Today is the day.

So yeah, I published a book today.

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After 5 years of writing, editing, cursing, looking for a home for it (rejection included), more editing, working with the cover artist, a life goal is finally achieved and here. My first novel is out. I can say that I have achieved the 3 goals I set for myself before I reached 40 (it was originally before 35, but I guess I’m a late bloomer). Those goals were:

  1. Marrying the most beautiful girl in the world. Check
  2. Publish a Book. Check
  3. Get a Ph.D. while studying abroad. Check

Damn, I need new goals now.

Anyways, back to the book, it was getting good reviews so far, it has been called “imaginative”, “an epic that bursts with originality”, “highly enjoyable” & “an impressive debut” that “should appeal to readers looking for adventure and fun.”

For more detailed reviews, please visit the Goodreads page of the book. Hopefully, those will cross over to Amazon and help get sales. Because while I write for the love of the art, the extra money would be nice and it would give my publisher an incentive to publish the sequel I should be writing.

And this is the book blurb:

Fionn is the wielder of a legendary Tempest Blade, and he is blessed – or cursed – by the Gift. Though his days as a warrior are long over, his past leaves him full of guilt and regret. Life, however, has other plans for him, when he agrees to help a friend locate a missing person.

Gaby and Alex never expected to become heroes… until they met Fionn. As an ancient evil arises and consumes the land, Fionn must help them to master their own Gifts and Tempest Blades.

Together the three of them, and their friends, will chart a course aboard the flying ship Figaro to save the planet. Will Fionn’s past be an anchor, or will he overcome the one failure from his former life before time runs out?

In a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible.

Including second chances. 

Anyways, I hope you like the idea enough to buy it, read it and hopefully review it. You can get in Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indigo.

I will go to celebrate later with y wife and friends if the exhaustion from my day job doesn’t take a toll first.

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Everything I learned about storytelling I learned it from Final Fantasy VI

With the release of “Tempest Blades: The Withered King” closing in, I thought it was fair to talk about one of my biggest influences in terms of writing and storytelling: Final Fantasy VI.

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What? Were you expecting a book or a writer? Certainly, there is some of that. But I’m talking here about storytelling -and to a certain degree- concept development and cast management.

If you want to know why I consider Final Fantasy VI one of the best entry of the series, I remit you to this article at Kotaku. But for the purposes of this blog post, I will focus on how it influenced my writing and thus, influenced Tempest Blades.

I got to play the game, around 1996. A friend of a friend was selling his old SNES games and I wanted to buy Chrono Trigger, but my best friend got it first and I was left with FFVI and Secret of Mana. In hindsight, it all worked for the best as those two, along Turtles in Time remain my favorite videogames. And they were my first RPGs too. But I digress.  The first thing that struck me when I started playing was the music. FFVI has orchestra level music. The second thing that struck me was the detailed story -in an admittedly barebones worldbuilding-, but I will talk about that later. The third thing was the cast. The MASSIVE cast.

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I mean, the game has 14 characters, 12 main ones, and 2 optional. And every one of them, EVERYONE, has a character arc, backstory -as short as it might be- and a role to play in the story. You get to assemble the cast through beats of the story that feel like smaller episodes that build towards the overall plot. Innocuous comments at the start become a massive plot point, later on, e.g. The Figaro brothers story and relationship with certain coin, Relm’s relationship with dogs, Setzer and the flying ships, Shadow whole plot… Every character has aims, goals, dreams and a role to play. And while some might get more screen time than others, all feel like fully realized characters. Heck, each character has it’s own leifmotiv theme that works as a shorthand of what to expect from them.

When I was in the earlier stages of plotting Tempest Blades: The Withered King, I had a massive cast, which I had to rework in order to make the story work. Characters got merged with other, roles got reassigned, others were used in short stories and a couple had to be cut (but don’t worry, those two will be introduced in the sequel) and one was created exclusively for the version you will be reading in a few weeks. So with the remaining cast, I had to plot

Now the thing is, you can have a massive cast but if you are not careful, most of those characters will end being barely memorable at best, cardboard cutouts at worst. Their personal histories, interests, weaknesses, fears, goals, have to impact one way or another into the larger plot. It is said that every person is the hero of their own story. That’s true. Even if in this first novel Fionn’s story drives the overall plot, Gaby, Alex, Sam, and even Sid and Harland have desires, goals, skills to contribute with but more importantly, are the heroes of their own stories. That by being those heroes, the impact and contribution to the larger plot is palpable and thus, the readers come to know the characters and invest their emotions in them.

In summary, the lesson I learned from FFVI is that you need to ‘write’ the book several times in your head/notes from the perspective of each main character, as to see how their arc, personalities, and skills contribute to the plot like they are real people.

Diane Morrison, author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and one of the ARC reviewers of the novel, wrote this in her review at Goodreads:

Each of the characters is sympathetic, flawed and interesting, and each has their own character arc that is fun to follow. I don’t want to give you any spoilers (any more than I have) so I won’t get into the details. I will say that I came to care about the characters and their fates very much, and I was even a bit teary at the end.

I think I managed to achieve what I mentioned before. Phew.

Now, even if you have that solve, you need to find how to introduce the characters in a way that feels unobtrusive, but rather part of the plot and that contributes to the pacing. Introducing the characters in a forced manner will break the flow of the story. Because in real life, unless someone is setting you up to meet someone like in a date, you meet people in a seamless manner. FFVI, as I mentioned earlier, introduced its characters in ‘episodic’ manner. You start by playing with Terra, a mysterious girl, that soon finds herself into troubles. She is then aided by Locke, a treasure hunter that takes her to another character that can help her, King Edgar. And then, as you move forward you start meeting allies and enemies alike. You recruit Ceres after Locke has to run an undercover mission for vital data. You recruit Cyan and Gau after Sabin gets separated from the party and has to find a way back to the original crew. You are joined by Setzer after you trick him to lend you his airship because it is needed to reach a part of the map that’s way too far for the means of the characters. And so on.

