Deep Dive: Silvia Moreno-Garcia on publishing science fiction

“[T]here are also anxieties about security in Mexico, and in many parts of Latin America, Central America — we have a very insecure situation, with drugs, with cartels, with police attacking the population rather than defending them … That’s why we have a thriving thriller scene in Latin America, because it reflects our anxieties. So in the United States, you don’t necessarily have those anxieties. You don’t necessarily walk around as a second generation person thinking about things like — ‘What if the narcos come into my house and blow my brains out tonight?’  You have other things.  So, there’s very different modes of production.  I think one of the problems with publishing is wanting everything to be just one story and this specific story and not being able to even think — ‘Would it be interesting if we could tell this other story?’ But going — ‘No. We only want to tell this tale. It has to fit these parameters.’ And if it doesn’t, then it’s something that’s not going to be viable.”

In this clip, Silvia Moreno-Garcia discusses the differences between the science fiction scene in Latin America and the United States. Watch or read the accompanying transcript to answer the following questions. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Moreno-Garcia describes how publishers have looked for immigrant stories in Mexican-American writing—stories that are often painful to tell. Mexican-American authors who choose to publish outside of this “trope of doom and gloom” are then passed over in favor of those who do. What effect does the establishment of tropes like this have on the publishing industry, and the books you are then marketed? Do you think this has affected your expectations as a reader? If you are a writer, do you feel like you have to write in a certain genre in order to have your work noticed?

  2. Just as Mexican-American authors are often pushed into the trope of immigrant writing, Moreno-Garcia discusses how the genre of magical realism is heavily associated with Latin-American writers. Editors and publishers in the United States often won’t consider Latin American writing as profitable unless it fits within those parameters. How do these expectations limit the publishing industry? Why do you think publishers continue to pursue homogenous stories despite the obvious limitations?

  3. The anxiety of living in a post-dictatorship world is reflected within much of Latin American authorship. Moreno-Garcia points out how in the United States, these anxieties don’t exist. As the previous questions have identified, the publishing industry tends to look for certain stories from certain writers. U.S. authors don’t live with the haunting memory of a dictatorship. Can you identify a trope, or common theme, associated with U.S. writing? Moreno-Garcia suggests the same expectations don’t apply. Discuss why that could be. 

Writing Exercises

  1. Take a few minutes (using the internet, if necessary) to create a list of ten Latin American authors who publish in genres other than magical realism. How many of these authors have been represented by large publishing houses? Share this list with your classmates, friends, and family!

  2. Working with a partner, identify five recurring themes that could come to dominate science fiction writing in the United States as a result of the events of 2020. Based on what you’ve learned from this clip and your discussions, do you think a publisher would consider these themes to be profitable?

  3. Imagine you are working within a large publishing imprint based in the United States: one that perpetuates the trope of Mexican-American writing as painful stories of immigration. Drawing from your discussion today, write a convincing one-page letter to the chief editor at this imprint about the benefits of telling a different story — for both the audience and the publishing house itself.

Additional Readings

  • So Long Been Dreaming (2004), ed. by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan 

  • Work by Isabel Angélica Allende Llona

  • Listen to one of Moreno-Garcia’s stories, “Them Ships,” on this episode of the science fiction podcast The Escape Pod (co-edited by another one of our featured authors, S.B. Divya). 

Silvia Moreno-Garcia has authored several critically-acclaimed novels, including Gods of Jade and Shadow (Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, Ignyte Award). In addition, she has edited several anthologies, as well the horror magazine The Dark, and is a columnist for The Washington Press. Learn more about Silvia on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and support her on Patreon. Click here to watch her full interview (28:40) with the SLF. 

Tags: publishing, genre, national identity

Mary Anne Mohanraj: The last few years of writers from, Mexican American writers, Mexican writers, who seem, a lot of the stories are more about family and kinship and, religion and it’s almost a completely separate set of themes.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Yep.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: And I don’t know how much of that is diaspora versus homeland, or just what those editors were looking for at the time perhaps.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Yep. I think it’s, I think there’s definitely a big difference between the diaspora and like native people of Latin America, who are still living there, producing there.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Right.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Like absolutely it is two different modes of writing. But I also think that there’s different expectations from publishers. The things that they want to see. For example, a lot, or they wanted to see in decades past, in, in the realm of the literary and I think this extends through the realm of the commercial too, like Young Adult and that kind of stuff, is things like immigrant stories.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Yeah.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: That’s what we’re good for, right. Like, write your immigrant story. And if you don’t have a, if you don’t have a painful immigrant story …

