A Candid Conversation with YA Debut Author Amparo Ortiz on Blazewrath Games, Writing Choices, Drafting Process, Dragons, and Puerto Rican Rep!

Hello there, friends!

It is not quite Latinx Heritage Month *yet*, but we are almost there, so you may consider this post an introduction to all the Latinx celebrations that will go down at Santana Reads in a little bit over a week!

Today, I have the absolute honor of sharing with you all the chat that I had with Amparo Ortiz, YA debut author of the contemporary dragon fantasy, Blazewrath Games! If you’ve stayed on top of my shenanigans lately, you may already be aware how much I adored this novel (read my 5-star review here!), so when Amparo said yes to a live interview with me, I was over the moon!

In this interview, you will get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at everything Blazewrath Games, including but not limited to: Amparo’s inspiration, her drafting process, the reasoning behind her writing choices, the nuances of Puerto Rican representation, and how her brilliant brain works! Plus, you will also get to learn fun facts about both Amparo AND the book!

I am still very much a newbie at the interview game, which is why when I impulsively put this together and ran with it with zero preparation, I was scared and intimidated. But I am so proud of this interview and so grateful Amparo gave me this opportunity!

Amparo and I rambled a lot, so now, without further ado, grab a snack and get ready to witness this Very Candid Conversation Between Two Adrenaline-Fueled Puerto Ricans 😀

Santana (S): Amparo! Thank you so much for agreeing to chat with me today! To start things off, tell us about Blazewrath Games and three random fun facts about you!

Amparo (A): First of all, thank you so much for inviting me for this chat! It’s always an honor to speak with Puerto Rican readers (and people in general, lol). So! BLAZEWRATH GAMES is a young adult contemporary fantasy that centers around an international tournament where dragons and their riders compete for the World Cup! My main character, Lana, wants to rep Puerto Rico in their first-ever Cup appearance, but she also has to deal with a murderous, cursed dragon who’s determined to get it canceled. 🙂

As for three random things about me? 

  1. I don’t drive! 
  2. I love chocolate? I do think many people knew this, lol, but still.
  3. My name was supposed to be Naomi, but my parents changed it at the last minute and gave me my paternal grandmother’s name.

S: Hearing that you can’t drive too feels so good. Driving is one of my biggest fears, lol. So to start things off, can I just say how action-packed the book was? How was your process to plot such an intricate storyline?

A: Oof, that was actually a lot of editing, since I first drafted this book without an outline (it was roughly 500 pages). The matches were all crafted beforehand in my head, though, but most of the plot wasn’t! I took inspiration from–and I kid you not–Halloween Horror Nights. There are scare actors who jump out at you as you walk through the mazes, and I kept picturing what it would be like to have someone chase you and pop up out of nowhere as you were trying to reach the top of a mountain. Cut to me adding the Blocker positions on the teams, lol. As for the rest of the action, I knew I wanted a mystery to solve, and that the antagonists would force my main character to act in ways she didn’t necessarily feel comfortable with, so pushing her into desperation was a lot of fun to edit.

S: Wow, torturing characters I see. And the fact that you wrote the first draft WITHOUT an outline is so impressive, considering how detailed the worldbuilding is. Because the book was originally so long, how did you trim it down and decide what to keep and what to toss?

A: That was actually the fun part! I prefer cutting/editing to drafting, but I was pretty confused in terms of what worked and what didn’t when I edited by myself (without critique partner feedback). Once others started reading it, the feedback was pretty similar–the action is strong, but I need to know Lana better. How can we make her stand out in a world with magic and dragons? Why is this Regular the one to tell this story instead of a dragon rider or a magic user? That took some time to refine, but the more I worked on making her stand out, the more the magic and dragon lore grew, too. It was really just a collaborative effort between my CPs, beta readers, sensitivity reader (shout-out to Mara Delgado!), and my agent. Then when Page Street Kids acquired it, my then-editor, Ashley Hearn, helped me make it the book it is today!

S: And what a book it is! Speaking of Lana, you were born and raised in Puerto Rico, but Lana only lived in the island until she was a 5-year old. What moved you to make the decision of having her grow up in the United States?