Leo McBride at Altered Instinct, when he reviewed an advanced copy of my book, mentioned this:

Ricardo really handles the build-up of this team well – it reads like episodes of a series, each of which adds an extra layer to what has gone before. Before you know it, you have come to know a whole team of heroes, and care for each of them. Just in time for their world to start falling apart.

Another lesson learned and applied. By the time the big part of the plot hits your characters, they are already introduced and the reader is invested in their fate.

Now, at the start, I mentioned the storytelling in barebones worldbuilding. FFVI might be one of the best RPGs, but its worldbuilding is… simple. You have a few nations at conflict, a pretty basic legend about a magic war, and a rebellious group trying to topple an evil empire. Pretty basic, pretty common stuff in fantasy. Most of the first half of the game is about that. Then the evil guy wins, destroys the world and you need to find again all the cast to convince them not only to rebuild the world but the stop the madman transformed into a god, fulfilling the final parts of each character arc.

But even with that basic worldbuilding, the story is engaging because of the way the characters make it feel like a real place with small snippets in their comments. And the way the basic plot gets turned around into a new one with that middle game twist. You don’t need a complex plot with twists and turns to get your story done, nor a massive bible for every detail of the world. Those can grow with the story, as you find the need to solve plot points or hide Chekhov’s Gun. Every plot, as simple as it might be, can be useful if you create characters with arcs that strengthen it. Plot and characters need to play along, as that could help you to work your stories even if complexity is not your thing.

One needs to write and play to one’s strengths. FFVI is a fine example of it. I would like to think I learned that lesson.

A final note… pun not intended, is that the Final Fantasy games are known by their eclectic mix of magic and science. Mixing those things is easy. Doing it in a coherent way is tricky. Magic, even one with defined rules, will change how technology develops if it is relatively easy to use. Weapons, transport, communications, health care, and even fashion are influenced by the presence of magic and/or technology, or better known as Magitek.  The rule of thumb is that people develop magic and/or science to solve problems or achieve things that aren’t able to do by the means at hand. That why technology has evolved the way it has in the real world. Add magic to the mix and you can imagine how things change. I might write more in detail about that particular subject later on.

In short, these are some of the lessons I learned from one of my favorite games on my path to becoming a writer. Next time I will explain how Secret of Mana taught me how to create magical objects that feel part of the plot and not just MacGuffins.

A frequent comment I’ve received from people that have read the book is that it has a vibe similar to Final Fantasy. Well, now you know why. Because of one of its games, that served as my very personal Creative Writing class. So if you, like me, are a fan of Final Fantasy, my book is for you.

Remember that you can preorder it here: http://mybook.to/TempestBladesWK

Updates on life and my novel

I haven’t updated the blog in more than a month. As usual, life has been hectic. I got twice sick -once with a cold, another with a stomach flu-. I’m in the last stages of my research project at my day job -with very interesting results- and need to prepare a conference presentation about it.

And of course, I’ve been writing and promoting said writing. It takes time. In 2 days, a new Inklings anthology will be released: “Tales of Magic & Destiny“, with a story of mine that links with Tempest Blades.

And in a month and a half, “Tempest Blades: The Withered King” will be released into the wider world with the hope that people like it. So far, the book has gotten great advanced reviews. Some are already available at the Goodreads page for the book, another is in the Booklist website, and a couple are at the reviewers’ respective blogs, here at Altered Instinct and at Witty & Sarcastic Bookclub. There is hope for more reviews coming in the following days. And with luck, they will be good.

Meanwhile, I’ve been taking a  few lines from each review to use in these images (the Alex one still has room for more lines though):

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And working in the sequel of Tempest Blades. I already have the prologue and the epilogue done. I just need to write the middle part. Easy! *sarcasm*.

So yeah, it has been a couple of tiring but fruitful months. I just need a holiday break to take it all in.

My 25 favorite moments from Game of Thrones

*SPOILERS BEWARE*

I have made no secret that Game of Thrones is my all-time favorite tv show. I loved every second of the final season -despite a few flaws that could have been fixed by adding an episode or two-. I have plenty of ideas and theories about its finale. And plenty of opinions about its narrative influence. But while I put all of that in order inside my head, right now I want to talk about my favorite moments of the show. I was planning a Top Ten list, but as my wife -another big fan of the show- pointed out, ten is a limited number. So I will just list the moments as they come to mind, finishing with Number 1. This is a personal list, so it might not fit with yours (my wife and I disagree with some of them). And I’m talking about my favorite ones, not necessarily the most shocking, or story changing ones. And in a series as long as kick ass as this one, this list probably will be missing several. But hey, no list is perfect.

25. The Library. If you are a bookworm, like me, the sight of the Citadel’s library is a nerdgasm. And the gyroscope.

24.  The Loot Train Assault. The sheer scope of the scene, the destruction, the cinematograpgy. All to show us what a terryfing force has Dany at her command. And we finally see the Dothraki in full action.

23. Now we know what Pod did. Don’t say anything, just listen.

22. Bronn saves Jaime.

Let’s face it, Bronn is an asshole. A backstabbing asshole at that. One that finally got what he wanted even if he didn’t deserve it. But from time to time, he showed that he was actually a loyal friend, no money involved.

21. Dany to the rescue. The sacrifice that came from this scene was high, but you can’t deny that this scenen should be the prime example of what ‘Big Damn Heroes’ moment is. Also you can see exactly the moment Jon fell for her.

