white version or the colour remake, and even though the vampire seems to desire the leading lady, it is NOT the kind of relationship you’d like to be in. It is deadly. Nosferatu is a horrid-looking thing. Those vampires appeal to me more than the romantic ones.

Even with the romantic ones, there are details that are ignored which I find disturbing. Why would a 100 year-old creature want to spend his life in high school, meeting teenagers? There’s a disturbing thing there. Predator double time.

As for my vampires, Atl is inspired by Caribbean and Latin American folklore. I like having a vampire that is a bit different and isn’t romantic. Some of the other vampires in the book take after European vampires, but they are not romantic, either. It was fun having these creatures going around Mexico City and fighting each other.

CG: Why do you feel it’s important to set fiction outside of the big US cities where we commonly see it?

SMG: I just think it’s odd that everything happens in the US. Every single time an alien ship it lands it’s in New York or Washington. Let’s shuffle it around, no? Also, the reactions of the people in a different cultural setting can be very interesting. If you have aliens walking through the slums of Mexico, I think you’d get a very different reaction. I imagine that if they tried to make it into Tepito, a famous low-class, tough neighborhoud (since the time of the Aztecs), they’d come out dead. There are many untapped possibilities when you go for someone who is not the usual protagonist or you transport the action to a setting you normally don’t see.

That’s why Domingo collects garbage. I wanted to have a protagonist who was not upper class or white or emo. Someone who isn’t heroic in the oh-you-are-the-chosen-one kind of way, but still has street smarts and is brave in his own way. And I wanted to put him against Atl, who is older, more sophisticated, more sure of herself, so that we don’t have the older suave male and the younger naive woman.

CG: I’ve only read the sample chapters so far, but I love your portrayal of Mexico City. How did you capture its flavour?

SMG: Thanks. Mexico City is an awesome city. It’s huge. You can find anything in the world there. It’s also ugly as hell. It’s also beautiful. You can walk into 18th century houses and brand new highrises. It’s a labyrinth. It’s a great monster. I love and hate it. I hope some of those feelings come through in the text: what it’s like taking the subway, walking through some of the streets and the like.

CG: What was the most interesting piece of research you found while working on Young Blood?

SMG: I read a lot about the current crime troubles in Mexico, the narco stuff. It’s quite disturbing. If you think fiction is bad, try browsing through some newspaper articles. In a way, writing about these kind of crimes is a bit cathartic because it’s just so freaking scary knowing what’s going on in the place where I was born. I can process the horrors better this way, if it makes any sense.

Anyway, the most interesting factoid is how the narco system began. It started in the 1940s. Farmers in Sinaloa started growing opium poppies. The government of the United States needed an alternate supply of morphine during World War II. They couldn’t get it from Asia due to the war. So they encouraged farmers to grow it for them. They planted the seeds of the cartels. Though the United States loves to talk about the War on Drugs, they got us started on this path.

CG: Do you have any further plans for Atl, Domingo, and Rodrigo if Young Blood gets funded?

SMG: I don’t like doing multi-series books, so this will be the end of them. Unless someone wants a graphic novel. Then GMB Chomichuk can draw it.

CG: I’d definitely buy that! Thanks, Silvia, and good luck with Young Blood!

You can read Chapter 1, 2, and 3 on Silvia’s website. Here’s the trailer for Young Blood:

Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia lives in beautiful British Columbia with her family and two cats. She writes speculative fiction (from magic realism to horror). Her short stories have appeared in places such as Fantasy Magazine, The Book of Cthulhu, Imaginarium 2012The Best Canadian Speculative Writing and Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction. Her first collection, This Strange Way of Dying, is out in 2013.

Silvia is the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press, a Canadian micro-publishing venture specializing in horror and dark speculative fiction. The Innsmouth Free Press website features daily non-fiction and tri-annual fiction issues. Innsmouth Free Press publishes several  high-quality anthologies and novels during the year.

She has co-edited the anthologies Historical LovecraftFuture LovecraftCandle in the Attic Windowand Fungi. The upcoming Dead North will be the first anthology she edited solo.

In 2011, Silvia won the Carter V. Cooper Memorial Prize (in the Emerging Writer category), sponsored by Gloria Vanderbilt and Exile Quarterly. She was also a finalist for the Manchester Fiction Prize.

To contact Silvia e-mail her at silvia AT silviamoreno-garcia DOT com. You can also find her on Twitterand Google+.

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Strange Bedfellows

Regular readers here know I’m quite fond of Kickstarter and Indiegogo as a means for creative types to get their projects off the ground.

The current Indiegogo campaign I’m really excited about is for Strange Bedfellows. Author, editor (and now publisher at Bundoran Press) Hayden Trenholm is very close to getting his second anthology of political science fiction tales funded. I’ve chipped in to make this project happen because while I want to sell a story to Hayden, I also really want to read this anthology.

Strange Bedfellows — as in ‘politics makes strange bedfellows’ — will seek short fiction from the best writers in the field: writers who are passionate about the importance of ideology and political action as a source of solutions as well as problems.

As a long-time political analyst and advisor and an award winning SF writer and editor, Hayden Trenholm is perfectly placed to edit this 80,000-word anthology.

Hayden is also a familiar face at KeyCon, Winnipeg’s science fiction and fantasy convention and is planning on attending this year, so if you’re a science fiction writer in Winnipeg, this is the perfect chance to talk to an editor before you write your story and submit.

Below is an interview I did with Hayden about his writing and his then latest novel, Steel Whispers.

CG: Why Calgary? What made that city the perfect home for Frank Steele and the SDU?

