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

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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

Why I love Ghostbusters as a writer.

Let me preface this entry with the following statement: I love both the original films and the new one (Kate McKinnon as Holtzman is brilliant) as well as the Real Ghostbusters cartoon. Every incarnation brought something different to the table and all are equally good and equally valid so you won’t find any argument to support your ‘complaints’*.

When I was a little kid, one of my older cousins, who worked for a cinema magazine gave me a copy of their latest issue, that was entirely dedicated to promoting the original  Ghostbusters film. He thought that magazine would be a good help for me to practice my reading. Which it did. The magazine was mostly composed by interviews with the main cast, the set and FX designers (which I guess was a sign for me to study design) and how they came about with the concept. Later on, my dad managed to procure a copy of the film in one of those rental places and I think I watched the film like 4 times before returning the tape. Then a local channel kept it in the rotation for years, until the cartoon and the sequel appeared (I got to watch the sequel at the cinema). Since then, I try to watch it at least on Halloween every year -now is a marathon of the three films-. I have played the video games, have a couple of toys, comics, and books. I can say that I know the story like the back of my hand. And probably quote the first film most of the time in random conversations.

“Ray, When Someone Asks If You’re a God, You Say YES.”- Winston

Like now. Yeah, I’m that guy. As for the record, I think that one is the best line of the whole movie.

So as you can surmise, this is one of my favorite films (only topped by the 90’s TMNT film). I wanted to work as Ghostbuster, which explains the eclectic part book collection of physics and the occult. For me the whole explanation of how high energy physics could be used to explain and deal with the paranormal in a very coherent way (within the movie’s universe) made perfect sense. Having an engineer dad that was also a Star Trek fan helped, as he explained to me (or simply gave me the books, like A Brief History of Time) some of the basic concepts of what Ray, Egon -and years later Jillian, Abby, and Erin- were saying.

“Well, let’s say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. According to this morning’s sample it would be a Twinkie…thirty-five feet long weighing approximately six-hundred pounds.” -Egon.

Knowing that the quote was part of a longer explanation of the inflationary universe theory and how it made our reality prone to paranormal incursions, more or less, makes have even more respect for the whole concept of mixing science with magic. This is where my inspiration to make my own mix of science and magic for my stories comes from. The cartoon really expanded onto it, courtesy of the always super work of JMS.

However, the lesson I take from the first Ghostbusters film (a lesson more or less repeated in the 2016 film) is the economy of narrative to present complex worldbuilding and detailed characters, all around a pretty basic simple premise: a pest removal service where the pest is the paranormal.

The original film has a surprisingly short runtime of 1 hour and 45 minutes. Compared to more modern films, it’s at least 15-30 minutes shorter. It might look like too little, but in film 15 minutes is an eternity. So in such a relatively short amount of time, the movie does a lot. Once I read a column by Charlie Jane Anders at io9, about how the way ‘Back to the Future’ was filmed makes it a perfect movie and one of the reasons is how the film efficiently uses its runtime to set up the world, the characters, the conflict, and resolution. I want to believe that the same applies to the first Ghostbuster film.

We’re Ready To Believe You.

The opening, the library scene before the title card -which I consider one of the bonafide great jump scare scenes ever made- sets up nicely half of the premise: ghosts are real and are scary. The following minutes set up the other half: a trio of unconventional scientist that not only believe ghosts are real but are applying the scientific method to prove their existence. Not only they succeed but realize that a) they are ill-equipped for dealing with ghosts and b) there is a business opportunity here (it’s the 80’s, greed was good… for a few).

The following scenes go to introducing Peter, Ray, and Egon as actual characters. Each line they spout is full with meaning: Ray is a dutiful son with the heart of a child (which becomes a key plot point at the end). Egon is, for the most part, the stereotypical aloof genius that comes with the technobabble and equipment… except that he does have a sense of humor, social skills and can explain the most complex topic with ease and /or a twinkie.

Egon Spengler: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
Peter Venkman: What?
Egon Spengler: Don’t cross the streams.
Peter Venkman: Why?
Egon Spengler: It would be bad.
Peter Venkman: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously, and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

And Peter… oh Peter. He is a sleazebag, a rascal, a loveable rogue and beneath the jerkass attitude, the most heroic of the three. Watch the movie, I can’t recall a single challenge he doesn’t want to tackle with dry humor and a can-do attitude.

The movie then introduces Dana and her neighbor Louis Tully, romantic interest and comic relief, apparently. While their roles are not that large, every scene where they appear is full of meaning, both at the character level and as part of the plot, foreshadowing included. They are vital parts of the plot later on.

