Alexandra Aster grew up developing a special interest in the fantasy genre, with Harry Potter as her favorite story she knew something was missing. Despite the fantastic themes that were packed with magic and supernatural events, Aster felt the need for learning about Latinx mythology and folklore. Unfortunately, with the lack of cultural representation in the United States, she couldn’t find enough books about all the cuentos her abuela used to tell before bed.
Curious about excitingly terrifying creatures like “La Patasola,” “La Llorona,” and “La niña con la estrella en la frente,” Aster finished her studies in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing at The University of Pennsylvania and after signing with an agent the day of her graduation, she made the firm decision to write a series of books inspired in the Latin American culture and its legends.
At only 24-years-old, Alex Aster published Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch, a book of tales based on Latinx myths that tells the story of Tor Luna, a kid that like his mother was born with a leadership emblem, but is determined to eliminate his label and embarks on a journey to change his path. After wishing for a different power during the New Year’s Eve celebration, Tor wakes up to discover a new marking on his skin, the symbol of a curse that has shortened his lifeline, giving him only a week before an untimely death. Having only one way to break the curse, Tor must travel across unpredictable Emblem Island, filled with wicked creatures he only knows through myths, in a race against his dwindling lifeline to the notorious Night Witch — the legendary witch from an ancient book of tales called The Book of Cuentos.
After reading about Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch, we can agree there is no doubt Alex Aster has a bright career in front of her. At BELatina we love to serve as a platform for Latinx talent; Therefore, we interviewed this Latina de raíces Colombianas and asked her absolutely everything you need to know about her and her book.
Is this your first book? What inspired you to write Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch?
Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witchtips is my first book to be published—but it’s not the first book I’ve written. It’s actually the sixth! I started writing books when I was thirteen and got my book deal shortly after graduating from college. Curse of the Night Witch is inspired by my Latin American heritage. When I was a child, my abuela used to tell me cuentos every night before bedtime. Many of these Latinx stories inspired the world of Emblem Island, including “La Patasola,” “La Ciguapa,” “La Llorona,” and “La niña con la estrella en la frente.” I wanted to write a story that reflected the magic of my culture.
What was your writing process like?
I wrote the first version of Curse of the Night Witch in a week. I’ve never written anything so quickly before—or since—but something about this story made me stay up until the early hours of the morning for days until it was “done.” I say “done,” because the book has changed almost completely since then. It doubled in length, stories were added between chapters, and I did months of editing before getting an agent, with my agent, and then with my editor, all of which has transformed the book into what it is today.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book?
Writing this book made me realize how much my Colombian culture has influenced my love of storytelling. I called my Abuela and asked her to retell the cuentos I grew up hearing as a child. Listening to them again, so many years later, was an emotional and magical experience. Certain stories I remembered completely—others I had forgotten. Some made me realize why I used to get nightmares as a kid… I was an English major in college, and have written millions of words in the last few years. But, listening to my abuela tell those tales reminded me how simple and beautiful storytelling can be.
Out of all of the characters, which one is your favorite and why?
My favorite character is Tor Luna. On Emblem Island, everyone is born with a symbol on their skin that represents their talent. Tor hates his emblem and wishes for a new one. Instead of having his wish granted, Tor is cursed and must travel across Emblem Island for the first time to save himself and his friends. He’s my favorite character because, even though it doesn’t go the way he planned, I admire how much he is willing to risk to get the emblem he wants. He’s also my complete opposite! I’m much more like Melda, who follows the rules, whereas Tor isn’t afraid to break them.
After this book, what else can we expect from you?
Curse of the Night Witch is the first book in the Emblem Island series. So, you can expect more books starring Tor, Engle, and Melda! I am also working on a young adult fantasy that is partially based on another Latinx myth.
Hispanics are always proud and loud when family members are living their dreams. Can you please tell us what their reaction was when you got your book deal? What did your mom, dad, or abuelos tell you?
My family is definitely both proud and loud! They were very emotional when I got my book deal. My cousins, JonCarlos and Luna, asked if I would dedicate the book to them (I did!), my abuela told her entire English class and neighborhood about it, my Tia posted the news on Facebook right away, and my mom texted everyone she’s ever met in her life. Coming from a family where English has always been a second language, they are very proud that I’m an author. My family is extremely supportive, and I’m lucky to have them.
Where can we find the book?
You can pre-order Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch now Barnes & Noble! And if you order it today, I’ll send you a free sheet of Emblem Island stickers, and a handwritten note—just fill out this form after ordering.