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When she’s not working as a Communications Coordinator for the Faculty of Science at UBC, you can find Silvia Moreno-Garcia writing, whether its writing book reviews for NPR or her column with The Washington Post or working on material of her own. The UBC alumnus’ fourth novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow, was published by Penguin Random House in August 2019 and was named one the best books of 2019 by NPR, The New York Public LibraryBookRiot and Tordotcom. In this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore, the Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey.

We spoke with Silvia about her new book, how she approaches her research and her love of interlibrary loans!

Tell us about Gods of Jade and Shadow and how it came about.

Gods of Jade and Shadow is a fantasy novel that takes place in Mexico in the 1920s. A young woman releases a Maya god of death from his prison and must help him retake his throne. It’s a quest story that took a long time to gestate and it’s my fourth novel.

Can you shed some light on your writing process? Do you do your research first, then write?

Generally, yes, because I’m doing a lot of historical research – at least that’s been the case with the last couple of books I’ve worked on. So I’ll have to page through books and papers for a few months before I can feel confident enough to start writing. But things always change. There’s a skeletal frame and I may fill some holes while I’m doing the work. Research might not end until the first draft is done and run in parallel if I need it.  

How did you do research for the book? Did UBC Library’s resources inform your work in any way?

I use UBC Library’s InterLibrary Loan service quite a bit. Often the Mexican books I need are not here but they can be obtained by getting them from universities in California that have extensive Mexican and Latin American collections. I also use the online databases frequently to look at journal articles, anything from codices to Mayan glyphs. The hardest thing to find are newspaper articles from certain time periods, pre-internet. It’s relatively easy to get newspaper stories from the 20s and 30s – you can look at the archives of the New York Times, for example – but for Mexican newspapers it can be nearly impossible. The 60s-70s is like a black hole.

I also like finding weird books at random. You never quite know what might be on the shelves of a library, especially when it comes to really old books.

What are you reading right now?

That changes like the tide because I review books for NPR and have a column with The Washington Post. So the thing I’m reading for review right now is Labyrinth by Burhan Sönmez, translated by Umit Hussein, which is about a musician who loses his memory and which the publisher calls “Borgesian.” For my own pleasure I’m reading James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss, a 1970s  hard-boiled noir about a private investigator trying to find a missing man and going from seedy location to seedy location in his quest.

Follow Silvia’s writing on her website.

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