You then move to the growth of the business, the addition of sassy Janine and the fourth musketeer Winston. I want to stop here for a bit. At the outset, the addition of Winston seems like an afterthought, the kind of stuff you could expect from the 80’s where certain unsavory stereotypes about minorities were still in vogue, especially PoC background as a blue collar worker surrounded by white scientists, just to fill a quota. It doesn’t help that the role was originally meant for Eddie Murphy and when he rejected it, probably was considered to be dropped. It is certainly problematic.

As a side note: this is something I believe the 2016 film improves on just a bit, as making Patty not only part of the team right away, but also a vital part given her encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the city and somewhat of a leader to keep the rest of the team focused on the tasks at hand.

However, with all its warts -and this is not an apology, that part of the film has not aged entirely well- the role Winston goes to play becomes one of big importance in current narratives: the common person point of view. At some point in the story, if you kept only the three founders of the GB around, you would have faced a wall with all the technobabble, after all, they all know what they are talking about, but not the audience, which would be confused or would have lost the suspension of disbelief. But Winston helps to ground the story, not by dumbing it down, but by providing the shady commentary that complements the technobabble and lampshades the ridiculousness of the film’s premise with well-delivered zingers. That makes the story more relatable and the insufferable geniuses more palatable. He is us in the film, the regular person thrown into a wider, incredible and mysterious new world and has to learn to navigate it fast. Those characters help a lot to create world building without using info dumps.

Winston Zeddemore: Hey, wait a minute! Hold it! Now, are we actually gonna go before a federal judge, and tell him that some moldy Babylonian god is gonna drop in on Central Park West and start tearing up the city?!
Egon Spengler: Sumerian, not Babylonian.
Peter Venkman: Yeah. Big difference.
Winston Zeddemore: No offense, but I gotta get my own lawyer.

The movie never wastes a minute waxing lyrical about the world they are or with not-so-necessary setups for jokes -a problem the sequel does have-. No, it moves at a neck-breaking speed introducing a complex world full of ancient cults, crazy architects,  Babylonian… Sumerian deities and spiritist guides that can describe pretty much anything paranormal in the world (which makes you wonder who or better say WHAT wrote the Tobin’s Spirit Guide). All with tight packed dialogue that takes you to the ‘End of the World’ Scenario where the heroes, in order to beat a god, use guile rather than blunt force and explosions. Kinda…

Egon Spengler: I have a radical idea. The door swings both ways. We could reverse the particle flow through the gate.
Ray Stantz: How?
Egon Spengler: We’ll cross the streams.
Peter Venkman: Excuse me, Egon, you said crossing the streams was bad.
Ray Stantz: Cross the streams…
Peter Venkman: You’re gonna endanger us, you’re gonna endanger our client. The nice lady who paid us in advance before she became a dog.
Egon Spengler: Not necessarily. There’s definitely a very slim chance we’ll survive.

What is most interesting of the Ghostbuster film is how the climax and the end pay off every single bit of foreshadowing from the beginning, ties all loose ends -Slimer notwithstanding- and at the same time leaves the door open for potential sequels without leaving anything hanging out. If there were not a film/video game combo sequel or an animated series (both with different canons), the original GB film would have been a perfect stand alone movie.

The animated series and the 2nd film/video game took different directions with the plot. The animation went for the ‘monster of the week’ approach, featuring every corner of the paranormal -including, yes Cthulhu-, strange episodes like the Agatha Christie inspired one or even heartbreaking ones like the ghost dog of the circus that helped them to beat a bigger monster while sacrificing itself (I cried when I watched it as a kid). The 2nd movie and the film tried to create a more coherent narrative where the video game -seriously, play it, especially the PS3 version- ties every plot from the first two films to create a mytharc.

Both are nice, but they don’t surpass the excellent narrative execution of the first film. In a world full of interconnected franchises and multiple sequels, the fact that you can pack so much story in so little space and deliver a satisfying ending that can be as closed or as open as the audience wants is the biggest lesson to take from the 1984 film as a writer.

For me, it’s one of the ways you could approach writing your novel, no matter if it will be a stand-alone or a series or a series of stand-alone movies interconnected -which is what I’m trying to do-. Give the reader a conclusion to that particular arc, with well-defined characters and great dialogue, leaving yourself the door open for a continuation, but without leaving the reader hanging up. I don’t know if I’m making sense or if I might achieve it with my novel. But I think as a writer is an interesting challenge. I undertook it because one of my best friends, who is an avid reader told me once that she yearned for a fantasy book where she didn’t have to wait for the next book to know how the story of the first book ends and yet be part of a series. And also don’t be a doorstopper. In my opinion, it’s a healthy way to do things, self-contained arcs that can work as parts of a bigger arc but can be read independently.

