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.

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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.

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‘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.

“Pura Vida, Tico” or visiting Costa Rica

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Last December, my wife and I took a holiday to Costa Rica (well, we stayed at San José and moved around). Fun fact: traveling and staying there from Mexico is for us, Mexicans, quite cheap. Almost as cheap as visiting the Rivera Maya (if you know how to book a holiday and avoid most hotel schemes). But buying stuff or taking regular cabs there is really expensive as they charge in dollars or their equivalent. Even for the Costa Ricans.

Anyways, visiting Costa Rica is something I can’t recommend enough. If I could, I would go back to visit the rest of the places we couldn’t due time. Given the time it takes to displace from San José to many of the natural reserves and other touristic spots, my wife and I focused on those that were relatively close to us, to make better use of our time and have rest (and to take advantage of the free breakfast buffet for guests at the hotel).

First, we visited the Municipal Handcraft Market, where we tried to buy a few souvenirs for the family. Nice place (clean restrooms which are welcomed) and accessible vendors. And some really odd souvenirs that I can’t share a pic of them for being NSFW.

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A few days later, we went to ‘Cascadas la Paz’. it’s a national park funded by a private organization, placed in a land with three waterfalls, in a mix of cloudy and rain forest. It is also a place where rescued animals -most of them protected species in danger of extinction like jaguars- were taken from irresponsible owners and placed in a safe environment for their recovery. It also has a good ‘collection’ of hummingbirds, butterflies, and frogs, including some venomous ones.

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Another day we made a trip to the Irazu Volcano, one of the highest volcanoes on the continent. From it, in a good, clear day you can see both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts. After that, we traveled down to the Orosi Valley, where we visited a private thermal water resort. And the food there was delightful!

We also visited a coffee roaster enterprise called Britt Coffee, where the tour guides are informative and amusing (they could have their own stand-up comedy show).

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Fun facts about Costa Rica (as related to us by our tour guide):

1) It has no standing army. Instead, all the money that would be used for that goes to education.

2) It’s a pioneer in the use of renewable energies for grid supply and ecotourism.

3) Has a somewhat small police force for the whole country.

4) Due to its extreme volcanic activity, there are small earthquakes daily. Thus the construction laws of the country don’t allow for taller buildings (not even hotels have more than 6-7 floors so no skyscrapers) and all the roofs are made of light metal sheets (that way if the worst happens, no one will get crushed by the roof collapsing over their heads).

5) Has the largest stray dog shelter ever, with around 1.3k dogs in it. Which was featured in the ‘Dogs’ documentary series by Netflix.

6) ‘Pura Vida’ -the title of this blog- its the motto of the country, used for almost anything.

There are more activities to do: extreme sports, beach visits, trips to other volcanos and natural reservoirs and cultural events. I can’t recommend enough to visit the country, either for inspiration as a writer or if you like nature and sustainability. If you wish to see more of our photos about the natural beauties that Costa Rica has to offer, please visit my wife’s photography website and the page dedicated to this trip.

And of course, Raph, the traveling Ninja Turtle finally managed to go on the trip.

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Weird Western and Me. New anthology project.

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Last year, I wrote and submitted my first Weird West Fantasy story “No-Sell” to an anthology project. I was fortunate enough to get it accepted.

The mastermind and editor behind the project is writer and SFWA Youtube master extraordinaire Diane Morrison, who has been a delight to work with on the edits and the overall publication of the anthology. The book is already for preorder at Amazon in Kindle format (it will be released in paperback at a later date). It will be at an excellent, low price just until the end of January, so be sure to pick up a copy.

About my story, without telling too much, it’s about a disillusioned retired military spellslinger traveling on the frontier of the land, visiting remote towns and carrying a new type of weapon called ‘rifle’. Think Algren from ‘The Last Samurai’ (the one with Tom Cruise) when he is sent to sell weapons to the Japanese. Except that no one wants his fare. Not like it matters to him. And of course, I managed to slip a small reference to Mexican Culture. Depending on how things go, I might write more stories in that new universe. I just got this book for further research: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.

The anthology has many good stories, including one by my archenemy Brent A. Harris.  And it will include a public domain story by Robert E. Howard (who kinda pioneered the genre). You shouldn’t miss this book.