A: That’s such an important part of Lana’s development and drive in this specific book, and I felt super insecure about it as someone who’s not Diaspora, tbh. I knew I had to separate Lana’s roots into her father’s heritage and her mother’s, and that the pull towards one would override anything she felt for the other, simply because she’d been taken away from it as a child. Her parents’ divorce doesn’t play a huge role in how she views anything other than her definition of home–am I a part of this place or that place? I knew she had to leave PR in order to define her Puerto Rican-ness through the lens of someone who’s been told she’s not Puerto Rican enough, but even being on the island lends itself to that attitude from others, as well. It’s not so much the physical distance, but the way the culture informs your everyday life, values, choices, etc. Lana feels like she’s failing her father and her country by staying away, and through the sport of Blazewrath, she can finally claim what’s been taken from her. Growing up in the States is just another way to reinforce her insecurity simply because she’s reminded of not belonging, and her cousin’s attitude toward her fuels this insecurity, too.

S: It was such an interesting perspective to read about, because many Puerto Ricans criticize those who leave the island, and that’s where a lot of diasporic folks’ insecurities come from, especially since they often feel like they lose touch from their roots. Continuing on this topic, why did you choose to write Lana as biracial?

A: I love how you mentioned the criticism from Puerto Ricans living in the country in regards to those who leave. That’s precisely something I wanted to explore, but with the added context of someone who’s also half-white. Is Lana less Latina because her mother is American? What makes *anyone* a Puerto Rican? These were questions I felt like not many people were answering in the same ways, and I wanted her story to be part of the conversation rather than a definite, absolute answer, since I’m speaking through her story as someone who’s never lived elsewhere. But yeah, her biracial-ness doesn’t grant her the privilege of, say, someone who’s also biracial and white-passing, so she *is* reminded that she’s a minority even in a country she supposedly has ties to. It’s that neither-nor approach to defining yourself–if I’m not this, am I fully that? Can I really be both? Or will I never be either just because I can’t “choose”? 

S: I’m not biracial, as I was born and raised here and have lived in PR my entire life, but you really handled the topic with a lot of tact, which I really appreciated. We’ve obviously been getting a lot more #Ownvoices Puerto Rican representation in YA, but there’s still a severe lack of visibility for the brown and the dark-skinned. Your debut truly made history in this aspect for me. Also because we basically get an ENTIRE cast of Puerto Rican side characters, who I wanna talk about next because I adore them very much! Where did you draw inspiration to create the personalities for the Blazewrath Puerto Rico team?

A: Ahhhh, thank you so much! I am utterly obsessed with this team, and Lana’s excitement upon meeting them very much echoes mine. Each member is a version or a mix of my friends, students, and just people I wish to be like someday. When it comes to the boys, I knew I wanted to have a dark-skinned captain, seeing as there’s a lot of racism in both sports and Latinx communities. I needed the face of the team to reflect the reality of Puerto Ricans, instead of catering to the many stereotypes present in media regarding Puerto Rican identity, or Latinx identity in general. I also knew I wanted someone who didn’t speak English, since many people forget English is not our first language, or they might simply associate our colonial status with bilingualism. Edwin is both light-skinned and non-bilingual, and he also happens to be a queer boy, all of which were important for me to represent as truthfully and respectfully as possible. Same goes for the girls–Génesis, Gabriela, and Victoria are all very different from one another, and they represent different aspects of Puerto Rican culture I so desperately craved to see in both books and film growing up! Also, I think Manny–the team manager–is the exact Puerto Rican man that should NOT be leading a team, but he’s also quite lovable to me, lol. 

S: I love that you mentioned Edwin’s non-bilingualism, because I have SO many friends who don’t speak English and aren’t fluent in it, and that’s so important to see. Manny was truly the epitome of a grumpy, lovable middle-aged Puerto Rican man. And oh, the girls, they own my heart! Victoria is pretty unlikeable, and I would like to ask you: was that an intentional decision and was she always this prickly, but secretly soft, girl?

