Mexican American author V. Castro is a horror writer who is opening up doors for other Latinas in a white male-dominated genre. In April of this year she released her seventh novel The Haunting of Alejandra which follows the titular character as she struggles with an inner darkness she doesn’t understand, that could destroy her from the inside out even with the support of her husband, children, and adoptive mother around her. When she starts being haunted by a vision of La Llorona, she visits a therapist to unravel her family history, not only to discover the biological mother she never knew but also her grandmother and all the foremothers who have come before. In doing so, she realizes that they share more than tragedy and horrifying secrets; they share the visions of the women in a veil crying for help. And if she is to emerge unscathed, she will have to rely on the strength of her ancestors to help her vanquish La Llorona forever.
“I have always been fascinated with Mexican folklore and the urban legends of Texas,” Castro tells HipLatina. “As a child, I was a big reader and wrote my own ghost stories. It has been with me all along.”
She shares that she was able to read Latinx writers growing up like Isabel Allende, Rudolfo Anaya, and Sandra Cisneros providing her with cultural validation that was otherwise lacking in literature. Yet, she noticed Latinx representation was virtually non-existent in the science fiction and horror genres. They were instead dominated by more mainstream and often white male writers like Stephen King. Contemporary writers like Zoraida Cordova, Silvia Moreno Garcia, and Isabel Canas are helping to change the current landscape in horror storytelling. But at the time, that gap fueled her, which she credits as “one of the reasons I began.”
“That had to change and I had to try as long as I had a story within me,” she says. “Because horror allows for difficult emotions and topics to be explored. As a woman of color, I have a lot to say about the world and my experiences and I want to do it through stories, especially those from my culture that have not had the opportunity to be told. Horror and sci-fi tropes have been told for so long from the same perspective. I feel as a Latina, I bring a fresh take on these old tropes. Also, fear is universal. We all experience it in some form.”
But it would be several years, well into her adulthood, until she finally felt the courage to pursue her dream. For years, she continued to read and expand her taste for stories. She started a family, becoming a stay-at-home mother but she felt “a void” that she filled with writing.
“I felt a deep sense of needing more out of life than pleasing everyone else,” she says. “There were so many ideas in my mind for stories. With nothing to lose, I wrote my first book in my free time. Part of my first book was written on my phone when my son played in soft play at my local gym. It gave me a renewed sense of self and fulfillment.”
This first book would become a spooky vampire novel set in Juarez, Mexico which she ended up self-publishing after dozens of rejections from traditional publishers. Through this process, she ended up finding a sense of freedom, not only to tell her story on her own terms but also to meet other people who were writing within the horror genre. It will soon be republished with Titan Books, bringing the story to a new fanbase of readers.
Her first traditionally published novel was Hairspray and Switchblades published in 2020 which blended Mexican jaguar folklore with a story of two sisters fighting for survival in the streets. Since then, she has written a total of seven novels over the past three years, including her latest.
However, her transition to her writing full-time came at the personal cost of her relationship. That, coupled with COVID and the recent birth of her third child, the number of personal struggles she was experiencing was almost too much to handle. Just like she felt at the beginning of her career, she battled with feelings of grief, loss, and uncertainty. Yet again, it was writing that helped her work through that shares that writing came around once again to save the day to channel her emotions into a fictionalized version of what she was going through. Without that, The Haunting of Alejandra might never have been written.
“I felt like the weeping woman. This made me question the story of La Llorona and what she might have really been experiencing, what would cause her to take the life of her children and her own. It made me think of generational trauma going back to the arrival of the Spanish when Indigenous women, our ancestors, were forced to have their children. I poured my heart into it as a second type of therapy. It flew out of me.”
Her motivation? Telling a story that would be a voice for Latinas and all women of color who are or have experienced motherhood and other life milestones in ways that still feel taboo to talk about. A 2016 study in the Journal of Racial and Health Disparities found that the risk of postpartum depression is nearly 40 percent higher in Latinas compared to white mothers. Unfortunately, when mental health and wellness still struggle to be taken seriously in the community, symptoms are often not recognized or are ignored altogether. Across the board, women are led to believe that pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood are all powerful, positive changes that should be celebrated. Yes, the process can be beautiful, but why are our struggles then silenced? Through Alejandra, it’s clear that there are larger historical, ancestral, and cultural reasons at play for why we experience generational trauma, grief, and mental health issues in volumes. Things that happened in our family history can still affect us today, whether or not we’re actively aware of it, something Castro has experienced personally and wanted to bring to life through Alejandra’s story.
“Like in the book, my grandmother left my mother and her siblings when they were children. She was never heard from again,” she says. “I felt it important to speak about motherhood through the lens of our history and folklore. I also wanted to show that even at the lowest of points there is hope and love to be found. We are all deserving of it. And I want to encourage other women to speak their truth and live their lives in an authentic way.”
Castro will continue to explore these themes in her forthcoming novel Immortal Pleasures, this time unpacking the lore and life of Malintzin, popularly known as La Malinche. She was a Nahua woman who was enslaved by the Spanish, used to conquer the Aztec people, and gave birth to one of the first mestizos—all with a vampire twist. She is also writing a novel companion to Netflix’s upcoming sci-fi film Rebel Moon. But in all of her projects, no matter the genre or setting, she remains steadfast to her goal of giving a voice to women’s lives through a different perspective fueled by our community, culture, and history. Most of all, she hopes to give the tools Latinas need to thrive in the face of their own struggles and experiences. She notes:
“It’s okay to ask for help and change for the better. It is okay to demand more out of life and for yourself. There is power in being your authentic self. We don’t always have to be strong and take care of ourselves last. We should give ourselves permission to value our emotions and thoughts even if they are displeasing to others. Latinas should feel free to explore their Indigenous spiritual practices and all women of color should know in their souls their value.”