Latinx Horror: Interview with Cynthia Pelayo
Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo is a two-time Bram Stoker Awards® nominated poet and author. She is the author of LOTERIA, SANTA MUERTE, THE MISSING, and POEMS OF MY NIGHT, all of which have been nominated for International Latino Book Awards. POEMS OF MY NIGHT was also nominated for an Elgin Award. Her recent collection of poetry, INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY TROUGH explores true crime, that of the epidemic of missing and murdered women in the United States, and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award and Elgin Award. Her modern day horror retelling of the Pied Piper fairy tale, CHILDREN OF CHICAGO was released by Agora / Polis Books in 2021.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Columbia College, a Master of Science in Marketing from Roosevelt University, a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is a Doctoral Candidate in Business Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
What inspired you to start writing?
Ultimately, when I step back and isolate what really inspired me to write it’s my community. I wanted to be able to share the stories and experiences of my community. I wanted to be able to tell you about its people, its wonderful folklore, legends, and myth and their history.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I believe that the horror genre can really highlight human experience, across a wide range. Horror can explore so much emotion and depth, leading us to reflect and ask ourselves questions about our existence, as well as the world around us.
Do you make a conscious effort to include Latinx characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
Yes, most certainly. My writing today tends to explore themes of grief, mourning, guilt, and violence. My main characters range from being first-generation to third-generation Latinx. It’s important for me to highlight the diversity of the Latinx community and that includes generational variety. I enjoy showcasing characters that are navigating complex situations but are also culturally connected to their roots.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
I was a freelance journalist for a long time and reporting and writing fiction has really cemented for me that the world is a very scary place, that people are the monsters lurking in the shadows.
However, I’ve also found so much beauty too.
Through all of that, I’ve learned that I’m much more hopeful that I ever thought.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
Horror is a really exciting genre and overall supportive community to be in right now. We’re seeing wonderful diversity throughout, and this is important because we’re finally hearing and reading voices that have not been read widely previously.
Diversity matters. Inclusion matters. I believe we’re going to continue to see massive growth of representation throughout the horror space with many more writers in the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities being published.
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?
We have writers like J.F. Gonzalez who were writing years ago, and today the genre is full of so many writers in the Latinx community that people like me can turn to, that newer writers can look up to.
My hope is that we continue seeing a growth in representation of Latinx horror writers. I think it’s important to highlight that there is so much diversity within the Latinx community. Latinx is not a monolith. So, there is diversity within the diversity. Our religious beliefs vary. Our languages vary. Our histories vary. So, in seeing growth in the Latinx horror writing community we will continue to read stories that haven’t been read before, give opportunities to writers that have been previously unable to get published and find a community, and we will have mentors for younger generations to look up to.
Who are some of our favorite Latinx characters in horror?
I’m going to go ahead and give some film and book recommendations, because you’ll be able to find some great characters in these works.
Movies: Cronos (1993), Terrified (2017), La Llorona (2019), Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017), and Vampires vs the Bronx (2020).
Who are some Latinx horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Here are a few. Please read and recommend their work.
Ann Dávila Cardinal,
Angel Luis Cólon,
Rios de la Luz,
Carmen Maria Machado,
Cristina Rivera Garza,
Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and
and Diana Rodriguez Wallach.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
I think patience and persistence is key. Writing and publishing isn’t a race. We are all on our own path and writing the stories that we need to tell. Focus on what it is you need to tell. Remember to be kind to yourself and never forget that writing is a long game. Be patient and be persistent. Don’t stop. Just keep going.
And to the Latinx writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Tell your story the way that you need to tell it. We all understand the wonderful diversity of being Latinx and so, just because one Latinx writer is exploring one aspect of Latinx identity that does not mean that what you are exploring is wrong. You are completely unique because of where you were born and raised, and the stories that you were told. We all share this wonderful identity of being Latinx, but only you can tell the story you need to tell, so do it.