By Karis Rogerson
Amparo Ortiz is the Puerto Rican author of Blazewrath Games, an October 6, 2020 YA release that’s all about magic, dragons, and a world-wide sports competition. Her story follows Lana Torres, a Puerto Rican-born teenager who’s spent much of her childhood in Florida, as she embarks on what should be a fabulous journey to represent her homeland in the Blazewrath World Cup—only danger and mystery lurk wherever she turns, it seems.
Ortiz has been writing her whole life. As a child, she recalled, her parents worked late and so she would write stories in a notebook and read them aloud to the other kids staying in school after the end of the day. As she grew older, she delved into poetry and other forms of storytelling, but it wasn’t until she neared graduation that she began to realize she could write a whole novel.
“It was like I had become someone new while also accepting myself for who I truly was all along,” Ortiz told We Need Diverse Books.
Though Blazewrath Games is the first novel Ortiz has published, her short story comic “What Remains in the Dark” was published in 2018 in the anthology Puerto Rico Strong, which won the Eisner Award.
Ortiz said that the biggest difference between writing short stories versus novels is in the fact that she can easily plot a short story, but making its arc fit the limited space is a challenge in itself.
“Thinking about the heart of the story on a limited amount of pages is my favorite challenge in writing comics,” Ortiz said. “I feel less pressure to ‘get it right’ on the first draft with novels.”
Ortiz knew for a while that she wanted to write a story about dragons involved in a magical sport, but the real inspirational kicker didn’t come until the 2014 FIFA World Cup—and then she realized what she needed was soccer in the sky, with dragons, and a main character who wasn’t a dragon rider.
“I figured out pretty quickly that I wanted to explore the concept of power through cultural identity first and foremost,” Ortiz said. She knew she wanted to address questions like who has the right to claim a Puerto Rican identity, as well as investigate the question of: “Who’s allowed to claim space within this community, especially when the whole world is looking at you as a representative of said community?”
On that note, Ortiz said her favorite scenes to write were the ones where Lana was wrestling with her identity in contrast to what everyone around her wanted her to be.
“I also love dashing her dreams and making her uncomfortable,” Ortiz said. “Of course, the Blazewrath matches were a lot of fun to write and brainstorm, but having Lana go through the wringer as an aspiring Runner (and a key target in an international conspiracy) was an absolute blast.”
Part of the premise of the book is that magical and non-magical beings, as well as dragons, coexist in the world. It’s sort of a parallel universe to our own, one with all the trappings of modernity but with the fun film of magic over it all.
“I wanted to explore what coexisting would look like if magic wasn’t a secret or this unfathomable rarity,” Ortiz explained. “I also wanted to explore what that coexistence would look like from the perspective of someone who’s neither a witch nor a dragon rider—she’s just a Regular who wants to be an athlete in the most dangerous sport on record. You could say I married everything I love in fantasy and made it something I can relate to, lol.”
Ortiz gave a tidbit of advice to aspiring authors, especially marginalized ones, encouraging them not only to read everything but to research everything, from agents (and what they do) to pitch contests.
“Also, remember that rejections will always happen,” she added. “They’re not a reflection of your worth, though, so keep that chin up and keep going if you want to. 2020 has been Quite Something, so if writers or other artists have been struggling to create, their feelings are completely valid and they shouldn’t be made to consider themselves as failures for not producing as much as they’re known to. We’re all going through a lot, and it’s okay to let that be something we can’t necessarily handle on our own.”
Some authors who have meant the world to Ortiz as she’s embarked on her own writing journey include pillars of YA like Laurie Halse Anderson, Zoraida Cordova, Julie C. Dao, Sabaa Tahir, and Jason Reynolds. “I would read their books and just feel certain that I needed to tell my stories, too,” Ortiz shared, “because theirs offered me hope whenever I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.”
In addition to the authors she recommended, Ortiz shared three books she’s read recently and recommends to readers: Leah Johnson’s debut You Should See Me In a Crown, Yamile Saied Mendez’s Furia (both of these were recently selected by Reese Witherspoon’s YA Book Club), and Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova.
Finally, Ortiz left off with a word of encouragement for anyone struggling, either to do the everything-ness of 2020 or to anything else: “We’re still made of magic,” she said. “It’s just going to take us more time to shine the way others are expecting, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Blazewrath Games is out on October 6, 2020. Order it here!
Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner—the only player without a dragon steed—is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.
But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire—a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form—the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.
Karis Rogerson is an American, Canadian, pseudo-Italian who loudly (but only sometimes fluently) speaks 2.5 languages and is proud to be of the auburn-haired club. As a reader and writer, her childhood heroes included Anne of Green Gables and Jo March (classic), and these days she admires authors like Angie Thomas, Sandhya Menon, and Heidi Heilig, who are changing the world one brilliant story at a time. Find more of her writing on her website, and follow her on Twitter or Instagram for writing updates and pictures of Italy and New York City.