Interview with Cynthia (cina) Pelayo, author and publisher of Burial Day Books

I am very excited that horror writer and anthology publisher Cynthia (cina) Pelayo has stopped by to talk about her chilling new book LOTERIA. I'm a big fan of hers and all that she has accomplished, and she was kind enough to spill with's readers about how to get involved in the writing community in Chicago and how she started her own publishing company. A must read for indie writers everywhere!

So cina, can you tell us about your writing background and what drew you to the horror genre?
I majored in journalism as an undergraduate at Columbia College in Chicago. I had always wanted to be a reporter. As a little girl, before I started kindergarten, I remember sitting at the kitchen table and my father would read the newspaper to me. That was always very important to him and it became important to me – to know and understand what is going on in my world. After Columbia, I worked as a freelance journalist for several local publications covering arts and community news, including inner city crime. I grew up in inner city Chicago and still live in the inner city, and so it was a strange experience to hold the responsibility of a reporter, to write as accurately and clearly as I could when arriving at a crime scene or writing about homelessness or drug addiction. 

My love of journalism soon became complicated. I had these grand dreams of becoming an investigative reporter for a great newspaper but that world is so small considering the closures of so many papers. Then, due to economic reasons I went back to school, obtained a masters in marketing and went on to work for a marketing research firm (my dreaded 9-5 that really takes more time out of my life than simply 9-5 Monday through Friday). While working full-time, I realized if this is what my life would amount to I would be miserable, because I already was miserable. I missed writing and sharing people’s stories.

I had always written short stories but had never really explored them too in-depth.I just knew I needed a creative outlet for my writing and fast. So I went on to pursue a Master of Fine Art in Writing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  I knew I wanted to write but I was torn what type of writer to be; non-fiction using my journalism background? I had never written fiction and shared it with anyone and I was unsure of where to start. I just started writing and what came out were dark tales. Horror just came naturally. Perhaps it is because I had seen so much suffering living in inner city Chicago and seeing firsthand the perils of gang, gun, and drug crime. Perhaps horror is my way of tapping into my upbringing and communicating the dance between good and evil that exists everywhere.

You recently released LOTERIA, a short story collection based upon a Mexican card game. How did you come up with the idea for the book?
I’m Puerto Rican. My husband is Mexican. For the holidays, when we’re killing time we play Loteria. I had always seen the game in the neighborhood bodegas, but had never played. It’s really like bingo except you match up the cards, not numbers. I became fascinated with the images – the hand, the little devil, death. They just seemed like very strange images to incorporate into a game. They seemed to be screaming to tell a story. 

Growing up, my mother would tell me folk tales from Puerto Rico, like that of a young girl who married a man who later turned out to be a devil, and it was funny when I learned that my husband’s culture had similar folktales told. Somehow I just connected the cards with folktales. I wanted to tell their story but not make it exclusive to Mexico. I wanted to dig up folk tales from throughout Latin American, Spain, Portugal and the Caribbean. I then wrote one short story or poem per card. For example, for the card El Gallo I wrote about an old man who is tormented by the chupacabra, the mythical goat sucker. For the card La Dama, I wrote about a stressed out tourist couple who had an encounter with La Llorona, the weeping woman damned to walk the earth searching for her children whom she murdered. 

Overall, I wanted to tell Latin American folktales that had yet to be communicated and I used a popular Latin American game as a vehicle to tell those stories. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
You may have heard this a thousand times and if you have, it’s because it’s true – read every day and write every day. Writing is a solitary life, and so, you also have to like yourself and the people in your head because you’ll be spending a lot of time with them if you want to be a writer. You have to be willing to spend long spans of time on your own, undisturbed, allowing yourself to write and explore your characters, their stories and the places they want to go.

You are also the publisher for BURIAL DAY BOOKS, a boutique publisher of supernatural horror. Can you share with our readers how you created the company?
While I was at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago working on a Master of Fine Art in Writing I encountered a lot of discouragement from my peers and the faculty because I was a horror writer. While everyone was off writing these abstract poems or deeply emotional bits of prose, I was exploring villains and monsters. I found myself always having to challenge what it was I wrote. 

I felt banished to the basement as the secretive red-headed step child. So, what did I do in response to all of these emotions, feeling unwanted and underappreciated? I wrote. I wrote a lot. I researched a lot, pulling in my journalism background and I wrote some more. 

Through my work I learned that I wasn’t the only one that felt this way, that there were other students in other schools who had written darker, but literary works that their schools didn’t like. Then, I encountered something much more interesting, that horror markets had begun to skew heavily toward violence and gore. I felt blocked in: My school didn’t really give me the tools to branch out like I felt they were doing for others. I couldn’t find the right markets for my work, and again. Then, I was finding all of these people who had been writing for some time who just could not find a place for their work to be published. Therefore, I told my husband one day, ‘I’m going to start my own press. We’ll publish good, literary classic horror and we’ll do it for the authors.’

The whole point of Burial Day is to get exposure for emerging horror writers who write literary horror. I want them to succeed, to get book contracts (which one did shortly after appearing in our first anthology). 

Burial Day Books is going strong after two years. We have published a new authors story or poem each month. I post blogs about superstition and myth and last year we published our first anthology and this year we are set to publish our second anthology. I’m most proud of the work I’ve done with Burial Day. Sometimes, it takes people to ignore you, or to say you can’t do something to get you fired up.

You are very involved in the writing community in Chicago. What tips would you give to a new writer to also wants to get involved with his or her local writing community?
I’m a big fan of readings! In Chicago, there are many locations, indie book shops, pubs, and restaurants that hold readings. First, reach out to your neighborhood bookstore, find out if they have a writers group or if they hold monthly readings. Attend those events, introduce yourself to those readers/writers. There are also writer’s workshops that are conducted for free sometimes at art centers, cultural centers, schools and libraries. Those are great place to meet other writers, and learn about the tools for writing – for free. Finally, get in touch with independent literary magazines or publications in your area seeking submissions. Local publications love local authors.

So, get involved in the writing community by going where the writers go – whether they’re readings or workshops and then reach out to publications looking for submissions in your area and submit your work! What’s the worst thing they can say? No. 

Finally, get a few live readings of your work under your belt. If there aren’t any regular readings in your neighborhood, reach out to your favorite coffee shop, indie book shop or pub and see if you can schedule an event. Organize some folks to come and read their work to a live audience. They’re free to organize, as they bring people to the location, and reading your work to a live audience (while it sounds frightening) is a great learning experience. 

Thank you for sharing your information. Anything you would like to add as we wrap up?
I’m not a particular fan of writing groups, as those can go sour, but find a small network of dependable friends and family to review the drafts and final versions of your work. You want someone to tell you the truth if something is not working, and if something is working!

Also, you’re a writer – grow thick skin and take criticisms and rejections and move on. Yes, they hurt. Yes, they make you want to die. Yet, you learn from them and move on and become a better writer. 

Finally, if you’re a writer and you don’t carry a pad and pencil with you everywhere you go then shame on you! Carry your pad and pencil because you never know when the ideas will come.


CYNTHIA (CINA) PELAYO is the Publisher/Gravedigger of Burial Day Books.  Her short story collection, LOTERIA features 54 stories based on Latin American superstition, legend and myth. Her first horror novel, Santa Muerte, about the Mexican cult of death will be released in 2012 by Post Mortem Press. Pelayo is a graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Master of Fine Art in Writing program and she is a member of the Horror Writer’s Association.

Burial Day Books


Cynthia (cina) Pelayo’s website