Welcome to another #BeyondTheBio Sunday here at PickMyYA. Today's guest is a fellow Slytherin who's been writing stories since she was thirteen. Since that first story, Zoraida Córdova has published The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She's currently working on the sequel for Labyrinth Lost but took some time away from her busy schedule to talk with us today. Let's get to it!
James: There's just so much I love about your most recent book, Labyrinth Lost! And I'm not the only one. NPR, Tor, Bustle, and Paste all recognized Labyrinth Lost as one of the Best Books of 2016. I know this was a bit of a passion project for you. Can you tell us a little bit about how you first came up with the idea?
Zoraida: Labyrinth Lost has been on my mind for many years. Before I wrote my debut, The Vicious Deep, I wasn't sure how to write a story like Labyrinth Lost. There hasn't been a story featuring sister witches with Latinx roots for a modern YA market. That being said, the idea was always a great adventure quest with a girl at the heart of it. Alex Mortiz is on a path of self-discovery and acceptance. She's learning about magic and herself. I knew I wanted to send her on a quest that embodied all of her fears.
Then, I needed a magical system. Latin America is largely Catholic. But also incredibly superstitious in some regions. I knew that the magical system I created would have to be rooted in the African diaspora and colonization that created Latin America. The gods and spells are all named in Spanish because that is the magical language, even some of my brujas don't speak it.
James: One of my favorite things about Labyrinth Lost is the way that women are portrayed in the novel. The pages are just overflowing with kick-ass females! Where any of these characters inspired by people in real life?
Zoraida: No one in the book is based on real people, but the inspiration is there. My family is very much a matriarchy, and so it's only natural that the family in the book is a matriarchy of brujas. Women are magical. Full stop. I named Mama Juanita after my great grandmother, but the resemblance stops there. My mother was also a single mother, and that's what inspired the backstory behind Carmen Mortiz, the mom. Strong women who work hard and never give up.
James: I also really appreciated your decision to write Alex as realistically bisexual. Too often, bisexuality in fiction can come across as either overly-sexualized or grossly stereotyped. Positive, realistic rep can be hard to come by. What are some other books you'd recommend that feature bisexual protagonists?
Zoraida: Thank you. I felt that I needed to give Alex an honest romantic love and that just happened to be Rishi. There is a lot of bi-erasure and biphobia out there. Far From You by Tess Sharpe, Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler, The Fourth Wish by Lindsay Ribar--it really discusses gender fluidity in a thoughtful way. The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson.
James: Labyrinth Lost is practically brimming with Latinx cultural influences. How did Latinx culture help shape the mythology of Labyrinth Lost?
Zoraida: It's hard to answer this questions because I don't like to group Latinxs together. I understand the use of Latinx, and support my brothers and sisters because we are bonded by language and region in the United States. But first and foremost, before I say I'm Latina, I saw I'm Ecuadorian. I did grow up in a very diverse neighborhood of Hollis, Queens. That's why Rishi is Guyanese and why Nova is Dominican and Puerto Rican. Alex is from Brooklyn, and so were her parents and grandparents.
In Ecuador, I watched a lot of Disney movies. I also liked to listen to people tell ghost stories. When I moved to New York, my grandmother always encouraged reading. All of this shaped my love of fantasy. The thing that's the most Latin about Labyrinth Lost is the family itself. Latinxs are not a monolith, but the one thing that I believe we share across the board is our respect for our elders. No matter where Abuela is queen. That's the influence.
When creating the gods, spells, and rituals, I use Spanish and Spanglish. Sometimes I made up words that sound Spanish-like, so if you think I'm misspelling something, it's just a personal preference. Language was the biggest influence in creating the magical aspects of Labyrinth Lost.
James: You've said that the second book in the series is going to focus more on Lula. Can you tell me anything more about it?
Zoraida: Yes! Book 2 is called Circle Unbroken and it deals with Lula, life and death. We don't have an official synopsis to share yet. But details will be posted on the Goodreads page as they become available!
James: Back in January, I had the opportunity to interview Daniel Jose Older, and he mentioned you as a fantasy author who's doing it right. Who are some other YA fantasy authors whose work you appreciate?
Zoraida: That's wonderful. Daniel is great. Right now I really love Roshani Chokshi, Renee Ahdieh, Cindy Pon, and Dhonielle Clayton.
James: Last question, so let's make it a fun one... If you had the ability to do any one spell, what would it be?
Zoraida: That's a tough one! Magic comes with a price, so there is no real power that is burden-free. I'd say I'd like to control water. It's what we're made of and it's what we depend on. Water is life and we should respect it.
That's it for today's interview with Zoraida. But don't forget to stop by our Twitter page and participate in today's giveaway, which features Labyrinth Lost bookmarks, signed by Zoraida herself! If you have any questions for Zoraida or want to let her know how her books have impacted you, be sure to check out her website and reach out to her on Twitter. And, whatever you do, be sure to come back again next week, when we'll be talking to Karuna Riazi, author of The Gauntlet!