An accomplished and established genre journalist and writer, Justina Bonilla is working on furthering coverage of Latin contributions to the genre with her work on several publications showcasing her work. Now, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I talk with her about her early interest in writing, the process for creating her articles and upcoming projects.
Me: Hello, and thank you for taking the time to do this. First off, when did you get into horror in general?
Justina Bonilla: My interest in horror began at a young age, through a combination of classic cartoons, Disneyland, and the horror films that my mom shared with us.
Since Mom didn’t like the popular cartoons on TV, she would show us classic cartoons such as Disney films and short cartoons. I enjoyed the artistically dark aspects of these cartoons, including the Disney Films Show White, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasia, and Disney’s Halloween Treat. Also, many of the short cartoons I adored such as Casper the Friendly Ghost, surprisingly had a horror-themed plot, such as Balloon Land (1935), Pluto’s Judgment Day (1935), Fox Pop (1942), and There’s Good Boos Tonight (1948).
I was born and raised in Orange County, within a few miles of Disneyland. When my parents took my brothers and me to Disneyland, I always wanted to go on The Haunted Mansion and watch the Fantasmic! water show, which featured my favorite Fantasia short, “Night at Bald Mountain”.
Coming from a traditional Mexican family, our religion, Roman Catholicism is important to us. Mom wanted to instill in us at an early age that there is good and evil in the world, both seen and invisible. To show us how evil can manifest, together we watched a variety of Catholic and paranormal-themed horror films at a young age, including Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen.
Me: Where you into genre films growing up?
JB: Yes, because of my family’s wide range of film taste. Growing up, I was chronically ill and as a consequence, spent more time homeschooled than in school. In between the constant doctor appointments, my constant companion was my TV and VHS player. As a result, my family would show me their favorite movies, to cheer me up. For example, an auntie showed me screwball comedies and melodramas, while an uncle showed me musicals and British comedies, and Dad let me watch gangster films with him.
Me: What films specifically got you into watching horror movies?
JB: It was a combination of films and TV shows.
The films: the classic Universal monster films, especially The Bride of Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The TV programs: Elvira’s Movie Macabre, The Adams Family, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Goosebumps, Tales of the Crypt, 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, and TCM Underground hosted by Rob Zombie.
Me: Were you always into writing growing up?
JB: Surprisingly, no. I’m severely dyslexic. For instance, when I was first learning the alphabet, I struggled so much, that I taught myself the alphabet in Braille, so I wouldn’t have to read. Later, I was rejected by a school for dyslexic children, because I was too dyslexic. Over many years, with extensive tutoring for writing, spelling, and grammar, I've been fortunate enough to develop a voice through my written word.
Me: When did you first discover your passion for writing?
JB: The passion is in the storytelling. I developed my initial storytelling abilities from telling jokes. From there, it evolved to funny stories, which helped me to communicate with my younger brother, who was struggling to connect or communicate with us, due to his autism. Seeing how he positively responded to funny stories encouraged me to keep developing my storytelling skills.
Me: Do you enjoy the liberation of being a freelance journalist in the genre?
JB: Yes. I have the flexibility of writing for different outlets, on a variety of subjects related to film and TV. This allows me to grow as a writer, develop my researching skills, and enjoy the experiences of interviewing a wide variety of talents.
Me: Being a female writer in the community was there a lot of acceptance or push-back on your views?
JB: For the most part, my writing has been accepted. Any criticism so far has been constructive.
Me: You specialize in the Latin side of the entertainment business working on several sites covering their cinematic contributions. What was the inspiration to start exploring that side of the industry?
JB: My parents are Mexican immigrants. From a young age, I noticed how the majority of Latinos in American media were portrayed Latinos in negative stereotypes. Unfortunately, as I aged, I saw how these negative images would impact how others would see and treat Latinos. These images have contributed to reaffirming systematic racism.
As I became a more passionate film fan, I wanted to explore the contributions of Latinos and other people of color in American cinema. I was amazed by what Latinos had contributed to cinema as both talent and audiences. Sadly, many of the contributions of people of color, especially in the early years of Hollywood were minimized, or even ignored.
Wanting to highlight what Latinos have to offer in entertainment as talent and as an audience, past and present, I began writing Latino-themed articles. As the Latino community continues to grow, it’s a market that hasn’t been fully tapped into, especially in horror.
Me: What is the usual process towards starting a new piece?
JB: Usually, the process begins with lots of research, which can take a considerable amount of time. Once I find a potential topic for an article, I match it to the site that I believe it will best suit. After I have clearance for the article, I begin to write. This process is the same, whether I have one topic for an article or multiple topics for various articles.
Me: Once you begin working, what is the process for staying focused on your article?
JB: I make a calendar of my articles with due dates. This helps me to focus on the priority articles. Then, I divide what days and times I work on which articles, especially if I have more than one article. Sometimes, I have to delay certain articles, especially if a time-sensitive piece needs to be written and published quickly. What also helps with staying focused, is having a small home office, away from the more active part of my home, good headphones, and several music playlists with themes varying from Frank Sinatra/big band classics, to horror film scores.
Me: What are some of the more unique or memorable experiences working on the site has provided for you?
JB: Overall, as a freelance writer, my three most memorable published interviews are with the world-renowned astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of FOX’s Cosmos, the showrunner of Eli Roth’s History of Horror Kurt Sayenga, and the two co-presidents of Blumhouse Television, Jeremy Gold (current president) and Marci Wiseman (former co-president).
Me: What else are you working on that you'd like to share with our readers?
JB: I have a few interviews that will be published soon, with horror talent I have admired for some time. I’m also working on original horror short stories. My hope is that these short stories will either be individual shorts, or a part of an anthology film. But, for certain more horror content in the upcoming months.
Me: Lastly, being that this is Women in Horror Month, what special message do you have for any women out there looking to join in the industry in any capacity as you are one yourself? Thank you again for your time!
JB: If you have a passion for horror writing, such as my case, pursue it. However, I heavily emphasize that there is a lot of work and time that goes into writing, researching, pursuing interviews, getting published, and self-promotion. You can meet a lot of amazing people and gain great opportunities. The hard work pays off, only if you are willing to put in the work. It's something that you can do on the side and still get great joy from.
Also, with more women, especially women of color, becoming more visible in horror, it’s a great time for more women to get involved in horror.