Laurel Hightower (LH): First I want to say how much I liked Maria the Wanted. This book, and your protagonist, were a totally new and exciting take on the genre – I saw you’re a fan of the vampire subgenre, and you were able to breathe new life into it. In seeing your tweets and mentions of this book, I realized how big of an issue it is, being able to have specific Latinx representation in the horror genre (and all the others while we’re at it). When you started this book, did you make a conscious decision to fill that void?
Violet Castro (VC): Thank you so very much for taking the time to read and review the book. It means a lot to me! I looked at my Kindle and realized how many white male authors I had read. I thought of all the books I read in college. Then I researched the adult horror market. I don’t say this to diminish anyone’s work, however, there seemed to be a limited variety. The same can be said for film and TV throughout the years. It is an odd feeling when you have lived a white-washed life that rarely represents your stories. In fact, Maria was a minor character when I first came up with the concept. It was another Latina, Alma, that I was writing, but Maria would not leave my mind and I started another book. Maria The Wanted was born.
LH: I definitely agree about the lack of representation, and I would absolutely read Alma’s story if you ever put it out there! You’ve mentioned some frustrating and disheartening responses you received when submitting Maria. Can you talk about how that affected your path to publication?
VC: Publishing is always changing and highly competitive, but I don’t like the idea of gatekeeping. Self-publishing was a viable option for me, so I pursued it even though it is by no means easier. You are EVERYTHING. The deeper I got into publishing, the more determined and angry I became with regards to representation.
LH: Yes, anyone who thinks self-publishing is easy is nuts – it’s all on your shoulders! If you could wave a wand and create equality and representation for unique voices in this field, what would that include? What are ways that other members of the community can help?
VC: I think editors and publishers should have a good look at their author list. If you don’t have books or stories by authors from marginalized groups, there is an issue. A single token does not count. Don’t expect marginalized folks to buy your anthologies or books if they aren’t represented.
For readers, picking up books from marginalized authors is a great start because at the end of the day, publishing is a business. You are signaling to the powers that be, those books do sell. It also helps writers feel less discouraged. When you see only a single type of author with all the airtime, it makes you feel like there is no point. That is why I pursued a Latinx horror anthology.
LH: That is such an excellent point about not buying anthologies that don’t offer representation, and I’d love for that to be a widespread message. Who are some of your biggest influences? Is there a standout writer (or several) that you wish more people read and talked about?
VC: This is a tough question and the kind I hate answering! There are so many! I would like more talk about indie horror writers and publishers. No shade to the big ones, but the quality and depth of the stories coming from indie presses and self-publishing can’t be ignored.
We need a GO INDIE and GO SELF-PUB month to kick some up dust.
As far as influences go, I grew up on Sandra Cisneros and Stephen King. But I binged on horror films that I should not have watched. Not one person or thing has influenced me the most. It is all one big tangled mess of hair!
LH: I think a lot of us were watching those movies we shouldn’t have been! One of my favorite things about Maria the Wanted was the way she kept exceeding my expectations. I felt like whenever there was an opportunity for her to have a cliché or disappointing reaction, she punched right through and broke the mold. Did you specifically set out to do that, or was it more a case of Maria being Maria?
VC: I feel Latinx folks are rarely humanized. We want the same things as everyone else. We love, bleed, hate, lust, want good things. I needed to see an adult Latina kick ass because we are never given the same opportunities to shine.
LH: You succeeded on that front – Maria kicks ass from start to finish! She’s also very empowering from a female perspective, but without losing her femininity. She makes some choices she regrets, but that struck me as so real. (Same with her relationship with Diego). Was this also a case of filling a specific void you saw in vampire/horror/fiction?
VC: Absolutely! I love vampires, and except for a few older films, it is a straight white male story. Life without variety is boring.
LH: Life with Maria would certainly never be boring! The concept of a vampire having a realistic struggle with her nature as a result of her faith was also new to me. How did you decide to make this a prominent facet of her transformation?
VC: I feel women are socialized to feel they need to please everyone first and consider themselves last. I find I still fall into this trap.
It is not acceptable for women to be angry or overtly sexual without being called a plethora of names. Growing up I was very insecure, but as I age, the more comfortable I am with expressing anger and my sexuality. If I want to eat something, I will without feeling an ounce of guilt. The last time I weighed myself was during my pregnancy and that was for a checkup. I think many women struggle with who they are inside and who they are supposed to be.
LH: That is so true, I know I do, and I want to get to the point where I can be more accepting of myself. There is a strong current of motherhood as a theme in this book – Maria’s tragedy in the first chapter, and the way the memory of it continues to influence her, essentially becoming her conscience, among other elements. How has motherhood affected your writing, and your goals for yourself?
VC: I wrote the first scene after experiencing a loss that I needed to emotionally come to terms with if I was going to continue trying for another child that I wasn’t sure I wanted. Fertility is not a guarantee and infertility changes part of you. My children bring out the best and worst in me. I’m not a patient person, but you need A LOT of patience with kids, as you do publishing. They have also taught me some very hard lessons in life.
