Isabel Cañas is a Mexican-American speculative fiction writer. After having lived in Mexico, Scotland, Egypt, and Turkey, among other places, she has settled (for now) in New York City, where she works on her PhD dissertation in medieval Islamic literature, and writes fiction inspired by her research and her heritage. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
In this post, Isabel discusses how lackluster responses to previous manuscripts led her to shift gears and write her new gothic novel, The Hacienda!
Name: Isabel Cañas
Literary agent: Kari Sutherland, KT Literary
Book title: The Hacienda
Release date: May 3, 2022
Genre/category: Gothic suspense, historical fiction, supernatural horror
Elevator pitch for the book: In the wake of political unrest and financial ruin, Beatriz accepts a mysterious widower’s marriage proposal, but when she discovers that his estate is profoundly haunted, she must rely on a local priest who practices witchcraft and her own wits to survive the dark secrets of Hacienda San Isidro.
What prompted you to write this book?
Rejection! The Hacienda represents a sharp career strategy shift. My agent Kari Sutherland and I sent two YA fantasy manuscripts out on submission in 2018 and 2019, with lackluster results. After a particularly heartbreaking rejection in October 2019, I knew in my gut I needed to pivot genres.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
I came up with the idea in September 2019, then I wrote the first half in three weeks in November 2019. I took several months off writing to teach at my university; then, when term ended and the pandemic began, I immersed myself in the novel. I revised existing material and wrote the final half in two weeks in April 2020. At five weeks total, it is the fastest I have ever written a book.
I went into the project with plans to write a haunted house novel, but as I wrote, The Hacienda began to engage with the ugly themes of the period: the racist casta system, the racial and socio-economic dynamics of the hacienda, and land ownership, colonialism, and oppressive religion.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
I was utterly delighted when my audio producers at my publisher sent me auditions for audiobook narrators. I didn’t expect the hair on my arms to stand on end when I listened to professional actors reading words I had written—but it was an otherworldly experience. Suddenly, the book felt real.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
I was writing in a long tradition of Gothic novels, so I reached for familiar archetypes: the young wife, the distant husband, the secretive family member, etc. I knew I wanted an exorcism, so I threw in a priest for good measure.
But then Padre Andrés stepped onto the page. As I wrote one of his early scenes, a realization about him appeared in my mind as a fully formed sentence, as crisply as if someone had spoken it aloud: He is a witch. I lifted my hands off the keyboard in surprise. I had not planned that!
It had not occurred to me to include witches in the book at all. But the novel was irrevocably changed.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I don’t know what the world’s troubles will look like when readers find this novel in May or beyond that, but it is my sincere hope that by transporting them all to a dark, mysterious house of spirits, The Hacienda can sweep them away, at least for a short while.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
Professional envy can shoot you in the foot, so keep your eyes on your own paper. It’s hard to remember that when your peers or friends are announcing book deals or vague tweeting about exciting news hitting their inboxes, but everyone has different definitions of success and different journeys to get there. Focus on honing your craft and studying the business side of the market, and most importantly, don’t give up!