Editor Lauren T. Davila featured a few authors in both of her Outland anthologies: When Other People Saw Us, They Saw the Dead (out now) and To Root Somewhere Beautiful (currently on Kickstarter). One of these is C.M. Leyva, a speculative fiction author and registered nurse who enjoys writing character-driven fiction in all genres. Leyva's tale in the first, "Smoke from a Flame," is about a woman haunted by her sister's death. In To Root Somewhere Beautiful, Leyva's story "Unlocked" features a woman in a government rehab program who finds herself in the middle of more than the scientific expedition she signed up for.
We chatted with C.M. about working on these anthologies.
Outland: What do you enjoy about writing stories in these different genres?
C.M.: One of my favorite things about writing short stories is the opportunity to experiment. It allows you to step out of your comfort zone as a writer and take chances you normally wouldn’t with longer pieces. With “Unlocked” in To Root Somewhere Beautiful, I created a unique character from my usual protagonists, and everything about them felt more natural in a point of view/tense that I hadn’t done before in SFF. I’m so glad I just went with it, because it worked out perfect for the story and Eva is one of my favorite main characters I’ve written. My other piece, “Smoke From a Flame” in When Other People Saw Us, They Saw The Dead, was my first published story, which brought me back to my roots as a horror writer. The very first story I ever wrote was a middle grade horror back in middle school, which is currently haunting a drawer. It’s always fun to see how things eventually come full circle in life.
Outland: What is it like to go into these genres that have a bunch of preconceived notions, ideas, and tropes and try to write something new?
C.M.: I love playing with genre expectations, but doing that takes a strong understanding of those ideas, notions, and tropes you mentioned. What drew me to gothic horror was the personification of setting and delving into what truly haunts us. Knowing that, I realized these don’t have to be old Victorian homes from centuries ago. It can also be terrifyingly close. That’s why I chose a modern-day hacienda style home in Coconut Grove and explored the idea that sometimes we are the ones that can’t let go.
For To Root Somewhere Beautiful, I was so excited to explore space, especially since my most recent novel had heavy reclamation themes on Earth. With the backdrop of space, I knew I wanted to have fun with this story. Which is how an overconfident, smart-mouthed criminal joins an exploration crew to a new planet for a chance at a new beginning. With a perfectly curated 80s soundtrack for her last day on earth, of course.
Outland: Specific voices have often been published in these genres—what is it to write in them for you?
C.M.: I’ve been exploring this question a lot as I’ve worked through my “why” when it comes to writing. Looking back at my writing from when I was younger, I realized how much those specific voices in U.S. media influenced who I thought a main character could be. It’s actually intimidating to write outside of what we see so often in media, because it feels like extra pressure to check boxes people have created. That said, the more I write, the more I realize I have no control over how others interpret my writing, and it’s impossible to check all the boxes. All I can do is write and share my nuanced representation from my own experience. So, while there are many voices out there, I’m happy to be a second-generation Cuban-Mexican-American female author who writes across multiple genres about messy, stubborn, rebellious Latine characters that speak broken Spanish and rarely see themselves as the hero of their stories. These are the stories and characters I love to write, and I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to share my words with others and I hope that someone out there enjoys them too.
Outland: What has your experience been with being a part of both these anthologies?
C.M.: Art and passion go hand-in-hand, and to work with indie/small presses like Outland and Haunt that share the same passion is such a fulfilling experience. I’ve met so many talented authors from all over the world who are always excited to celebrate and support one another. I also cannot say enough about how amazing Lauren, the editor for both these anthologies, is and how grateful I am to have met her. She was the first person to take a chance on me, gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone in writing, and has helped me grow with her honest and insightful feedback. I truly hope to one day give back to new writers, like Lauren did for me. Thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of both of these wonderful anthologies!C.M. Leyva's passion for science and medicine is often seen in her stories while exploring the what-if's around them. When she's not working on her next short story or manuscript, you can find her attempting home improvement projects, losing herself in a good book, or playing video games. Find out more at linktr.ee/cmleyva