A: YES TO ALL OF THE ABOVE. I mean, Edwin was always going to be a quiet, less energetic soft boy because we have the loudmouth Luis (I LOVE HIM SO MUCH) and he respects Héctor’s authority to a fault. 😀 As for Victoria, she was always exactly as you say, and I LOVE that you called her prickly! She would love it, too, looool. I knew she was going to be someone who came off as difficult and even intolerable, which is the perfect foil for a girl who’s trying to blend in and “be part of the team.” I also wanted Victoria to be super oblivious to her privilege as someone who’s both a dragon rider (and therefore, considered cooler) and a white-passing Latina. She knows she’s privileged outside of the sport, but she doesn’t understand how much Lana struggles because she never had to prove herself on the team–she was automatically invited along with the other riders. Don’t tell her I said that, though. She thinks she had a really tough go at impressing the International Blazewrath Federation! I did want to link her prickliness with how her backstory informs her present choices. She’s someone who’s been treated with less care than she deserves, and as someone who’s survived abuse, she’ll carry her fears of being considered less-than into the sport she desperately wishes to excel at, too. 

Also! This is a fun fact: in the very first draft (the super long one I didn’t outline), Victoria and Andrew Galloway from Team Scotland were a couple. 🙂

S: She is definitely one of the most complex characters in the entire book. I feel like we need more stories confronting white privilege, because yes, we do have a majority of white-passing Latinx in YA, but we’re missing some more stories tackling said privilege. She definitely makes a lot of impulsive decisions and can tend to be a teeny bit selfish, but it’s all because she still has that need to prove herself and her worth. Truly fascinating to read about. Also, that fun fact BLEW my mind. 

Since you’ve mentioned the International Blazewrath Federation, I’m just gonna go ahead and mention that your brain just fascinates me. The way that you crafted, not only the sport, but all the different dragon species, the global conspiracy, the Bureau for Magical Investigations, and so many more aspects is so brilliant to me? There’s so many layers to unpack and I wanna learn all of them. Firstly, how did you come up with the dragon species and decide where they would be from? Their characteristics and features?

A: Wellllll, this just made me smile a lot. Thank you! The dragons were all a result of research in terms of the specific countries I wanted to feature. For example, when I first thought of Andrew, he was actually Australian. But the more I researched Australian animals and culture, the more he kept talking to me with a Scottish accent in my head? That makes absolutely no sense, but I chose to dig into Scotland instead (Australian dragons are canon, though!). In terms of their traits, I looked for any animals that were linked to the country, like the red-crowned crane from Japan (the Akarui dragon), or the protected pangolins in Zimbabwe, or the classic Zmey Gorynych from Russian lore (exploring that specific dragon was INTENSE). In terms of Puerto Rico, I knew I wanted a dragon who could sing–very much like our coquí. I also wanted no other dragon to have the ability to set themselves on fire, and that their scales would be black. Enter the Sol de Noche dragons, with their fireball bodies and dark scales and weepy songs. 🙂

S: Ohmygod, I loved the Sol de Noche dragons and the origin backstory you gave them! It was so badass, and can’t wait for my fellow Puerto Ricans to find out what it is. It’s incredible to see all the research you made, and the care you put into writing really shows. Now, I won’t spoil anything because I want everybody to experience it for themselves, but please tell me more about the Sire and what inspired you to build him as a character. Was it hard to write such a scary villain?

A: It was and it wasn’t? I’ve had the Sire in my head since I was about fifteen or sixteen years old? Maybe a bit younger? (I’m 33 now!). He was originally the antagonist in a high fantasy I always daydreamed about, but never wrote. When it was time to find an antagonist for Blazewrath Games, I toyed with the possibility of a human/magic user, then quickly realized the Sire from that book I never wrote was actually a cursed dragon instead of some demonic force, lol. The moment I inserted him into Lana’s story, *his* story came to me in a flurry of scenes and words. It moved me enough to portray his logic and his plans as the result of the very thing Lana is trying to find–belonging. Not in the same way, and certainly not with the same results, but he’s not entirely happy with his fate, and he’s trying to change it. The problem is, he’s not the most… tactful. 🙂

S: You also went ahead and created this Bureau of Magical Investigations, which basically represents what police forces would look like if they weren’t so corrupt (and still, there were questionable moments). Why did you decide to create this entire Bureau from scratch, and also the fictional Law & Order, which I loved?