20. Arya vs. Termiwaif. This scene could give any of Jason Bourne’s sequences a run for its money. This is when Arya decides that enough is enough. It’s frenetic, messy and all what a good chase should be.

19. Clegane Bowl. The fight in the making since the first episode, beautifully framed against Drogon/Dany’s path of destruction. It shows the realm culmination of those that embark in a vengeance quest: mutually assured destruction. Farewell Sandor, you were a hero.

18. Arya: Iron Chef edition. Vengeance is a dish served cold. Or in this case, a pastry made of your enemy’s children. This signaled the ascendancy of the Starks to right the wrongs the rest of the realm committed against them. And Arya finally avenges her mother, brother, sister in law and unborn nephew.

17. Tywin doesn’t shit gold. My only complain, if any, of this scene, is that is not longer. Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage sharing scenes was always a delight. But this parting shot not only changed Westeros irremediably, but it was also a true duel between thespians.

16. Tywin sends to sleep the king without supper. Tywing was an awful father and an even worse human being. But you can’t deny that it takes a special kind of man to send a psychopathic child king to bed without supper and not only live to tell the tale, but continue scheming as if nothing had happened while dismantling his family with well-placed put-downs. If you need something to establish who Tywin is, this scene is a good option.

15. Jaime knights Brienne. If you didn’t cry with this scene, there is something wrong with you. It’s the culmination and just reward for the only character that truly embodies the ideals of chivalry. If someone deserves to be the first female Ser of Westeros is Brienne. She is basically Galahad.

14. The whole Castle Black fight. This scene gives a run for its money to the one-shot scene of the first ‘Avengers’. And the one that established Jon as a bona-fine one man army.

13. Jon stupidily charges into Battle. Yes, Jon is pretty stupid at times. But no one can deny that a) you would do the same stupid thing if your family had been in Rickon’s position and b) it is an awesome sight to behold. This man earned his bannermen’s loyalty by being ballsy.

12. Sansa feeds Ramsay to the hounds. I’m glad it was Sansa the one that did the deed. This was a declaration from her that she was done being the ‘little bird’ and is now the ‘Red Wolf’, and future Queen. And the North was better for that.

11. Arya executes Littlefinger. After subjecting the realm and the Starks to his chaotic designs and power plays, Baelish finally finds a rival he can’t beat through trickery or sweet words: the combined smarts, clairvoyance and cold blood of the Stark’s siblings.

10.  Jon beats the crap out of Ramsay. There is not much to say to this, except that it was cathartic. If any, Ramsay got off lightly. It released all the anger the Starks had bottled up after being mistreated and betrayal, in the strong fist of Jon Snow.

9. Dany’s final speech. Say what you want about the ultimate twist. But you can’t deny that from the moment she walked in -with Drogon’s wings at her back- to the moment she started to give his spine chilling speech in TWO different languages. Tyrion is often considered the best talker of the show. But I say that Dany is way better. She could command an army to the gates of Hell and make them win just by the strength of her oratory skills. If she was destined to be the final villain, she made a fine damn good villain.

8. Tyrion plays the Game. Tyrion has always been one of the cleverest men on the room -when he is not blinded by love- and proving that he is an apt player at the Game, right after arriving at King’s Landing, by tricking the Small Council is proof of that.

7. Tyrion calls out King’s Landing’s nobility bullshit. The trial was a sham, we all know. And to this day I don’t know who overplayed their hand, with calling Shae for testimony and pushing Tyrion to the edge, Tywin or Cersei. But Tyrion’s reply was cathartic and a proper exposition of why those nobles and courtiers sucked. How many of us wouldn’t wish to be able to tell off a lot of people?

6. Dracarys. This is the moment when Dany went, in the eyes of the audience and the whole Essos, from naive girl to astute conqueror, proving that if you want things done thoroughly, ask a woman to do it. It was also foreshadowing of what would come before, but at the time, as Tyrion recently put, felt good and we cheered on it because the victims were despicable people.

5. Cersei blows the Sept of Baelor. The whole sequence is a thing of beauty, narratively and cinematographically speaking. the score, as usual, sells it.  It’s visceral, well-planned revenge. The scene that put Cersei on the map as a big villain. But more important, like the one you should not trifle with if you don’t have a well-trained dragon on your side.

4. Jon kills a White Walker. My favorite fight of all the show. Jon proves that the seemingly unbeatable foe is actually beatable. The sheer rawness of the fight, the sound edit to put you in the shoes of a concussed Jon and the surprise of the clash makes it for me. It actually inspired a fight I wrote.

3. Jon is named ‘King in the North’. After so much struggle, the Starks are back at home (at least Jon & Sansa) and the North feel finally avenged and reunited. Won’t last, but seeing a bastard being raised as a king on his merits -even if Sansa actually did part of the job- while juxtaposing his true heritage is what fantasy is made of.

2. Arya kills the Night King. Unexpected twist aside, this scene had me the whole time standing, tense, almost bitting my nails. The build-up, accompanied by the score makes you stop breathing and the conclusion allows you to breathe again in relief. This scene not only injected me with adrenaline, but it also showed us that saving the world is a team effort.

 1. The final montage. This has always been a Stark show (pun intended), the rest were just there for the ride in a way. This is my favorite scene as it resonates on a personal level(I have an essay waiting to explain why). The score is beautiful and we say goodbye to the three Starks that changed the realm, hopefully for good. Jon in the True North with people that love him for who he is, Sansa leading an independent North,  and Arya exploring unknown seas. But while for us the story is finished, for them life continues and we can only speculate what will come next for them. My personal theory? Jon will become the new King-Beyond-the-Wall, establish an alliance with Winterfell (duh!) and live his days in search of  “some small measure of peace, that we all seek, and few of us ever find,” as narrated by Simon Graham in the Last Samurai.

