Magic 8 Q&A

Why Silvia Moreno-Garcia likes to write genre-bending novels

The author of The Beautiful Ones answers eight questions submitted by eight other writers.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of the novel The Beautiful Ones. (Martin Dee)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Canadian author, who was born and raised in Mexico. Her debut novel, Signal to Noise, won the 2016 Copper Cylinder Award, which recognizes works of speculative fiction. Her latest is The Beautiful Ones, which is set in a world inspired by the Belle Époque period, follows a young woman with telekinetic powers, as she mingles with high society.

Below, Moreno-Garcia takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.

1. Andrea MacPherson asks, "Are there recurring themes you see in your writing?"

I counted my short stories that feature water in them (rain, ocean, cenote, etc.) and there's a lot of them, like 75 per cent of all my stories. My three novels have elements of the fantastic, whether subtle or more explicit. But I flop around a lot, trying different genres and styles. My first novel could be termed magic realism, the second is a noir about Mexican vampires, the third is a novel of manners and my fourth novel, which we just sold, is a quest. I have a novella that is near-future science fiction about a Mexican woman who wants to go to Mars. Growing up in Mexico, we didn't have a dividing line between the fantastical and the literary, like you do in Canada, so it bled through. Therefore, my writing bleeds through categories and I enjoy the challenge of changing constantly, like molting out of a book. I can't see myself doing a long series of books, not even a trilogy. The book I'm working on right now is a crime novel with no fantastic elements, set in a shark fishing village in Mexico in the 1970s. I want to try and write three crime books set in Mexico in different time periods, but not connected to each other, so that's the closest I might get to a trilogy.  

2. Eliza Robertson asks, "What music do you associate with your work?"

Because my books change a lot, nothing in particular. Signal to Noise is about a group of teens in 1980s Mexico who cast spells using vinyl records, and then reunite as adults 20 years later. For that I created a playlist, which you can find online. But everything else, who knows?  

3. Jonathan Auxier asks, "What's the strangest or most obscure word you've ever worked into a book?"

English is my second language, so many words are strange. Sometimes it's not the meaning, but the pronunciation or the spelling which baffles me. I can't spell Wednesday without thinking about it for a minute. And when I use Spanish or Nahuatl words, English speakers think that is "strange," even if it's not an odd word at all. I also think it's odd in English that you don't gender everything like we do in Spanish. The table is female, so is the window, etc. 

4. Cathy Marie Buchanan asks, "Do you know how your story will end when you begin writing?" 

Often, yes. Vaguely sometimes, and sometimes it's a very clear scenario. I knew exactly how Certain Dark Things would conclude (at a landfill), but I wasn't sure about The Beautiful Ones for a while. I couldn't see the last pages. But it's often a clear image I'm working towards. 

5. Vincent Lam asks, "What is your favourite editorial stage, and your favourite type of editorial conversation?"

I like when you've done the first pass of edits and you've dealt with the big issues. I like working on the details. I don't think a story is there until you fixate on the tiniest bits. So I appreciate an editor that gives me several chances to revise and think things through. There's an expectation that books and writers burst out fully formed, like Athena, but I don't think that works well. If I'm forced to do that, or there is little interest from the editor to working with me, it gets very difficult and depressing. 

6. Xue Yiwei asks, "Would you feel comfortable with the success of your book translated into a language you have no knowledge of?"

I speak English and Spanish fluently, and French very poorly. Considering there are hundreds of languages, yeah, why not? I would be curious about the work of the translator — how did they handle certain phrases? — but it's not something that would keep me up at night. I'm not famous anywhere, so I might as well be famous somewhere!

7. Hoa Nguyen asks, "What is your writing area or desk like? Please share a description."

I just moved to a bigger place where I get to have an actual desk, but for the whole of my writing career I've written in bed or on the couch because we had no space for anything else. I stuffed a tiny table in a corner and sometimes I'd type there, but it wasn't very comfy. So I ended up at the dining room table more often than not. It wasn't glamorous at all. 

8. Kevin Major asks, "If you were to write a book with a chef as a major character, what would be the chef's best recipe?"

Mutated axolotl in axiote sauce. 

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