Once you start Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s feminist thriller, you will inevitably stay up past 1 a.m. to finish it. You should also expect to have some twisted nightmares after binge-reading about 22-year-old Noemí Taboada’s ordeal at her ancestral home, High Place. The book hit The New York Times and The Washington Post hardcover bestseller lists back in 2020 and Netflix ultimately bought the development rights.
What you might not realize is that back before she made it big as an author, Moreno-Garcia was first a Gull, majoring in communications, working her way through college as a Resident Assistant at Endicott’s very own haunted house, Winthrop Hall, which legend says is stalked by the ghost of the Pink Lady.
“There’s a door in the stairwell that goes nowhere, but I can confidently say that while patrolling the halls at night as an RA, I never saw anything other than students trying to trick each other into believing they’d seen a ghost,” said the 2003 graduate from the Vancouver, British-Columbia, townhouse she shares with her family.
Is it possible that the idea of the Pink Lady subconsciously came up in her latest book, Silver Nitrate, in which a vision of a main character’s dead, mangled girlfriend visits him in a claustrophobic hallway after midnight?
Perhaps, but Moreno-Garcia said bluntly, “I don’t believe in the supernatural—and I especially don’t believe in the supernatural in that dorm.”
During her Endicott chapter, Moreno-Garcia didn’t yet dream of becoming a novelist, although the literary world had always surrounded her like a velvet cloak. Growing up in Mexico City, she is the daughter of journalists, the granddaughter of storytellers, and identifies as Cachanilla (Mexicali) and Canuck. Heroines, villains, legends, and books were omnipresent in her childhood. In fact, she chose Endicott because of them.
“I’d read H.P. Lovecraft and wanted to live in the landscapes that he talked about in his short stories. I wanted that small-town Norman Rockwell American college experience,” she said.
And that’s exactly what Moreno-Garcia got, complete with the wild peacocks she loved watching tiptoe their way across campus, the charming town of Beverly, plus Salem—in all its secretive witching glory—beckoning each October.
“The only creative writing classes I ever took in my life were at Endicott. I picked courses on topics like Introduction to Creative Writing, Writing the First Novel … and the bulk of them were with the same professor.”
“The only creative writing classes I ever took in my life were at Endicott.”
Professor of English Daniel Sklar is still at Endicott 20 years later.
Moreno-Garcia remembers him as a joyful person who motivated his students to do the reading and writing assignments. “I learned a bunch of things from him and got interested in the mechanics of writing at a deeper level,” she said.
But despite her passion for writing, she chose not to pursue an MFA in creative writing—a decision she stands by—and instead sharpened her craft in isolation. She credits Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of Craft with giving her some of the tools necessary to plan out her novels.
After graduation, Moreno-Garcia migrated to Canada. Newly married with a baby—and a growing stack of bills—she took several day jobs and wrote every minute she could. On the bus commute to work, hunched over her laptop. Or after she got the baby down at night.
It was tiring and hard, but she had stubbornness going for her, so she dug in and kept typing. “I knew that I had to write myself out of the situation to make a better life for us,” Moreno-Garcia said. There was no other path for her.
Eventually, the effort paid off when she sold her first story to a small literary magazine for $10. Seeing a check even in a symbolic amount was confidence-building. She told herself, “If I can get $10, I can get $20. And if I can get $20, then I can get $40. So it was that kind of idea. I sold a lot of short stories to very small magazines and weird anthologies.”
Yet, Moreno-Garcia refused to regard herself as a writer until eventually she had published enough pieces that her debut collection of short stories, This Strange Way of Dying, was acquired by Exile Editions, an independent Canadian small press known for discovering new authors. She was 26 years old when her first story came out, 32 when the collection was released. “That’s when I began to find my voice. Everything before that was juvenalia,” she said.
She won $3,000 from a writing competition (she used it to pay off an over-the-limit credit card) and a meeting with the heiress, Gloria Vanderbilt. Since then, her work has won the Locus, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy Awards.
But even with the mounting success, the fan mail—and nine published novels on her shelf—each one more chilling, magical, and braver than the last, Moreno-Garcia only quit her day job in communications last year. Now she writes full-time. And she’s quick to cut down any romance about it. “I don’t have a glamorous house or a glamorous desk, so I write from wherever I can.”
With three kids in the home and all their stuff afoot, there isn’t exactly the luxury of a dedicated writing space. Instead, Moreno-Garcia moves from room to room with a portable tripod desk while working on a manuscript, mapping out a story arc before going all in. And her virtual desk drawers are packed full of balled-up paper scribbled with ideas that she toys with and revisits until a plot eventually becomes clear.
She said the process can take years—and plot twists or character concepts often appear in the unlikeliest of places, once even while picking up a carton of eggs at the grocery store. Her most recent idea to make it out of the drawer and into readers’ hands was Silver Nitrate—a work of paranormal fiction set in Mexico City’s film industry in the 1990s. Moreno-Garcia is a movie buff and was inspired by old clips of supernatural thrillers, as well as the bizarre history of a Nazi obsession with curses and the occult.
It doesn’t look like she’ll stop imagining new books anytime soon. “I don’t believe in writer’s block,” she scoffs. “We don’t speak about nurse’s block, teacher’s block, or plumber’s block. There are issues like depression that can make it difficult to work, but that applies to plumbers and writers alike. When you mythologize writers, you make it hard to find the care you need if you’re not naming the condition that is leading to your productivity issues.”
Her advice? Just keep putting words down until a story takes shape. “The things that interest me in life generally lead to my stories,” she said. Then she logged off Zoom to return to her latest project.
What do you write with?
My laptop—never by hand.
Favorite character you’ve ever written into one of your books?
No one in particular, but I do like villains. It’s just fun to write about someone who is morally reprehensible
Least favorite word?
I can’t think of one. Words are fun.
Favorite place on campus?
The cafeteria. Except, now there is a Starbucks there. We didn’t have that but I would meet my friends there every night and we would stay until we got kicked out for closing.
Who did you see when you went back to Endicott for your 20th reunion last summer?
I met two close friends at Endicott—Dan and Mary—and we’ve been friends now for more than 20 years. We met up with our librarian at Endicott, Betty Roland. She is now retired but was always very nice and helpful to me as a student. When I graduated, I donated a box of my books to her and the library. I couldn’t carry them back to Mexico.