Cynthia (Cina) Pelayo on ‘Children of Chicago’ and Life as a Writer!

I’d like to send a personal welcome to Cynthia (Cina) Pelayo for today’s interview. Not only is she an awesome author in her own right, but I’m biased from both her being a Chicago resident and a past contributor on Horror Tree. On top of this, she received two Bram Stoker Award nominations for her work released in 2020. So, I’m thrilled that Cynthia is joining us today to talk about her crime noir tale ‘Children of Chicago.’

Horror Tree: Cynthia, welcome, Thank you for taking the time to join us for an interview. I’d like to also offer an apology for how long it took me to get you these questions. I wanted to finish the novel before sending them over so I could fully do you justice with these questions. First up, if you could let our readers know a bit more about ‘Children of Chicago’?

Cynthia Pelayo: Well, let me apologize for taking so long as well. Life just keeps happening and pulling me in all sorts of directions, and in a good way, I guess.


Children of Chicago is a horror retelling of the Pied Piper fairy tale. It’s a genre blended novel, incorporating horror, thriller, detective fiction and non-fiction elements. In it, we follow Detective Lauren Medina who is investigating a crime at the Humboldt Park lagoon.

HT: Thank you! The character development within ‘Children of Chicago’ not only grew the characters but let us see the horror of what they were facing directly through their eyes. Was this intentional on your part or did that grow naturally with the story?

CP: I played with the point of views for a bit. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this as a first person, close third person, or a little more distant, focusing on each individual character. In the end, I wanted to tell it almost like a fairy tale – with characters almost void of emotion as we see in the Grimms’ fairy tales so that I did not reveal too much of what the characters knew.

HT: Detective Lauren Medina is an extremely well-developed and relatable character. I feel that I see shades of her in many people that I’ve known throughout the years. How did you approach both creating and developing her?


CP: She’s inspired by a few people I know, particularly people I know in law enforcement. I think living in Chicago (I live on the northwest side) you sometimes have to come off cold and detached. I know I do. It’s a city ultimately, and crime is a very real reality here. I wanted to approach her as someone who has good intentions, but who operates on a moral code very much her own. She’s aggressive and is motivated by this obsession to protect her city, and she loses herself in that. 

HT: Being a Puerto Rican woman from Chicago. How important was it to bring forth all of these elements of representation in your work?

CP: I didn’t want to write a book about being Puerto Rican. I wanted to write a book that incorporated Puerto Ricans just existing. Puerto Ricans have a long history here in the city of Chicago. My dad came here in the 1950s and 1960s and we consider ourselves as much Chicagoans as we do Puerto Ricans. I wanted to show that. I wanted to show Lauren grabbing a cup of coffee in Logan Square, and also grabbing a cheese and guava tart at a Puerto Rican bakery.


Most of my writing has gone away from being stories about being Latinx. For me what’s important is incorporating diverse people in my narrative, without that narrative being centered on a story about diversity. The job I’ve taken on as a horror writer is to explore history, guilt, sorrow, regret, motivations of violence and how violence can tear through communities. My job as a horror writer is not to tell the single tale of Puerto Rican or Latinx existence in the United States. I don’t think any single Latinx writer should be charged with that task because our experience is varied and wide ranging and no single person can ever encapsulate the Latinx experience. Maybe that upsets some that I don’t go that route anymore, but I’ve never done what people thought I should do. 


The story in Children of Chicago, for example, is a horror story based on the German Pied Piper fairy tale. The protagonist is Puerto Rican. Her retiring partner is Black (Washington). Her mentee is Black (Jordan). Her new partner is White (Van). The children in the story are Mexican (Evie), White (Fin), Chinese (Daniel) and Iraqi (Mo/Mohammed). I wanted the characters to represent how diverse Chicago is. 


So, diversity is important in my work, but it’s also important that my characters experience complex narratives. I like to think of Jordan Peele’s US. In US, the family is Black, but the story is not about being Black in America. The story is about [SPOILER] genetic clones. That is what I want to see for all diverse groups, where we are incorporated in narratives that are outside of the range of a story about diversity. Of course, stories about diversity and diverse experiences are important and if other writers want to explore that then they should 


HT: Speaking of representation, what are your thoughts on how that is evolving and continues to evolve over the past decade?

CP: I think women in horror are everywhere and I’m loving it. There are so many wonderful women writing in horror right now, and writing in a wide range of horror subgenres, from body horror to sci-fi horror, to splatter punk and beyond. 


