Author J.C. Cervantes and her novel, Shadow Crosser. Photograph by Wendy Ewing.
J.C. CERVANTES DIDN’T KNOW she was writing a book when she began Tortilla Sun. Her youngest daughter just wanted a story about her teddy bear. The self-proclaimed bibliophile had never written fiction, but her story eventually grew into the enchanting tale of 12-year-old Izzy’s summer with her Nana in a New Mexico village. “Tortilla Sun became a love letter to New Mexico,” says the Las Cruces mother of three girls. Although her first novel received much acclaim, it took eight years before her second, The Storm Runner, was released by Disney Hyperion. The final installment in that Zane Obispo trilogy of Mayan myth, The Shadow Crosser, debuted in September, and Cervantes continues to spin her magic. She has read a script for a Storm Runner pilot on Apple TV, and three novels—Flirting with Fate, The Mirror: Fractured Past, and Throne of Sand—are slated for release in 2022.
I feel like I came out of the womb interested in mythology. When I was a kid, I devoured D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.
My grandmother would tell these stories of the god of death. I think that’s the one she knew best—stories of Xib’alb’a and what the underworld represented to this ancient civilization.
I was terrified. When you’re a kid, you’re scared, but you want them to keep going.
They’re ancestral stories that are carried in the blood and bones.
I remember going to the library in third grade and asking for Mayan and Mesoamerican mythology because my grandmother used to tell me these tales. They said, “We don’t have anything.” I remember thinking, It’s not an important topic, because it’s not in a book.
My family is from northern New Mexico for as many generations as we can go back, but this was all Mexico.
For my grandmother and grandfather, Spanish was their first language. My mom used to tell me that she was embarrassed by that.
I grew up in southern California, very close to the Mexico border. I was always so proud of my Mexican heritage. But my father’s Anglo. His mother was French.
I can remember feeling very torn between cultures and not feeling like I belonged anywhere. I think you see that in Izzy’s story.
The rejections made it very difficult to find any peace around writing. I would try to pray away the seed that had been planted in my heart to write, because I wanted to be happy.
It was even more difficult because we got so close, so often.
I learned a lot about how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. I have stubborn hope.
I have always been a huge Rocky fan.
Find someone or something that inspires you. Let that be your golden nugget that you carry in your pocket.
We have a view of the valley and then to the mesa. There are all these dormant volcanoes out there. I was mesmerized by them. I thought, What if something dark and terrifying was lurking inside those volcanoes? That’s how The Storm Runner was born.
Writing The Storm Runner was a reclamation of my own heritage in a very powerful way.
The women in my family have always been magical to me. They just felt like these magical beings who could make things happen with powerful prayer or powerful thought.
I’m a very firm believer in fate and destiny.
I finished The Mirror in February or March. It’s part of a quartet of novels based on this family curse.
I really love writing dark stuff, but when COVID hit I remember stepping back: I need something fun.
When I wrote Flirting With Fate, I almost wrote it in a healing way for myself. Every day coming to the page with those characters was the greatest light and joy in a very dark time in this world and in our country.
That book came from a place of pure, pure joy.