In Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow, you get one excellent road trip, with Our Heroine and you know, Death. It’s casual, nothing to worry about, nothing at ALL. This book was one of our favorite summer reads, so we convinced Silvia to stop by and answer some questions about it.
In Gods of Jade and Shadow, a Mayan god of death sends Casiopea Tun on a journey that will change her life. How did you get the idea for this book?
I had a dream about a woman opening a box and out jumps a self-assembling skeleton. I knit the idea into a contemporary urban fantasy scenario, which didn’t work out and I gave up on it. Later on I had another failed novel, this one set in the 1920s, and I figured what had been wrong was the time period so I was able to use my research for what became Gods of Jade and Shadow.
In a brilliant crossroads of Shimmery content, Shimmer author Arkady Martine reviews the book on NPR, and talks about how traditional fairy tales and mythologies are turned on their head. Did you set out to subvert what readers generally think of when it comes to fairy tales?
A lot of people think fairy tales are the sort of pleasant stories told by Disney, but traditional fairy tales and folk tales share not only a certain darkness, but also a certain wildness. They also paradoxically have a very strict sense of order. So you get a heroine having to talk to three animals in the forest in order to triumph on a quest. Let’s say a badger, a rabbit, and a squirrel. As an adult, this sounds ridiculous. Why only three animals? Why those? But as a child you accept this wildness (talking animals) and this sense of order (three) as part of the tale. So no, I don’t think I want to subvert fairy tales, but to accept them for what they are, to respect the oral tradition that I admire, but to also tell a story my own way. Which is ultimately what any storytellers does when they speak.
Well, we like the badger aspect…
Also, although people mention the Cinderella trope, this was the reality of more than one woman in my family. They worked for their keep by doing house chores for other family members. It was not, nor is it, an uncommon form of exploitation in many parts of the world. I wrote a fantasy for my great-grandmother, who was a maid. I wrote the story I would have told her to make her happy, to make her the hero in a tale. And not only her but all the other women in my family who never had a story for themselves.
Your work often pairs the fantastic with the historical. Can you pinpoint where your love of history comes from, and what appeals about it?
I’ve always liked history and I’m not interested in writing contemporary novels. I can do contemporary short stories because the length is, well, short, but for a longer period of time I just can’t see myself terribly interested in the present unless there’s something odd that’s skewing it a bit.
What would you do if you found a box of bones in your house?
Toss it out.
This book is part fairy tale and part road trip. Who would you absolutely not want to accompany you on a road trip?
Someone who doesn’t like to make stops and just wants to get to the destination.
If you could take us anywhere in Mexico, where would it be? What would we see? What would we eat?
Mexico City, because you can find anything in Mexico City. The National Museum of Anthropology is always a great visit for tourists. I like to eat in many places. El Moro for churros, street tacos, Tortas Locas Hipocampo, queso fundido over at Los Ovnis, etc.
We’re already hungry!! Do you have a favorite jazz musician?
Chet Baker when he sings “My Funny Valentine.”
What have you read lately that’s Great and Outstanding and we should get our mitts on immediately?
The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag, a murder mystery focused on a gruesome crime and set in 1700s Stockholm. Dark, depressing, and beautifully written.
Automatic Eve by Rokurô Inui. A Japanese steampunk mosaic novel for fans of Phillip K. Dick.
Every book we’ve read from you has had its pages in a different genre—and we love it! What’s next for you?
My next novel with Del Rey is called Mexican Gothic and it’s a horror novel set in the Mexican countryside in 1950. My first crime novel, Untamed Shore, should be out next year. It’s a domestic noir set in 1970s Mexico and Baja California.
Woot! Silvia, thanks for taking the time to chat with badgers. Readers, go grab your copy of Gods of Jade and Shadow, because it’s the perfect read to wrap up summer with!