Arts·Where I Write

Author Silvia Moreno-Garcia writes all over Vancouver: UBC, the 99 B-Line, her dresser

The Canada Reads-nominated author of Mexican Gothic sometimes wishes for a big house to write in but wants to avoid an Agatha Christie-style library murder.

She sometimes wishes for a big house to write in but wants to avoid an Agatha Christie-style library murder

Silvia Moreno-Garcia bundled up in winter clothes and grinning widely in front of frozen river with skyscrapers in the background.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia in Vancouver. (Silvia Moreno-Garcia)

Leading up to Canada Reads, CBC Arts is bringing you daily essays about where this year's authors write for our series Where I Write. This edition features Mexican Gothic author Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Virginia Woolf once said a writer must have a room of her own. Living in Vancouver, though — one of the most expensive cities in Canada — that has hardly been the case for me.

I don't have a dedicated writing space; I'm typing this atop my yellow dresser, which in a pinch functions as a standing desk. Most often, I type in bed or at the dining room table. 

For about a decade, I worked full-time at the University of British Columbia as the Communications Coordinator for the Faculty of Science. I did a lot of writing and research during my lunch hour and bus commute. Pivotal scenes of Mexican Gothic were thus constructed while riding the 99 B-Line or attempting to quickly digest a sandwich. 

Last year, I became a full-time writer. This seems to be a rather glamorous pursuit in the minds of most people I meet, but in reality, it means I'm still the family breadwinner only now I don't have a pension plan. I blame movies for creating this aura of wealth and refinement about writers, but sadly I don't live in a house patented after the Clue mansion.

My situation is not abnormal: one of my good friends gleefully informed me that last year, after 10 years as a full-time writer, he was finally able to move into a home that had space for a desk. Not a whole office, mind you — just the desk.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia with her laptop at her dining room table.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia at the dining room table. (Silvia Moreno-Garcia)

Sometimes I take my laptop and go write at the library. I have never been able to write at a coffee shop, although I see plenty of people typing at their local Starbucks. I even have writing friends who go together to write at coffee shops. But to me, there is something unnatural about this setting, and I prefer to slide into a corner of the library and stay there unnoticed for hours. 

For this essay I was asked to write about the emotions my writing space inspires and ended up staring at a basket with dirty laundry and wondering how to write poetically about that, but I was unable to come up with a way to wax enthusiastically about our socks. 

Some people have asked me about my rituals — whether I light candles, or prefer a certain music. I suppose some writers do have rituals, but I bristle against them, convinced it's better to be nimble and write in a variety of conditions rather than demand one single setting for the inspiration to flow. I do listen to music sometimes, not because I need it to inspire me, but to drown out the noise around our home (and because I like music).

My parents worked in radio back in Mexico, and I grew up around sound equipment and microphones. My mother used to take me to her job and place me in a basket under her desk. She claims I was always quiet when I needed to be quiet, crying only on cue, so I guess I just grew up knowing how to adapt to my environment. 

Collage of photos of Silvia Moreno-Garcia in Vancouver. Left: bundled up on a snowy street. Right: posing with wild Amanita muscaria mushrooms in a yard.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia in Vancouver. Left: walking the snowy streets. Right: finding Amanita muscaria mushrooms in her neighbourhood. (Silvia Moreno-Garcia)

I love Vancouver. I like walking around my neighborhood, especially in the fall, when I try to spot mushrooms. I once found a huge patch of Amanita muscaria. I sometimes wish I had a house because I would like to have chickens in the backyard and a big library with a terrestrial globe.

On the other hand, I once read an Agatha Christie book where someone is murdered in a library, and a house with a big library is probably haunted, so perhaps I'm just being clever and avoiding a grizzly demise. Although in this economy, if any poltergeists snuck into our home, I'd charge them rent rather than exorcize them. 

Read this year's Where I Write essays every day this week on CBC Arts and tune in to Canada Reads from March 27–30.


Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Velvet Was the Night, Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, and many other books. She has won the Locus and British Fantasy awards for her work as a novelist, and the World Fantasy Award as an editor.

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