Latinx Heritage in Horror: Interview with Fernanda Castro
What inspired you to start writing?
I read a lot as a child, especially fantasy, under the influence of my older sister. Being always immersed in stories, writing was a natural development for me. I made fanfics where my school friends and I lived adventures in fictional worlds (Legolas, sorry to break your heart, sweetie, but I’ve grown up). However, the idea of writing professionally and sharing these stories with the world only came much later, as an adult, when I started to have contact with professionals in the field. Here in Brazil, the publishing market is a very restricted niche, it is not a career option that you can choose at college, for example.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
It wasn’t a conscious choice. I always saw the fantastic element as a perfect metaphor to explain things I was feeling. And, in a way, my work increasingly leaned towards a visceral dark twist, because it was this “ugly” side of me that I wanted to portray and analyze. I really like the idea of literature as a safe space to examine this kind of thing under a microscope, to make the reader say “Yes, that’s what I was feeling and didn’t know how to name it!”
Do you make a conscious effort to include LatinX characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
Dante Luiz has a great text in Nightmare Magazine called The H Word: Horror in a Country that Is Not Afraid of Death which I consider a must-read for anyone who wants to understand horror produced in Brazil. Everything we write, everything that appeals to us, is also a reflection of the culture in which we are immersed, of the things we see on a daily basis. I notice that many of the horror tropes from the English-speaking world don’t really resonate with Brazilians, because we have other fears, other habits; I once wrote a comedy short story about a Brazilian old lady hunting what she thought was one of those serial killers that sells ice cream, stressing how that didn’t make any sense and tended to be ridicule in our country. I think that, except being careful to not reproduce too many of the external influences we receive, LatinX references appear naturally in the text. Or, at least, that’s what I try to portray: the anxieties and questions I see in my daily life.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
A lot. Currently, it is the best way I find to analyze my own feelings, hurts, and reactions. I think that, above all, horror highlights very human things in characters, fears and flaws included, so I became more hesitant to judge others, more empathetic. If we think about horror beyond violence and criminality, in terms of, for example, the fear a person feels when giving birth, or the fear of accepting a painful truth about their family, the genre also taught me to see a certain beauty in cycles, in the daily construction and destruction of ourselves.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I don’t know if I can speak for the entire genre, but at least I can talk about the things I consume: I notice a change especially in themes, moving away from more “universal” horror situations with tropes of foreign influence and migrating to more personal experiences, more internal conflicts. I notice the horror migrating from the macro to the micro, from big monsters to small anxieties — that are, in a way, much more compelling. We can also see an increase in political figures and social inequality itself as villains in these stories.
How do you feel the LatinX community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
I think we have been represented mainly from foreign lens, based on what was imagined to be the experience of each Latin country. The national production of horror stories circulated only in the original language. Now, I see a greater opening to other markets. Audiovisual has helped a lot, a trend towards plural voices that we have even seen at the Academy Awards.
Who are some of your favorite LatinX characters in horror?
There’s a book I love, called Serpentário, by Felipe Castilho (unfortunately only available in Portuguese), which introduces one of the most interesting sets of characters I’ve ever seen, in the sense that they are a myriad of types one can find in Brazil, archetypes that we see in ourselves, in our families, in our friends.
I also really like the characters in the movie As Boas Maneiras (Good Manners).
Who are some LatinX horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
I already mentioned Dante Luiz in another answer, and I reinforce the recommendation here and also recommend the stories of Hache Pueyo, Clara Madrigano, and the works of Ana Paula Maia (not only in literature but also in audiovisual). Outside of Brazil, I really enjoy the work of Mariana Enriquez and Carmen Maria Machado.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
That horror should be honest and responsible, but the author shouldn’t feel obligated to teach readers anything, especially in terms of right and wrong. Let them consume the work and interpret it in their own way. I see many authors worried that their work will be “poorly received” because we are experiencing a somewhat conservative and hygienist wave in literature. There are stories very concerned with informing that “this is not the author’s vision”, or that a character knows that what they are doing is morally questionable.
And to the LatinX writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Write about what hurts in the most raw way you can express yourself. Sometimes the horror is in such small things that we tend to dismiss it, but there are plenty of other people feeling the same way, experiencing these micro scourges of everyday life. And they crave honesty.