Andrés N. Ordorica

On the Collaborative Nature of Novel Writing, Giving Voice to Black & Brown Queer Elders in Fiction, and His Debut Novel ‘How We Named the Stars’

Cover of Andrés N. Ordorica: On the Collaborative Nature of Novel Writing, Giving Voice to Black & Brown Queer Elders in Fiction, and His Debut Novel ‘How We Named the Stars’

I’m a sucker for lyrical writing, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I fell deep as early as the prologue of Andrés N. Ordorica’s debut novel, How We Named the Stars (Tin House, January 2024). It’s a poetic chapter brimming with emotion, connection, and sparkling visual imagery, and it sets the tone, even though it’s the only chapter in Sam’s voice. Daniel’s first-person narration and his Tío Daniel’s past diary entries are inspired choices for the main story. 

Both the prologue and Daniel’s narration are intimate, addressing the other more than the reader so that sometimes it feels like we’re intruding upon a sacred naked vulnerability not meant for eyes other than Sam and Daniel. And yet it’s infinitely compelling, this sharing, this trust to let us into the innermost sanctum of their love; even as Daniel later, without Sam, grapples with loss, familial secrets and legacy, what it means to honor and remember those who’ve passed, and how to recognise, reconcile, and embrace our disparate parts into one honest whole despite it all.

“I imagine you as a bearer of light,” Sam reflects in the prologue about Daniel, “Someone who deftly moves between shadow and revelation, navigates both darkness and truth.”

I had the privilege to read this tender coming-of-age debut ahead of its release, and correspond with Andrés over email. 


Anushree Nande: Could you talk about your journey to the written word? In a connected vein, why or how did you settle on poetry first and foremost? Is it the form that calls you to the most? Since, how have you enjoyed exploring fiction (of various lengths) and non-fiction?

Andrés N. Ordorica: I actually started my writing career as a playwright. I wrote poems throughout my adolescence, but the first writing project I ever took on was an award-winning one-act play at the age of sixteen (hello fellow theatre kids). I would go on to complete a MA Writing for Stage at RCSSD in London. My first professional experience (i.e. earning money) was a full-length play that was selected by Teatro Bravo in Phoenix Arizona for a festival of staged readings back in 2012. But when I moved into the traditional written word, I actually wrote mostly short stories, always very guarded about my poetry. I had a good few years in which I was able to publish short stories, but I was working on my poems in writing workshops and in my writing group here in Edinburgh. My poetry collection was very much a genesis of having something to say at a specific moment in time. Like many writers, my debut is not the first novel I ever wrote, but just the one that landed. I love moving between prose and poetry; I turn to a poem and a novel for very different reasons.

AN: Can you share with us what those different reasons are?

ANO: Sure. For me poetry has always been about the personal. I very much am the speaker in all my poems, so poetry is a means to interrogate aspects of the self with as much honesty and subjectivity as possible. While many of my central fictional characters are inspired by aspects of my lived experiences or memories, I don’t find a deep personal attachment to them in the way I do my poems. I see characters, my fiction writing, and specifically the novel, as a means of tackling heavy subject matter without relying on the intimacy of me as the speaker or protagonist. I use poetry as a conduit to say something of my specific view point, whereas novel writing I feel is the conduit to think through bigger ideas while delving into all the rich fundamentals of the writing style such as plot, narrative devices, and setting. It is less close to the bone and perhaps a bit more freeing than the deep intimacy of a poem.

AN: You’ve travelled a lot growing up because of your father’s job as a US Army Airman—how has all of that, all those places and people, shaped you and the writer you are today? Your bio states that you ‘create characters who are from neither here nor there (ni de aquí, ni de allá)’. Is that an extension of your own experiences; are these questions and themes you explore through your writing, and have you come to a better understanding about any of them?

ANO: I am very much a product of the unique way I grew up. My obsession with observing people, focusing on how place and culture influences individual beings, my love of description in prose and poetry, all are born from that inquisitive child I used to be. I love the Mexican-American concept of “ni de aquí, ni de allá” because it speaks to a liminality that bleeds into so many other experiences: queerness, sexuality, gender, and belonging. I think I am always learning, and my understanding of my connections to home and place, my relationship to my body and my queerness are things I will continue to interrogate and learn from. I think my understanding is a continuum and never fixed, and that is something I cherish both as a person and a writer.