That’s why I’m using the GB films as a guide for writing my novels because I believe -especially the first one- its a good template for an interesting arc based in a simple premise, efficient pacing, world building, a mashup of genres (in this case horror, comedy, science fiction and a bit of fantasy), good character development and sly, quotable dialogue. The materials for a classic story are there. The trick, like in cooking, is in the execution as to achieve balance rather than get one of the elements to overcome the other. I sincerely hope I achieved it in my novel.

Rarely has a movie this expensive provided so many quotable lines.
Roger Ebert, Review of Ghostbusters (1 January 1984)

I agree. And they ain’t afraid of no ghost.

 

*I also liked The Last Jedi. It is the best deconstruction of the fallacy of the ‘happily ever after’ ending in a setting that thrives in conflict and a reality check to many people about managing our expectations as we grow old. So take that.

 

Entrance (free flash story)

(From time to time I participate in an activity at the  Sci-Fi Roundtable Facebook group, where we write flash fiction. This a sample of what I’ve been doing there. As an exercise, it is helpful to keep the imagination strong. This one, in particular, is part of the Tempest Blades Universe. Also, I want to thank Brhi Peres for allowing me to use her art for this story ).

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The Trickster Goddess decided to descend upon the world once more. This was a message that had to be relayed in person. On this occasion though, it would be though as she needed to be really careful. Last time she did it using her true form and full power, she broke the world, leaving it with a scar that held reality warping anomalies. Thus, she opted for creating an avatar as she came down. She first projected her personality and part of her wisdom and power into the world. Around that, using her divine powers, she invoked the Creator’s light. Globules of light coalesced around the spiritual form.

The goddess manipulated matter at the quantum level first, then atomic, then genetic. She built from scratch a -correct anatomically speaking- mortal body, one of a humanoid young woman with long reddish hair and big black eyes. She walked across the Boreal Forest –each step longer than those of the giants- completely naked, while moved her hands, matter shaping around her, making clothes and shoes. It took her a while to readjust to the lessened mortal senses. Only a modicum of cosmic awareness remained, an ironclad thread to her real form tucked in the higher dimensions. That didn’t mean that the goddess could be destroyed in this form. She was still capable of reality warping feats, she still knew how to fight and her body –impervious to anything from the universe- could easily walk into a black hole and torn it asunder with one hand. She had made sure of it. But this form, this mortal coil, wasn’t designed to deal with the sensory input that omnipresence and omniscience caused, even the limited version she inherited from the Creator. It would take time to fine tune that aspect. But she had nothing if time.

She paused for a while, at the side of a blue pool of water, surrounded by mist. She stared at her reflection and liked what she saw.

“Well, the clothes could use more work. I might need to recreate my old armor, from the Fall Time,” she said to himself.

Aside from that, this form should be perfect for interaction with the mortals, interaction of any kind she thought. Her mind had already a few ideas of what sensory experiences she wanted to go through. After all, if she wanted to protect these mortals, she needed to understand them, see the world the way they did. But first, she had to take care of visiting a freefolk girl and giving her a particular mission.

“It’s so weird to have a physical body in this realm. But it feels good to visit the old home. Let’s find that girl Asherah. I have a mission for her. But first, I need a name for this avatar.”

She walked away from the pool, the globules of light still surrounding her, creating a metal armor- while musing on what name she would take. That was the most difficult part of creating an avatar. Not the accessories, the name.

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The world of Theia. Part 1: Ionis.

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Every story, every adventure needs a place to… well, take place. So this is Theia, the world where Tempest Blades takes place. Actually, it’s just one of the continents in Theia, where the story of this particular arc of Tempest Blades takes place.

But first a few data on Theia: it’s a planet similar to Earth, orbiting a sun within the habitable zone. It has two moons: one is round like ours, the other is a smaller, elongated one (no one really knows what the hell it is) that appears only when something on the mystic side takes place. It also has a thick ionosphere, with the result of massive storms rolling over the continents, and affecting the development of telecommunications and high altitude flight. Thus they have developed differently. Weather is mostly the same, but a bit more extreme and has both similar species to Earth (and from two other planets) and endemic ones. It also has a highly stable magick energy field atop the magnetic one.

