Journey to Forbidden Planet: Writing Speculative Fiction Set in Mexico
It’s a busy summer for me. I’m fundraising for my first novel, about narco vampires in Mexico City, Young Blood [http://igg.me/at/youngblood/x/166963]. Canadian lit publisher Exiled Editions is also releasing my first collection, This Strange Way of Dying. If there’s something that ties both projects together, other than the speculative elements, it’s the emphasis on Mexican culture. But I didn’t always write about Mexico. In fact, not so many years ago I was afraid to write anything related to my country.
As a teenager, I wrote Mac Europe fantasy worlds, science fiction stories set in the United States and horror tales in New England even though, at that point, I had never set foot in New England. I did it because I didn’t think we were allowed to write about Mexico. Everywhere I looked, in the movies and the television and in the bookstore, it was foreign worlds which attracted attention. Aliens never landed in Tijuana. They went to Washington or New York, or at worst, London.
There was magic realism and that had elements of my culture, but that lived on another shelf: Mexican Literature. On the Fantasy and Science Fiction shelves it was Tolkien and the Dune books. And though there was Mexican science fiction, it was a small market. Not an insignificant one, but it was always dwarfed by the gigantic spectacles put forth by Star Wars and Star Trek and the like. And foreign stuff was cooler! Because the colonial legacy of my country means we are always looking at foreign stuff as being better by default.
I grew up in Mexico. I also grew up in a culture alien to me. I recited catch phrases (I’ll be back! or i I find your lack of faith disturbing) in a language I didn’t speak. Imagine if you were able to spout French or Mandarin catch phrases easily not because you knew what they mean, but because it was everywhere on the TV, the radio, the subway.
There’s an imbalance of cultural power which created this situation, but I won’t delve into that too much. Best to say I grew up in a bizarre state of paralysis, both interested in speculative fiction and terrified that I had no place in it. People say to write what you know, but what if what you know is not good enough? If I wrote about Mexico, was it even science fiction? Would people read it? Would editors buy it?
I believe that every good story has a kernel of truth in it. But because I felt I couldn’t write about my experiences, my memories and culture, I wrote shitty stories that were all lies.
One day I stopped and started writing stories that used elements from Mexican folklore. I wrote stories set in Mexico. I wrote stories about my great-grandmother and my aunt and other people I knew. My stories got better. I was happy.
Still, it wasn’t all easy. There was an editor who rejected a story because it had too many foreign words (I actually try to use very few Spanish words, but a tamal is a tamal). I had lots of people rejected my stories because they were not stories or they were not speculative. For example, “Maquech,” which is about a near-future Mexico City and ecology, was deemed not science fiction before being published in Futurismic. I wrote “Jaguar Woman” and someone said it was “pseudo-central american spiritualist woo.” I cried because one time someone said I probably had only been published because I was brown and people were trying to be politically correct. Someone tried to correct my Spanish, even though it is my first language. The names of my characters sounded funny, even though nobody ever complained about Daenerys Targaryen being impossible to spell.
However, it eventually became clear that I was doing what I should be doing, that this was the real me, these were the stories I wanted to tell, and whether that would make it harder or easier for me to sell them was a moot point.
Writing is a compulsive act. Writing about Mexico is also compulsive. The tales my great-grandmother told me as a child, the smells of our kitchen, my relatives, all that filters into my writing. When I tried not to write about this, it was like trying to type with one arm tied behind my back. I was incomplete and my writing was therefore shallow and half-formed.
I’ve now lived for many years in Canada. I sometimes write stories inspired by Vancouver, where I reside. But Mexico is a part of me. I can’t cut off one of my hands. I need both of them to write.
Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia’s stories have appeared in places such as The Book of Cthulhu and Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. Her first collection, This Strange Way of Dying, is this summer. She’s raising funds for her first novel, Young Blood [http://igg.me/at/youngblood/x/166963]. Find her at http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/