From high school up until college, Rommel Ortega was a voracious reader. He devoured the espionage thrillers of Tom Clancy, Pearl S. Buck’s stories of China in the 1930s, the books on ancient Greek and Roman civilization by Edith Hamilton. He was fond of the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine, the self-help books of Napoleon Hill, and the historical and political novels of F. Sionil Jose. Then in the late 90s to the early 2000s, he became a fan of the fantasy genre, thanks to J.K. Rowling’s series of Harry Potter books.
Since age 14, the Palawan-born bookworm had already attempted to write his own stories. But the dream of working on his own book remained on the back burner for years. He would complete his Behavioral Sciences degree at UST and later his master's degree in Business Administration at PLM. He even worked as trainer in an insurance company and embarked on a startup. But it was in the years of exploring the world of business when he began to work towards his dream of becoming an internationally published author.
His most recent work, “Bobby Black, The Grand Warlock of Great Britain,” was originally published in the United Kingdom by award-winning ShieldCrest Book Publishing (voted best book publishing company in the UK for 2019 and 2020) and printed and distributed in the Philippines by 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing. For the book, he used the more British-sounding pen name, RR Knight. RR stands for Ortega’s name and middle name, Rommel Redondo.
The title revolves around a Bobby Black character and the four black books of the wizarding world hidden in a library. “The protagonist and his family of wizards have ‘tamed’ the living books to reveal to them their contents and their meanings,” the plot reads. “Then came along the war of the wizards in Great Britain, which made an abrupt change to Bobby’s plan.”
Ortega further explains: “Bobby and his clan, being the losers in the war, decided to go to Southeast Asia to look for a great deposit of treasures, which were left by the British in the 18th century, because he wanted to start a wizards school.” In that sojourn, his group encountered the Snake of the Old World—Lucifer.
If it sounds Harry Potter-ish, it’s because it was inspired by Rowling’s massive hit. The Pinoy author loved the hit series’ “magic and sinister darkness.” But “Bobby Black” is also very personal to Ortega because it somehow shares his struggle with bipolar disorder. “It’s hidden there, somewhere in the book,” he says, smiling.
It was in 2002, when he was 25 years old, that he was diagnosed with the illness. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings that include emotional highs and extreme lows (depression). “Hindi ko makontrol ang sarili ko. Tapos ang lakas-lakas ng boses ko pag nagdadasal ng rosary,” he recalls, sharing what his family initially noticed in him. “Pero inside my mind at saka sa sarili ko, there was already an ongoing battle, which my loved ones weren’t aware of.”
“When I had the first episode of manic disorder, I embraced Jesus' icons and I took a rosary, and I didn’t want them to part from me,” he remembers. He says he would hear different voices.
The doctor told him there was a chemical imbalance in his brain. “Masyadong mabilis ang takbo ng brain ko,” he says. So to neutralize the imbalance, he underwent treatment for years. “Matagal din akong nakipaglaban sa bipolar. Pero I kept on reading pa din,” he offers. With the support of his family, Ortega overcame his illness.
The production of Bobby Black took a year. For six months in 2021, Ortega was holed up in a small office typing away on his laptop till dawn. The next six months, the manuscript was just going back and forth Ortega and ShieldCrest.
The author is excited for his kababayans to read his book because while the main character is British, there are portions of the story that talk about the Philippines, China, Japan, Nepal, India. “[ShieldCrest and I] wanted the book to be more inclusive,” he says, adding that there’s a mention of an indigenous tribe that hails from Southeast Asia, hinting of the Tagbanuas of Palawan. The wizard school was inspired by UST and the universities in UK, and the Mastreka Kingdom or Kingdom West by the university belt here in Manila.
Ortega wishes to remind readers though that the book is a work of fiction. “Don’t apply the truths in the book as realities in life. Kasi yung experience ko as a [person with] bipolar disorder is quite different from ordinary people. Pero kung may madadampot ka na magandang aral at mai-apply mo sa buhay, kung ma-convert ka to Catholicism at ma-discern mo na kailangan mong mag-rosary, well and good,” he says. “Kasi evil is real. Kung hindi ako nasagip, wala na ako dito. So mahalagang magkaroon sila ng discernment sa pagbabasa.”
The book may be ordered online via 8 Letters website.