A: LOL, Samira would be so happy to hear this! Well, one of the themes I love exploring, as both reader and writer, is power. In this case, it’s power through cultural identity. Part of that exploration includes systems such as the state, and the many ways in which they dictate and regulate what’s allowed and what isn’t. I wanted to involve authority figures with Lana’s journey of self-discovery, and I wanted to play with the idea of what it means to be a good citizen, a good team player in all aspects of life. I also wanted her to start considering life from the perspective of someone who’s growing up–she won’t be a teenager forever, so what happens when adults in positions of power recognize your potential (and how they can use you to get what they want?). As for the fictional L&O show, my parents are obsessed with the franchise, so this was my little nod to them, and I really want more shows with magic anyway!

S: Okay, now let’s get to the global conspiracy. Was there anything in particular that sparked this plot idea, like real life events or such? 

A: I don’t follow any specific sporting event, but I do watch the FIFA World Cup whenever I’m able to. What I love most about watching matches is the sense of camaraderie, right? But also… what’s happening behind the scenes? Once you take away the glamour and glory, what’s left? Does everyone get along in the highest level of the pyramid? Are there secret attempts at sabotaging an institution that’s survived for decades and is so beloved by the whole world? We only know what we’re allowed to know, and that’s something I’ve always found fascinating as both spectator and writer. In this story, I was mostly inspired to focus on a disillusioned fan–Lana has a favorite athlete, a favorite sport, and a future she’s carved out for herself long before the book begins. So what happens when your dream comes true? Is it still a dream? Or is that very power you craved something more insidious than you feared?

S: I was really curious to know which sports had inspired Blazewrath. Mainly if it’d been soccer, since I enjoy it so much! So now that you’ve mentioned the FIFA, did you base any of the Blazewrath player positions in any real soccer ones? Plus, was it hard to come up with the sport? Did you face any challenges?

A: I did! The sport itself was hard for me to narrow down in terms of rules and roles. I knew I wanted a player who didn’t have a dragon steed and whose sole purpose was to run really fast. Ideally, this person was already an experienced runner and the challenge would then be to be a good fighter. I did use similar positions to a soccer team (specifically, the Striker position!), but I also wanted to add some martial arts into the sport to the runner’s detriment. So once I knew that, it became a matter of figuring out which players had to fight the runner, and why. What was the runner trying to do up the mountain? Just get there and that’s it? Soon I pictured the Iron Scale, and I pictured two riders from each team trying to steal it from the Runner–these would now be the Blockers, and they were THE BEST at fighting. On Team Puerto Rico, we have Génesis with her karate and kickboxing, and Edwin with his judo. Lana has absolutely no fighting experience, so it was super fun writing her freakouts, lol. 

S: Because Lana is a fan of k-pop, as stated in the text, I just have to ask. Besides Monsta X, what are some other of her favorite k-pop groups and who is her bias in Monsta X? Also, does her taste in music align with yours?

A: Oh, yes. Heavily. Lana’s bias in Monsta X is Minhyuk, since she’s a sucker for warm, kind people (which are traits we also see in her BFF, Samira, and in her favorite Blazewrath player). As for other groups, she doesn’t love any others as much as Monsta X, buuut she’s also a fan of Victon and A.C.E, because she’s all about harder, darker concepts! 

S: OMG WAIT. So now that I know she loves A.C.E, what’s her favorite song from them? I’m: dying to know.

A: Like me, she has a soft spot for the very first songs she hears from any group, which is why she’s a loyal “Under Cover” stan, BUT she also loves Holiday, Cactus, and Stand By You! 

S: Talk about TASTE. Yours and Lana’s are immaculate. Speaking of music, did you rely on playlists while drafting and editing, and if so, were there any songs that really pumped you up during the process?