Ionis is the central east continent of the planet, the most densely populated despite being the second or third ‘colonized’. It’s part of a larger landmass, divided by mountain ranges such as the Jagged Mountains and inner seas on the south. The Grasslands is where the most eastern continent starts. Nowadays the continent is organized under the rule of the Free Alliance, a coalition of city-states and small kingdoms and republics that formed after the Great War took down the Old Kingdoms. There are no nominal borders within its territory, although each city-state has under its protection the smaller ones, as well as towns.

The freefolk nations shares space with humans with relative peace and their settlements rule themselves but in an alliance with the city-states as formal members of the Alliance. Freefolk and human intermingle with such frequency that it’s almost impossible to distinguish one from another (unless someone uses magick). Samoharos are a rare sight in the continent, only visiting ports such as Portis, Saint Lucy or the Seven Watersnakes.

Weather and vegetation are similar to that of British Columbia. There are still cultural, economic and sports-related rivalries within its regions, which sometimes can spill into minor conflicts. But for the most part, Ionis has endured a century of peace since the war ended. Think the European Union or the Carolingian Empire.

The map, for the sake and brevity, only depicts places that are mentioned in the actual story or are really important (such as the three main cities). There are more places there, but it would have been madness to fit all in that space. So this is a primer on the places marked there. In alphabetical order.

Belfrost: the short name of Belger’s Frost, in honor of Belger, the famous explorer that mapped most of the continent and founded the city as last stop before going into the Grasslands, where he would get lost forever. Now is considered the “city of spies”.

Carffadon: important commercial and touristic town in the Emerald Island due to its key location on the banks of the river Breen. Home of artists, poets, merchants, and pubs.

Emerald Island: the major power of the region, it coalesced into a single rule under King Castlemartell the leader of the Alliance during the war and now ruled by his daughter, Queen Brenda ‘The Long-Lived’. It has the largest overall population of freefolk outside the regions neighboring the World’s Scar.

Lemast: tiny town in the shadows of the Jagged Mountains. Only memorable for their particular architecture, the strange mausoleum in the middle of a cemetery and the regiment posted there to guard it.

Longhorn Valley: the place where the war was won by the Alliance and where the Light Explosion took place.

Manfeld: the oldest city in the continent is now a major commercial, cultural and industrial center. Its high walls, location upon a hill and easy access to water made it the perfect defensive spot and was the only mainland city to don’t fall during the war, although the siege that took place did a number on the city. It also has the largest population of city freefolks.

Maze, The: a  most peculiar region of the World’s Scar. It is said that it’s the exact spot where a certain goddess entered the world the first time. As such, is a place with reality warping properties, gravitational waves and endless roads that can get you lost. Also, it has dangerous predators there. It is the most important place for the freefolk nations as it is considered the location of the birth of their culture and where they discovered how to use magick. Visiting the place at least once in their lives is a significant goal of every freefolk on the planet.

Mercia University: one of the many universities on the continent. Recognized by its advanced programs in arcanotech –first of its kind-, design & engineering and freefolk-human relationships. It has an exchange program with Ravenstone.

Portis: the merchant city. It controls all the islands and maritime trade routes from and to the continent (think Venetia during the Renaissance). Famous for its legendary swordsmen and swashbuckling escapades that inspired hundreds of novels. Rumored to be founded by sailors that worshipped a strange sea deity. Most megacorps such as that from the Galfano Family have their main offices there.

Ravenstone: THE place to learn magick. It’s a mostly an only-freefolk school, although it does take human students with an aptitude for magick. Reaching it’s hard, but that’s on purpose, given that housed students of all ages, it needs to be a safe place for them. Located deep into the Maze region of the World’s Scar, it’s the perfect place to practice magick without blowing up the neighborhood.

Saint Lucy: capital of the Emerald Island and one of the three main cities. Founded on the remains of an ancient capital by King Castlemartell and named in honor of his deceased wife. It’s also known as the ‘city of blinding lights’. Queen Brenda rules from there.

Samheil Mountain: tallest peak in the Emerald Island. It is said to be haunted by fey –will-o-wisp creatures- and it’s the place where Fionn decided to settle after his return.

Sandtown: Its original freefolk name is lost, but it is believed that it was the location of the capital of the freefolk Kingdom of Umo (or Ulmo, spelling varies from tribe to tribe), before its fall almost a millennia ago due to a terrible catastrophe. Nowadays it’s a small town that houses Queen Brenda’s secret retreat and the nominal seat of the Free Alliance ruling council. Although nowadays the council rotates location between the Three major cities (Portis, Manfeld, and Saint Lucy).

