Jen: Today we welcome Zoraida Cordova to Romancing the Book. Zoraida, will you share a short bio with us?
Zoaida: Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, NY. She studied at the University of Montana, where she fell in love with Big Sky Country. She is the author of The Vicious Deep Trilogy, the On the Verge Series, and Labyrinth Lost.
Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Zoaida: Life on the Level was born out of a number of ideas. First, I love writing about girls who are misfits and snarky AF. River Thomas is a lost soul, and the only person who can save her is herself. That doesn’t mean that she can’t get help along the way. Second, is forbidden romance. There’s something about star-crossed lovers that makes it terribly fun to write. Lastly, I wanted to write a novel set in Montana. I’ve been there a few times to visit friends, and for a semester in college. It’s a beautiful state, and for a New Yorker like River, the perfect place to find her way.
“I have to go,” I say.
I start to turn the doorknob. He practically jumps over his desk.
“What?” I snap.
He shuts the door, then takes several steps away, drawing a line between our personal spaces.
“River, please, just hear me out.”
“Stop saying my name!” Why am I angry? Why is he here?
“I don’t know what else to call you.”
Flashback: him, grabbing my face with his strong hands. You are so beautiful.
I brush my hair out of my face, wishing I could do something about the heat on my skin. “I don’t know. This is—this is not okay.”
He looks at me for a bit. Now that I’m getting over the shock of our reunion, I can get a better look at him with a sober brain. If beer goggles make uggos more attractive, then imagine what it’s done to someone like him. In my mind, I take into account that I lost the bet with myself. He’s not a cowboy. He’s a counselor.
He’s my counselor.
He messes up his hair, making him look all the more adorably rumpled.
“I’m just as shocked as you, River.”
“I’m just going to go.” I feel like a trapped mouse. “This is just too weird. I can’t be here.”
He nods, then after another painful pause goes, “You’re right.”
“Okay.” I dump my coffee in the trashcan and turn around.
He starts to reach for me. I can feel his fingers graze my elbow. He thinks better of it. Then his touch is gone.
“I shouldn’t be your counselor. That doesn’t mean you should leave. You came here to get help. I should’ve seen it when we met.”
“Why?” I ask angrily. “Because I was a drunken mess throwing herself at you? You didn’t seem to mind.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Welcome to this funny little thing called life.”
“I should’ve seen it because you looked so sad. I could see myself—I mean, I should’ve seen there was more to you. I don’t mean it in a bad way. I mean that part of me didn’t want to ask because I just needed—“
He shoves his hands into his pockets.
Don’t look at his jeans.
“I just needed to have you. I don’t do things like that normally.”
“And I do? Because I’m some raging slut.” Well, I do do things like that normally. They just never blow up so spectacularly in my face.
“Don’t Psych 101 me.”
“And stop smirking.”
He licks his lips, and that just makes everything so much worse. He crosses his arms over his chest, leans against his desk. What a lucky fucking desk.
“Don’t leave because of me, please. I’ll stay out of your way. I can be professional, even if what happened between us isn’t a testament to that.”
I’m suddenly cold. I rub the goose bumps from my arms.
“This is like the let’s-be-friends speech,” I say.
He pushes his tongue against his cheek, and I can tell he wants to say something inappropriate. Maybe flirty.
“Not used to that?”
I shrug. “Won’t people ask questions about me switching counselors? Word on the street is people are clamoring to be yours. I mean—your patients.”
He smiles, and when he smiles I realize we can never be friends. Not if he keeps looking at me that way.
“Are the gossip mills getting to you already?”
“Something like that.”
“Just—be careful who you share things with here. Sometimes information is more valuable than money or cigarettes.”
“I don’t want to get kicked out. And I don’t want either of us to get in trouble. Besides, we didn’t do anything wrong. We are two consenting adults. We met before I checked in, and we’re not pursuing anything.”
He sighs. “I’ll speak to Helen this afternoon. Tell her you’d be better suited to someone else.”
