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'Los Monstruos' is new twist to classic Mexican folklore for not quite kids, not quite young adults

You might have heard the story of the Wailing Woman, or La Llorona, in Mexican folklore. But you've probably never heard her story the way Diana López tells it. 

López is the author of the "Los Monstruos" book series. They’re what’s called middle grade fiction and, in them, López takes legendary stories, like La Llorona, and weaves them into modern-day stories with young heroes and heroines — all set in the fictional border town of Tres Leches. 

Her newest edition, "Rooster and the Dancing Diablo," comes out this week. 

López spent much of her career in education, and she told The Show these are stories she’s known since childhood.

Full conversation

DIANA LÓPEZ: You know, I've been familiar with these folklore stories since childhood and they were always presented as, you know, these, the title says "Los Monstruos", there were these monsters or these scary things. But as a child, even though our families would tell us these scary stories, we really enjoyed being scared. And there's something about, you know, when you're that age, being scared is fun, you know. And so dash forward one day, I was just, I was remembering the La Llorona tale, which is probably the story I heard the most of, and probably the one that's most known, you know. And when I was a child, the way I heard the story was as this woman, this ghost woman at the river and she drowned her children and she's crying for them and if she sees you, she's going to drown you. And, and that was frightening enough.

But as I got older and learn more about her story, I, I kind of found out that she felt betrayed in some stories. She's married to a man in some stories, she's his mistress, but they have children together and he leaves her for a woman of a higher social standing and, and she drowns her children out of her rage. But it always bothered me that she was the monster, you know. And yes, it is a monstrous thing to drown your children. But no one ever seemed to blame the man or make him responsible for his role in the story. And it just kind of became important to me to try to redeem her in some way and just kind of tell an alternate version.

LAUREN GILGER: So like you're describing there, like you took this character that you had known about forever and lots of people have heard of and you're, you're bringing the story into this, you know, a new light and you're setting it all in this fictional town of Tres Leches, right? Like which is supposed to be on the border. Why was it important for you to, to set the stories there?

LÓPEZ: I live in Corpus Christi, which is about two hours from the Mexican border. And, and we call that area of Texas the Valley, you know, and it's that there's a lot of towns along there, but it's collectively known as the Valley and as you're driving from Corpus to the Valley, you have to pass these, these big ranches and probably the most famous one is the King Ranch. You know, it's just, it's very large and there's this sign that says no services for 60 miles and there's no place to stop and it's just ranch land. And I, I love that section of the drive. I find it very fascinating and, you know, the, the ranches are private, but I've always wanted to just hang a right or hang a left and, and go and just investigate.

And so I decided to do that in my imagination. I'm just going to go there in my imagination to this town called Tres Leches, the sweetest place in Texas. I had the best time creating that town. And that was just so much fun. It's lined with panaderías and bakeries and, and Main Street smells so delicious. You know, you can smell the sugar and the cinnamon and the gingerbread and the chocolate. And there's like this kind of quirky mayor who I thought, well, it's called "Los Monstruos." Let's have a mayor drive a monster truck. And his monster truck is named after another monster, called El Cucuy. It's just, it was so much fun to create that town, but really wanted to set it there because of how prevalent these legends are in that part of our state. And I always feel like because I have to cross that 60 miles of no services before I'm back in civilization, I've always felt like even though it's not the actual border, it is kind of a border. It's a transitional space for me.

GILGER: So tell us a little bit about your audience here, right? Like this is kind of middle grade fiction. You spent, I know much of your career in education. What do you like about this audience, this genre, first of all?

LÓPEZ: I love the psychology of that age group and it's called middle grade because they're in the middle, they're still children, you know, but they're moving towards their young adulthood. And so it's such an important transitional time. And in that time, all kinds of things are happening, you know, you've got hormones are raging, your bodies are changing like at these astronomical rates, you know, and, and then like your mind is changing, you're waking up to things, they're still very concrete in their thinking, but they're moving toward more abstract thoughts and, and as they're making this movement, they question things and they start to see just how ridiculous, you know, there's a, as adults we just come to accept things.

We don't really, we stop questioning, you know, but they recognize, I mean, it could be anything. Like, well, who said that the, why is it green means go? Because isn't read like a more active color? Would it be red means, you know, just things like that, that we've kind of come to accept and I love that about them. I love how they think and getting back into that psychology is so much fun trying to see the world from their perspective.

GILGER: That's really cool. OK. So before I let you go, can you tell us what characters might come next in this "Los Monstruos" series? Like are you, you've got La Llorona here, you've done the dancing devil. Who else might we be watching for?

LÓPEZ: You need to be watching for La Lechuza, the owl witch. She'll be the monstruo that I'm introducing readers to in the third book. I'm working on it right now and I'm just, I'm loving being back in Tres Leches.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.