Interview with Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker, Co-Editors of Mermaids Never Drown: Tales to Dive For

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Jan 7, 2024

Zoraida Córdova is the acclaimed author of more than two dozen novels and short stories, including the Brooklyn Brujas series, Star Wars: The High Republic: Convergence, and The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina. In addition to writing novels, she serves on the board of We Need Diverse Books, and is the co-editor of the bestselling anthology Vampires Never Get Old, as well as the cohost of the writing podcast, Deadline City. She writes romance novels as Zoey Castile. Zoraida was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and calls New York City home. When she’s not working, she’s roaming the world in search of magical stories.

Natalie C. Parker is an author, editor, and community organizer. She has written several award winning books for teens and young readers and has edited multiple anthologies including the Indie Bestselling anthology Vampires Never Get Old. Her work has been included on the NPR Best Books list, the Indie Next List, and the TAYSHAS Reading List, and in Junior Library Guild selections. In addition to writing, Natalie also runs Madcap Retreats, which has partnered with We Need Diverse Books and Reese’s Book Club to host the writers workshops for their new internship Lit Up. She grew up in a navy family finding home in coastal cities from Virginia to Japan and currently lives with her wife on the Kansas prairie.

I had the opportunity to interview Zoraida and Natalie, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves? 

N: Hi Geeks OUT team! Thank you so much for having us! Zoraida and I are both authors of young adult, middle grade, and, in her case, adult SFF and we’ve been friends since the day we met. Which was at the very beginning of our careers.

What can you tell us about your latest anthology, Mermaids Never Drown: Tales to Dive For? What was the inspiration for the project?

N: To tell you about the inspiration for Mermaids Never Drown we actually have to back up a bit and tell you about the first installment in the Untold Legends series, Vampires Never Get Old, which came out of a writing retreat. We were both floating in a pool that was far too cold for rational people to endure, and Zoraida breezily mentioned missing vampires. Suddenly we were deep in a discussion about how many vampires were missing from the stories we were most familiar with. Our solution was an anthology featuring an array of voices who were excited to revamp, if you will, the mythology we know and love. That book came out in 2020.

Z: Back in the pandemic days! It became an Indie bestseller and since then, we’ve seen one of the stories from Vampires, “First Kill” by V.E. Schwab, be adapted as a Netflix show, which was very exciting. And we sold two more installments featuring two more of our favorite cryptids/magical beings. Which is how Mermaids Never Drown came to be.

As authors, you’ve both written about merfolk before. This is also the second mythological creature you’ve tackled in this anthology series. May I ask what do you think draws you and the other writers from the Mermaids Never Drown anthology to this mythological creature?

Z: Mermaids have always been my favorite mythological creature. There are so many metaphors that can be applied to magical beings, but for me, the mermaid story is about straddling two worlds. As an immigrant living in the diaspora, what better metaphor could I choose? I’m not trying to belong to one world or the other. I belong to both, and that’s pretty powerful for me.

N: I’ve been captivated by mermaids for as long as I can remember. I’ve been a swimmer, a sailor, and a SCUBA diver and all of the mercreatures I write tend to be monstrous in some way, always hungry with sharp teeth and rough skin. That really fits my experience of queerness–I have felt monstrous and strange and also hungry and vicious at various points in my life, like I both did and didn’t fit in my own body or among regular humans. So for me, mermaids and queerness have a lot to do with finding home inside yourself, and making a new one in the world.

Zoraida Córdova Photo Credit Melanie Barbosa

For many people, mermaids and merfolk in general have often been a queer symbol, a marginalized creature traveling between different worlds, longing for love and freedom. Could you maybe tell us about some of the queer contributions to Mermaids Never Drown?

N: So many of our stories play on that theme of feeling trapped or pulled between two worlds, or on being denied access to spaces that feel crucial to identity or a sense of history. The stories in this collection use mermaid mythology and tropes to explore everything from intergenerational trauma to diaspora to queerness. In particular, I’m very excited for Rebecca Coffindaffer’s Storm Song, which grapples with sexuality and expectations. Queer romance is front and center in Julian Winters’s We’ll Always Have June, and Julie Murphy’s The First and Last Kiss. Katherine Locke’s Nor’easter features a nonbinary protagonist, andand several of the other stories have queerness braided throughout, including Kalynn Bayon’s Return to the Sea, Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s Shark Week, and the story I’ve co-authored with Zoraida, The Merrow.

