Head­shots by Mar­tin Dee 2020, Krol & Sebas­t­ian 2020

Lavie Tid­har and Sil­via Moreno-Gar­cia dis­cuss their jour­neys as read­ers and writ­ers, their explo­ration of the sci­ence fiction/​fan­ta­sy genre, and their work on The Jew­ish Mex­i­can Lit­er­ary Review.

Lavie Tid­har: I’m try­ing to think how we end­ed up doing The Jew­ish Mex­i­can Lit­er­ary Review. If I remem­ber cor­rect­ly we were jok­ing about how we need some lit­er­ary cre­den­tials — some­thing that would look good on a piece of paper — and tried to come up with the most ridicu­lous­ly pres­ti­gious name for a mag­a­zine. It had to have Jour­nal” or Review” in it, and then we fig­ured I was Jew­ish, and you were Mex­i­can, and if you put all of these togeth­er you end up with some­thing like, well, The Jew­ish Mex­i­can Lit­er­ary Review! So once we had the name, we had to go and actu­al­ly do it.

It was sort of a trip. We didn’t take it very seri­ous­ly, but I learned a lot about actu­al Mex­i­can Jews, for exam­ple the group of Sur­re­al­ist artists that includ­ed Pedro Friede­berg, Wolf­gang Paalen, and Fri­da Kahlo. Nao­mi Alder­man wrote a ter­rif­ic sto­ry for the mag­a­zine that was a kind of trav­el­ogue that she made between Israel and Mex­i­co that year. It was inter­est­ing to see one of the Jew­ish neigh­bour­hoods in Mex­i­co City pop up in your most recent nov­el, Vel­vet Was The Night, while the man­u­script I just fin­ished, Maror, actu­al­ly ends in Mex­i­co after trac­ing forty years of Israel’s dark­est his­to­ry. One of the things that fas­ci­nat­ed me in the research was the strong con­nec­tion not just between Israel and Latin Amer­i­ca in gen­er­al (not just lit­er­ary, but in terms of arms sup­plies and the mil­i­tary) but the his­tor­i­cal links between crim­i­nals in both coun­tries! But since Maror will only be out next year, and Vel­vet Was The Night is still to come out this sum­mer, maybe we should leave that con­ver­sa­tion for anoth­er time.

What amazes me is that we actu­al­ly did three real­ly great issues of The Jew­ish Mex­i­can Lit­er­ary Review over three years. It’s still one of my favourite things. We had orig­i­nal work from Nao­mi Alder­man, a sto­ry from Etgar Keret, an inter­view with Car­men Maria Macha­do, and some cool poet­ry from Ng Yi-Sheng and Shi­mon Adaf. The cov­er art was great too. We even cre­at­ed a fic­tion­al his­to­ry of the mag­a­zine, begin­ning with two of its leg­endary first edi­tors, and one of them turned up unex­pect­ed­ly in your book Prime Merid­i­an! Which I just loved. How did you come to write Prime Merid­i­an?

Sil­via Moreno-Gar­cia: I went to school on a schol­ar­ship and had much wealth­i­er class­mates. I remem­bered feel­ing like it was as if I had stepped onto anoth­er plan­et when I vis­it­ed some of them. It is unre­al the kind of wealth you can find in Mex­i­co City and I want­ed to show some of that. Also, I’ve always been attract­ed to more mun­dane” sci­ence fic­tion sto­ries. The default, I think, is to imag­ine sci­ence fic­tion as rock­ets and space heroes, but I’m more like­ly to won­der what a space plumber does. In that sense, I think your Cen­tral Sta­tion also plays in that are­na of show­cas­ing not the pulpi­er side of sci­ence fic­tion, but a more per­son­al slice of sci­ence fiction/​fan­ta­sy. It’s fun­ny, because I think you and I have some­times end­ed up tack­ling the same con­cepts from dif­fer­ent angles with­out dis­cussing it or intend­ing it. I was sur­prised when I read The Hood and it had all the fun­gal bits because I’d just done Mex­i­can Goth­ic.

If you think of sci­ence fic­tion nar­ra­tives, in par­tic­u­lar, they’re so defined by their pulp mag­a­zine ori­gins — excit­ing plots, lone heroes sav­ing the world!

LT: I think a part of it is def­i­nite­ly a shared response to Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture. If you think of sci­ence fic­tion nar­ra­tives, in par­tic­u­lar, they’re so defined by their pulp mag­a­zine ori­gins — excit­ing plots, lone heroes sav­ing the world! Which is part of the fun, of course, but I know when I set out to write Cen­tral Sta­tion I want­ed to do the exact oppo­site of that. I want­ed to write about these very ordi­nary peo­ple liv­ing ordi­nary lives, just set against a big sci­ence fic­tion­al back­ground. No chas­es or escapes, but famil­ial rela­tion­ships. I want­ed to write about the big extend­ed fam­i­ly that you nev­er see in West­ern sci­ence fic­tion. The sense that it’s not just you, it’s your sec­ond cousin’s ex-wife’s broth­er or your aunt who’s not real­ly your aunt but is part of the fam­i­ly for rea­sons you don’t even know, and so on; that huge net­work of peo­ple and oblig­a­tions, some­thing that one of the char­ac­ters in the book tries (maybe like me!) to get away from, but is pulled back into it. Of course then you had read­ers com­plain­ing there was no plot to the book, when what they meant was that it didn’t have an adven­ture plot. But real life doesn’t fol­low the beats of a pulp story.