LH: I never thought of that comparison, but it’s true – parenting and publication both require more patience than I usually have! As a mom of three kids, how do you carve out time for yourself to write?
VC: I write in the morning or while they are in school. Maria was written on my iPhone at a soft play center!
LH: That is definitely making the most of your time! What do they think of their mom having books in print?
VC: My teen thinks it is cool, the younger ones just want me to give them sweets.
LH: Ha! Yes, some days I am only a vessel for Tootsie Roll pops. I absolutely loved your Christmas short story for Kendall Reviews, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. I think every mother saw themselves in that – can you tell us what led to the writing of that story?
VC: Thank You! As I say in the story, we are expected to love Christmas and hold it to this high standard, but the same can be said for motherhood and marriage. I think women are looked down upon if we aren’t always reveling in domestic bliss. There are so many moving parts in adulthood that people cannot prepare you for. I wrote it after the birth of my last child when I felt overwhelmed navigating a large family.
LH: I can only imagine – I can barely wrangle one, and you’re right, there’s so much extra expectation placed on women for things like holidays. There’s a Twitter account about men writing women, that draws attention to the clichés and just downright laughable portrayals some male writers come up with when writing the opposite gender. Are there any persistent tropes like that you run into when non-Latinx writers have Latinx characters?
VC: You know, we are hardly ever written about that I have not noticed this in horror. But in other genres you do have the typical, maid, nanny, etc. With that said, I grew up around illegal immigrants and domestic workers. Their stories deserve to be told, but not by a non-Latinx author. There are so few Latinx authors given opportunities in publishing that it makes me cringe when we are overlooked to tell our stories. Yes, people can write other characters from different cultures, but not at our expense. That is why all my narratives are steeped in my culture.
LH: I think that’s an important message to other writers – Latinx authors should get to be the ones telling Latinx stories. What’s your writing bucket list – what specific goals would you like to accomplish with it?
VC: My next goal is to land an agent. Easier said than done! I have a novel that needs a home, so we will see. I would also love to traditionally publish the rest of the books for Maria The Wanted.
LH: I hope you find a home – I can’t wait to read more of your work! I loved Jorge’s gym, and Maria’s training in it. Is boxing something you’ve done?
VC: I was a personal trainer before I had my second child. I’m at home full time because child-care is very expensive here.
LH: That’s such a cool skill! Music is clearly important to you in your writing – there are a lot of references in Maria about what the characters are listening to. I particularly loved the way Selena was a central figure in her life, and a big impetus for her decision to leave Mexico. Do you listen to music while you write? Are the artists you reference on your playlist while you work?
VC: I LOVE music, and in my novella that will be released in February, you will find more music. I think it sets a mood, gives you a deeper insight to a character. How many times have we heard a song and remembered where we were when it came out or remind us of a significant moment in our lives? I love that.
LH: That’s so true – music really marks the place in our memories. And I’m excited about your novella! Who would be your top, wishlist choice to have blurb your next book?
VC: Gabino Iglesias or Sandra Cisneros. I really respect their work.
LH: I love Gabino’s work, and I just added Sandra’s to my TBR! Which Scary Story to Tell in the Dark freaked you out the most as a kid?
VC: The spiders bursting through the girl’s face because there were a lot of bugs in my house and I was sure it would happen to me.
LH: Ugh, yes, that one was truly shudder inducing. I really enjoy the Sci Fi & Scary team – you guys put out a large amount of quality reviews and interviews. How did you end up being a contributor?
VC: They are the best because of their love for the genre and books. Lilyn sent out a tweet and I answered. Never looked back!
LH: Match made in heaven! You’re magically granted a week of time off and childcare to go anywhere you want to write. Where do you go?
VC: Mexico or Spain!
LH: You mention loving to watch too much telly when you get a break from everything else – what’s your current go-to binge?
VC: Peaky Blinders is a favorite, but I’ve watched them all. I’ve slowed down with the shows because writing and reviewing films are a priority at the moment.
LH: I love those reviews – I get so few opportunities to watch movies, I really appreciate you vetting them! What’s next for you from a writing standpoint. Is the next installment in the Maria series on the horizon, or something totally different?
VC: 2020 is already so blessed. Hairspray and Switchblades drops in February. I have a novella that will be announced in March. Latinx Screams will be released in the fall and a few bits that I can’t talk about just yet.
LH: That’s so exciting! I’ll be watching your Twitter thread! Two lipstick related questions – do you have a favorite stick of red? And can you put it on without a mirror?
VC: I love my MAC red lip glass and NARS red lip crayon. I have never tried without a mirror. Challenge accepted!
LH: You can never have too much red lipstick! Anything else you’d like to put out there?
VC: I have a few projects in 2020 for other authors as well as my own. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram ( @vlatinalondon) for updates.
LH: THANK YOU!!
Excellent, thanks so much for agreeing to speak with us!