Stories from Harry Potter, Mortal Instruments, “Charmed” and “The Witches of Eastwick” have gained consistent notoriety and cult followings for years, proving that no matter how trite a witch’s storyline or their magic system might be, readers love a story packed with curses, magic, and spells. Still, despite the many tales similar to La Llorona and El Cucuy that have captivated the cultures of our Latinx heritage for centuries, when it comes to mainstream media and literature, Latinx stories are often forgotten about and left out in realms that dabble in folklore, horror and the paranormal. It’s why when the first of a series of books called Brooklyn Brujas first hit shelves with the book Labirynth Lost, Latina YA fantasy enthusiasts found themselves particularly excited. The book marked the start of a series that featured not just witches but brujas– Latinx characters who squared off against evil spirits and summoned magical spells of Latin origin to do so.
Over the summer, in June, fans of the series received another delight when Zoraida Cordova released the book’s sequel, Bruja Born. Now, 5 months later, during the same week as a controversial Latinx “Charmed” reboot premiered and uncorked conversation about the representation of Latinx culture in the fantasy realm, we decided to highlight the boss Ecuadorian writer behind the series. In an interview with FIERCE, Cordova spoke about the importance of proper Latinx representation in fantasy fiction and what she hopes readers will learn from her characters of color.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit about how you became an author?
A: I started writing when I was 13 years old, and I was in love with fantasy and supernatural fiction. I spent most of my time searching for that kind of … those kinds of books. And when I was in high school one of my teachers gave me an application to the … to the National Book Foundation writing camp. They used to have a summer writing camp that was free to go, and it selected, I think it was 40 to 60 people, and they spent about 2 weeks in Vermont, and you got lessons on writing from authors like Jacqueline Woodson. One year it was playwriting, and the following year it was memoir writing. And that completely changed my life because I was only 16 and 17 when I got to do those programs, and I got to be around other people of all ages. I was one of the youngest kids there, and after that I just really, really focused on becoming a writer. So, that program really changed my life. It doesn’t exist anymore though, the National Book Foundation cut the fund for that. And I got my first agent when I was 19 years old, and that’s when I, we went on commission with our first book – that didn’t go anywhere – but then we sold The Vicious Deep three years later. Or three or four – four years later. From there I just kept writing fantasy, I dipped my toes into romance. So, I have a romance series under my name, and then a new romance series under a pen name, which is going to come out in August of 2018.
Q: What was your inspiration for the Brooklyn Brujas series?
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From yesterday’s visit to Sparta. Huge thank you to the school and library staff for making my visit so wonderful. If you swipe left you’ll see just some of the beautiful people Library patron Aly who wore a gorgeous wrap from Ecuador, and a Bruja Squad. ✨✨✨✨ ✨✨✨ I’m currently at the airport working on the admit that gets piled up while on deadlines. Tomorrow, LOS ANGELES!
A: Well I’ve always wanted to write a Latina version of “Charmed,” because there wasn’t a [franchiese] that included that I sort of magic which I wanted to see. The typical magic that you find in young adult and fantasy fiction, when it’s about witches, it’s all European magic. And so I asked myself, “What would a magical tradition look like if it came from Latin America?” And you can’t write about Latin America without writing about colonization, and slavery, and figuring out how a magical tradition would change if you pulled something from all of these different places. And so once I started really figuring that out, I created my own thing, because there is no Latin mythology, there are no, you know brujeria leaders. For me, it was, it was like such a blank slate, which is also terrifying. But, I love creating magical stories, and I like making it my own and that was the best part.
Q: I saw a blog post of yours a while ago, about the lack of diversity in the YA landscape, and you talked about how one of your first short stories featured white characters, and even one of those characters that you had based off of yourself was a white character. Can you tell me a little more about that experience, and what about motivated you to have women of color as your main characters in the books you write now.
