The author of 17 YA, middle-grade, and adult fiction novels, Zoraida Córdova has established herself as an essential voice in the Latinx publishing space, exploring fantastical worlds, science fiction universes, and magical realism with an Ecuadorian twist. Her most recent novel, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, is a stunning exploration of matriarchy, memorializing the past, and the inherent divisions and yet unbreakable connections throughout time.
Sofía Aguilar and Zoraida Córdova hopped on Zoom to discuss her latest novel, important lessons from the industry, and what projects she’s excited for readers to know about next.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Has writing always been a life-long love for you?
ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA: I was 13 when I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I read a book by an author named Amelia Atwater-Rhodes called In the Forests of the Night. At the time, she was 14 when she got published by Random House. I was like, “She’s my age and she’s a writer. I thought authors had to be 100 and white or dead” because those were the only books I had access to at the time. Later in high school, I discovered that Sandra Cisneros existed but there were still books that teachers gave me in an attempt to say, “You should relate to this.” But I can’t. I couldn’t relate to House on Mango Street because it’s not my story. The fallacy of the Latinx experience in this country is that everyone has the same experience and we don’t. From that age, I dedicated myself to finding out everything I could about how to get published. And 11 years later from the day I decided to become a writer, I got my first book deal.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is now your 17th novel! How did you reach such an incredible milestone?
ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA: I wrote my first novel in high school, which obviously did not get sold because it was a disaster and I was 17. When I was 19, I wrote what would become my debut novel, which would be published in 2012 called The Vicious Deep. That book is no longer in print but it was my beginning, the novel that launched me. And because it was with such a small publisher, Sourcebooks, I needed to find other avenues to become a full-time writer. So I took on a lot of different contracts, writing another series, writing The Brooklyn Bruja series. I started taking work for hire like Star Wars. Then between 2017 and 2018, I pitched five novels hoping something would be accepted and all five were, and I was like “Shit.” But I did it!
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is to keep my eyes on my own paper. When you don’t, publishing will break your heart.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: In your acknowledgments, you wrote about how Orquidea Divina was first inspired by a short story called “Divine Are the Stars” for an anthology called Toil & Trouble, edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharp. Could you speak more about the process of writing that initial story, your inspiration, and then how you transformed it into a novel?
ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA: The anthology was about women and witchcraft so I knew that I wanted to write about a woman who transformed into a tree. Most of the time, I work off of an image, whether that’s a scene or a character, then try to unfold the story and world around them. So all I knew about this story at the time was that there was this family in the valley and they were all coming to collect their inheritance but they didn’t know what it was. I wanted to make it into a book but I didn’t have the opportunity or think that I could do it as a YA novel. Then, I got the opportunity from an editor to expand it and it felt like serendipity – right place, right time. It felt very different from my other books, a slightly more grown-up version because the characters aren’t discovering themselves, they’re discovering their family’s past. I had to figure out who they were, what happened in the past, why they were like this. And as I asked those questions, I eventually had a book.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Throughout the book, I noticed quite a few parallels between Orquidea and her granddaughter Marimar, which later carries to her great-granddaughter Rhiannon. In fact, many of the most interesting and complex characters in the family are female. What do you enjoy about centering women in your stories?
ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA: I’m hard-pressed to find stories from a Latinx point of view that are not matriarchies. Even though we’re a patriarchal society in Latin America because of Catholicism, the individual family is a matriarchy. Who do you go to for approval or a blessing? You go to your grandmother. Obviously, I can’t speak for every family but I was raised with my mom and grandmother as the pillars of the family. I didn’t have my dad because he still lives in Ecuador but I had my uncles. And even though there were more uncles than aunts, it was still a matriarchy. A lot of my books are like that except for Incendiary because I’m showing how the patriarchy is corruptive and not conducive to community.
I’m hard-pressed to find stories from a Latinx point of view that are not matriarchies… Who do you go to for approval or a blessing? You go to your grandmother.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA: We all have our own magic. We all live with power inside of us, something that’s made us truly unique and individual. We just have to figure out what our strengths are and hold onto them.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Over the course of your career, what have been important lessons you’ve learned, writing or publishing-wise?
ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA: The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is to keep my eyes on my own paper. When you don’t, publishing will break your heart. It will disappoint you because your journey is not the same as your colleagues’. There will be some writers who show up one day and get published right away, hit #1, get a movie deal. While your journey is a decade-long, you’ve written 17 books but people still call you a debut because they have no idea who you are. I’ve learned to concentrate on my own career instead of wanting what other people have.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Any upcoming projects you’re excited about?
ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA: I’m the editor of a Latinx science fiction/fantasy anthology in the YA space called Reclaim the Stars. It has 17 authors, including myself, writing from the Latinx diaspora so this will be the first anthology of its kind in YA from a major publisher. It’s very exciting for us and I love it. That comes out February 15, 2022. Then next year, I have a middle-grade novel called Valentina Salazar is Not a Monster Hunter. I came up with this idea a few years ago while watching Supernatural, one of my favorite TV shows in the whole world, and I was like, “Where are all the girls and why do they keep getting killed off?” That inspired me to write about this family of monster protectors. So it’s my love letter to Supernatural and magical creatures.