A brief story of Science Fantasy

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Image by sykosan

Earlier today, someone at the FB writers’ group to which I belong, asked (and I quote):

“I have long been assured that ‘Science Fantasy’ is a ‘thing’? So why can’t I find this genre in the BISAC fiction codes?”

It’s an interesting and fair question, moreover, because it is a discussion my publisher and I have had regarding under which genre list my novel at Amazon (ultimately, the distributor opted for Science Fiction, which well, might work, although I still argue it is Science Fantasy or Futuristic Fantasy).

So I replied the following. Bear in mind that this is what I recall from several consultations at the usual sites (Wikipedia, TV Tropes), The Complete Guide to Fantasy Subgenres by Best Fantasy Books, my recollections of Issac Asimov’s essay compilation and my own readings.

Currently, it is difficult to get a clear cut classification of Science Fantasy for two reasons:

1) As shown in the Complete Guide to… there are tons of Fantasy subgenres, and if you recall my previous posts on Science Fantasy, I see it more as a grading scale. So they often get mixed between them and with Science Fiction, that has become an umbrella term for the general public and thus, for several bookstores.

2) History. So sit down, grab a cup of coffee and listen to old uncle Ricardo explain it the best he can:

Originally Science Fantasy was published in the same magazines as Weird Fiction and original Heroic Fantasy (think Lovecraft for the former, Robert E. Howard for the later) during the ’20s and ’30s. Often got confused with straight fantasy, being fantasy an umbrella term for non-literary work or noir. That’s why you get things like the Cthulhu Mythos that mix horror, magic and science or stuff like Planetary Romances such as ‘John Carter of Mars.’

Science Fiction as we know it today was a counterproposal of that, encouraged by  John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, who as per Asimov’s recollection, was adamant of having sound scientific knowledge behind every story he published (what we now know as Hard Science Fiction). It slowly pushed away from the mixture of genres and laid out the rules of what we know now as classic Science Fiction (Asimov, Heinlen, and Clarke). But if you read their older work, especially of authors like Bradbury, many of them wrote still a mix of Fantasy and SF.

With the advent of LOTR in the later part of the ’50s ( trivia time: incidentally helping to create the environmental movement), the division between Science Fiction and Fantasy became more entrenched. And the weird/horror part of the mix got separated into horror and the new weird (Charlie Stross for example). But if you notice, for example, some of the works of Stephen King go back to those roots (The Dark Tower, The Stand even It). But for many years, authors and readers tried to keep them separated, although there are stories that get them mixed.

You have cases where authors adamantly said their work belonged to one or the other, which was the case of Anne McCaffrey and the Dragonriders of Pern series (she might say it was straight SF, but they read like fantasy to me). Authors that started writing their sagas as fantasy and through connecting them with their other work or as result of worldbuilding created fantasy worlds in post-apocalyptic future Earth, like Terry Brooks and the Shannara series or The Book of Swords Series by Fred Saberhagen. Finally, the third group of authors never bothered with such divisions, instead of looking for the best mix of elements to tell the story at hand, like Terry Pratchett and the Discworld series or Roger Zelazny and his various works, like was the case of Creatures of Light and Darkness or Lord of Light.  And then you have authors such as Steven Brust of the Dragaera series that abide by the rule of cool as prescribed in the following quote:

“The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature is as follows: All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what’s cool. And that works all the way from the external trappings to the level of metaphor, subtext, and the way one uses words. In other words, I happen not to think that full-plate armor and great big honking greatswords are cool. I don’t like ’em. I like cloaks and rapiers. So I write stories with a lot of cloaks and rapiers in ’em, ’cause that’s cool. Guys who like military hardware, who think advanced military hardware is cool, are not gonna jump all over my books, because they have other ideas about what’s cool.

The novel should be understood as a structure built to accommodate the greatest possible amount of cool stuff.”

― Steven Brust

Personally, I abide by that rule too.

So as you can see, Science Fantasy hasn’t truly disappeared, just mutated, sometimes ignored, sometimes confused. The only place where Science Fantasy has been published continually since the ’20s as it’s own genre is in superhero comics (which started as pulp fiction), but now they have their own sub-genre in the literature (in part, thanks to Wild Cards by GRR Martin).