A: I wrote that short story when I was a kid, you know? And I think that I didn’t know any better and I was regurgitating and reflecting the media that I was consuming. So when I wrote the Vicious Deep, well the discussion of reading diverse books, and that movement sort of wasn’t happening until two years later. So, I sort of snuck in my diversity by making my main character – his girlfriend, half Ecuadorian and half Greek, because I realized, I’ve never seen an Ecuadorian character and I grew up with a lot of biracial kids in Queens, New York. So, it just didn’t seem authentic, to not have that kind of representation on the page. And so that’s where that kind of thing started. But I didn’t write my first female protagonist until I wrote romance. And that was the Luck on the Line, that was that series. And then after that came Labyrinth Lost. So when I wrote Labyrinth Lost it was sort of a new journey, because I was finally writing closer to home, and that was completely terrifying because when there’s a lack of stories about a group of people, then you sort of feel like this one story is going to have to represent everybody. And that’s an unfortunate feeling to have and, but at the same time, this is a story that I’ve always had in my heart. And you know Latina brujas, which is kind of redundant, have never really been seen before. And now hopefully there’s going to be more stories along those lines, and so it’s a small thing that can create ripples back to allow other people to be able to write their story. Because I turned to writing when I saw an author who was my age being published. And she wasn’t like me in any other way other than our age. But I thought to myself, “Wow, she’s my age and she’s published by a real publisher. I can do this too.” So when you see a part of yourself reflected, and an even bigger part of yourself like somebody who looks like you, somebody who has the same needs, somebody of the same orientation, then you start to think that something that might have been a journey is all of a sudden a possibility.
Q: Why do you think that representing Latinx characters and relationships in YA is so important?
A: So I thought it was important because, when I was growing up I think everyone my age sort of felt super progressive when we were in school. Like a lot of my friends felt they [could be one way at school] that they were not at home. So it was kind of the idea that you have to be two different people, when you were with your family and when you were with your friends. And I think that especially nowadays when we have an administration that doesn’t even recognize Pride Month, you know these books are more necessary than ever because they’re … there’s a lack of representation for gay characters in fantasy, and there’s almost as few as there are of people of color. So, I think that it important for all marginalizations to intersect and to be intersectional.
Q: It’s kind of a common theme for children of immigrants to feel pressured by their parents and families to pursue careers that will bring about guaranteed financial. How did your mom feel about your desire to be a writer?
A: I’m not always sure. I think that my mom definitely worries for me because writing is so unstable and creative careers are unstable. Not all of them are, and they’re not the same way for everyone, but I think that my mom, our immigrant parents don’t want us to go through the same things and the same struggles that they had to go through. So, I know that if she ever objected to what I was going to do with my life it didn’t come from a place of control, it came from a place of wanting me to have everything. And so, it’s a big burden to be the first kid – because I was born in Ecuador, so it’s different for my cousins who were born here, but because I represent the first generation of my family to go to college, and to have a career that isn’t a physical or a labor career – then there’s a lot of pressure when it comes to that, because it’s like I’m not just succeeding for myself, I’m succeeding for my family, and I’m now being an example to my 13-year-old cousin who wants to be a comic book writer. And he can point to me, and when my aunt … if my aunt ever says to him “you should be something else,” he can point to me and say that “oh, my cousin Zori, is successful, she’s fine.” So, that’s also a lot of pressure, but I think that we have to show up for, we have to support the younger Latinx kids who are doing creative endeavors and are finding other paths.
Q: Who has been the biggest supporter in your journey to be an author?
A: That’s hard to say. You know what, honestly my grandmother has been my biggest supporter because she’s a big reader and she, you know, I think that whatever I did she would be over-the-moon-happy about. But, for her, somebody who loves books, she’s so thrilled that I get to do this. My great-grandmother never even left the city where she was born in, in Ecuador. And so here I am traveling every single couple of days, weeks, and months to [promote my books]. So, I’m like this wild dream that they never could have even imagined. But at the same time, my grandmother, who is the biggest supporter of my books, can’t read my books because they’re not in Spanish. And so, that felt a little bad, but I know that she is my biggest, my biggest supporter.
Q: Have you been able to tell her, like give her like a full kind of summary of the story so she knows what you’re writing?
A: My mom, my mom started translating for her, but my mom also doesn’t read as strongly in English, so we’ve explained to her that they’re a family of witches. In the beginning, I kind of joked with them and told them it was an autobiographical story about all of them
Q: What was your writing method for the Brooklyn Brujas series, and how long did it take for you to start and finish the first book?
A: The first book took over a year, I mean I had been thinking of the story before, like since, while I was writing the Vicious Deep, so it’s been years in the making. It’s a story that I’ve been thinking about for so long that the actual writing is almost irrelevant compared to how long I’ve been thinking about it, and storing ideas in my head. And it was a story that I didn’t feel that I was ready enough to write. And until that feeling finally arrived, and I don’t know what I did to make it arrive, but it was just there and all of a sudden I was like “Okay, I’m ready now.”
Q: Cool, okay so then besides writing your third book, what are you doing now?
A: So, I’m working on a lot of projects but I’m basically writing, like I’m running out of time, like that line from Hamilton, and I’m trying to produce as much as I can. And as much, and I will keep publishing stories as long as they will let me.