Instagram’s Favorite Book Is About To Be Everyone’s Favorite TV show. Mexican Gothic’s Author Has The Scoop
“It has been very difficult to publish in certain categories when the publishing industry basically doesn't want you there … In [Latinx-written] fiction, you get essentially painful immigrant stories or maybe magical realism,” Mexican Gothic author Silvia Moreno-Garcia told Refinery29 on a recent phone call. “There's not a lot of mystery that is promoted by Latin American authors. There's not a lot of romance — certainly not horror. It's like a straight jacket — a cultural straight jacket — develops.”
Moreno-Garcia, a Mexican-born writer who now lives in Canada, undeniably broke through that cultural straightjacket with Mexican Gothic, a glamorous and eerie horror tale dripping with troubled romance and creepy mystery. It’s these unfortunately rare elements that pushed Gothic to remain on the NY Times bestseller list for nine weeks and inspire thousands upon thousands of posts on Instagram’s #MexicanGothic page. As “spooky szn” gets into high gear, Moreno-Garcia’s lush green cover — which stars Mexican Gothic’s heroine, Mexico City socialite Noemí Taboada in one of her finest 1950s gowns — has become an Instagram stories mainstay.
Mexican Gothic also lends itself to countless questions, particularly now that the novel is about to be adapted into a hotly-awaited Hulu series (developed by the Hollywood power couple of Riverdale dad Mark Consuelos and Live With Kelly and Ryan host Kelly Ripa, no less). The show has yet to head into production, but in the meantime, Moreno-Garcia provided the backstory behind the phenomenon to Refinery29 — and teased its televised future.
Moreno-Garcia’s own story began in Mexico City, where the writer “lived in a house that was very damp,” she said. “People think that all of Mexico is very warm and hot, but that's a lie,” Moreno-Garcia, who has been writing professionally since 2006, continued, detailing the origins of Mexican Gothic’s mushroom-heavy mystery. She admits that 1963 Japanese horror movie Matango and reading a short story called A Voice in the Night, which both feature mushroom plots, also influenced Mexican Gothic. But that’s only part of the author’s backstory.
“There was some really old wallpaper that my grandmother had put in [our house] and had never been changed. It was yellow, if I'm not mistaken; it was really ugly looking. It was so damp there,” Moreno-Garcia continued. Readers who plow through Mexican Gothic know this sense memory is starting to sound a lot like Noemí’s experiences in her bedroom at High Place, the book’s central manor. “If you peeled [the wallpaper] off, you saw that beneath, the wall was all black with rot — with mushrooms growing on that,” Moreno-Garcia said. ”Eventually they fixed that up, but it took several years. I was living in this damp mushroom house for a long time … Everything kind of spoils really fast.”
The idea of spoiled perishables quickly takes you back to the bizarre dark black “wine” of High Place, which Mexican Gothic suggests might come from the nightmarish boils of High Place patriarch Howard Doyle. Moreno-Garcia was willing to provide some insight. But she wouldn’t confirm the drink came from pustules on her novel’s arch villain, saying, “The wine is probably not regular wine. Likely everything's spiked with something in that house.”
It’s stories like this that shatter the idea of Mexico as either a beachy playground for American tourists or a monolithic and sweltering home for the impoverished. Racist assumptions like those initially made publishers doubt whether Moreno-Garcia’s work — like 2016 vampire novel Certain Dark Things, which will be reprinted in May 2021 — would ever sell.
“They would say, ‘Wow, this is really good. It's not the quality that is the issue. But it's the fact that people wouldn't buy a vampire book if it's not a pale, pasty, European vampire,’" she recalled. Moreno-Garcia ran into these same issues when shopping around her previous novels, which are also set in Mexico and filled with Latinx characters, for on-screen adaptations. “I had some conversations where it was like, ‘What if we made one of the characters white and American, and what if we changed the action to L.A.?’ It never worked out in the end, but it was something that was brought up constantly,” Moreno-Garcia explained.
The upcoming TV adaptation of Mexican Gothic — which Moreno-Garcia said at least 10 people bid on — is poised to prove all of those naysayers wrong. “It's just nice that it will open the possibilities for a bunch of different creatives and people who possibly never thought that they could do anything like this,” Moreno-Garcia, who is an executive producer on the Hulu series, began. The project is currently looking for its lead writing staff. While Moreno-Garcia stressed she’s not in charge of casting, she does have thoughts on who should bring her main character, headstrong (and darker-skinned) Noemí, to life.
“We did emphasize the need to have an actor in the lead role that was less well-known. Perhaps even [someone] completely new, who accurately represented the physicality of the performer,” Moreno-Garcia revealed. “Everybody is on board with finding somebody that does look like the character, as opposed to hiring somebody who is blonde and putting a wig on them.
Still, Moreno-Garcia stressed that she “can't cast” anyone herself.
Since Mexican Gothic’s move to the small screen was announced, the author/EP has received several DMs from Latinx actors, directors, and writers who are exhausted by their current “reduced” prospects of “Day of the Dead, Coco, or Narcos” themes, as they tell her. One performer complained of incessantly getting asked for his “cholo gang member” impression during auditions, despite years of elite schooling.
“Mexican Gothic gives the possibility of having some roles that don't look like that. That look a little bit different,” Moreno-Garcia said.
Moreno-Garcia has dreams about what the freedom of a television series, and the many hours that encompass one, could mean for exploring the world she created with Mexican Gothic. While she cites interest in revealing the perspective of Noemí’s bedridden, drugged cousin Catalina (“We don't get to see a lot of what she was like before all of this happened”) and the villainous Howard (“[Like] in old movies, you'll hiss when the villain gets on the screen.”), she seems most excited to dig into the wealthy Truebas’ “family dynamics” in the upper crust of 1950s Mexico.
“Noemí and Catalia had a good relationship, but we don't get to see them in their actual setting of Mexico City, and what it might have been like when the both of them went out or when they went to parties, or when they went to dinner,” Moreno-Garcia said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the short story A Voice in the Night. Moreno-Garcia read A Voice in the Night, she did not edit A Boy from the Night.
Latinidad is ever-evolving. It cannot be defined by a blanket term or monolithic idea. That's why it's important to look at its future with respect to its past and present — and that's our mission. In a series of essays, reported articles, and stories for Refinery29 Somos and Latinx Heritage Month, we'll explore the unique conversations and challenges that affect these communities.