However, its existence has influenced our pop culture in ways are not that obvious. That’s why we have Star Wars and Saturday Morning cartoons from the ’80s (e.g. Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors or Thundercats), because Lucas and those other creative artists grew up watching old pulp serials, reading classic comics. For them, the mix of genres was obvious and useful. But the literary world -always influenced by commercial interests and marketing strategies- changes slowly. I recall as a kid, that fantasy was still considered SF in many places (and I’m an 80’s kid) and bookstores still tend to put fantasy books in SF shelves. I recall a bookstore chain in the UK that puts Patrick Rothfuss’Kingkiller Chronicles’ next to Star Trek novels. Because for the general public, they are the same.

There is however one country where Science Fantasy does have its own classification as a literary and cinematic genre: Japan. They do like their eclectic mixes and both their video games and anime show that. We don’t notice because when they get ported this side of the world, they get classified in our rigid system. For example, Dragon Ball started as fantasy (with super advanced technology) and now has aliens fighting deities and androids, with a not so healthy mix of time travel and multiverses. Or Final Fantasy, that started as a somewhat straight fantasy and by VII had megacities, modern tech, spaceships and schizo mix of magic and technology known as magitech.

With the advent of superhero franchises at the cinemas and book adaptations for modern sensibilities, I believe that Science Fantasy is on the rise again, but it will take some time to catch up in renown as its own subgenre.

New frightening collaboration with the Wicked Library

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As you remember, The Wicked Library has been kind enough to record one of my stories for their podcast. So earlier this year they asked me to participate with a flash fiction tale for their Halloween audio anthology. The story I submitted was “The Scratching”, which you can read here as well.

The Wicked Library released the audio anthology this weekend and well, my story is there (it’s actually the first one) and given that today is Halloween… I hope you enjoy my work and that of my fellow authors.

Here is the link for the podcast entry: https://thewickedlibrary.com/821

Chilling reads for Halloween

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Given that tomorrow is Halloween and the weekend is for the Day of the Dead, I thought it was a good idea to offer some suggestions of chilling reads for the celebration. Now, I set myself some ground rules:

-Short stories…
-…that I’ve read…
-that may not be well known or haven’t been done into a media production.

That means, despite some of the suggestions made on my twitter feed, that no Stephen King nor H.P. Lovecraft. I’m recommending this stories because I have read them and found them a great addition to the holiday and also I had help from Leo McBride at Altered Instinct. All but one are available in one format or another for free.

So without further ado and in no particular order:

So Glad We Had This Time Together by Cat Rambo: A different twist on traditional vampire lore and proof that reality shows are evil. If you have seen ‘Unreal’ or ‘Being Human’ you will get the gist of it. And I admit, the end made me laugh for how clever it was. I’m still wondering why this hasn’t been turned into a tv miniseries. Netflix should get at it… oh wait…

The Box by Leo McBride: an experiment that leaves you wondering if it was just a trick of the mind. Of my bunch of friends that are also writers, Leo is by far the best of us (now if life allowed him to finish one of his two novels, we would have an NYT bestseller in hand). This story is unsettling. The horror is subtle, like the kind of stories you would see in a Ray Bradbury anthology series. The ones that leave you wondering what the hell you just read.

The Beast by Alei Kodaitshura: sometimes, the line between dreams and reality goes away and something dark awakens from inside. Look, I’m not recommending this story just because Alei and I have been friends for years, but because when she gets to it, Alei can write really creative and seriously unsettling stories. This story left me stunned for days after I read it. Very Lovecraftian and could actually fit on the New World of Darkness RPG setting.

Web by Karl Drinkwater (as part of his short story anthology): this story is interesting for a couple of reasons: features a POC character from a culture I admit know little -she is a Somali woman, living in England-, there is certain ambiguity on it that will leave you to wonder what really happened and as Leo said in a review, better than I could ever do:

It’s a tough tale emotionally to read, but brilliantly done. The harsh honesty of the tale almost feels out of place alongside the fantasy horrors of the other stories – but it’s perhaps the most horrific of all for that.

Sometimes horror doesn’t come from outside, but from inside us. It’s a tough read, so be warned.

Pull Cord for Nurse by Noreen Braman: Noreen has quite a few Halloween stories to choose from at her site. I went with this one. It’s really short but nonetheless enjoyable. Think your classic gothic horror story, but place it in a setting that will remind you of certain stages in Silent Hill. And not the nice ones.

