Latinx Heritage in Horror: Interview with Javier Loustaunau
Javier Loustaunau (1979, Los Mochis, Mexico) is an author and game designer whose work has been featured in several anthologies and programs, most notably The Nosleep Podcast which is the #1 ranked horror podcast.
What inspired you to start writing?
I grew up in a house surrounded by books so there was never a moment where I did not think I was going to write, it felt like everyone must write for there to be this many books. Really, I was just impatient to grow up a little and become a better writer, somebody who did not have to lean so hard imitating other writers. One thing that helped me as a writer was when I reached out to the Marvel editorial asking for help on becoming a comic book writer and I got a response from Stan Lee (or more likely his assistant) telling me it does not matter what I write but I need to write every single day if I want to improve. So I wrote letters, I wrote reviews, I wrote poems, I translated, I journaled… but I made sure I always wrote every single day.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I am a scaredy cat with a morbid sense of curiosity and nothing has better covers than horror books, movies, and comics. I grew up with a lot of pulp mystery and horror magazines and maybe as a child, I thought Alfred Hitchcock wrote all of them until I became aware of authors. Since then, I will usually pick an author, exhaust most of their catalog, and really get a feel for their voice and their quirks.
Do you make a conscious effort to include LatinX characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
For me it feels like an act of subversion, LatinX representation is lagging way behind in mainstream media and while it does not feel too tragic as we have our own Spanish language media, we still want to be represented in a positive and uplifting light for the general public. Personally, I have written a series of stories based on urban legends in Mexico in the first person, so I can place the reader into the head of my LatinX character. Even when my protagonists are not LatinX, I make sure I reference LatinX culture, food, and sensibilities to help normalize them.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
One thing that I learned is that I suffered from pretty bad anxiety and the world was not nearly as dangerous as it felt in my head. My horror stories tend to focus on harmless things that I have somehow imbued with terrifying significance in my own anxious fantasies. Some examples are an air conditioner, bedbugs, a t-shirt, meat, ashes, and a hole in a fence… my mind found ways for all of these things to be dangerous and scary and I obsessed about them until I had a story I wanted to tell.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
Horror is extremely subjective and nothing has enriched it more as a genre than becoming more inclusive. We are all frightened by different things and being able to express our own cultures through our fears and fantasies is an important step towards getting people to empathize with what scares us. People like Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jordan Peele, and Junji Ito are bringing their culture to a mainstream audience through horror and having a huge influence on what gets made. Its evolution really depends on proving we can cross over and gain fans around the world with what seems like a very culturally specific story or experience and therefore we can create pathways for diverse authors to come after us.
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?
So far, LatinX people have always been othered in the media and presented as a source of danger and societal upheaval, this is not only in horror but in political speeches and propaganda. We are ‘the other’ that H. P. Lovecraft feared, and there is no point in giving us subtitles because the language barrier makes us more frightening. What I hope to see is more LatinX protagonists who are trying to survive and defeat the horrors around them instead of being the source of horror. Besides, the best story about ‘being scared of Mexicans’ has already been written by Ray Bradbury. In The Next in Line, an American woman visiting Guanajuato is traumatized by the Day of the Dead altars and the mummies that are on display. Without an understanding of our culture, she becomes obsessed with a fear of dying and being left behind in Mexico to become another mummy. It is claustrophobic and masterfully written and the fear is truly all her own, nobody in Mexico does anything to threaten or harm her.
Who are some of your favorite LatinX characters in horror?
There is a Mexican television show in the mold of Buffy the Vampire Slayer called Diablero. It is a group of exorcists who battle demons in a sort of ‘gig economy’ staying just one step ahead of loan collectors. The show stars a Chilango demon hunter by the name of Heliodoro although everyone calls him Elvis. He teams up with his sister and a friend who can become possessed by demons at will making her an extremely dangerous fighter. The show had ideas that certainly surpassed its budget and being a Netflix show you can bet it got canceled after two seasons and an exciting cliffhanger.
Who are some LatinX horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
I think anyone who has not read Aura by Carlos Fuentes needs to run out and pick up a copy as soon as they can. It is a novella written in the second person meaning the protagonist is ‘you’ and it has the thickest gothic atmosphere you can imagine. It is a haunted, romantic, tragic story that you can read again and again discovering new details and twists. Also, people who enjoy games need to track down Brindlewood Bay, The Between, and Public Access by Jason Cordova. He makes role-playing books where players team up to solve scary mysteries but there is no set solution to the mystery, instead, the players come up with their own theory and that becomes the solution to the case.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
I plot out all my stories before I write them, by telling myself the story again and again while I do chores or go on walks. I make small changes and when a change creeps me out you know it is something that will end up on the page. This is because I find that too many horror authors focus on being clever or meta or subversive but not creepy. If you cannot creep yourself out, odds are you will not scare your audience and it will just end up being horror fan service.
And to the LatinX writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
A lot of people can feel excluded from the traditional publishing models as the literary world does not know what to do with people like them. It is hard to explain to an agent or publisher why a LatinX perspective and fanbase is something valuable. But in this day it is easy to bypass the traditional models and find our own audience online through posts, podcasts, and videos. Even in the earliest days of the internet, I would have a handful of people asking me ‘what is next’ and it made me feel appreciated in a world that does not know what to do with me. In other words, do not be afraid to put yourself out there, and do not wait for permission from others.