FIVE MIDNIGHTS, by Ann Dávila Cardinal, June 2019, Tor Teen

The excitement over here is positively mounting.

I am beyond delighted to introduce to my readers a fellow VCFA alumni Ann Dávila Cardinal, whose debut as a solo author is a horror novel for young readers featuring the el Cucho myth set against the backdrop of modern Puerto Rico. When I heard that description, I was like, whoa, I’m so in!!!


#YADebut2019 #MagicMirror

To celebrate her upcoming release, I asked Ann a few questions.


Was this your first manuscript?

No. I started a magical realist novel in the VCFA MFA in Writing program in 2004. I was trying to write a short story, and everyone in workshop told me, “this wants to be a novel!” Every short story I wrote from then on got that response, so I accepted that the novel is my form. Actually, I just finished that manuscript two weeks ago and sent it to my agent. Fifteen years, dozens of drafts, a boatload of missteps, but I finally created the book I wanted.

This is how it often goes, doesn’t it? So yay! Huge congrats! As for Five Midnights, how long did the writing process take you?

Oh, that’s always so hard to calculate. I started it when my husband was in cancer treatment five…almost six years ago. I felt as if I had no control over anything at that time, and writing was something I did just for me. I would go over the Gary Library on campus at lunch every day, and poke at the keyboard for an hour. Not surprisingly a horror novel resulted. In the book, El Cuco takes the form of your worst fears and I think for me when I was writing it, it was cancer. My husband is fine, cancer-free, and we got a novel I’m proud of out of it.

Now, this deserves real congratulations. What was the most fun moment or your favorite part of writing this story?

Oh, by far the texts I sent to my family in Puerto Rico. It was so funny. Like I would text my uncle Esteban out of the blue on a Sunday afternoon, “Tío, what caliber gun would a drug dealer use?” (He teaches at the police academy firing range). He would respond “9mms are very popular at the moment.” I would thank him, and he would say, “a sus ordenes,” (at your service). No follow-up questions. They’re just used to my weirdness by now. And doing research down there with my cousin, writer Tere Davila. She and I were walking around La Perla and on the University of Puerto Rico campus, and talking writing on sunny afternoons while she argued “You have to kill the priest! Kill the priest, Annie!” It was a blast.

Can you share with us something else that scares you? (Bonus points if it’s related to the story!)

Oh my. I’m an anxiety-ridden writer, the list of what doesn’t scares me would be shorter! I would say, being in the dark, both literally and figuratively. A conversation I often have with my friend, author William Alexander, is how in American stories the goal is to thwart the monster, kill it, annihilate it. But in many other cultures, including the Caribbean ones he and I have in our blood, the supernatural is just an accepted part of life. You live with the ghosts, you light candles and believe they will protect you, keep a full glass of water behind the door to absorb evil spirits. Since I’m a Gringa-Rican, I was brought up with both, so I’ve always been obsessed with horror and things that go bump in the night, but I’m petrified of the not knowing, being in the dark about what’s around the corner. The stories that really scare me are the ones that leave me teetering on that edge for a while. My husband will tell you how I pace back in the forth in the living room during truly scary movies. Gore doesn’t do it for me anymore, it bores me. But string me along not knowing what the sound is coming from the next room? I’ll wear a path in the living room rug!

Wow! But I guess it makes sense — the more scared you are, the more vivid your horror stories! Which part of your book are you most proud of or excited about: can you hint at it and tease us?

Ooh! The legend of El Cuco! I mean, his name may be different depending on location, but he exists in so many Latin cultures. Parents warn their children, “You best behave or El Cuco is going to get you!” Well, Five Midnights asks the question, what if he did?

Also, I’m in love with my mother’s island and my family down there. Head over heels in love. So though there is a romance in the book (I was finally able to give my character the boy I always wished I could meet down there) the real love is for Puerto Rico. I’ve never lived there for more than a few months at a time, but it calls to me. I hope I did a good job of showing the reader exactly what I love about the island and its people.

Oh, and I also hope I scare the beejesus out of them.

Thank you so much, Ann, for being here on the Magic Mirror, and for writing this story, which I CANNOT WAIT to read! 

Ann is generously contributing a personalized and signed ARC of Five Midnights to one of this contest’s winners at the end of our seven days!

Remember, to enter the contest (and to keep entering it this week):

  1. One entry: Comment on this blog, and I will enter your name once for every comment during the week of the contest.
  2. Two entries: Share the link to this contest on Facebook or Twitter #YADebut2019 #MagicMirror (You can also either tag me or email me with proof at
  3. Three entries: Subscribe to this blog ( if you haven’t yet.) Or re-subscribe, if it’s been a while!
  4. Four entries: Contribute a short guest blog post about a 2019 YA debut you are excited about, to be featured here!
  5. Five entries: Promote this contest #YADebut2019 #MagicMirror and join in on your own blog! (If you have one).