Idle Hands by Kelli Perkins (audio version by the Wicked Library): something I like of Kelli’s stories is he knack to combine the macabre with a wicked sense of humor. And through that, even the most devilish creature can be relatable. If you enjoy Lucifer (the tv show) but you want a darker twist to it, one that will leave you reflecting upon the nature of evil, you will enjoy this.

Finally, and if I’m allowed to self-plug my own story:

Bone Peyote by Ricardo Victoria (audio version by the Wicked Library): Don’t mix ancient prehispanic rituals, strange drugs and the Day of the Death.  Also very Lovecraftian in my opinion. This was my first (and so far most successful) take on horror. You can get more on its development here.

I hope you enjoy this chilling reads these weekend.

Vampire Raph

Last week, was my birthday so my friend Marco got me this Vampire Raph.

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Pretty ad-hoc considering the month of the year. Now, although I collect toys, I haven’t written a review since the Green Arrow from DC Universe of Mattel, mostly because I’m lazy. That said, this figure does warrant a bit of a chat.

For starters, it’s not the first time the TMNT toys do weird mash-ups with. You name it: prehistoric times, Frontierland, Universal Monsters (back then, it was Donnie, not Raph who was the vampire), Star Trek (believe it or not), Dungeons and Dragons, etc. It’s the design of the Turtles back then and now with the current one (based on the 2012-2017 series) that lends itself for the weirdest, toyetic proposals ever. Thus a monster mash is on par of the course. As usual, these figures are hard to come by in Mexico at the retail level, you either have to go online or have a friend that can get them for you in the USA.

This particular figure is pretty basic, articulation wise, like most of the ‘special’ versions of the TMNT toy line. In fact, regular turtles have way better articulations and detail.  Nonetheless, I appreciate the fabric cape, as it allows for better poses and the tiny details of its tuxedo. This Raph won’t be kicking any Foot Soldier in the but at least will scare them to death with style.

Now, I get that toys tend to get the strangest accessories ever. Batman toys are particularly guilty of this with the Turtles a close second. But… why the hell Vampire Raph carries around a wooden stake? The sai I get, traditional ninja turtle weapon of choice for Raph. The tiny ninja turtle-vampire hybrid that can be attached to Raph’s arm? Makes sense, after all, vampire lords enjoy the company of the children on the night.

But a stake? Is he planning to go all Blade and kill other vampires? Or is he planning to trick others like the Count did in A Night in the Lonesome October? Why toy designers? Why?

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That, my friends, might remain a mystery that will baffle the alien archeologist from the future that will explore the ruins of my collection.

Wooden stake aside, I really love this figure. I don’t have that many horror related figures. I mean, unless you count Plush Cthulhu, Funko Pop Cthulhu and Guillermo del Toro (he has created some of the best vampire stories… except The Strain of course). So finally getting my hands on this horrifying fellow was a nice birthday surprise. Now I wonder if I should get Leo Van Helsing to put them to fight like in that movie.

And if you want to check more vampire toy figures, including the original Vamp TMNT, check this video by Toy Galaxy.

Meanwhile, I will be plotting what further uses for Halloween decorations I can concoct for my non-sparkly Vampire Raph. Blah Blah Blah!

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Musings on the Tower of Terror

When I was a pre-teen/teenager and my parents took my sister and me to Walt Disney’s World in the decade of the 90’s, there was a ride I died -pun kinda intended- to ride: The Twilight Zone, Tower of Terror.

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Alas, I never got the chance because my family is not into spooky/weird things and despite my dad allowing me to watch the Twilight Zone revival of the 80’s, considered that the ride and the setting were too ‘extreme’ for our malleable minds. In reality, their refusal was mostly, because my sister was afraid of anything spooky and we were there to meet the Disney Princesses and not to be scared. At least I got to spend my time at Star Tours, but that’s another story…

Man, every time I watched this commercial at the hotel I begged to go. I only got as far as the gift shop.

 

So when my wife and I went to WDW a few years ago for our weeklong celebration of our wedding anniversary, she, in her infinite patience and love, went with me one rainy day to Hollywood Studios and the first thing we did was to enter the Tower of Terror.