AN: I love that way of thinking about it! So, we’ve lightly touched on the differences between poetry and fiction for you. What was the process of working on your debut novel like, as opposed to publishing your poetry collection? Can you talk about the similarities, the differences, and the surprises, if any?

ANO: I think the singularity of a novel versus a poetry collection is the hardest and most obvious difference. For most poets, at least those I interact with and am friends with, working towards a poetry collection is done over many years with poems written individually, sometimes in sequence, but [you’re] never slogging away day in and day out at that one project for such a long period of time. Whereas to really grapple with a novel, it has to be your focus for so long, and it requires substantial work and rework, an almost Olympian size brain, or perhaps a bird’s eye view, so that you can really understand everything you are doing and see it all in its wholeness. I love poems because I can give space for one poem and really give it my all without being consumed, but novel writing is utterly all-consuming and requires such a different way of working and thinking. I am still very much learning what my fiction practice is, but I would say as a poet I am a very confident poetry editor and know when a poem of mine is done. I think the experience of writing a novel is that it requires so many more eyes; the novelist is always in control, but it really is a communal experience. Simply put, I needed others to help me realise when the novel was finally finished.

AN: Going off of that—did you have to change your process or your approach during this transition from poetry to fiction? What were the challenges, the joys?

ANO: I am very much a writer who likes to work on their own. My practice is all about fitting writing around my other paid work, but fortunately my husband is also a writer, and so we have found a routine that works for us, often carving away at projects over the weekend and in the early morning hours. My greatest joy when it comes to novel writing is the ability to build whole worlds and find that they feel so very much alive. That ability, even when drawing from real life, feels magical.

AN: You mention in your concluding ‘Note to reader’, that you carried this story with you for fifteen years, and even though it’s not a memoir, you drew from many of your personal experiences when you wrote it. How does it feel now that the story is finally out in the world? Did you actively work on this during those fifteen years—did it ever exist in a different form?

ANO: There are some poems in my debut collection, At Least This I Know, that allude to some of the experiences that gave rise to this novel. But I think a lot of it was emotional work. As I said earlier, this is not the first novel I have written, just the first I have published. There are previous works that I think were wrestling through a lot of the emotional heart of my debut, but the actual novel took five years of my life from start to finish. I just am so happy that readers are coming to this novel and finding in it a means of processing and acknowledging the growing pains of first loss. So much of this novel is a love story, but it is shaped very much by death. I was very much shaped by a profound loss at the age of nineteen—as traumatic as that experience was, and whatever pains still linger, I am grateful that the silver lining is that it is helping others work through their own loss.

AN: As you say, there is a visceral sense of love and loss that is at the heart of How We Named the Stars. One that is evident from the opening lines. How did you go about building these two characters, and their narrative voices, especially Daniel’s? Can you talk a bit about your decision to write this in his first-person POV, and with Daniel directly addressing Sam, so that they both share space in each other’s stories?

ANO: Daniel and Sam, throughout the many revisions of this novel, have stayed almost exactly as they were from when they first came to me. As I say in my ‘Note to Reader,’ this is not memoir, but I think much of Sam is shaped by the best qualities of various men I knew at this time of my life, and Daniel is informed by a lot of what I was experiencing as a first-gen closeted freshman way back when. Daniel was always the narrator, but the decision to have him narrating to Sam came to me in the version that I shared with my agent upon signing.

It was a very unique author-agent relationship, because although I had a completed version (the 5th iteration), I only shared the opening three chapters of this final version, and as I re-worked it, sharing it like a serial novel, it was almost as if Daniel was also telling the story to my agent. I’d share two to four chapters at a time until we reached the end. We both thought the reader needed room to breathe before launching into the loss that carries this story, and so that is when, [at the] very last minute, I added the prologue told from Sam’s perspective. It felt like he needed to be present with the reader in some way, and it was beautiful to capture a very important moment in the novel from his perspective.

AN: The prologue, in the intimate way it was written, was what immediately pulled me in, and I feel like I’m not alone as a reader in this experience. That was a great decision to ‘set the stage’, so to speak! In connection to the earlier question, how did you ensure authenticity while also evoking the intense emotional landscape of this book? You mention the inspiration for that in your acknowledgements; for writing a story to show that AIDS activism isn’t solely a Western story, for writing a story honouring Brown and Black queer communities and history. How did you go about researching what you needed, and use it in the story you wanted to tell?

