Interview with Kaela Rivera
I absolutely fangirled when Kaela Rivera agreed to let me interview her for the MUFMGA.
Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls and Cece Rios and the King of Fears
When you read this introduction to Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls and Cece Rios and the King of Fears, I bet you’ll see why I am such a huge fan.
In its thrilling sequel, Cece and her sister Juana must journey into the stronghold of Devil’s alley to challenge the criatura king El Cucuy if they, and their criatura friends, have any hopes of staying alive.
Can’t you just feel the excitement and tension? Plus, I love a good story that touches on a type of mythology we don’t read about often—or should I say often enough?
One of my favorite things about Mesoamerican mythology is this emphasis on exploring and understanding duality. It reminds me that our ancestors were wrestling with our own duality as people, just as we do now. How we can be both beautiful and dangerous, healing and painful, loving and wrathful. That theme is perfectly captured in the legend of Tzitzimitl, a creature who’s almost demon, almost goddess.
In myth, Tzitzimitl is both the protector of children and pregnant women and also a wrathful warrior who attacks the earth whenever there’s an eclipse. She devours and destroys when her loyalties call upon it, but she also protects and uses her power to have mercy on humans. Her character is of great importance throughout the series because I wanted Cece, my main character, to learn that both good and evil wars inside people. It’s our job as we wrestle with them to choose which one wins.
That is such interesting insight. It’s not always a black and white world, and your readers can learn to appreciate that right along with Cece.
Los Cinco Soles (The Five Suns)
Did you spend much time studying Aztec mythology and/or culture before you wrote your books?
I’d studied all kinds of folklore and mythology before writing Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls, but very little of it had been from Latin America, despite my heritage. That changed when I went to visit my abuelo when I was in college, and he told me stories about curanderas and brujas and La Llorona. I came home with a desire to learn more, and after researching all kinds of folktales and myths, inspiration struck, and I started writing Cece.
Las Brujas (The witches)
In fact, one of the reasons I love to write is because it’s one of the best ways to learn. Want to know more about folklore? Write an article or story about it, and you’ll find yourself encountering all kinds of questions that send you hunting excitedly for answers. That process also connected me more and more with my culture, something I’ll forever be grateful to my abuelo for inspiring.
Abuelitos and abuelitas are truly wonderful!
What do you think are the scariest Aztec monsters?
Honestly, so many Aztec monsters are terrifying! Most Latin American monsters are; in fact, most monsters from mythology across the world is—a testament to the kinds of fears our ancestors wrestled with in even harsher times. But like the horror genre itself, there’s a distinct morality about the terror in Latin American mythology and folklore. There’s usually a reason why something became terrifying, or why terror was inflicted.
In Cece Rios and the King of Fears, I got to include a few of my favorites, including Alux. In the story, he’s a dark criatura, but in actual tradition aluxes were small, magical beings similar to how those of European descent might think of dwarves or fairies or elves. But they had a ferocious side, and they could curse or harm people if they trespassed on their homes, good will, or even nature itself. I took that inspiration into my series because I think the exploration of nature itself being both benign and dangerous is fascinating.
Another one of my other favorite legendary beings comes from Huichol tradition (the Huichol are direct descendant of the Aztecs): Tukákame
He’s something between a demon and a zombie—an animated corpse that burns at the touch of water and has skeleton birds for minions. He eats human flesh, and he seemed like an appropriate way of exploring destruction in the second book, though I did that more symbolically than outright.
I see that you know how to make buñelos which are amazing. What other Mexican foods do you like to make (or eat!)?
Yes, I adore buñelos! I’m quite happy to say I’ve gotten pretty great at timing exactly how long they need to fry for, too.
I also like making enchilada sauce from scratch. Well, “like” might be a strong word—it takes a few hours, so I’m sometimes reluctant to start, but chile sauce really does taste better when it’s fresh, not from a can.
Spanish rice and refried beans are also a classic, so I can’t not mention them (or I won’t, at least, hah!). Spanish rice with garlic smashed with the side of a knife? Mmm. The smell fills up your whole kitchen, and I love that. Refried beans that taste fresh, not canned? All half-smashed by hand in a pan? An absolute must.
This is one I don’t make myself, but I also really like gansitos. My friend introduced them to me a bit later in life, and now I can’t quite get over the perfect blend of cinnamon, vanilla cake, chocolate, and raspberry filling. It might be junk food, but it’s my junk food. I even had them at Cece Rios and the King of Fears’ launch party!
I see from your website that you’re part British, part Mexican-American. Any plans of focusing on your British roots for upcoming stories?
I do, actually! Well, I suppose I should say I have plans to combine my heritages together in my stories, to embrace the mix I was born with. I have a YA fantasy that will combine the Victorian language of flowers, and certain aspects of British culture, with an Aztec kingdom steeped in old magic. Plus, a playful middle-grade written with a narrator that nods toward old British fairytales, but focused on latine main characters and setting.
This has been so fascinating. I hope you’ll come back when Cece Rios and the Queen of Brujas comes out, and if any readers are interested in learning more about Kaela Rivera, you can find her and her recipe for buñelos at:
Interested in learning more about mythology. Check out