Seven Watersnakes: a most fertile region on the continent, home of farms, cities, and ports. The region was in ancient times home to three quarreling kingdoms whose inhabitants’ exploits formed the basis for the Romances of Monstegur, a popular series of books, movies, and video games.

Skarabear: town located in the extreme north of the Emerald Island. Hometown of Fionn, it is the prime example of human-freefolk friendly coexistence, thanks to its legendary daughter and son and their exploits during and after the Great War. While part of the Emerald Island, it’s a town that tends to consider itself independent of the main rule from Saint Lucy and while friendly to outcasts, its inhabitants keep to themselves for a mysterious reason.

Thunder Pass: the nominal south-eastern border of the continent. Known for the endless thunderstorms that take place there. Currently the home of the power farms that provide energy to the continent.

World’s Scar: it’s a canyon… that crosses the whole planet (yes even under the ocean it’s rumored to have walkable spots. The place with most magick energy. In older times it was considered the geographical northern border of Ionis, but with the inclusion of the northern freefolk settlements of the Boreal Forests & the Mistlands, that became part of the past, with now the start of the Tundric lands the new frontier. Legend says that it was created when a certain goddess entered the world in her full form.

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Creating the map of your setting is not an easy task. Coming with shapes, names and geologically coherent structure is an intricate work of love. Thankfully I have a great illustrator -who is also a science buff- on my corner: Mr. Marco García.

He usually draws dinosaurs, cryptozoologist guides, and storyboards, but he agreed to help me with this, providing we stuck to geology and geography rules, with one exception (which is a magical place that violates the laws of nature on purpose). His input has been invaluable and even helped me to reexamine how some bits of my worldbuilding should go on.

The image above is the result of such collaboration. It is the location where the adventures of my characters from Tempest Blades takes place (at least the first novel-arc) It is not a complete map of the world (there are like 3 more continents still on the works) and of course the places pointed in the map are not the only ones in existence, just the ones used in the novel.

I have to say, I love the little details and the coherence between rivers, marshes, and mountains. Even the little, unnamed islands and the waves. As a first approach to this, I can’t be any happier. And if you want to see more of Marco’s work, go to his DeviantArt page.

I have some news for you.

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I should have posted this before, but workload got in the proceedings. As of a few weeks, my novel, Tempest Blades has a home! *Cue celebrations and embarrassing dance moves*

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Artemesia Publishing has agreed to publish the book under their Shadow Dragon Press imprint. They loved it, which is always a good sign. Now, the book won’t be out. As with anything related to the publishing industry, it will take time to get to the dead tree/dead e-reader I mean print and ebook final evolution. Edits have to be done, cover has to be designed and all of the marketing ideas have to be, well, planned. That takes time. When I talked about the timeline with the fine folks from Artemesia, we agreed that the reasonable launch date will be around the summer of 2019, this with the idea of ensuring a quality product.  As long as it is published before my birthday that year, I’m happy.

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The bright side of the somewhat long wait is that it gives me time to annoy you with pleads to buy the book as well as start writing the sequel. Because oh yes, there will be a sequel and hopefully a threequel and a quadroquel or whatever is said, with more electric boogalooness. Writing the sequel was not exactly in the cards and it takes me time to get a decent draft, between six months and a year, given my peculiar plotting & writing system. But that means that you will have time to wait for the book and re-read it. The Final Countdown begins.

So please keep an eye in this space for more news on Tempest Blades and thanks again to the people of Artemesia for this opportunity.

*Cue more embarrassing dance moves for several weeks*

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The Trickster Goddess.

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The Trickster Goddess from the Tempest Blades universe is an odd creature. Yes I know, is a deity and is bound to be inscrutable. But as the author, I’m privy to what goes behind the curtain regarding my characters. And yet, she does honor her sobriquet in a way, because no matter the story I write in that setting, she finds a way to get in it. She doesn’t appear that much in my novel or related stories… yet. But the very question of how to create a somewhat relatable deity without resorting in a deus ex machina was on my mind when I created the backstory of my setting and the character of the Trickster Goddess. While her character doesn’t appear per se, she has a considerable impact on the world.

I won’t reveal the name she goes by these days as it would be a spoiler for the novel, (I’m still working on publishing it). But I can reveal a few tidbits on her and if you read the novel you will understand who she is right away.

-She is a deity (obviously), but not a creator deity. She works for one and is related in a way that’s not entirely clear.