Special mention: this scene, when Dany goes from hero to villain. You might not like how it happened, but you can’t deny Emilia Clarke’s powerful acting in these seconds. Without uttering a single word, just by facial expression in a scene without no one to react with and probably all CGI. Emilia says everything we need to know. The dragon has been awakened in full. And is a terrible sight to behold, especially from below. Emilia deserves an Emmy just for that.

So this is my list, but tell me, which ones are yours? Leave them in the comments.

The problem with prophecies

Disclaimer: This blog post has spoilers from recent episodes of Game of Thrones. Read under your own peril.

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Prophecies. A staple in fantasy and at times, science fiction (and science fantasy as a result). The guideline through which many stories live and die in the head of the audience. If the prophecy somehow is not fulfilled directly or through a twist -more on that later-, the audience tends to complain about how it was a cop-out, a plot hole or a mistake. As if the prophecy and the myth from where it is derived is a promise about how the story should develop, like a recipe. Perhaps is due to the tendency that humans have to create patterns and follow them to the letter, out of a sense of familiarity and comfort. Maybe because of personal headcanons make you, the audience to consider that a story should develop in a certain way to fit your interpretation of a prophecy. But prophecies are meant to be vague because they are trying to predict events in the future that are unfolding based on several decisions

I have to say, I’m not a fan of the whole prophecy thing, not a least as a guideline of how a story should develop. I don’t mind a prophecy here and there. I do mind the way it is used to railroad a story. In my humble opinion if you as writer follow to a T a prophecy you created for your story, then something went wrong. Same if as reader you expect a prophecy to work as stated and get angry when it doesn’t. Even in the real world, prophecies are unreliable and subject to interpretation. I mean, if prophecies were that literal, we would be using Nostradamus writings as an almanac, easily expecting what was going to happen and taking one of three options:

-You sit down and let thing happens without doing nothing, taking away your agency (which in storytelling makes for a really boring character and in real life veers in nihilism).

-You try to avert what’s gonna happen, thus changing the future and invalidating the prophecy (Vision of Escaflowne revolves around this, how Fate is actually a probability zone created by free will and changed by our decisions rather than a fixed outcome, which is what the villain wants to do, force the world into his fixed outcome).

-You fulfill said prophecy by setting in motion the causes and effects that will result in it (self-fulfilling prophecies, which sound to me a lot like determinism).

So the reason I’m not a big fan of prophecies as road map’ that populate fantasy is that I’m a firm believer of free will. As a relative once told me, during a philosophical/esoteric talk, you might have a destiny, as you have during a trip, but how you reach it, if at all, is entirely your choice. Prophecies are nice touches that lend depth and worldbuilding to a story, but using them as the blueprint for your story, negates character development and force you to end the narrative in a certain way that might not be entirely organic.

I will put it this way: my personal pet peeve with the last book of Harry Potter (disclaimer: my wife is a huge fan of the series, she actually cried when we visited the Wizarding World in Orlando) is that the ending and the whole quest felt so forced because Rowling had to follow this prophecy:

‘The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…’
-Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

To me, the plot collapsed under its own weight due to the adherence to the prophecy. Yes, Neville could have fulfilled it. But by half of the saga, it was clear that he was a red herring. The story fell into a pattern and the resolution felt contrived to me (you, of course, are free to disagree). The story was kinda predictable after a certain point. Harry had to die for Voldy to be gone. The challenge there was to see how the author would pull it off -killing the MC or finding a way to keep him alive-. I have been guilty of this on my stories, so I admit this post is also a learning experience for me.

Now, you can tell me that in fiction, prophecies have been not always followed to the letter, playing with the expectations of the reader. The earliest example I can think of is Lord of the Rings, in specific the death of the Witch King of Angmar:

Éowyn: Be gone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!
Nazgûl: Come not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.
Éowyn: Do what you will, but I will hinder it, if I may.
Nazgûl: Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!
Éowyn: But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Be gone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.
-The Return of the King, Lord of the Rings

In this example, Eowyn -with a certain degree of help from Merry- kills an unkillable enemy by taking the prophecy to the letter “No living man can hinder me” and being literal with its interpretation. A woman did the deed. Helped by a hobbit. I wonder if an orc, dwarf or elf or an undead being could have done it too. In this case, the prophecy by Glorfindel was followed to the letter, but by sticking to it, presented the way it was going to be fulfilled: anyone besides a living man could have done it if we play a rules lawyer.

Now, here is one of the most controversial prophecies in fandom, one that’s still debated how it should have been interpreted, regardless to the fact that the original creator already said which interpretation was the right one. I present you with the Chosen One from Star Wars:

“You refer to the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force. You believe it’s this…boy?”
―Mace Windu, to Qui-Gon Jinn about Anakin Skywalker

“If the prophecy is true, your apprentice is the only one who can bring the Force back into balance.”
―Mace Windu, to Obi-Wan Kenobi

“You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!”
―Obi-Wan Kenobi, to Anakin Skywalker

How do you interpret ‘balance’? According to Lucas, balance meant to destroy the Sith for their use of the Dark Side was breaking the said balance. Then he introduced the Mortis family and well… things changed. The balance was meant to be achieved by destroying both Jedi and Sith? Or as the NT is kinda trying to imply in The Last Jedi, balance is accepting both the good and the bad of the Force as it is a reflection of the universe, life & death, good and evil? It kinda still fits with Lucas original version of balance because the Sith wanted to control those aspects and by doing it, corrupting the Force and breaking the balance of the natural order.

