Author Zoraida Córdova is best known for her Brooklyn Brujas series. Her latest in the series, Bruja Born, is set for a June 5 release and already receiving rave reviews. Córdova is also well-known as a voice speaking out for greater representation in the fairly white worlds of both YA and fantasy. Before the release of her next YA urban-fantasy-coming-of-age book, we asked her to reflect on the stories that shaped her as a reader and writer. Here, she writes about a moment that crystallized all the anxiety around being an author, as well as all the perks of realizing you’ve made someone else’s world just a little bit bigger, whether through magic, or through simply being yourself – and, of course, the books that led her there.
The best and worst moment of my career happened simultaneously about five years ago. My first novel, The Vicious Deep, had been out for a year and I was sending myself to as many book conferences and festivals as I could. I don’t remember a lot of things about the conference. As many of those events go, there were hundreds of authors and even more readers. To be completely honest, at some point in every signing, most authors have a super low moment. This is not the glam part of being a writer. There’s always this gnawing feeling that because you’re not like the authors with the long lines, you’ve done something wrong.
Spoiler alert: This is not a post where I feel sorry for myself. Quite the opposite. Just as I was playing with my phone a couple of young Latinx girls walked up to me. They were excited by the book conference and had never attended one. They asked me where I was from and I said, “New York by way of Ecuador.” Their excitement made me completely blush. It wasn’t just that I was Ecuadorian but I was young, I looked like a version of themselves. One of them said, “I didn’t know that there were any Latina writers. I didn’t know that we could do that.” And then they thanked me for being here.
I can’t remember what I did. I’m sure I gave them a signed bookmark and tried to stop the tears from leaking out of my face. Then, we all went our separate ways. But I often think about those girls and that moment. When I said it was the best, it was because I could be a mirror to someone for the first time in my life. The worst because of what they said. How could they not know any Latina writers? But then I thought back to my own education and other than Sandra Cisneros, I couldn’t think of a Latina writer that I’d discovered before a college class on Latino Literature. Of course, now I know where to look, but I still wonder – what if I didn’t? What if I had let myself think that being a writer wasn’t meant for girls like me? What if one of those girls started writing her own story? What if this isn’t about me at all but about access to more books, more Latinx authors, more stories? What if books could be more than mirrors but gateways?
When I think of books that were my gateways, these are some that come to mind.
No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel García Márquez
Not one of his most famous works, but the small town story is so simple and still complete, it allowed me to see how a single story can feel big.
The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray
One of the first books I read about magical girls that straddled the real world and the magical.
The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales
I read this middle grade in college and even though the family was Mexican and not Ecuadorian, it felt like seeing a part of myself I’d never seen in books before.
Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros
Writing urban fantasy and magical creatures started out as a way for me to write people in-between worlds. Obviously, these stories are real life versions of that “ni de aqui, ni de alla” feeling like you straddle cultures.
The Captain’s Verses by Pablo Neruda
In Bruja Born, Lula is a romantic. Neruda was the first poet I ever loved who wasn’t Poe.