Family, Magic, and Identity: Zoraida Córdova on “Labyrinth Lost”

Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost combines teen angst, Latinx traditions, and the power of love. SLJ caught up with the YA author to chat about her writing process, favorite characters, and more.
Photo by Sara Jane Jaramillo

Photo by Sara Jane Jaramillo

Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost (Sourcebooks/Fire; Sept., 2016) combines teen angst, Latinx traditions, familial bonds, and the power of love to create a unique urban fantasy. SLJ caught up with the YA author to chat about her writing process, favorite characters, and more. What inspired you to write Labyrinth Lost? Was this a project that you’ve been working on for a long time? Labyrinth Lost was inspired by my love of fantasy worlds. I wanted to write about family, magic, and the search for identity. I also wanted to create a magical system that was inclusive of people of color. I’ve had different incarnations of Labyrinth Lost in the works, and even after we sold it 2014, it still went through many revisions. I have character drafts and notes that go back before that. It’s been in my mind for a long time, and now seems to be the perfect time for it. How did you go about creating this complex world of the brujas (witches) and Los Lagos (the Underworld)? I knew I didn’t want to take from preexisting mythologies. I started by creating a pantheon of gods for the brujas. I created their own form of praying and spells, called rezos and cantos. I tried to act like a magical cultural anthropologist and fill in the needs and gaps for the world I was creating. I wanted it to feel grounded in reality, but still new. Alex’s love for her family is the heart of this novel. How did you go about constructing such nuanced relationships among the sisters and with her extended family? That’s such a cultural thing. I come from a big Ecuadorian family. My mom and her brothers and sister are close. My cousins are my brothers and sisters. My grandmother is our heart and soul. The magic of Labyrinth Lost is generational and passed down by blood. In order for Alex to come to terms with her magic, she must understand her family and where she comes from. So I wanted to evoke a similar bond as the one I grew up with. As referenced in the title, the novel has many points in which the protagonist is turned around and put in surprising situations. Did you have a specific method of keeping track of all the plot points and twist and turns? I like to break scenes down and write them on post-its and index cards. I usually tape them to my wall, but sometimes I lay them out on my floor. I also color-code them. I know there are computer programs that can help me out with the same, but maybe I just need an excuse to buy office supplies. I also like to feel like I have physical control in moving these scenes around. YA-HS-Corvado-Labyrinth LostThere’s some obvious chemistry between Alex and Nova. There are also some sparks flying between Alex and her best friend Rishi. I love that Alex’s possible bisexuality was a nonissue. Did you always intend to include this “untraditional” love triangle? I’d like to see more sexual orientations represented as a nonissue. I know this is dependent on the kind of social circles and regions people grow up in this country. When I wrote Alex and Nova, my intention was to write an antilove story. That was the very first incarnation of Labyrinth Lost. In a way, the love triangle is more like an acute angle than a closed triangle. I wanted to keep love out of this because my main concentration is Alex’s family and rescuing them. Still, the more edits that went into the book, the more I developed the motivations of each character. I realized that there is so much love in Alex’s heart. Nova and Rishi just bring out different kinds of love. Which character was your favorite to write? Which one was the most difficult? Which do you identify with the most? My favorite character to write is Lula, Alex’s sister. Lula is carefree, beautiful, and confident. She’s unapologetic in everything she does. But something tragic happens to her that shatters that confidence. Book two in the “Brooklyn Brujas” series is going to be her story, and that’s going to be a lot of fun for me to explore. My most difficult character to write was Nova. He’s got some edges that will never be smoothed out. He’s morally ambiguous and a survivor. That doesn’t always make for a good ally. I identify with Alex in a lot of ways. I grew up with a single mother and a little brother. But we had a large family network that never made me feel as if I was missing a paternal figure. My mother, like Alex’s mother, is extremely selfless and hardworking. Alex’s culture is her magic, and it takes her a long time to connect with that. I felt the same way when I was in high school trying to figure out my place in the world. Sometimes I couldn’t write Alex because it felt too close. You’re also one of the cofounders of “Latinxs in Kidlit” blog. Now a few years since its foundation, how do you feel about the website’s reception and impact on publishing? I feel really proud of what we’ve accomplished. Cindy Rodriguez, Sujei Lugo, Lila Quintero, and everyone just work well together. They put a great effort in keeping this site going. As we move forward, it’s important to make sure that books by and about Latinx are accessible for those looking for them. We’ve always been here. It’s just a matter of getting the books in the hands of readers. As long as people keep reading the blog, we’ll keep running it. What words of advice would you give young aspiring authors of color? Don’t worry about the market. Write the book of your heart, and the market will follow you. You’ve written about mermaids and also some new adult titles. Are the writing experiences different in comparison to writing Labyrinth Lost? The Vicious Deep was a book I desperately wanted to write. The story of Tristan and his quest was very organic for me. I wrote it because it was the story I wanted to read. My romance novels in the “On the Verge” series were so much fun to write. I wanted to tell the story of twentysomething women who are looking for their place in the world, and the men who love them. I wanted to write about “unlikable” and strong women. With Labyrinth Lost, I needed to tell that story. I’m glad I get to write more installments for the “Brooklyn Brujas.” What are working on next? Right now I’m working on [the second installment of] the “Brooklyn Brujas” series. I also have some proposals I’m working on. I have so many stories I want to tell. I wish there were more hours in the day! Save Save

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