But I often wonder what would have happened if Lucas had eschewed the whole Chosen One thing and just stick to making Anakin a really powerful Force user that went bad like many talented people do in real life? Maybe we wouldn’t have to hear about ‘midichlorians’. The thing is Lucas kinda tied his hands by introducing the Chosen One thing and then tried to retrofit it with the previous lore established in the OT. I know, his biggest inspiration was the ‘Journey of the Hero’. But that is just a  way to tell a story, not the only blueprint for it.

This takes me to the issue at hand, which is where this post gets spoilery: Game of Thrones. In particular, S8 Ep 3 ‘The Battle of Winterfell’ where everyone, including Kit Harington, were expecting a  fateful duel between Jon and the Night King. A duel that never happened. Jon got stuck with an undead dragon, Dany was surrounded by wights and defended only by Ser Jorah and in a very interesting twist, Arya stabbed the mortal enemy of mankind and saved the day, enraging a lot of people that think that it invalidates the books and the prophecies about Azor Ahai, The Prince that was Promised, and so on.

But here is the thing, Martin has made a point of leaving said legends and prophecies open to interpretation. He describes himself as a ‘gardener’, which means he has a basic outline of how the story will go but is leaving himself room to create the story. And to do that, the legends and prophecies in the books -and by extention, the show- had to be kept vague.

So let’s examine this:

Complaint one: Jon/Dany was meant to be AA, TPtwP, etc. and the one that delivered the final blow to the NK. I admit I was of this mindset at first, until my wife told me, with reason, that no prophecy actually works literally in the real world. And GoT/ASOIAF is meant to be a fantasy story with a certain degree on real-world logic on it.

So the prophecy used  for the show, as expressed in the book says:

“There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.” 

A Clash of Kings, Chapter 10, Davos I.

If you notice, it never says that AA will kill the darkness, just that it will dispell it. I contend, and this is a personal interpretation, that Lightbringer is not meant to be a sword, but a coalition of people willing to stop the darkness. The first Lightbringer was the Night’s Watch:

I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men.

So in a way, Jon & Dany did fulfill that part of the prophecy, because the set things in motion, gathered people willing to fight the darkness and did everything possible to allow for Arya to deliver the decisive blow. Heck, without Jon in the North as a king, Arya would have probably gone south to kill Cersei. The Battle of Winterfell is showing us a new Lightbringer: the coalition of the living created by Jon & Dany. The description of this bit from The World of Ice & Fire, about the Long Night mentions:

How long the darkness endured no man can say, but all agree it was only when a great warrior – known variously as Hyrkoon the Hero, Azor Ahai, Yin Tar, Neferion, and Eldric Shadowchaser – arose to give courage to the race of men and lead the virtuous into battle with his blazing sword Lightbringer that the darkness was put to rout, and light and love returned once more to the world.

The World of Ice & Fire, The Bones and Beyond.

It doesn’t mention the woman with a monkey’s tail that’s referred in another part of the text*, but that’s another point. Most people would assume that is a single warrior with different names. But what if is, in reality, a coalition of heroes from different parts of the world save it and with the pass of time, their figures got mixed into a single being. I mean, that’s the basis of the Faith of the Seven in a way.

Complaint two: by killing the NK so early, the show was left without a bigger villain and is back to petty squabbles for a throne. Well, the thing is, that it is actually consistent with the source material. The story of Westeros didn’t stop with the end of first Long Night nor will ‘stop’ with the end of the second one (a very short one actually). And here is why:

When the daughter of the Opal Emperor ascended to power as the Amethyst Empress, her envious brother cast her down and proclaimed himself the Bloodstone Emperor and began a reign of terror and slavery, in which he practiced dark arts and necromancy, took a tiger-woman for his bride, feasted on human flesh and cast down the gods of Yi Ti to worship a black stone fallen from the sky. This Blood Betrayal, as it is known in the annals of the Further East, ushered in the Long Night, with the Maiden-Made-of-Light turning her back on the world, while the Lion of Night came forth to punish the wickedness of man. The darkness ended when a great warrior rose to lead the virtuous into battle with the sword Lightbringer in his hand. Light was restored, but the Great Empire was not reborn for the restored world was a broken place where every tribe of men went its own way, fearful of all the others, and war, lust, and murder had endured.

The World of Ice & Fire, Yi Ti.

G.R.R. Martin story has always been about humans being their own worst enemy (like in real life). An often overlooked part of the Azor Ahai/PtwP myth/prophecy says (and this is the part everyone is ignoring) that after the Long Night ended, the land was left in a state of constant war and chaos. So yes, a magical monster was killed, but the very real monster that hides inside every person is still there. Which if you think, fits with what the show is doing.

I know it’s kinda iffy to bring book canon to the show canon when in the show they had barely discussed the prophecy beyond that Azor Ahai will save the realm (it doesn’t really specify from whom, darkness can take many forms: ice zombies, mad queens…). But the theme seems to be consistent in both forms. The show might have taken liberties, but the theme remains: humanity is it’s own worst enemy. Jon still has time to become Azor Ahai, but it won’t be in the epic fantasy way we expect. It will be in one more set to a more ‘realistic’ world, or as realistic as a world with dragons and ice zombies can be. And he can become that (or Dany will, the coin is still in the air) because the evil hasn’t gone away, it is still there. And unlike with the White Walkers, this evil doesn’t go away immediately when you stab the leader. It never truly goes away. Darkness is always inside us. And every epic battle, real and in fiction, has consequences.