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Yeah.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: … then you don’t kind of fit.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Yeah.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: So, you know, if you’re someone like me who speaks English, you know, fairly fluently, you know, like, then it’s like you don’t fit into our story of our doom and gloom. And so, so that’s not the kind of story that publishing really wants to see and highlight.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: South Asians, they want an arranged marriage novel and …

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Well, yeah [inaudible] …

Mary Anne Mohanraj: … ideally she should flee, to be rescued by a white man at the end, right.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Yes, exactly. So there’s the certain tropes that are very appealing and exotic and maybe if, and so maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way. But I also do think that the concerns of a lot of immigrant stories that I’ve read, tend to be between the old and the new world.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Mmhm.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: You know, my parents are very strict and they have these ideas, or whatever, and I don’t. And I’m here in the United States and I don’t fit in, or in Canada. And it’s kind of like a back and forth thing. And of course …

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Mmm.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: … you’re not going to see that if you’re writing about being in Buenos Aires and, or in Colombia and being a journalist who is facing things like being, the fear of being shot in the head by a guerrilla member or somebody from, or somebody from the police. It’s a very different set of anxieties, expectations, and thoughts. One theme that I find reoccurring in several stories that I read and I, a couple of them I arranged to be translated for The Dark where I edit, is that there was an anxiety of the post dictatorship.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Yeah.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: And I think this is widespread throughout, throughout Latin America. The memory of the dictatorships and how it haunts your daily life. Almost any country in Latin America faced a dictatorship harsher, or less harsh sometimes, some of them faced ethnic cleansing like in Guatemala. So that comes out in the writing. So they’re writing these, in this case, it was a zombie story, but it was also at the same time it was a story about the post dictatorship. And, and what happens after when you’re left with this kind of memory, haunted by kind of ghosts of that time.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: It’s so, Nola Hopkinson and Uppinder Mohan edited this anthology, So Long Been Dreaming, which is postcolonial science fiction, and which I thought was very powerful. But this is, it’s sort of another, it’s a more specific version of that, I guess, right that it’s the, post dictator is not the experience of South Asia, right? That’s not you know, that’s not how it played out there. And so, it’s really interesting. It’s a, I haven’t seen anyone writing or talking about that, yet. So …

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Yeah. And, and for example, there also anxieties about security in Mexico we have, and in many parts of Latin America, Central America, we have a very insecure situation, with drugs with cartels, with, you know, police attacking the population rather than defending them. So that’s reflected obviously in the writing. That’s why we have a lot of, that’s why we have a thriving I think [inaudible], thriller scene in Latin America is because it reflects our anxieties. So in the United States, you don’t necessarily have those anxieties. You don’t, you know, necessarily walk around as a, you know, second generation person thinking about things like, what if, you know, the narcos come into my house and blow my brains off tonight? You have other things. So, there’s, like, very different modes of production. And I think one of the problems with publishing is wanting everything to be just one story and this specific story and not being able to even think, you know, would it be interesting if we could tell this other story. But going like, No. We only want to tell this tale. It has to fit these parameters. And if it doesn’t, then it’s something that’s not, you know, going to be viable. And so that, I do think, it’s a problem.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: That’s, I mean that’s why it’s so important, right, to have people like you also in editorial, in publishing, right. So that there’s, so that we have a broader base.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Yeah, a broader base. It’s been, it’s been very narrow, I think, historically. And so there have been somewhat Latin American people that have also been translated in the mode of magic realism. But that’s also very limiting in the same way because, like we said, the, if you’re, for example, have a story about fear of automation that doesn’t fit the magic realism mode, and maybe there are, you know, some stories about automation that have gone, you know, science fiction stuff that I haven’t, you know, paid much attention to. But the things that editors would immediately translate and be interested in would be things that mimic Allendes, you know.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: [Inaudible]

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: And they would be like, well, if it’s not like Allendes, if it’s not magic realism, then it’s not Latin American in a way. Which is very strange, a very strange thing.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Yeah.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: You know, it’s, it’s not this category, then it is not part of this nationality. And we don’t think, when we think about American production of books, well, if it’s not science fiction, then it’s not American, right? Like, that’s kind of like, well there might be more there, so.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: That’s fascinating. 

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