Latinx Horror: Interview with David Bowles
David Bowles is a Mexican American author and translator from the US-Mexico border, where he teaches at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Among his award-winning books are The Smoking Mirror, Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico, Chupacabra Vengeance, Lords of the Earth, and the graphic novel series Clockwork Curandera. His work has also been published in multiple anthologies, plus venues such as The New York Times, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, and Rattle. Find him online at www.davidbowles.us.
What inspired you to start writing?
My Mexican American family (and our larger community) has longstanding, rich oral traditions. And in my family, there is no shortage of storytellers, from my uncle Joe Casas to my grandmother Marie Garza, who was the matriarch and a fountain of bone-chilling folktales that she would tell my cousins and me as we crowded around her in the living room of her rickety mobile home. That sort of cathartic terror—rooted in cultural / geographic specifics of South Texas and Northern Mexico, experienced with older loved ones surrounding me—was addictive. I realized early on that I, too, wanted to be a cuentista, sharing my own versions of those stories. As luck would have it, I also learned to read when I was five, and soon books became a second addiction for me. Gradually I came to realize that I wanted to write, but rooting my work in the sensibilities and source material of my family’s lore.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
When you come from an oppressed, excluded, or otherwise marginalized group, you learn relatively early on that there are things in the world you have to protect yourself from, that there are literally monstruous beings who are quite willing to do you harm—other human beings with greater power and privilege. Elders tell you all sorts of cautionary tales. Nursery rhymes and folktales brim with darkness. Some folks prefer entertainment that helps them escape from the bleakness of reality, but I found that horror healed me at the moments of greatest despair, that confronting fears and monstrosity on the page in an exhilarating, heightened way meant that the mundane terrors facing my community were easier to grapple with.
And, to be honest, I just loved me a scary-ass cucuy (what Mexican Americans call creepy creatures). My family’s folklore has some of the best monsters around.
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 I do. It’s important to me that I root my writing in my lived experience and that of the people closest to me. It lends an authenticity and gravity to storytelling that is much more difficult to achieve when you write “outside your lane,” so to speak. And given the vast diversity in the Mexican American community alone (not to mention the larger Latinx umbrella), I strive to showcase multiple, stereotype-busting characters in my work that will make Latinx readers smile knowingly and help non-Latinx folks dismantle their preconceptions.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
To keep perspective, first of all. Horror, especially cosmic horror, is good at reminding us that the forces of the universe are indifferent to our pain and sorrow, as are many of our fellow human beings. But the monstruous isn’t just vast and incomprehensible: it’s also small, petty, intimate. Each of us grapples with demons in our hearts. The angels are the minority. Coming face to face with those hard truths has made me want to protect the weak, the kind, the innocent, the oppressed with every fiber of my dark-riddled soul.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
Certainly it has become slightly more queer, more BIPOC, more disabled than before, but not nearly enough and with entirely too much chest-beating opposition from cishet white dudes who are nominally transgressive when they have all the power but who become reactionary fascists as soon as what they mockingly call “woke” folks begin to win awards and receive attention. So I’m hoping they will take a seat and that the trend toward literary dignity and equity for underrepresented groups will continue.
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?
Well, frankly, poorly, just like most communities of color. Our terrifying stories have gotten coopted by outsiders and retold in crappy, inelegant, jump-scare ways. The past decade has seen a marked change in that trend, with more and more Latinx creatives getting to put out amazing horror books, comics, TV, film. But we still have a LONG WAY to go. We make up twenty percent of the population, yet less than one percent of horror content comes from us. Given how much horror content we consume, that’s a major miscalculation on everyone’s part.
Who are some of our favorite Latinx characters in horror?
Fernando, the protagonist of Zero Saints. Atl, the Aztec vampire in Certain Dark Things. Lourdes, leader of the “bruja Craft crew” in Goddess of Filth. Claudia from the film Even the Wind Is Afraid. Ramón Morales in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Who are some Latinx horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Don’t base your horror off fear of the “Other” if the other is simply another group of human beings different from the one you belong to. There’s enough real-life horror perpetuated against the perceived other. We should try not contributing to that gross punching down.
And to the Latinx writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Anchor your stories in your lived experience, in the geography of the place you call home, in the web of relationships that exist in your community. I’m fond of saying that the universal comes from the specific.
So does the best horror.