Or to put it this way: after WWII ended and the bigger evil was defeated, we were still left with a very dangerous monster (Stalin), a Cold War and the realm in disarray, with the threat of nuclear war looming over our heads. And it hasn’t really gone away. History is nothing but a long succession of smaller histories all linked together. In fantasy, we are preconditioned to stop reading after the hero takes down the bad guy, but we rarely stop to consider the aftermath. I mean, I have always wondered what happened to the orcs in LOTR after the fall of the Sauron. were they massacred? Or Were they free to create their own culture and perhaps someday become somewhat of a nation?

Bottom line, prophecies in the real world rarely come to happen as they are intended because the future is always in motion, thousands of small decisions change the outcomes of our day to day interactions. History seems to us, set in stone because we can see the logical chain of causes and effects that made certain events happen the way they did, but truth is that we see it in that way because we are living in the result of those interactions: for us to exist in the way we do, things had to happen in that way. But it doesn’t apply to future events. So I don’t see why prophecies have to be interpreted as the only way events have to unfold in a narrative. For us as writers, is hard to keep vague things because, in the way we are the gods of the worlds we create, we can see how things are gonna end. It is even more difficult if you are a plotter/architect. A pantser/gardener -kinda can allow themselves a certain degree of surprise. But the concept of the ending is usually set in stone, even if the road there is not laid out yet.

The problem with prophecies is that they are a double-edged sword when used in a story. Either you get railroaded by them or you leave them so open to interpretation that the audience will complain. Actually, in both cases, someone is gonna complain. Prophecies shouldn’t be used as the blueprint for your story. Otherwise, it becomes predictable or will contradict other parts of your story. Prophecies should be used as hints, as red herrings, as potential futures. And keeping them vague is really tricky.

Thus, prophecies should be used judiciously. Personally, I prefer the second option, both as audience and as a writer, as it gives more leeway to the imagination and clever twist, to represent the chaotic nature of our world instead of a deterministic one. Because living in a deterministic world must be the most soul-crushing experience ever.

That’s what I liked about what’s going on in Game of Thrones in its final episodes and the source material: the prophecies leave room for interpretation based on the cultural contexts of the characters and the audience. There is a myriad way everything can unfold. I don’t think I’m that good of a writer to pull it off in my stories -hence why I haven’t even attempted to write a prophecy for them- but I certainly can enjoy when others do it. Because it keeps my interest. I love not knowing whats’ gonna happen, to be in the edge of my seat screaming at Jon for not being able to reach the Night King on time and be pleasantly surprised that Arya did. And to me, that helps to make a good story a great one.

*“This legend has spread west from Asshai, and the followers of R’hllor claim that this hero was named Azor Ahai, and prophesy his return. In the Jade Compendium, Colloquo Votar recounts a curious legend from Yi Ti, which states that the sun hid its face from the earth for a lifetime, ashamed at something none could discover, and that disaster was averted only by the deeds of a woman with a monkey’s tail.” George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia & Linda Antonsson. “The World of Ice & Fire.”

 

My novel’s dream soundtrack.

A while ago, I wrote a similar post about my ideal soundtrack for my novel when I was around the 7th draft. Now that it is to be published and in hands of the ARC reviewers, I thought in updating the list to make it fit better.

This is my ‘dream’ soundtrack, the one that if money, rights and time weren’t an objection, would be what I would like to hear in a movie or a tv show. Alas, this is the list of songs I used while writing my novel.

Some songs are for scenes, others, to reflect the character in question -a musical shorthand if you like, a leitmotif -. So their ‘character songs’ are the ones I listened when writing their parts. Same with specific scenes that have a ‘theme’. Thus the reader could listen to them with the same effect, maybe getting a better idea of the mood I was aiming for. These songs really helped me nail particular bits of the story.  Even if this is an eclectic list, to say the least.

And thank you to the artists behind these songs. Your work inspired me to write the best story I could.

Theme Song for the whole story:

Character themes:

Fionn’s Theme:

Gaby’s theme (and the inspiration for the song she sings before the crutial fight):

Alex’s theme:

Sam’s theme:

Sid’s theme / The Figaro’s flight:

Harland’s Theme:

Scene themes:

Opening Chapter / Heroic Resolve (I’m gonna kick your sorry ass):

The Freefolk theme (for anything related to them, the Maze, Mekiri or magic in general)

Training Scenes:

Big Damn Heroes (in the final chapters):

The Final Duel:

Closing moments / Credits:

 

It’s been a long road… the stories within the continuity of Tempest Blades.

It’s been a long road, getting from there to here.
It’s been a long time, but my time is finally near.
And I will see my dream come alive at last. I will touch the sky…

I think “Where My Heart Will Take Me” lyrics encapsulate the way having my novel published and released in a few months. But the world where it happens, the inhabitants living there, the main characters, have a history. And I’ve been working (and publishing) on bits of that history, connected one way or another to the main series.

This is a short list of stories already out and how they connect with the novel. They are ordered in chronological order, within the universe, rather than in publishing order in our universe.

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It’s been a long time, but my time is finally near…

Asherah’s Pilgrimage (8,000 to 10,000 years before present day):

It’s the ‘true’ story behind the legend of the foundation of the Freefolk first kingdom and the source of most of their major cultural beliefs and customs. It is also the story of how modern Freefolk came to be as they are now in the times of the Withered King. It will be published in Tales of Magic & Destiny in a few months, this year.

Silver Horn (around 152 years before present day):

My very first published story actually. It’s the folk tale -not the actual events- of how a young man undertook a quest to return a dangerous item deep inside a mystical place related to the Freefolk. Being a folk tale, it is more comedic and takes liberties about the actual events, but it’s the kind of tale a father would tell his son about his own exploits, to inspire the kid to become an adventurer and a hero. The young man in the story? It was the father of Fionn, the main character of my novel. It was featured in Tales from the Tower.

