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Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of Signal to Noise - one of Jodie's favourite books of 2015 so far. Today she joins us to talk about how Mexican soap operas have influenced her writing.

Periodically people ask me where I get my ideas, how my Mexican background influences my writing and the role of music in my life. And by periodically I mean only for the past few months because my debut novel Signal to Noise – about teenagers who learn to cast magic spells using vinyl records in 1980s Mexico City – came out this year and I’ve done some interviews on this topic.

Now when someone asks you to lists your influences and cultural background there’s a classy way to do it, which involves mentioning some of the great writers you read. And then there’s the dark underbelly of my childhood, the 1980s monster lurking under the bed: the intros to Mexican soap operas.

Soap operas in Mexico only last for a few months or a year and they generally have a theme song. This ensures a new crop of different stories on TV with every season and it also ensures savvy soap opera makers can sell you the official album of the soap.

As a kid I wasn’t formally allowed to watch all soap operas (there are soap operas for kids and teenagers, and soaps for the grownups) and I was honestly not that interested in watching the ones for my age group. I was, however, quite intrigued by the soap opera intros which I sometimes had a chance to glimpse when the adults were watching TV. Because I didn’t know the plot I tended to use the intro as a starting point and then launch into an alternative narrative. Anyway, watching these bits of soap opera taught me very much, just as watching Hammer films, Santo movies, and looking at the covers of Gothic novels from the 60s and 70s also bent my brain. Forever.

In Signal to Noise, the character of Daniela loves soaps and she is a fan of a particular soap called El extraño retorno de Diana Salazar. The intro, which you can see below can be summarized thus: a 17th century version of Carrie is burned at the stake for the crime of making a chandelier come tumbling down. Two murders and one suicide take place in the two minutes we get.

Impact on my life: I discovered that you could do supernatural stuff and set it in Mexico. Creepy supernatural stuff. This idea became clearer once I read "La Gallina Degollada," a story by a Latin American writer where a giant tick in a pillow murders a girl.

I’m sure Daniela would have also watched Quinceañera. It is one of the most horrifying intros ever made. This video about two fifteen-year old girls begin with the suggested violation of one of the girls, followed by lingering and loving shots of young women in the shower and putting on their bras, concluding with a woman on a swing.

Impact on my life: I was very puzzled by this video. It’s depiction of womanhood by turns troubled and caught my interest. It was like a Disney movie gone bad with its girl in a poofy dress and strategic use of pink. Eventually I read "The Bloody Chamber" and it all became clear.

What to say about the 1989 soap Amor en Silencio? Words almost escape me. This intro opens with a fetus in utero, then there’s a night sky with an umbilical cord superimposed over it, a woman gets slapped, a couple of glasses break, someone gets shot, two children run to each other and turn into adults when they embrace, creepy shadow man leaves a note.

Impact on my life: Having yet to discover the meaning of the word “surreal” or watch the work of Luis Buñuel or David Lynch, this soap nevertheless seeded a splinter of absolute random weirdness in my subconscious.

Part of the strange appeal of the intros of these soaps was the music. The theme song sometimes had something to do with the subject matter of the soap, but it could also be wildly off topic or the images projected on screen simply did not make any sense whatsoever when spliced with the audio.
El Camino Secreto, for example, was in theory a noirish soap. But the lyrics and the random imagery (nothing says noir more than a fish tank!) were bafflingly out of synch. What was worse was that most theme songs were romantic, so you’d have a singer crooning about heart, passion or desire while someone is getting shot or killed or slapped around.

The result was that though these soaps were supposed to take place in the “real world,” in a place that looked like Mexico and was populated by Mexicans, it really seemed to be an alternate reality. At turns baffling, dreamy or nightmarish. One of dreamier videos, as opposed to horrifying examples, was the one for Los Parientes Pobres (not an 80s soap, it aired in 1993, so slightly after) with singer Lucerito in the title role and singing the theme song. Remember that if you read Signal to Noise she is one of Daniela’s favorite singers.

There was, in short, another strange world available for me inside the TV set. It was a different world than the one offered by Hammer films, though that also had its appeal – there was no rubber monster movie I would not like. It was also quite different from the worlds in my books of fairy tales, which always had a forest. But of course we didn’t have a forest near my home: we had a bar around the corner and a pool hall behind us and the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe to guard us. So the forest was certainly enticing but sometimes I just plain didn’t want it. The campy, and sometimes even perverse, lure of the soaps seemed more attainable. Eventually I discovered science fiction and horror comic books and those edged out the soaps. Still. Among the primordial soup that forms my influences soaps are there.

Supplemental Material

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's website
Silvia Moreno-Gracia's Patreon
Signal to Noise playlist
Five Weird Books By Women by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Women Write Lovecraft: An Interview with Editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles


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