A: TASTE CLUB ACTIVATE. I actually didn’t have a set playlist while drafting BWG for the first time, but I did have one for edits! Some songs include Monsta X’s “Fighter” (I feel like this is the book’s theme song tbh), Ruelle and Zayde Wolf’s “Walk Through The Fire”, and “Meet Me On The Battlefield” by SVRCINA. 

S: Finally, with no spoilers, what’s next for the world of Blazewrath and these characters? After that explosive ending, I have a ton of questions. What can we expect from the sequel? Will we meet new characters and tie any loose threads? 

A: Book 2 is a direct sequel, which is basically starting a few days after BWG ends! We follow Lana’s journey in a different setting and we see how her life has been impacted by the events at the end of Book 1. We do meet some new faces, and some are more prominent (and problematic for Lana, lol) than others, but my biggest joy is the chance to further develop the ones we meet in Book 1! Specifically, the theme of power returns, but now it’s seen through a different lens with a variety of conflicts not present in the first installment. Also, the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter remain, but instead of dragon lore and history, now we’re learning more about magic and curses. 🙂

S: AAAAAH, my excitement just increased tenfold! Amparo, thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me, it’s been an honor! Getting to know the behind-the-scenes of your writing process has been amazing. For everyone reading, what are your social media handles?

A: THIS HAS BEEN THE COOLEST INTERVIEW EVER THE BAR IS OFFICIALLY SET. Thank YOU so much for reading my little dragon book and for loving it as much as you have, Caro!! 

My social media handles are the same for both Twitter and Instagram: @amparo_ortiz! You can also find me on my YouTube channel under my name: Amparo Ortiz.

Also, the pleasure and honor is all mine! Please continue your great work for both Latinx and queer rep in the book blogging community and just plain awesomeness in every aspect of life, thanks. 

Cover of Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz, published by Page Street Kids.

Experience the World Cup with dragons in this debut fantasy, set in an alternate contemporary world, in which riders and their steeds compete in an international sports tournament

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.

Add it on Goodreads!

Amparo Ortiz was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and currently lives on the island’s northeastern coast. Her short story comic, “What Remains in The Dark,” appears in the Eisner Award-winning anthology PUERTO RICO STRONG (Lion Forge, 2018), and SAVING CHUPIE, her middle grade graphic novel, comes out with HarperCollins in Winter 2022. She holds an M.A. in English and a B.A. in Psychology from the UPR’s Río Piedras campus. When she’s not teaching ESL to her college students, she’s teaching herself Korean, devouring as much young adult fiction as she can, and writing about Latinx characters in worlds both contemporary and fantastical. Her debut novel, BLAZEWRATH GAMES, hits shelves on October 6, 2020 from Page Street Kids.

Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz is available to preorder NOW via Amazon, Indiebound, and Bookshop! As always, if you have the means, I highly encourage you to support a Black-owned bookstore. Here’s an amazing resource for Black-owned bookstores in the US and another source for the UK!

P.S., Amparo is running an incredible preorder campaign for her debut, which includes three (3) character cards, a SIGNED book plate, a dragon sticker, and a VIP Blazewrath World Cup ticket! For more information, check out Amparo’s thread, which also includes details on the giveaway for some extra goodies! You seriously cannot miss out!

Picture of preorder campaign goodies for Blazewrath Games, including three (3) character cards of Lana, the Sire, and the Sol de Noche dragon, a dragon sticker, a signed book plate, and a VIP Blazewrath World Cup ticket.

And that concludes this blog post!

Are you looking forward to Blazewrath Games? You better be or you’re cancelled 😌

Once again, huge thank you to Amparo Ortiz for trusting me with this interview and being such a good sport!

I hope you all enjoyed, and I’ll see you on the next one.


Carol ✨

By Carolina V.

My favorite thing to do in life is eat. And I guess, occasionally I read a book or two.

3 replies on “A Candid Conversation with YA Debut Author Amparo Ortiz on Blazewrath Games, Writing Choices, Drafting Process, Dragons, and Puerto Rican Rep!”

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