Today is the day.

So yeah, I published a book today.

IMG_4687

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

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

Damn, I need new goals now.

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

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

And this is the book blurb:

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

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

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

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

Including second chances. 

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

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

Advertisements

Updates on life and my novel

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

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

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

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

Reviews FionnReviews GabyReviews Alex

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

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

The problem with prophecies

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

tarot-2114403_960_720

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s examine this:

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

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

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

A Clash of Kings, Chapter 10, Davos I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World of Ice & Fire, Yi Ti.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

15032019firma_ricardo15032019firma_ricardo-415032019firma_ricardo-1215032019firma_ricardo-2315032019firma_ricardo-27

15032019firma_ricardo-30

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

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

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

cover reveal TBWK

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

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

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

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

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

perf5.500x8.500.indd

The synopsis reads:

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

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

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

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

Including second chances.

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

Banner TBWK Fionn

The Greywolf

Banner TBWK Alex

The Inventor

Banner TBWK Gaby

The Dreamer

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

http://mybook.to/TempestBladesWK

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

As Roger Ebert put it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weird Western and Me. New anthology project.

49676595_2011218445625106_5561369408594509824_n

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.

New frightening collaboration with the Wicked Library

Dqn4hviWkAIRf3Y

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

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.

the-twilight-zone-tower-of-terror-7055

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.

IMG_9566

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.

42124219_294043778092100_7076475107157213184_n

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