I also do drift to writ­ing about cer­tain cities — Tel Aviv in Cen­tral Sta­tion, Lon­don in A Man Lies Dream­ing—and one thing I want­ed to ask you about was Mex­i­co City being such a dom­i­nant nexus in your work. It’s there in your first book, Sig­nal To Noise, it’s in Cer­tain Dark Things of course, and in Vel­vet Was The Night—what is it about Mex­i­co City that pulls you so strong­ly to write about it?

SMG: I have writ­ten about Van­cou­ver in sev­er­al short sto­ries and I have a nov­el that is not set in Mex­i­co, but I do tend to write a lot of sto­ries inspired by Mex­i­co. I wor­ried about it more in the begin­ning, but I even­tu­al­ly con­clud­ed that it’s not as if the mar­ket is sat­u­rat­ed with genre sto­ries set in Mex­i­co. I do want to write some­thing set in New Eng­land and then even­tu­al­ly my Big Van­cou­ver Nov­el. Van­cou­ver is such a clean look­ing, goody-two shoes city but its past is not so clean cut and it has the whole Hol­ly­wood North” aspect to it.

I also feel tempt­ed to write more sword and sor­cery novel­las. I have one out this year, The Return of the Sor­cer­ess, and it remind­ed me how much I liked Clark Ash­ton Smith’s Hyper­bo­ria sto­ries. It’s not exact­ly a hot genre any­more and novel­las are hard to place, but I sus­pect I could build a mosa­ic nov­el out of sword and sor­cery novellas.

You once told me you were a short sto­ry writer that had been turned into a nov­el­ist almost against your will. Do you still feel that way or are you more fond of the nov­el as a lit­er­ary vehi­cle now?

LT: No, I hate nov­els! I kind of get around it now by pre­tend­ing each sec­tion I write is a short sto­ry. It’s sur­pris­ing­ly effec­tive in writ­ing long books, as it hap­pens, because you get to map out the ter­rain slow­ly, and you can switch voic­es and styles and have a lot of fun with it. I actu­al­ly have my own guns and sor­cery” series, the Gorel of Goliris sto­ries — it is tremen­dous fun writ­ing this stuff, so when I get a chance, or a sym­pa­thet­ic edi­tor, I’ll do one and even­tu­al­ly there’ll be a book.

I’m writ­ing this huge nov­el called Maror at the moment, which traces over forty years of Israeli his­to­ry — all the bad parts. I keep find­ing that I sim­ply can’t make any­thing up that wouldn’t be matched and then mag­ni­fied a hun­dred times over by real his­to­ry. So, like you, I’m kind of segue­ing side­ways from genre. I do write books that aren’t clear­ly one thing or the oth­er, though. When A Man Lies Dream­ing came out it was pub­lished as lit­er­ary fic­tion, and my edi­tor at the time said that meant I could no longer write any­thing else. And I said, But my next book has a space­ship on the cov­er! And that was Cen­tral Sta­tion, which had a much wider recep­tion than I’d ever antic­i­pat­ed. It would be nice to just write books with­out wor­ry­ing about labels. A short book I did recent­ly was The Big Blind, and it’s sort of a feel-good novel­la about a nun who enters a pok­er tour­na­ment to try to save her con­vent. And I love that! I don’t want to write the same book over and over again, which is what the pub­lish­ing indus­try kind of demands of you. And I know you’ve resist­ed it as much as I did.

We do seem to share a lot of influ­ences, like how we both dis­cov­ered and love the work of Roger Zelazny, and we both love old noir. I would take trips to a lot of sec­ond hand book­shops as a kid. I was won­der­ing, first­ly, where did your read­ing come from, and sec­ond­ly, if you’ve ever gone on a lit­er­ary pil­grim­age” (oth­er than the time you showed me around H. P. Lovecraft’s New England!).

My moth­er reads a lot. She taught her­self how to read in Eng­lish because she liked read­ing sci­ence fic­tion, fan­ta­sy, and hor­ror; that is how we end­ed up with Stephen King in our house and many oth­er of my gate­way genre writers.