Buried Sins (around 110 years before the present day):

Around the world, there are multiple events taking place. Some are of no consequence, others have repercussions across space and time. And major wars always have different fronts, different battles. Some are big scale, like the Longhorn Valley battle at the start of Withered King and some are more personal. Buried Sins take place around the same time as the first chapter of the novel, across an ocean in a different land and is a tale about a man haunted by its inner monster, trying to stop mercenaries that are trying to dig up a weapon that could change the War portrayed in chapter 1 of the novel. And the events of this story will also affect the potential sequel of the novel. It was featured in Tales from the Underground.

Cosmic Egg (around 50-80 years after the present day):

Part sequel, part spin-off, it’s the tale of the first space expedition from Theia to explore the rest of the galaxy. None of the characters of Tempest Blades. The Withered King appears here, but most of the story’s characters are related to them in one way or another. Also, in the novel, you can see the technological precursors of the Fireraven, the ship featured in Cosmic Egg and the mention of a legend connected to a character from Asherah’s Pilgrimage. It was featured in Tales from the Universe.

So there you have a current list of stories tied to my novel.

Writing stories to flesh out the world of my novel has been helpful, not only for putting down historical events that can’t be included in the main series without bogging it down; but have also helped me to practice my writing skills and improve them. Bear in mind, and I’m being honest here, that the style has changed over the years. And I hope it has changed for good as I aim to be a good writer. Thus, the stories vary somewhat between them. Nonetheless, I hope you like them all as well as I hope you like my novel. That’s more than I can ask.

So I did something at the last La Mole Comic Con…

I haven’t updated much the blog lately, because I’ve been busy with a certain book which is now also available for preorder at Barnes & Noble) and with grant applications that are really important for my day job (and my finances). But last Friday I took the day off to go to Mexico’s main Comicbook convention: La Mole.

La Mole is our equivalent to the SDCC and until last year, they were affiliated to the SDCC (shenanigans by a third party got said affiliation suspended until further notice) and they usually bring heavy hitters from the comic industry and pop culture. This year they brought Kevin Eastman, Jason David Frank, Jock and several other Marvel artists of which I’m afraid I can’t recall all their names (an apology).

So Salvador, the friend who did the art for my book’s cover, decided to do a limited print run of the cover art as a poster (only 25 copies), a hundred bookmarkers with a QR code to take the recipient to the Amazon preorder page and put them on sale along the rest of his art, in his stand at the Artist’s Alley part of the event. He also added the cover to his portfolio that he presented to Marvel, so let’s wish him luck. Given that it was a limited run, he signed it… and invited me to sign them as well. It’s the first time I do something like this. I even created a special signature for that (can’t use my legal one for… well legal reasons). My wife, as usual, had her camera at hand and took photos of the event, including one that Geoff, my editor, wants to use as Author Photo. I dunno… I was expecting to use something more epic, with a sword, like Ned Stark saying “Winter is Coming”. But hey, I dug my own grave on this one.

Anyway, here are some pics of the event. Don’t judge me, please. I’m not camera friendly.

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Yes, this is the new Author’s Photo. The tongue as sharp as a sword I guess. What I was thinking?

The Reveal: “Tempest Blades. The Withered King”.

Well, here it is, my book’s cover is finally done. And the book is for preorder too. But first the cover.

cover reveal TBWK

Pictured: Fionn, Gaby, and Alex, my main characters, trying to clean up the mess that someone else created. Some reunions can get really chaotic.

It’s amazing isn’t? I mean I can’t stop staring at it. It’s widely different from what I had pictured at first, but that’s the great thing! I get to see my world through the eyes of one reader. Because yes, Salvador Velázquez, the Mexican graphic artist who worked in this awesome art piece read the whole book to try and get the right feel for it.

I consider myself lucky for many, many reasons in life (like having a wonderful wife and great friends). But in this case, I think, without wanting to sound as I’m gloating, that I’m also as a writer. Usually, when a writer gets to be published, the editor sends the design brief to the artist, the artist does their interpretation of said brief (which is not the same as the actual story) and you get a cover done. Most of the time it works but not always, as in that fight between a cover artist and an author that was neither good or kind. Others the author if they have the skill, work on the illustrations as well, like Tolkien. Sometimes if you self publishes, you buy a premade cover or hire an artist and result may vary. And occasionally a writer gets to work directly with the artist and a good rapport and communication surges, becoming friends, which is my case with Salvador.

I was lucky that my publisher, Artemesia Publishing, allowed me a certain degree of liberty when it came to the cover design and illustration. And me, being the control freak I am, took the opportunity. In another blog entry, I will showcase the development and evolution of the cover art, with added comments from Salvador (given that it will be a long post, it will take some time to put it together). Lest suffice to say that I spent the last months, chatting back and forth with Salvador, trying to get his vision and my ideas to mesh together into the fantastic illustration you are seeing above. I have to give it to him as he was patient enough to listen to me rambling about how a bow should be used or asking about references while leaving his own imprint on the piece. I think that something that helped is that both of us have a design background* (and since I will be overseeing as well the editorial design of the cover) so we shared a common language and understood how and why to ask something.

This is the cover, all put together with the synopsis in the back. The final cover design and assembling were done by my wife, who is not only an amazing photographer but also a talented editorial designer who is starting her business creating covers for authors like me. Trust me, it might look easy, but the level of skill required to make sure everything is correct right to the last millimeter is staggering. I still have a lot to learn from her if I want to improve the covers for Inklings Press.

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The synopsis reads:

Fionn is the wielder of a legendary Tempest Blade, and he is blessed – or cursed – by The Gift. Though his days as a warrior are long over, his past leaves him full of guilt and regret. Life, however, has other plans for him, when he agrees to help a friend locate a missing person.