ANO: A lot of the research I did was for a version of the novel that never came to be. There was a version in which I had Tío Daniel as a prominent character, crafting concurrent timelines with both Daniels, but it was a bit too ambitious. All that research into what México was like in the late 1980s and 90s, especially for gays and lesbians, ended up being foundational for the diary entries that open each chapter. I had been in México City just before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and at the time there were protests happening up and down the country in response to the horrifying rise in femicide. There, the more research I did into AIDs activism, the more I understood the long history of activism throughout México and Latin America, fighting colonialism, fascism, and even now with women and non-binary groups fighting femicide and Indigenous Mexicans fighting for land rights. But I would be amiss without acknowledging the incredible work of Alejandro Brito Lemus, Oliver Debroise, Sol Henaro, Luis Matus, Alfonso Morcillo, and Rosa María Roffiel (Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, UNAM, 2020) whose exhibition The Seropositive Files: Visualizing HIV in Mexico and its subsequent text, written, was a foundational text for the creation of Tío Daniel’s character.

AN: What do you understand, explain or encompass with the word ‘legacy’? How have you wrestled with and navigated expressing that in this story?

ANO: I had the good fortune of doing an event with the brilliant poet, activist, and scholar Christopher Soto with Letras Latinas and the Writer’s Center. During our author conversation, Christopher made an incredible point about their own poetry, a specific sequence written based on found archival material, and Christopher, when prompted by myself, said they wrote that specific poem to give voice to the Brown and Black queer elders that our generation were robbed of due to the gross negligence and violence inflicted by many Western governments in their mishandling of the AIDS crisis. I found that incredibly profound, and it really solidified for me how I so very much wanted Tío Daniel to be a legacy for his nephew who experiences a profound loss and is hungry for guidance, an actual guiding light.

AN: You discuss this briefly in your reader note, but can you further elaborate on why you are inspired by the relationship between Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot, and thought it a good inspiration and basis for the imagined conversations Daniel has with Sam after his death—and how you added your own touches and spin to it?

ANO: As I said, I am a trained playwright and spent my undergraduate double-majoring in English and Drama. So many of my most influential and favourite queer characters or texts are dramatic plays such as Angels in America, The Laramie Project, the plays of Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams, and of course my opinion-dividing queer reading of Waiting for Godot. I am obsessed with the absurd situations Beckett puts his characters in, often physically forcing them to face existential dread and wait. I love the epigraph that I used in this novel because it is utterly romantic. I see it as Estragon telling Vladimir that it was the both of them, together, who were to go to the Dead Sea and honeymoon, to swim, and be happy. I took inspiration from the opening of Act II, and used it as the foundation for Daniel’s imagined conversation with Sam, where the reader truly understands that Sam is dead, and Daniel is grappling with whether Sam is happy in the afterlife. It felt like that stage of mourning is deeply rooted in the theatre of the absurd, as it is a maddening experience that feels so isolating and so wild, and yet, it is something we all go through.

AN: You write about stars being “nothing more than blank pages in which stories would unfold, in which myths and legends would be written.” Can you talk more about this and how this applies to your book; how does the title relate to the story?

ANO: Wow, what a lovely question. I don’t know if I can say it applies to my book in an intentional way, even though I wrote it. I guess it is Sam alluding to the tradition of storytelling that has been around since the dawn of time, and, in essence, Daniel goes on to tell Sam their story of falling in love. I wish I had something more profound to say, but the title of the book was like the millionth title (those who have written and published books know how that story goes). I think the motif of stars and constellations ended up being obvious once finished, but perhaps the inspiration for drawing upon the stars for meaning comes from me being very much like Sam—I was a nerd and obsessed with the Classics and Greek and Roman mythologies.

AN: What draws you to write what you do? And what would you like readers to take away from your work?

ANO: I write because I’m obsessed with storytelling. I write because I feel I have something to say of the world, a desire to synthesise very human experiences, and write to and through them in a way that might connect to readers. I don’t like to think too much about what a reader will glean from my writing, but I hope that readers are filled with the same joy and love and madness that I experience when reading a good book. I hope that there is at least one reader out there who might choose to return to my work again and again, and if they do, I hope they find something meaningful, big or small, that might help them make sense of the world.



Andrés N. Ordorica is a queer Latinx poet, writer, and educator. How We Named the Stars (Tin House) is his first novel.

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