What draws you to the art of anthology creation?

N: There is something really powerful about being invited into a story. As a queer person, stories about magical and mythical creatures have felt strangely off-limits. Anthologies give us an opportunity to change that, and while there’s no single collection that can invite every single reader in, I love working on projects that are opening doors rather than closing them.

Z: Short stories were my first love. From the classics we had to read in school, to the strange and experimental zines and flash fiction I found in college, to putting together these collections with Natalie. I love giving other writers a prompt and seeing what unfurls from planting that idea.

As writers, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult, fantasy, and romance?

Z: The real world is a mess, to quote our favorite soft shell crab. From the moment I decided I wanted to be a writer in high school, I’ve been dreaming up worlds. Fantasy is a reflection of our world, but at a distance. I don’t think you can truly leave the problems of our worlds behind. In fact, it should power your fantasy and shine a light on what, as an author, you are trying to say.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing and/or editing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging?

N: When it comes to anthologies, my favorite part is always getting the stories and reading them for the first time. It’s exciting every single time and I love the tantalizing feeling of not knowing how our authors will have tackled the prompt. It reminds me that stories are limitless and a single prompt can inspire wildly different and robust creations–it’s a kind of magic. The most challenging part is deciding the order of the stories! Seriously, we agonize over placement. Every. Single. Time.

Growing up, were there any stories or books in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

Z: There are so many. I loved all the teen urban fantasy that came out in the late 90’s and early aughts. Those books really shaped me as a writer. I grew up watching Latin American TV, so I did see aspects of myself reflected in Spanish-language television and media, but until recently, that wasn’t the case in US American books and media. I think the first time I felt represented in a show was the first episode of ‘Jane the Virgin,’ which came out in my 20s. I’m still waiting for a book to do that to me, as an Ecuadorian person, but I’ve still found connections with books that feature strong main characters like Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, On the Hustle by Adriana Herrera.

N: The first books I remember feeling a deep connection to as a queer kid were the Heralds of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey. It was the first time I’d ever seen queer characters on the page who weren’t villainized. In fact, they got to be the main characters, have magic of their own and go on epic quests! Now, there are many queer books that reflect parts of me and many that don’t, and I love that we are getting to have that kind of expansion in literature. In particular, I’m currently obsessed with the works of Zen Cho, Andrew Joseph White, Tessa Gratton (I know Z already mentioned her, but I can’t help it), Adib Khorram, and Mark Oshiro.

Natalie C. Parker

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

Z: Natalie and I have a podcast called Untold Legends, where we deep dive (no pun intended) pop culture with our authors. Season one is all about vampires, and of course, season two is about mermaids. You can listen here.

N: I know this is giving the impression that Zoraida and I do everything together, but we also work with a new company called Electric Postcard Entertainment. Our mission is to act as a launchpad for creators whose backgrounds and experiences have long been marginalized by entertainment industries. Aspiring writers can learn more here!

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Z: Read everything. It was the first piece of advice I received, and it holds true. Consuming stories–in whatever format–is part of the job. For me, it sharpens my sentences, and helps me figure out how I want my own voice to be different.

Any specific advice for those looking to create/organize an anthology themselves?

N: My best advice is to take your time and be really intentional about the project. The more focus you can bring to the idea at the pitch stage, the better the collection will be in the end. So, what I’m saying is that it’s good to be very clear about your mission from the beginning. 

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

Z: I’m working on my next adult book. It’s tentatively titled The Fall of Rebel Angels and is a love story between a woman suspected of murdering her former lover and a fallen angel who is cursed to search for his wings on Earth every one hundred years.

N: I am just about to announce two new projects that will be released in 2024 and 2025. The first is my first young adult horror novel, which has been a dream of mine for ten million years, and the second is a project I pitched as John Wick meets Adventures in Babysitting. Full details, titles, and covers will be released VERY soon.

Finally, what book/authors would you recommend to the readers of GeeksOUT?

Z: All of the authors in our anthologies have tremendous novels of their own. Make sure you check out their work!

N: What Z said! I will also offer a quick set of spooky season queer YA reads for consideration: My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham, You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight by Kalynn Bayronn, The Honeys by Ryan La Sala, and These Fleeting Shadows by Kate Alice Marshall, and Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado.

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