Gaby and Alex never expected to become heroes… until they met Fionn. As an ancient evil arises and consumes the land, Fionn must help them to master their own Gifts and Tempest Blades.

Together the three of them, and their friends, will chart a course aboard the flying ship Figaro to save the planet. Will Fionn’s past be an anchor, or will he overcome the one failure from his former life before time runs out?

In a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible.

Including second chances.

Anyways, this is the cover. The back blurb is not on it because I wanted you to admire the art and the custom made logo Salvador and his girlfriend did for me. You can give them a better look at these promotional banners:

Banner TBWK Fionn

The Greywolf

Banner TBWK Alex

The Inventor

Banner TBWK Gaby

The Dreamer

While “Tempest Blades. The Withered King.” will be released on August 20th of this year, you can preorder my book (so weirdly satisfying to say that) here**:

http://mybook.to/TempestBladesWK

Preorders help writers too -actually, they help a lot, more than you can imagine- so I will be deeply thankful if you go and get a copy for yourself. And let me know what do you think when you get your copy after August 20th.

Thank you.

*Design, like many other fields such as engineering and medicine, has different specialties and different skills. Yes all designers, know how to draw. But one thing is to draw a product -like in my case, and I admit I’m not that good- and another to draw a custom made illustration or develop a marketing campaign. Yes, you can cross-pollinate abilities -my wife, a graphic designer, and photographer, is teaching me about editorial design and photoshop- but it takes time to get good at them. See my point about editorial design.

**I just hope that by the time you see this, Amazon has updated the cover image for the ebook version, that’s why the link will take you to the paperback version.

‘Lost in Translation’ and writing about a character’s introspection.

I have a special relationship with ‘Lost in Translation’, as when I watched it, I was going under some personal issues. I recall that I went with my parents to watch it (because no one else wanted to do it and my mom enjoys going to the cinema) and when it ended, as ‘Just like honey’ sounded along the rolling credits I told them: “that’s what Tokyo looks like… and that´s how I feel most of the time.” And they understood. Never a movie so far had explained better for me the level of isolation and need to connect that one can feel on a bad period of life.

As Roger Ebert put it:

“”‘Lost in Translation’” offers an experience in the exercise of empathy.”

It’s often decried that the movie is about nothing, or confused with a romantic comedy. I say no to the first assertion and might agree partially to the second one. ‘Lost in Translation’, in my opinion, is a character study between two people that feel isolated and find a kindred soul to share said isolation, through mutual understanding of their different circumstances. The movie is about both: personal introspection on the dual questions of ‘what am I doing with my life/what am I doing here?’ and the sense of isolation and impersonality created by a being in a foreign place or in a big city.

Anyone that has moved abroad to study or live could agree that the first months there feel like this until you manage to make human connections. An even then, the feeling truly never goes away. Regardless of what Bob told Charlotte in that famous final scene, both made a connection, both grew up as persons and both realized things about them that couldn’t figure it alone, but couldn’t figure it with a relative either. It was through breaking that wall of isolation that they found what was literally ‘Lost in Translation’ in their personal lives.

I was thinking about this movie recently, as I drafted a list of my 10 favorite movies, and recalling it made me think something we, as writers, tend to forget: character’s internal growth or introspection. Due to a variety of reasons, readers and writers –including myself- tend to skip the calmer moments of a story, in search of the next action beat. When I was showing to some friends the outline for the Tempest Blades sequel, one pointed that a chapter describing a training period could cut the flow of the action. But I’m planning to leave for now said chapter. I’m not interested in the training part per se, but in the connection between characters to make the protagonist look inside and realize some things he needs to solve inside his head and heart before moving to the next stage. The whole theme of the book is about that learning.

I have a particular fondness for that kind of bittersweet, slow stories because they offer a window to the soul of a character (or characters) and the kind of inner exploration we rarely give even to ourselves. We have grown accustomed to hectic lifestyles where we forgo the time to look inside and reach outside. And our characters reflect that.
Regardless of whether we add or not quieter, slower scenes of introspection –scenes that some readers can say are about nothing- to our action-packed or politically intriguing stories, we as writers can and have to do it. Even if it’s something that will remain in our notebooks, part of the hinted background of a character. Allowing ourselves to help our characters to go through this introspection, through this ‘exercise of empathy’, I believe, would allow us as writers to create more believable characters.

Characters that can react with a certain amount of believability to what we as might gods of fate throw at them. We write about actions but rarely dwell on consequences. The actions of our characters change the world –relative to scale and theme of course- but are also changed by them, for what’s life but constant change. In ‘Lost in Translation’, Bob and Charlotte are being changed by their current circumstances as well as their previous personal histories. The introspection they are subjected by the events depicted in the film force them to come to terms to what has traversed and move on to the next stage. Our characters, regardless of the genre we are writing (well, perhaps not in horror because odds are they will be dead by the end), need to go through the same process, even if it’s never to be depicted in the story and takes place only in our heads. But by doing it, we can write them better and thus, the story is improved.

We are not cardboard beings, nor should our characters be. Maybe that’s why is taking me so long to start writing the sequel because I need to figure out how much my characters have changed inside by the events of the first book in order to show where they are moving. I did this exercise for the main characters of my short stories ‘Asherah’s Pilgrimage’ and ‘No-sell’ (both to be published this year in different anthologies) and I think it improved them. At least made me understand better their motivations so I could try to portray them as needed. I hope I did achieve that. Because now I want to try that at a larger scale. I’m connecting with my characters in order to understand their particular isolation and thus understand what they are looking for, so the plot is better serviced by that.

‘Lost in Translation’ will always have a special place in my heart. And now I realize, in the list of influences I have.