Expanding Puerto Rico fantasy
In her novels, Amparo Ortiz likes mix her favorite things from fantasy into her beloved Puerto Rico
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Amparo Ortiz was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she still lives, and her childhood was “full of movies, playground games, and crushes.”
“I didn’t start reading books for fun until I was fourteen, but I’d written lots of short stories and song lyrics ever since I was in elementary school,” she recalled in a recent interview with AL DÍA. Then, at 17, she wrote her “very first terrible attempt at a novel,” Ortiz joked, and once she turned 19, realized she could become an author and get paid to write books.
“I mostly read kid lit, so I didn’t see anything else as an option in terms of finding it enjoyable from a writer's perspective,” said Ortiz, who in the last decade grew into a renowned writer of fantasy novels addressed to younger audiences. “I love discovering firsts and how impactful they are for the rest of a person’s life. Most of the biggest lessons we learn happen when we’re too young to fully cope with the consequences, especially if we feel alone and like the only ones going through it. Now imagine adding the stress of saving the world during that time period. It’s viciously delightful!”
What Ortiz novels have in common is that they are usually set up in Puerto Rico and bring to light different aspects of the Boricua culture. In her latest novel, Last Sunrise in Eterna, three teenagers are invited to spend seven days on the secluded island floating off the coast of Puerto Rico to learn the magic of the elves.
“I write what I know and what I wish to understand. A lot of my culture is easy for me to share with others, and a lot of it is tougher to explain because it’s rooted in an understanding that only comes from direct experience. Without my country and my life in it, I wouldn’t write at all,” she said. “It was because of the lack of stories set in PR and featuring people who lived like me that I chose to toss all of my favorite things in fantasy into the world I’d grown up knowing and loving. Magic is more than what we’ve been told, after all.”
Her attraction to magic reality — dragons, vampires, elves, monsters star in her Blazewrath Games duology — could be linked to the history of oral traditions in Latin America, but for her specifically, “it’s all due to my upbringing as a fantasy and horror movie fan. I’ve always been obsessed with magic in films and TV shows, so when the time came to dive into fantasy books, I kept inserting myself into the main character’s shoes and pretending I was going through it instead. Then I wondered... why can’t someone like me fight monsters, too?” the author explained. This led her to researching local myths and legends, “but I was always drawn to what Western literature considered monstrous, so that was my blueprint for expanding what we consider Puerto Rican fantasy now."
Searching for distance
Ortiz speaks Spanish at home, mostly, but she writes in English because “ it’s the language I think in and it’s the language that makes me feel the most detached to my characters. If I were to write in Spanish, I immediately go into this mode of envisioning myself in the character’s shoes, but English creates greater distance and allows me to live through another person’s eyes!”
As a writer, what inspires her most is “knowing that there are no universal truths” and that each book she writes is adding to a Latinx fantasy canon that never existed during her childhood.
“The thrill of discovering someone’s voice through their fears and dreams keeps my love of stories very much alive. My goal is to serve as just one example of what could be in this industry so that more people can see they can also take up shelf space, and do it without apology or restraint,” she said. And to her readers, her message is clear: to always claim their power of self. “Be gentle as you learn from mistakes, take as many detours as needed on the path to finding who you really are, and hydrate!”
Although Ortiz has published with multiple U.S. imprints, she admits that as an author based in Puerto Rico she faced some challenges — like getting access to professional events.
“Knowing I can’t attend publishing/writing conferences, conventions, or bookstore launches as frequently as authors in the U.S. motivates me to connect online more and build a greater sense of community with the island’s readership,” she said.