-Time runs differently for her than for a mortal. Not necessarily at an accelerated pace (e.g. a year for us is a day for her), nor she can see what’s in the future (she has visions of multiple futures though).

-She is older than THIS universe (the Tempest Blades ones) but not necessarily older than the entire creation.

-She was part of an ancient civilization of deities.

-Being as old as the universe (even if time works differently for her kind) tends to make one a tad unhinged so she (or at least her avatar that is the one doing the rounds in the novel) relies on a few tricks to remain relatable to the mortals she is watching over

-She likes technology, but prefer to do things by hand.

She keeps a library with the records of all that happens in the world and replicas of all inventions, but instead of a highly advanced computational system to keep track of everything (which she could create with ease), she likes to do it by hand, painstakingly classifying every bit on her own. After all, she has all the time in the world.

-She can’t enter directly into the mortal world or Realspace in her full form as the mere presence of her kind in that form is liable to break things: glasses, mountains, planets. The Wolrd’s Scar is the prime example of her doing that. I took her a few planets to learn not doing it. So now she uses an avatar -a female girl-, that’s part of her but not entirely her. The avatar has most of her memories (the rest are tucked in her library which is an avatar of sorts too) and a decent chunk of her power, but most of it and her true conscience is kept at the Overspace. That doesn’t mean the avatar is independent. It’s actually her without being her. You know, metaphysics. It also means that the avatar is indestructible.

-She likes to take the form of a red and black Raven. Mostly because the feeling of the wind caressing her feathers feels nice. Also because she likes to gossip and a raven used to go unnoticed.

-She likes to make the same pilgrimage that a whole of the Freefolk does from one point of the planet to another once in their lives (it was her idea originally). But she does in her avatar form and on foot every decade or so.

-She likes the company of mortals, mostly Freefolk.

-Once she fell in love with a human, during the Dawn Age of Theia. From that love she had two children, twins that are the ones forging the Tempest Blades from their hideout, so she is trying to emulate a family. They are still alive (they are demigods) but no one has seen them and have to follow some strict rules. Nothing is known about her partner.

-She finds mortals inspiring in a way. That’s why she aids those that become heroes. In a way.

-She doesn’t like to intervene. She can fight, but won’t do it. Don’t ask her for miracles. She expects mortals to be able to do their thing and only helps in indirect ways. And only when she is in the mood. She is a Trickster after all.

-Which means that her aid will be indirect and in the form of a pep talk, or scolding someone. Only a universal level of threat might compel her to act directly. And any favor she does to you will have to be paid back with interest. She is the strict teacher of the school.

-She likes to take on a student of the magical arts from time to time, mostly to have someone to talk about and go to the cinema. The said student might know the true identity of her avatar, but that won’t help him/her. There is a reason behind their selection.

-And she likes to annoy the hell out of a hero or two (mainly Fionn these days) under her several disguises, living different lives through her avatar.

-She had one mortal friend once, Asherah of the Freefolk, the First Magi and the first DragonQueen (that was back then when the Freefolk were still humanoid shapeshifters without a defined appearance).

-She has at least six other known siblings, but she doesn’t see eye to eye with them since she is the one taking a bigger interest in mortals and the Realspace. The rest are usually busy keeping eldritch beings (such as the Golden Emperor and the Crawling Chaos) away from creation.

-However, she argues that their duty would be better fulfilled if her siblings took the time actually know what they are fighting for rather than just following an ancient order. The point she makes to her siblings is this: how can you claim to be a guardian of the mortal world if you don’t experience it to understand it. So far the only one that has followed her advice is her older brother the Jailer.*

-As result of the above, the Jailer is, ironically and given their opposite functions, purviews, and points of view, the sibling she actually gets along. In a way. Their arguments about philosophy can be epic and last for centuries.

-She doesn’t demand worship. She doesn’t care and certainly doesn’t need it. In reality, finds it embarrassing. And yet she is the patron of Freefolk, magi, rogues, babies, and heroes. She is the one having faith in mortals.

-Used to play the bagpipe, but she lost hers.

-She hates being called a Goddess because she doesn’t feel she is divine, just is what she is. It’s complicated. But most mortals will call her that way rather than her one of her actual names, so after a while, it doesn’t bother her as much. She just ignores it.

-And she likes candies.

*Only when he can escape his job of keeping the evilest beings trapped in Hell, known as the Infinity Pits. He is the equivalent to Lucifer in the sense of being a punisher of evildoers, rather than the source of evil.