HT: I lived in Calgary for over ten years so I knew it pretty well physically. A number of the locales — such as the Garry Theatre and Kaos Jazz bar were places I actually worked in when I was living as an artist. That made writing about it quite easy in the write what you know sense. But Calgary also has this wild west quality — as much imagined as real — and an admiration for corporations and right wing politics that made it perfect as a place that would somehow survive and even, for some at least, thrive in a world gone to hell. They say Calgary has more churches per capita than any city in Canada, but it also has more liquor stores and porn shops. Projecting that sense of anarchy and entitled class inequality — combined with the really fundamental goodness of many of the people who live there — into the future seemed natural.

CG: You make use of the first person point of view for the character of Frank Steele, the quintessential hard-boiled detective, but the remainder of your characters are presented in the third person. Why did you decide to alternate back and forth in this manner?

HT: There were several reasons to do this. First, Frank to work as a noir character had to be in the first person but the story I was writing was bigger than he could encompass by himself. Second, thematically Defining Diana was about the self, Steel Whispers about the family so using multiple points of view allowed me to explore how slippery both those concepts are. A first person narrator is always assumed to be reliable — and Frank is reliable as far as that goes. But he is also biased and sees the world through a very particular lens. By contrasting his views and values with those of other characters I got to show that all narrative — especially our narrative about our selves and our families — is essentially suspect. Third, people kept telling me it couldn’t be done. i can be a little stubborn that way.

CG: The Singularity, the analogy between the breakdown of modern physics near a gravitational singularity and the drastic change in society thought would occur following an intelligence explosion has been a trope of recent science fiction since it was popularized by Vernor Vinge in 1993. You name one of your corporations — a company that has seemingly done the impossible– for it in Steel Whispers. Do you worry that technology will advance beyond our ability to understand it? Is it something you considered in building your world of 2044?

HT: There are huge pieces of technology that most people don’t understand NOW and yet most people muddle along quite well. Take an MRI or any number of other scanning devices. We happily slide into them and let the technicians take their pictures but have no idea what the images actually show. Even the technicians aren’t always sure. Consider for a moment a peasant in rural Nepal or central Africa who has never used a telephone let alone a computer. Hasn’t the Singularity already happened for them? Or how about the 15% of Americans who don’t know that telephones run on electricity? I generally take the view that we, as individuals, learn exactly as much technology as we need to fulfill our desires. My 84-year old mother-in-law uses e-mail and Excel and is on Facebook because it keeps her from being isolated. My boss refuses to learn how to retrieve his cell phone messages because he sees his cell as being for his convenience not that of those who want to call him. Oddly enough, despite the dystopic nature of my novels, I’m generally an optimist — up to a point. The future will be better than the past but the benefits of that future may not benefit everyone equally — unless we make it so.

CG: You name drop Robert J. Sawyer — even having Frank Steele reading one of his novels. Sawyer is known in fandom circles not only for his passion for good science fiction but also for his mentorship of other writers. What has Rob meant to your career?

HT: First and foremost, Rob is a great friend. It’s true that he has been very supportive of me and a lot of other writers but he’s also been a friend to many of us in the truest sense of the word — someone whose company you value for its own sake rather than for the help it might be to you. But Rob deserves all the credit and accolades he gets — both for his work and for his mentoring and supporting other writers. And I will say I’ve learned almost everything I know about being a ‘professional writer’ in all senses of the term.

CG: You are a winner of Anvil Press’ 3-Day novel contest. What kind of madness does it take to attempt this, let alone to win?

HT: That was the first long piece of fiction I ever wrote so maybe it requires an absolute lack of knowledge about how impossible a task it is. I wrote A Circle of Birds in 1992, just after i moved to Calgary to become a writer. I had a couple of plays under my belt and a few short stories — none of them really good. I decided to try the contest as a way of kick starting my learning process. I was running a lot those days and actually composed the story during long runs along the Bow River. Big chunks of the story are sort of magic realist interpretations of episodes in my own and my father’s life — plus a big dollop of sex and violence that came out of wherever those things come. So, when I sat down to write it — with nothing more than a two page outline in front of me — the first 10000 words came pretty easy. After that I kept writing until I was finished the chapters I had outlined. I guess it worked.

CG: Do you have a favourite fictional detective?

HT: Lots. I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan (I have a Holmes story in the new Gaslight Grotesque collection coming out from EDGE this fall) but I’m also fond of Poirot and Nick Charles from The Thin Man — though I’m not sure if I like the light hearted film version or the darker literary version better. And lets not forget Phillip Marlowe and Joe Leaphorn.

CG: If you could have any piece of tech from one of your novels, what would it be?

HT: One of the cars owned by the Singh Wannamaker Detective Agency.

CG: You won the Aurora for your short story “Like Water in the Desert“, and Defining Diana was shortlisted for the award as well. How important is it in your mind to celebrate Canadian science fiction and fantasy? What do you think would mean more to you, the Aurora, chosen largely by fans, or the Sunburst, which is a juried prize chosen by your peers?

HT: Can’t I have both? Juried awards have more prestige but it still comes down to the opinion of the people on the jury — a voting block of five. Fans have a special place in SF and F — unlike any other genre — so I think getting an award from them does mean a bit more to me. But I’d still like both.

CG: You have one more novel planned in The Steele Chronicles, after that, what’s next?

HT: As I answer these questions I’m about 15000 words in Stealing Home, so it is hard to think about the next thing. However, I just finished the first draft of a young adult SF novel so I’ll probably go back to that once Stealing Home is done. Then I have this big environmental collapse and recovery book I’ve been making notes on — something set about two hundred years in the future.