Latinx Heritage in Horror: Interview with Greg McWhorter
Dr. Greg McWhorter is a Latinx (half-Colombian) writer who resides in Southern California. Since the 1980s, he has written for newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and film. McWhorter has been a guest speaker at several universities, TV shows, film documentaries, and the San Diego Comic-Con. Both his nonfiction and fiction have appeared in many newspapers, magazines, journals, and anthologies. He currently has two published books of his horror fiction available. He is an active member of the Horror Writers Association. He enjoys traveling and sharing his love of writing with writers around the world.
What inspired you to start writing?
My whole life I felt like an outsider. I felt like an alien trying to live within a world I could not understand. I always sought to communicate with others through many forms when I was younger; art, music, performance art, and writing. I think I really became a writer during my adolescence and early teen years as I created music and gaming fanzines, poems, song lyrics, and some short stories. All of these things I was doing as a means to find like-minded people and find connections with others. In my early adult years, I worked for newspapers and magazines writing feature stories on a diverse range of people and various aspects of cultural interest. As an adult, I have never given up on trying to communicate with others and decided to become more disciplined with my writing, which enabled me to get two books published and many appearances in anthologies. I still feel like an outsider and writing helps me connect to others and provides a creative outlet for the many demons lurking in my mind. Writing eases the pressure of living in my head.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
Ironically, I never considered myself a horror fan as much as a fan of the bizarre. I grew up as a punk rocker in Los Angeles and there have always been many connections between my life and horror. As someone who considers himself a rebel at heart, I think my adult interest in horror grew as I was able to finally throw off the yoke of my Latinx Catholic upbringing. My Colombian mother raised me to be scared of horror. She forbade me to watch horror movies as she would say the evil spirits would attach themselves to me through the screen. I remember watching Rod Serling’s Night Gallery as a kid in my darkened room and scaring myself. The temptation of doing something wrong brought out my contrary nature and just like punk rock, horror became another form of rebellion for me. I now live very happily in a home with walls covered by supernatural and horrific images and I’m so desensitized to it now that when deeply Christian work colleagues stop by, they have a hard time with my house. So horror to me is a form of rebellion, but also a way to make sense of the world from another perspective. I often think about Frankenstein’s monster and how he only really wanted to be accepted and loved. Many monsters lash out because they want to be heard or were mistreated somehow. I can relate to monsters and I feel that evil is within all of us to some degree. I also feel that horror often removes the facades we often create in society and exposes the sordid underbelly of things like greed, hatred, zealous piety, and so on. With these attitudes on life, how could I not appreciate and be drawn to horror?
Do you make a conscious effort to include LatinX characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
Absolutely! Being half-Colombian I have always felt that while I walk between two worlds, I am never fully accepted in either. We never discuss enough about those who are between two cultures. We are the people in limbo. I look white and have a caucasian last name so a lot of assumptions are made about me by white colleagues who do not know me. Sometimes I hear very entitled or even racist things come out of their mouths. Likewise, Latinx do the same to me when they assume I do not understand their language when I do. My stories sometimes have Latin themes, settings, cultural trappings, myths, and so on, which are sometimes things from my childhood. To me, a good story can be set anywhere, but sometimes the exotic location or cultures of Central and South American people make a story so much more interesting like when Ray Bradbury wrote about the Mummies of Guanajuato. I am proud to be Colombian and I recently gave a talk in Bogota, the capital city, on being a horror writer and the Horror Writers Association.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
While I grew up with differing perspectives than many around me, horror writing showed me I was not alone in thinking differently or being different from how I was being labeled by others. Not all that seems monstrous is really all bad. Unless it is, of course. That is part of what I learned. The artist Banksy is credited with the quote, “There is nothing more dangerous than someone (or thing) who wants to make the world a better place,” but what is better for one person, or thing, may not be better for another. The pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers believed they were making the world a better place, but the few humans who remained did not feel this way. This theme of perspective can be seen in many pieces of great horror fiction such as stories by legends like Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, and countless others. Horror writing taught me that being different may not be a bad thing and it is important to try to understand the perspectives of those who may be different than myself.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I believe horror has changed in many ways. The horror I read in the late 1970s and early 1980s is vastly different than what is being written today. The genre has certainly moved from kind of a lurking-in-the-shadows sub-genre to a major modern genre with lots more exposure than ever before. There are countless reasons for this, which I won’t get into here, but the genre has evolved and also branched into further sub-genres of horror. While horror stories can often be much more gory than older stories, they also push the envelope of extremes; extreme suspense, extreme terror, extreme tension, etc.Themes or ideas whihc may have been considered taboo a few decades back are now commonplace. I further believe horror literature will continue to evolve, but most of this evolution will be based upon developments in culture and society. There will always be monsters lurking in the dark, but stories which rely on psychological terror will more likely need to be based on current trends and mores in society. Nothing in life is static (except static and even it moves around!) and therefore horror writing will continue to be dynamic and transform with the times.
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 have to tackle this in two ways, books and movies. I’m a big fan of foreign films and have watched many horror films from Mexico and South America. In those countries, the Latinx community has always been represented even though lighter skinned actors have more often been portrayed than darker skinned ones. In U.S. made films, Latinx characters were fairly rare until recently. While the Spanish language version of Dracula (1931) did make use of Latinx actors, this was not commonplace in Hollywood. Latinx characters have been sporadic at best until recently. I remember when Aliens (1986) came out and there was a tough Latina character Private Vasquez who I admired and she seemed to have a lot of the fearlessness I witnessed with Latinas I knew growing up and even in my own family. Film director Guillermo del Toro made use of Latinx protagonists in both Cronos (1993) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001). I tend to feel there is a trend toward a greater representation of the Latinx community in horror overall. Looking at books, I believe we are seeing a renaissance of Latinx writers. One of the most successful has been Silvia Moreno-Garcia and her book Mexican Gothic (2020). There are starting to be many other Latinx writers coming forward with horror books and I feel this will continue. Latinx voices are finally being heard and the market has spoken that other perspectives are wanted. The Latinx community brings with it a deep wealth of regional horror, which is just starting to be tapped, and there will certainly continue to be greater representation of Latinx in horror.
Who are some of your favorite LatinX characters in horror?
As I mentioned, I enjoyed the portrayal of Private Vasquez in Aliens (1986), my characters
Who are some LatinX horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
The main advice I always give to horror writers can be summed up in one word, write. I always tell them their ideas may sound great when they share them out loud, but their ideas need to be written down to be shared and enjoyed by others. There is a certain amount of discipline involved in writing. For myself, I set aside intentional time to write. I find a perfect time when there are no other obligations on me and I have the freedom to lose myself in writing. Having a stiff drink can help too, but don’t overdo it. I seem to loosen up and let my mind wander with a Cuba Libre (rum and coke with lime). Just one. I sip it as I think and write, but the main thing is to just write.
And to the LatinX writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
My best advice to a budding Latinx writer is to not be afraid to write in the horror genre and to also tap into your family history, heritage, and culture. I say this because I was raised to be afraid of horror because of my Catholic Colombian mother and it took me many years to come to grips with myself that I love horror and wanted to write horror stories. I sometimes think I should have started much younger, but it took a while to free myself of the yoke of how I was raised to believe. Now, whenever I write a horror story with a Latinx character, I make sure to include things I learned growing up. Nothing is too small to be added toward making a Latinx horror story come alive for your reader. Knowing things which may be different from people in other cultures add to what may be an exotic story for some. Oh, and write. Don’t forget to write, write, write, and write.