We are also seeing wonderful diversity from a range of BIPOC voices. The Black voices in horror are absolutely brilliant and bringing us stories we have never seen and that we need more of. We have Asian voices, Native American voices, Neurodiverse voices. This is an exciting time to not just be a horror writer, but to be a horror reader. 


HT: Do you have any details that you can tease us of what you’re working on next?


CP:   Silent films. That’s all I can say about the sequel of Children of Chicago


I’m also writing another horror novel based in Chicago that focuses on a historical event. That’s almost done.


I have a new crime poetry collection out this year titled Crime Scene by Raw Dog Screaming Press. 

HT: Anyone who has followed your work knows that you’re so much more than just an amazing author in the writing community. As a mentor for the Horror Writers Association, what is one piece of information about the HWA that you’d like to share with our readers?


CP: I think this is a great time to join the HWA. There are multiple program offerings and it’s a very supportive organization. When I started writing, I went in search of my people, and I didn’t have to look far. I found my people in HWA and I am forever grateful to the organization. I volunteer as a mentor and volunteer overall as much as I can with them.

HT: What is your favorite experience in becoming a mentor for the HWA?


CP: Working with new and young writers. They are excited to learn and grow and I just love being able to motivate people to do what they want. Writing is tough. It’s lonely. You have to do it by yourself. There isn’t anyone that can sit at the computer with you, and so just to know that I can be there via email cheering someone on makes me feel like I’m doing some good. I wish someone was there for me like that a long time ago when I started writing.

HT: You’ve also been a mentor for Pitch Wars in 2020. Would you be able to share a bit more about what Pitch Wars is to our readers and how the experience was for you?


CP: Well, unfortunately this was the last year of Pitch Wars, which is a huge disappointment for some. I’ve volunteered as a mentor for two years. The organization was around for ten years.


There are other mentor and pitch organizations. Specifically for horror writers there is PitDark that is run by Jason Huebinger. It’s a Twitter only event where people pitch their horror manuscript in the hopes of getting an agent or agents to notice. If so, the agent will request their manuscript or pages of their manuscript for review. Here is the link:


I actually found my very first agent with a Twitter pitch event. So they do work.

HT: If that wasn’t enough, you’re also behind the boutique publisher, Burial Day Books. Could you tell us a bit about your Gothic Blue Book series and your hopes for the press?

CP: Burial Day Books is a little quiet right now because I’ve been so busy. Right now we’re working on the StokerCon souvenir book. When I started writing I realized there weren’t a lot of places for new writers like myself at that time to be published. I wanted to create a place where new writers could submit their work and get paid for it. I fully fund it. I’ve never made money from Burial Day Books so I pay everything out of pocket. 


I wanted to follow in the Gothic Blue Book tradition of short, scary stories, but that mission has sort of gotten away from me and the last book we did was much longer than I had intended ever going.


I’m thinking now of revising our mission and publishing chapbooks or novelettes. It’s still at an idea phase, but I’m thinking about doing 2-3 novelettes each year, just little lovely and terrifying single stories by a single author. There are not many places that will publish a standalone novelette, but I like doing things others aren’t doing, so stay tuned.

HT: What advice do you have for authors who are just starting out writing speculative fiction?

CP: Keep going. Don’t stop. Really and truly. Just keep writing. Stay focused and stay positive. You will find your audience. Practice. Practice. Practice. I read a lot of craft books. Just keep writing and experimenting. Don’t be afraid to learn and grow. I’m always learning and growing and trying to improve my craft.

HT: On the flip side, what is the one piece of advice that you wish someone had shared with you when you were just starting out?

CP: This is such a great question. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me this. 

That piece of advice is – you may never win over people that don’t like you or your work, and that’s fine. People will say awful things not just about your work, but about you as well. That’s the scary thing about social media today and being so public. You are exposed to all of the criticisms in the world, and you will never be enough to everyone. 


You really just have to learn to ignore it all. Ignore the criticisms and opinions, because everyone will have an opinion, about what you should say, what you should look like, what topics you should write about and how. Ignore them. They don’t know you. You don’t know them. They don’t matter. Ignore them. 


There are lots of people out there that are bitter and cruel that really enjoy tearing people, particularly artists, apart for clicks and engagement, and that’s a sad existence. 


At the end of the day, if you are writing and creating and are happy then you are doing great. 


Stay focused on the people that do love you and love your work. Be grateful for your supporters and tell them that you appreciate them. 

HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. If there is anything else that you’d like to share with our readers, please do so below! 


CP: Just thank you for having me! Follow me on Twitter (Cinapelayo), Instagram (Cinapelayoauthor) and TikTok (Cinapelayoauthor). 


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