“Okay.” Part of me, the part that’s committed to doing this, is congratulating herself. This is so grown up. This is mature and reasonable. I don’t really need to be here, do I?
The other part—the girl who lost the bet on the man who was supposed to be a rough-and-tumble cowboy—is itching for another shot. God, I wish I had that flask right about now.
“This is the best thing to do,” he says.
“For you or for me?”
“For both, I hope.”
“Are you sure this is okay?”
“You’re the first patient to get transferred out of my sessions.” He walks around his desk and sits again. “Don’t worry, I can take a hint.”
“What do you mean?”
“You walked out on me, remember?”
I nod, and let myself out. I walk away from him for the second time in two days.
Jen: What what age did you discover writing? Tell us your call story.
Zoaida: I was thirteen and our teacher had assigned us a creative writing exercise for extra credit. It was supposed to be two pages long. My story was eleven pages! I even drew a cover. It was called “Final Heartbreak” after the Jessica Simpson song. (I was thirteen cut me some slack!) At the time, I didn’t have a computer, so I had to go to a friend’s house to use hers. I think I finished around midnight and my friend’s parents were probably desperate to kick me out. The same friend then plagiarized my story as her own (scandal!). Either way, in the end, I kept writing. I discovered author Amelia Atwater Rhodes, who was published at fourteen. That’s when it clicked that this was something I could do.
Jen: Describe your writing in 3 words.
Zoaida: Snarky, sexy, magic.
Jen: Do you have a writing routine?
Zoaida: I like to go to coffee shops in my neighborhood. But when I don’t want to leave the house, I write from home. I listen to music and sometimes drink wine or beer after I’ve had a gallon of coffee. My desk is super personalized with trinkets and good luck charms and photos of my friends and family. I set a timer for myself, and when the time is up I’ll take an internet break or run an errand or clean something.
Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Zoaida: Since I’ve never been in a rehabilitation center, I decided to start calling them. Apparently, “Hi, I’m writing a book set in rehab, can you answer some questions for me?” is not a good opening line. Everyone hung up on me! That being said, I did look up different centers, especially in Montana, that used equine and outdoors therapy. Horse Creek Recovery Center is 100% made up, and made to fit the rules of my world. I was lucky enough to find writer friends (thank Twitter) who do work at rehab centers. They answered a lot of my questions, and I kept the things that fit the story I wanted to tell.
As for Montana, I’ve been there a few times. I fell in love with the view and wide-open spaces. I think River falls in love with it, too. Sun Valley, Montana is a little town I made up for the purposes of the book.
Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing?
Zoaida: The biggest challenge of writing is making yourself happy. When I wrote my debut, The Vicious Deep, back in 2010-ish, I was writing just for me. It was the novel that was in my heart and mind, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Once I started writing for publication something changed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful that I get to publish and work with the people I work with. The reward is when someone does love your book and totally gets you. But at some point, I got burned out. I spoke frankly about this in my new blog A Novel A Month.
The challenge is balancing writing with promotion, editing, criticism (from others and internally), sales, more writing. Not to mention having a personal life. What is this magical thing called free time? I think that a lot of authors are hard on themselves, and that leads to a struggle when it comes to putting words on paper. I know I feel this way. I’m hoping to find a better balance, as well as happiness in 2016.
Jen: If this book was made into a movie, who do you see playing the main characters?
Zoaida: I think the obvious answer is Jennifer Lawrence. I loved her in Silver Linings Playbook, and she’s just beautiful. She has an edge, like River, and says whatever is on her mind. For the hero, Hutch, I’d cast William Levy or Justin Baldoni from Jane the Virgin. Because hotness.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Zoaida: I have a YA fantasy called Labyrinth Lost coming September 6th from Sourcebooks Fire. It’s about a witch who tries to get rid of her power, and in doing so, accidentally sends her entire family to another dimension. Now, she has to go and save them before the land quite literally devours them. You can check it out here on Goodreads.