SMG: My moth­er reads a lot. She taught her­self how to read in Eng­lish because she liked read­ing sci­ence fic­tion, fan­ta­sy, and hor­ror; that is how we end­ed up with Stephen King in our house and many oth­er of my gate­way genre writ­ers (Love­craft, Clark Ash­ton Smith, Zelazny). I was born near the Amer­i­can bor­der, the fron­tera, so my moth­er had easy access to Eng­lish lan­guage books because of that. You would pop over to the oth­er side of the bor­der for a lit­tle hol­i­day and bring back import­ed stuff (records, books, etc). After we left the north of Mex­i­co, it was hard­er to get Eng­lish lan­guage mate­r­i­al, but in Mex­i­co City there was one Eng­lish lan­guage book­store in the colo­nia Anzures and we used to go there and I loved brows­ing. Eng­lish-lan­guage imports were expen­sive com­pared to the Span­ish lan­guage trans­la­tions, and my par­ents were jour­nal­ists, so our house­hold bud­get was a feast and famine sit­u­a­tion. But when there was a feast, my par­ents bought books.

My moth­er was also inter­est­ed in novel­las negras back then, that is, noir. And the good news is that unlike spec­u­la­tive fic­tion, there were many local and Span­ish lan­guage writ­ers work­ing in that cat­e­go­ry. So it was more afford­able. There were also used book­stores down­town and you could always count on bar­gains there.

Because we didn’t have a lot of mon­ey all the time, my moth­er roamed fre­quent­ly among the remain­dered piles of books at big book­stores like Gand­hi in Mex­i­co City. Expen­sive stores like San­borns and Tow­er Records also had sales dur­ing the year (and yes, they had titles in Eng­lish) and that was when we swooped in. When I couldn’t afford a book, such as the expen­sive Giger books for sale at Tow­er Records, I would sim­ply sit down in a cor­ner and read mag­a­zines or lis­ten to music until an employ­ee kicked me out. I was eleven or twelve and read­ing Fan­go­ria for free like that. When I turned into a teenag­er, it became hard­er and eas­i­er to read in the store. On the one hand, being a teenage girl means a lot of unwant­ed male atten­tion. On the oth­er hand, the male employ­ees were will­ing to let me read as long as I smiled at them a lit­tle and laughed at a joke or two.

I did have one scary night where a guy tried to fol­low me home. But that mate­r­i­al is prob­a­bly saved for a noir I might write one day. At any rate, this was all before the Inter­net changed the world and now you don’t need to squeeze into dusty old book­shops, and the Tow­er Records near Refor­ma is prob­a­bly long gone. But there was a ben­e­fit to those days of ana­log media and it is that I acquired a very eclec­tic palate because I had to — you find very odd and unex­pect­ed things in remain­dered bins and on dusty shelves — and I dis­cov­ered some great books along the way.

I have gone on one lit­er­ary quest, aside from my big Love­craft search, and that was in San Fran­cis­co. At one point when I was a teenag­er I read Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Dark­ness and a cou­ple of years ago I tried to vis­it the loca­tions he men­tions in that book. If I ever make it to Eng­land, you can show me Joseph Grimaldi’s grave. As I think you know, from our Boston tour, I like ceme­ter­ies. And on that grim note, adieu.

LT: I’d just fin­ished writ­ing The Escape­ment (a nov­el that has more than a lit­tle to do with clown­ing) when I lit­er­al­ly stum­bled on Grimaldi’s grave. The Father of Clowns has been rest­ing near a children’s play­ground by King’s Cross for almost two hun­dred years, though, so I’m sure he’ll wait for you a lit­tle longer!

Lavie Tid­har (A Man Lies Dream­ingUnholy Land) is an acclaimed author of lit­er­a­ture, sci­ence fic­tion, fan­ta­sy, graph­ic nov­els, and mid­dle grade fic­tion. Tid­har received the Camp­bell and Neukom Lit­er­ary awards for his break­out nov­el Cen­tral Sta­tion, which has been trans­lat­ed into more than ten lan­guages. He has also received the British Sci­ence Fic­tion, British Fan­ta­sy, and World Fan­ta­sy Awards. Tid­har’s recent books include the Arthuri­an satire By Force Alone, and the series Adler. He is a book colum­nist for the Wash­ing­ton Post, and recent­ly edit­ed the Best of World SF anthol­o­gy. Tid­har has lived all over the world, includ­ing Israel, Van­u­atu, Laos, and South Africa, and he cur­rent­ly resides with his fam­i­ly in London. 

Sil­via Moreno-Gar­cia is the New York Times best­selling author of the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed spec­u­la­tive nov­els Gods of Jade and Shad­owSig­nal to Noise, Cer­tain Dark Things, and The Beau­ti­ful Ones; and the crime nov­el Untamed Shore. She has edit­ed sev­er­al antholo­gies, includ­ing the World Fan­ta­sy Award – win­ning She Walks in Shad­ows (aka Cthulhu’s Daugh­ters). She lives in Van­cou­ver, British Columbia.