The Making of “Itzá”: Rios de la Luz on Writing “A Survivor’s Magic Spell”


The short stories in Rios de la Luz‘s debut collection, The Pulse Between Dimensions and the Desert, effortlessly shifted from head-spinning visions of the uncanny to stark emotional realism and back again, leaving the reader utterly disarmed along the way. Her new novella Itzá fulfills and expands on the promise of that collection, telling a story of several generations of a family that encompasses everything from the transcendence of magic to the everyday horrors that people are capable of. I talked with de la Luz about the origins of this new book, its complex structure, and more. 

Itzá encompasses surreal scenes of transcendence and magic alongside emotionally harrowing scenes of its characters enduring awful things. How did you find the right balance of the two for this work?

I wanted to write a survivor’s story. A survivor’s magic spell. I am a survivor of sexual abuse. The abuse happened during my childhood and it follows me, it latches on. It takes years and years to feel like your own body belongs to you. I am 30 now, it has taken me decades. It takes years to convince yourself that it wasn’t your fault. You carry the burden because perpetrators have the luxury of forgetting or denying what has been done. We live under a patriarchal construct where men can sexually assault or molest and children are not believed. Sometimes, these men are even protected. I have witnessed this in my own family and I have heard similar stories from close friends and acquaintances. I did not want to go into explicit detail of what the perpetrator (the Fake Father) did in Itzá because I didn’t want to give him that power. I wanted Marisol’s imagination and magical abilities to be so powerful, she could transport herself into portal after portal as a survival mechanism. I wanted to write scenes that were brutal, but not go into the physicality of the trauma. I wanted to show Marisol’s response and the intensity of the experience so a reader could feel it in their gut and in their head. I found balance by giving most of the power to Marisol.

Different scenes in Itzá are written using the first, second, and third person. In the process of writing this, when did you decide to use that approach? What about this particular story makes that the right way to tell it?

Itzá‘s timeline is fragmented because when someone is healing from trauma, it’s not linear at all. There are days when you feel as though you are not even in your own body, there are days where you go into blank dazes and you can’t quite get a grasp of reality around you. I wrote scenes this way so Marisol could distance herself from certain parts when she needed to and when she didn’t want to tell the story herself, she didn’t have to.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing Itzá for you?

The most challenging aspect of writing Itzá was convincing myself it was a story worth telling (thanks, imposter syndrome) and having to revisit certain traumatic memories from my childhood.

There’s a moment near the end of Itzá where you write, “The room was a newborn and the neighborhood was determined to nurture it.” Throughout the book, a number of physical structures take on the characteristics of plants and animals. Was there a first moment for you where a building seemed less a building and more like a living thing?

As a kid, my mother moved us around countless times. I went to so many elementary schools, I can’t remember them all. We had a history of wandering. As a teen, if I couldn’t fall asleep, I used to do this mental exercise: I revisited every single house or apartment I used to live in where good memories were held. I roamed into each room and then walk into the backyard, and finally out the front door. I think certain energy stays within four walls and I used to try and recapture it within my memories. I think we leave energy imprints behind and we can recreate certain energy or cleanse negative energy out of a building depending on how it was manifested. I think there is definitely energy within buildings that can give them characteristics of living organisms and I find this fascinating and comforting at the same time.

Your first collection was released two years ago. Has Itzá been in the works since the same time as some of those stories?

Itzá started floating around in my head around January of 2016, it was separate from Pulse.

Towards the end of the book, the two sisters at the heart of it become intrigued by Korean television dramas. How did that element become a part of the novel?

I am a super fan of Korean dramas. I find comfort in the predictability, the tropes, the love triangles, the humor. I adore a good love story. I used to watch Telenovelas when I was a kid and the stories in these television shows were outrageous and captivating, almost hypnotizing. I incorporated them into Itzá because watching the same forms of entertainment creates a special bond for people. In this case, it was Araceli wanting to find a way to reconnect with her deceased great-grandmother and keep the promise of writing a drama one day that her great-grandmother could watch in the afterlife.

Follow Vol. 1 Brooklyn on TwitterFacebook, and sign up for our mailing list.