NOVEMBER 23, 2022
I FIRST LEARNED of Gabino Iglesias a few years ago through his unapologetically prolific Twitter feed, where he encourages other authors to “hustle and get it done.” And what hustle is that? Writing and finding a publisher. He has little patience for writers who proclaim that all they need to do is write and leave the rest to fate and the power of their art. As Iglesias put it in a tweet last year: “I wish folks would stop saying ‘a book will always find its audience’ as if a writer’s hustle and platform and things like marketing, reviews, and distribution didn’t play a huge role in it.”
But the hustle is not just in the service of one’s own writing. Iglesias lifts other writers by reviewing for numerous outlets such as the Los Angeles Review of Books, LitReactor, PANK, and NPR, and tweeting about new books that he loves. He is truly an inspiration. Indeed, Iglesias has twice inspired me to write short stories. The first time was in 2019, when he sent out a call for submissions for “border noir” stories. I pitched “Los Otros Coyotes,” a story set in a dystopian future where Donald Trump has imposed martial law, built his border wall, and implemented an extreme family-separation program that includes the microchipping of the children of deported immigrants. Iglesias quickly accepted my pitch, and I then had to write the story, which I did. The final result appears in the powerhouse anthology Both Sides: Stories from the Border (Agora Books, 2020), which includes stories by such writers as David Bowles, Cynthia Pelayo, and Alex Segura, to name a few.
The second time Iglesias inspired me to write was when he tweeted last year about having a lump surgically removed from his neck. I tweeted back that I was going to write a story based on his experience, which amused Iglesias. The result was a magical-realist horror bromance titled “Nacho” that I dedicated to him — something I seldom do. The Rumpus published my strange little story, something that also amused Iglesias.
But what of his writing? Iglesias’s supernatural crime fiction is as breathtaking as it is genre-bending; it’s nothing short of a thrill ride that explores the darkest recesses of human fallibility and our country’s lurid bigotry towards “the Other.” He is the author of the novels Zero Saints (2015) and Coyote Songs (2018) — both from Broken River Books — and Gutmouth (2012), from Eraserhead Press. Iglesias, who teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program, is a member of the Horror Writers Association, the Mystery Writers of America, and the National Book Critics Circle. And, of course, you can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.
Iglesias’s latest novel, The Devil Takes You Home (released in August by Mulholland Books), follows the fate of Mario, a man smothering in debt due to his young daughter’s illness. With his marriage in shreds, he reluctantly takes a job as a hitman, eventually agreeing to one final job hijacking a cartel’s cash shipment before it reaches Mexico. Mario teams up with his meth-addicted friend, Brian, and a cartel insider named Juanca. In the mix are supernatural elements that compete quite readily with real-world horrors. The novel has already earned effusive praise from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, CrimeReads, and Vanity Fair.
And let me add my voice to this chorus: The Devil Takes You Home inarguably establishes Gabino Iglesias as one of our most innovative, exhilarating, and gifted novelists, who, once again, blends genres with exquisitely dark, compelling, and provocative results. This novel takes no prisoners.
Iglesias kindly took time away from his “hustle” to speak with LARB about his latest novel.
DANIEL A. OLIVAS: The hero (or antihero, if you will) of The Devil Takes You Home is a man who has suffered unspeakable personal loss, not to mention a self-inflicted rupture in his marriage. He feels deep remorse and guilt, yet he is hopeful that one big score will restore some of what he’s lost. Could you talk about how you created Mario and what you wanted to explore through his journey?
GABINO IGLESIAS: One of the things I love the most about horror and crime fiction is that both genres share a heart: at their core are good people who are thrown into bad situations. Mario is all of us — far from perfect but not bad. He’s desperate and the system doesn’t offer him many options. Most people know what that feels like. I wrote about 45,000 words of The Devil Takes You Home while writing for various venues, teaching high school full-time, and teaching an MFA course at SNHU at night. Then I lost the high school teaching gig and my health insurance along with it, and this happened in June 2020, just as the pandemic was raging. I would read about people getting sick and then receiving astronomical medical bills. I was angry and worried, and I injected all of that into Mario. Hopefully that will make him resonate with people, especially with those who understand that good people sometimes do awful things for all the right reasons.
Though your novel could be classified as border noir, there are horrifying supernatural elements — and entities — that fulfill the promise of the book’s title. From a craft standpoint, what were the benefits and difficulties involved in blending two different genres to create a narrative that is perfectly balanced?
Thank you for the kind words! Balance is a good thing, so I’m happy to hear it worked. Mixing elements of crime, horror, noir, and magical realism is something I’ve been doing since I switched to English in 2008 and started tackling writing as something that could really become my career. I think crime and horror are perfect dancing partners. I love both, so mixing them makes sense to me. Both can make you feel a lot of things, and if you mix them, the plethora of feelings can become a powerful, unforgettable thing. The only difficulties come after the books are done. Sometimes crime readers don’t like my work because there are too many monsters, ghosts, supernatural events, and religious themes. Sometimes horror readers don’t like my work because there are too many real problems, real people, and guns. It’s okay. A big part of growing as a writer is coming to terms with the fact that your work isn’t for everyone.
A theme that runs through your novel is bigotry, specifically the way the United States government and certain members of our society question the very right of Latinos to be in this country, even when they are citizens and have been here for generations. Indeed, one particular fight scene at a restaurant is ignited by bigoted comments. Could you share some thoughts on how you explored the theme of bigotry through various characters’ viewpoints and actions, specifically Mario, his white friend Brian, and the cartel insider Juanca?
The United States is the land of freedom and opportunity … but that freedom and those opportunities are different — or entirely nonexistent — if you’re a woman, a person of color, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, neurodivergent, or disabled. Bigotry, in this country, is alive and well. In fact, it’s doing better than it was doing a couple of years ago. I’m a brown man with an accent and a name full of vowels. I was born and raised in a colony and will always be a second-class citizen, and I can’t complain because at least I’m a citizen. Mario is the same, and he even recognizes the privilege of having that citizenship. Brian is a straight white man, so he’s more or less oblivious to all that, but he’s also poor and hooked on meth, so he doesn’t get all the benefits. Juanca is different — he’s the border kid who has lived between cultures, just like Mario but without some of the benefits. The three of them offer readers a view of the same problems from different perspectives.
Daniel A. Olivas is a playwright, book critic, editor, and author of 10 books, including How to Date a Flying Mexican: New and Collected Stories (University of Nevada Press, 2022). He has written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Alta Journal, and La Bloga. Follow him on Twitter @olivasdan.