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Of course, as an adult, the ride wasn’t as shocking as you expected as a kid. And my wife prefers rides that are a bit more extreme -if her back injury allows it-. However, we had a lot of fun. We made a point on going into it, not only due to my past history with the ride as an object of desire, but by that time the California version (to which sadly I have never been to) was going to be replaced by a Guardians of the Galaxy ride -I admit, GoTG is one of my least favorite movies from MCU- and we wanted to experience the whole Tower before that fate befalls upon it.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a true masterpiece of narrative and worldbuilding. You take a complex concept as the Twilight Zone, through the lens of a haunted house -hotel in this case- and milk it for all its worth to get a good scare from a common nightmare: failing elevator. Add ghosts and its own urban legend about the ghost of a cast member haunting the ride and you have a very unique experience for the lovers of the spooky-kooky.

The lobby looks like a true earlier 20th-century hotel and is cold as hell. The smell of coal and humidity from the boilers downstairs transport you into the moldy feeling of a crappy yet ominous tourist trap hotel. The tv screens that fail, with the ever-present image of Rod Serling and the ghosts, plus the cast members playing the roles supernatural bellboys make you feel like you are actually in an episode of the Twilight Zone. And the view. Once you are in the drop, you can get a wonderful, if brief, view of WDW. If I could, I would write a horror/comedy story about a similar haunted hotel.

From a designer/theme park enthusiast/spooky things aficionado, the whole ride has it all. I personally believe is one of the best rides in terms of theme creation through interior design. And one of the best examples of Emotional design around (like most Disney things).

There are plenty of videos that show you the ride inside and out, in case you can’t visit it. But if you can go, and even better if you visit the park during Halloween season, you definitively should experience it before something happens to it. Like disappearing into another dimension.

Worldbuilding feature: Fortunes’ Fool by E.M. Swift-hook

Today, I want to feature my good friend’s E.M. Swift-Hook’s books. I say books because she has done something I admit I’m envious: to write nine books in the same saga. That’s exemplary discipline.

Fortune’s Fool is a saga of science fiction novels that begins with the travails of the people living in the outskirts of galactic civilization, on a planet colonized before FTL and just recently entering the games that fate likes to play. If you want to know more, go and get the books HERE.

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Now, E.M. and I didn’t talk about every aspect of the book, instead, we focused on her world-building process. Because hey, you get to enjoy the ride when you read the books, but you don’t see the backstage building process.

Me: I’m sure you get asked this quite frequently but what are your most important sources of inspiration for your Fortune’s Fool world?

E.M: It would be a bit simplistic to say it had just one inspiration as every book I ever read and enjoyed will be somewhere on the list. But looking at it in the way historians view events, whatever the long-term causes, the ‘trigger’ was undoubtedly a 1970s BBC TV science fiction series called Blake’s 7, which turned so much of the expectations of science fiction at that time inside out and rewrote the rules. If you haven’t ever seen it, I’d recommend checking it out. The SFX might be a bit cardboard and sticky tape, but the characters – even the incredible antagonist, Servalan – and most of the storylines (it had writers such as Tanith Lee for a couple of episodes even) are superb.  I called one of the major characters in Fortune’s Fools ‘Avilon’ in a tribute to two of my favorite characters in the series.

Me: Would you define your setting as hard SF or do you leave room for the unexplainable?

E.M: It is soft sci-fi boarding into science fantasy. For a start, I include the Two Great Lies many writers of science-fiction indulge in – that faster than light travel is possible and that humans could live on other planets. To the best of my understanding the former is still unlikely ever to happen and the latter less so. For us to be able to live on the surface of a planet it would need to be biochemically identical to our own. Even the most Earthlike is unlikely to be so. It would only take a slight difference to our own biospheres balance to be completely toxic to human life.

That said, I do try to keep a very realistic and gritty feel to the series.

Me: I know realism is a big thing for you. How that does has impacted on your world building? It has allowed you freedom or has forced your hand at times?

E.M: Both. I think realism does not mean the setting needs to be completely consistent with physics as we know it, but it does need to be logical and rooted in the reader’s understanding of how things work. This means I do have tremendous freedom to build logical seeming extensions to the real world. The bigger test, for me as a writer of character-driven stories, is to ensure that the people in my books behave like real people. They may have spaceships and body shields but they are still human beings dealing with human issues like corruption, betrayal, greed, fear, and ignorance.

Me: You have mentioned before that Durban Chola is one of your favorite characters from your books. And he is certainly a fan favorite. Having read your stories before, I can say they tend to be complex beings. But how do you build your characters?

