The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, Zoraida Córdova’s adult debut, is one of our favorite books of the year – and one I re-read three separate times before even sitting down to write my review. This, of course, means that I was very excited to get a chance to pick Zoraida’s brain about the inspiration behind the book, her dream projects, and of course, this book that I enjoyed so much.
For me, the book was both a revelation, and a return to my roots, because there’s a lot of The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina that calls back to writers from the boom of Latin American literature, and what they inspired afterwards in writers like Isabel Allende – something that, consciously or not, was both an inspiration to Zoraida and to me. But just because she wasn’t meaning to call back to them in this book, that doesn’t mean that the things you read, the things you love, don’t leave their mark on you. As Córdoba herself noted “the rooster in the novel is named Gabo, and I do admire Allende so much.”
But the real inspiration for the book was “the image of a woman who lived in a valley all alone and called her family back to that homestead,” Córdoba shared, only to go on to explain. “I work off of imagery, especially when there’s a character I can’t get out of my head.”
In fact, “the seed for Inheritance of Orquídea Divina was a short story called “Divine Are the Stars” in the YA fantasy anthology Toil & Trouble. Character names have changed, but the central scene of the family funeral expanded, and so I worked out figuring out what happened before that moment and what happened after.”
This work, of course, meant stepping into a space Córdoba hadn’t occupied before, not in the same way. “Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is technically my adult literary debut. I have written adult romance under the name Zoey Castile.”
Adult romance which you should absolutely go read, ASAP.
“Writing adult didn’t require stepping out of my comfort zone but writing about Orquídea and her family did. I felt the pressure to do write by her story because I’m writing very close to home—an Ecuadorian matriarch and the questionable men in her life.”
But that doesn’t mean Zoraida is writing her story, or her family’s story. There’s sometimes a tendency to equate everything a writer does that has some connection to their culture as being personal, and it absolutely isn’t. It doesn’t have to be. Yes, experiences inform writing, but someone like Zoraida doesn’t need to steal from real life to create the wonderful words she creates. She’s proven that a dozen times over.
Instead “Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is the story of a woman who does everything in her power to survive, no matter what the consequences.” The story “follows the big moments of her life, and then how every decision she made affects her descendants, who are not burdened with the things she left behind.”
The idea, for Córdoba was to “tell the story of generational silence and how that impacts people.” She also really wanted to “wanted to write about an Ecuadorian family, which isn’t something I grew up reading in popular contemporary fiction.” This, of course, doesn’t mean she’s trying to “write the Ecuadorian immigrant experience, just one woman and one family and one story.”
Interestingly, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a story about family, but also, in many ways, a story about self, and about the struggle to balance both within a community that expects you to always choose family. Zoraida spoke to this idea as she told us that “there’s a disconnect between generations, and many things affect that. Social norms, immigration status, financial status, gender,” while adding. “Perhaps it’s my own background as an immigrant from a big family, but I can’t separate myself from my family, and I don’t mean this in a sense of independence. I mean it in the way that family structures build parts of ourselves, so usually when I write, I can’t help but think about how a character’s family life has led to every decision they’ve made.” And that, well … “that’s the story.”
And it’s a real good one, I will add.
We couldn’t end the interview without asking Córdoba, who’s tried her hand at many genres, if there’s something in particular she wanted to write that she hadn’t had a chance to. We probably shouldn’t have been surprised that she had such a ready-made answer to this question.
“I’d love to try my hand at space opera (I have written for Star Wars, but that’s an existing world). I have the beginnings of an idea, but we’ll see what the future brings. Whatever I write will involve magic, romance, or both.”
A woman after our own heart.
Finally, if you want us to get to the heart of who Zoraida Córdoba is, we might just have to use her own words to do it. What better way to close this interview that with them: “I’ve always had a drive to tell stories, whether people read them or not. I suppose I’ll always be a storyteller in some way, even if I’m not writing novels.
Zoraida Córdoba’s latest, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, is available wherever books are sold.