SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Cue the music.
(SOUNDBITE OF BACH'S "TOCCATA AND FUGUE IN D MINOR")
SIMON: Noemi, a young socialite in Mexico City of the mid-1950s, reads a letter from her cousin Catalina, who lives in an old gothic mansion in the mountains with her wealthy new husband. But the house doesn't sound like just another fixer upper.
SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA: (Reading) This house is sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment. I have tried to hold onto my wits to keep this foulness away, but I cannot. And I find myself losing track of time and thoughts. Please, please. They are cruel and unkind, and they will not let me go. I bar my door, but still they come. They whisper at night, and I am so afraid of these restless dead, these ghosts, fleshless things.
SIMON: That's Silvia Moreno-Garcia reading from her latest novel "Mexican Gothic." She joins us from Vancouver. Thanks so much for being with us.
MORENO-GARCIA: Thank you.
SIMON: The house is called High Place, doesn't seem like a congenial fit for Noemi, who does, in fact, go there, does it?
MORENO-GARCIA: Yes. No, it's very different from her world back in Mexico City.
SIMON: Her cousin Catalina has married Virgil, the British heir of a silver fortune. Maybe we should say a former silver fortune. An impertinent question - so Catalina married her husband without ever seeing where he lived?
MORENO-GARCIA: Yes, he went to Mexico City, and they met there. It was a bit of a whirlwind romance. And then he kind of sold her this bill of goods. I guess she said it was a kind of romantic, old place. And Catalina is a bit of a romantic. She read books, like "Wuthering Heights" or "Jane Eyre," so it all sounded OK to her in theory. But once she got there she seems to have a different opinion about the place.
SIMON: I believe I've read you read some of those books when you were a child.
MORENO-GARCIA: Yes, that's right.
SIMON: What was the draw for you and that put you on this path in writing?
MORENO-GARCIA: Well, I really liked, when I was a child, just reading scary stories. It was very fun. The horrors that I found on the page - the vampires and, you know, the Frankenstein monsters and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, all that kind of stuff - was always more welcoming and less intimidating than my real life growing up in Mexico City. So it was kind of, like, a safe space in a strange way because reality could be a lot more dangerous than any kind of ghostly shenanigan you could imagine.
SIMON: Do you mind telling us about that?
MORENO-GARCIA: No, I mean, I moved a lot around. When I was a child in Mexico, my father was always kind of losing his job, getting into trouble. And so there was a lot of economical instability in my family. And so I lived in different places. And some neighborhoods were kind of rougher than the others. And I was also a strange child because I had to move around. I was inserted into communities quite often. And it's pretty hard to make friendships when you're moving every six or eight months through a country. So I had trouble fitting in. And nowadays, my son has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. And I think I was basically undiagnosed. And women are much less likely to be diagnosed. So that along with some of my learning disabilities - I am dyslexic. And all that kind of stuff just put this kind of strain on me where I wasn't a very social child. And so I retreated into books.
SIMON: Well, and let's get a little more into your story. There's this house High Place - seems to hold many secrets. Is that a fair enough way to put it?
MORENO-GARCIA: I think so.
SIMON: The faded wealth reflected in this house - well, it was a house that was built at great cost. Let me put it that way.
SIMON: And I don't mean financial cost.
MORENO-GARCIA: Probably that, too.
SIMON: You do every now and then find yourself asking, why don't the two cousins just get out? But it's not that simple, is it?
MORENO-GARCIA: No, it's not. It's basically in the middle of nowhere, and there's no easy transportation. And it's also, you know, the 1950s. Women don't have the vote in Mexico yet, so you are in a much more vulnerable position in terms of your husband having a lot more power over you.
SIMON: I say this with vast respect. Your book frightened the hell out of me (laughter).
MORENO-GARCIA: That's good.
SIMON: I know. That's the idea. I salute you. You know, it did bring me a little bit out of the kind of insular funk that a lot of us are in being cooped up in our homes. I mean, it gave me something else to fear, beginning with the walls.
MORENO-GARCIA: (Laughter) Yeah, some people have told me that they're now afraid of certain things after reading it. So...
SIMON: Why do you think so many of us enjoy a good fright?
MORENO-GARCIA: The thing is it's a controlled fright. It's like when you go to a roller coaster, and you know that you're going to plunge, but you're not really going to die. If you really thought you were going to die when you were plunging down the roller coaster, you probably wouldn't get on it. But also, horror is a way to explore certain topics that are not as interesting when they're explored in other ways. And you see that with good horror when it explores things like race, things like violence, things like womanhood - that it's just this really great tapestry where you can weave a lot of pictures.
SIMON: Silvia Moreno-Garcia - her novel "Mexican Gothic." Thank you so much for being with us.
MORENO-GARCIA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.