E.M: My characters are ‘born’ at the point where story need meets the character concept, but the senior partner is story need. Mostly it’s a simple matter of asking a few searching questions: What kind of person would do this? What skills would they need – and so what kind of background must they have? Then I can look at more interesting things like What sort of quirks would this person have that add story interest? What flaws or strengths of personality might their background have thrown up? And so on. Sometimes this is a very conscious process and sometimes much of it kind of ‘auto-fills’, leaving me the freedom to focus on the more fun aspects of the character.

Me: Fortune’s Fool started as a trilogy that somehow grew into a trilogy of trilogies. How did that happen? Did you have some vague idea of the overall plot or the story grew organically like those alien carnivorous plants that writers tend to have on their orchards and have tame now and then, else they eat the local inspector?

E.M: Again, a bit of both. Transgressor began with a very simple idea – having a high-tech raised individual crash on the most primitive planet in the galaxy. A medieval level of primitive, in a galaxy with FTL travel. But what if it was not just A.N. individual? What if it was a wanted freedom-fighter?

The culture shock on both sides would be immense. But I wanted to show that just because they were ‘primitive’ that did not make the people any less capable, intelligent or potent. The stranded man is not lauded or respected, he is despised and enslaved. And on his part, the difficulty of coming to terms with the situation and the assault on his physical and mental resources. That was what Transgressor was planned to be. But in the end, it became so much more and once I had finished it, I realized there was a bigger story to tell and so Fortune’s Fools as a series was born.

Me: How would you describe the aesthetics of your world? Is it all shiny like Star Trek, all war-torn like Star Wars, all rusty like Firefly, all toyetic like Tomorrowland or…?

E.M: Considering it is a galactic civilization and not a single world, I would have to say that depends where you happened to live. If you lived in Central, the high-tech hub of the Coalition, you would eat, breath and poop ‘shiny’. Your life would be long, fulfilled and prosperous.

If you lived on one of the Middle Worlds you would be noticing the edge knocked off the shine as a bit and on the Periphery, if you were unfortunate enough to live on a planet caught up in a resource conflict between two of the political-corporate conglomerates, it would be living in a war zone. Then again, if you lived on Temsevar, it would be little different from living in a medieval Earth society and about at that tech level.

Of course, even on the same planet, you would have very different ways of life. Thuringen, for example, has a pretty regular society on one continent, but the other is home to Starcity, which has laws that effectively empower organized crime. The ‘City is therefore truly the criminal capital of the galaxy and trades on that fact. There the aesthetic is shiny on the surface as it is pretty high tech, but scratch that surface and you find a layer of dried blood…

Me: Did you world build before writing the story or your world build responds to the specific needs of your story?

E.M: A bit of both. The fundamental ideas were there from the first, my take on what a sci-fi universe should be like. But as specifics were needed to advance the plot or to fill gaps in the background, I put them in.

Me: What are your golden rules for world-building in a saga this long?

E.M: Consistency is paramount. If I invent something or name something, it has to be there ongoing as it impacts the entire story verse.

Me: Finally, what kind of music (a specific song, a musician, a playlist, an album) would fit your story? Care to share a link of a video as a sample of this?

E.M: Very tough as I don’t really link music with writing. Unlike many authors who use music as inspiration or background, I tend to prefer to write in silence or, if there are distracting noises like someone digging up the road outside, I’ll put the headphones on with rain sounds to cover it.

But, if pressed I could maybe give you some music that to me is kind of musical mood I might associate with my characters perhaps and from that, you’ll get a very good idea of my musical tastes too…

Avilon: Heart of Steel – Manowar
Durban: Soon from Gates of Delirium – Yes
Jariq: Time Table – Genesis
Jaela: China in Your Hand – T’pau
Jaz: Crawling – Linkin Park
Charis: Days of Our Lives – Queen
Grim: The Swing of Things – A-Ha
And for my main antagonist, Kahina Sarava: Stargazer – Rainbow

Thanks, E.M. for sharing your world-building process!

If you want to know a bit more about her:

E.M. Swift-Hook takes seriously the words that Robert Heinlein put into the mouth of Lazarus Long: ‘Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.’

Having tried a number of different careers, before settling in the North-East of England with family, three dogs, cats and a small flock of rescued chickens, she now spends a lot of time in private and have very clean hands.

Links:
Author.to/EMSH
Getbook.at/FF
Twitter: @emswifthook