The one where I talk about Saint Seiya, the problem with the Gold Saints and my own novel setting issue.

Whoah, that was a really looooong title.

*Warning: spoilers for a 30-year-old anime show… and my own novel.*

If you were a kid from Mexico in the early 90s’, odds are that you woke up early every Saturday to watch the legendary anime “Los Caballeros del Zodiaco”, the original name “Saint Seiya” (for the purists) and known in the US as “Knights of the Zodiac” after a bastardized adaptation. And odds are that if you are Mexican kid that grew up in the early 90s’, is that Saint Seiya is your favorite anime -or one of them-.

Me? I’m a fan, not a big fan as some of my close friends (one of them even has every single figure released since the heyday of the show), but I would lie if I say I’m not a fan. The concept is pretty simple (the video below gives a remastered, succinct explanation for the visually inclined): every 300 years, ancient gods return in the shape of avatars to take over the world, so Athena (yes, that one), reincarnates in a human body**, calls forth her Saints or Knights, who wearing special armors inspired by the 88 western constellations, will face these gods -Poseidon, Hades- to protect humanity. The Saints are divided into the humble Bronze, the flashy Silver, and the godlike 12 Gold Saints -that follow the Western Zodiac-. However, this time, something went wrong, Athena and a few of her ‘weaker’*** saints are in the run of the most powerful ones and have to face them in a grueling marathon to uncover the truth, the traitor and fix everything before Poseidon, Hades and their armies return.

The show has a favorite character for everyone, especially if your zodiac sign had a cool representative among the Golden Saints, the top of the cream of warriors in the show. Really 10 out of 12 signs had a great character representing it-unless you are a Cancer or a Pisces, then I’m sorry your respective saints suck big time-. My wife has Shaka, Virgo Saint, the closest man to God and basically a buddha* with the power to traverse every single hell and heaven from anywhere. And is more dangerous when he actually opens his eyes.

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Mine, is this man:

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Dokho, Saint of Libra, custodian of the 12 sacred weapons of Athena, watcher of the Rozan peaks where the specters of Hades are trapped, having lived for 243 years and trained an old incarnation of the Pegasus Saint and the current Dragon Saint, Shiryu (my other favorite character). Dokho, who is the Yoda of the show that -spoiler- when the time comes and things get dire near the end, returns through a special technique to his peak form, that looks like this:

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The shortest, hot-tempered, goofball Gold Saint ready to take names and kick ass. In this form he is… well, the Obi-Wan of the show, even to the other Gold Saints. And even if he looks like a hyperactive teenager (which he technically still is).

But I digress… the show is entertaining -if a bit repetitive as older anime usually is-. The music is superb (think a rock group playing with an orchestra waaay before Metallica did it). And you grow fond of the characters -unlike they are Pisces and Cancer, seriously, they need a better PR spokesperson-. And I really enjoy it, to the point that I’m addicted to the new mobile game. But there is an issue here… I get that Seiya, the Pegasus Saint and titular character, and friends are the main heroes. And the show is about their growth into heroes. But the thing that most of my friends and I agree is that as much as the show sells you the idea of the Gold Saints being these beastly, godlike beings capable of facing gods when they show up in the show… they barely actually show up.

Yeah, I have the same expression as you, Dohko.

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Don’t get me wrong, some of the battles between the 5 Bronze Saints -Pegasus Seiya, Dragon Shiryu, Cygnus Hyoga, Andromeda Shun and Phoenix Ikki- and the Gold Saints are nail bitters, especially those between Ikki and Shaka, Hyoga and his master Aquarius Camus, Shiryu vs Cancer Deathmask**** and Capricorn Shura, and the last stand of Seiya against the evil side of Geminis Saga before Athena dies -look, it’s really complicated to explain-. But the rest are… a mixed bag. Aries Mu is an ally of the heroes. Taurus Aldebaran is convinced by the heroes that they are right, Dohko is busy being a Yoda, till Hades returns in Season 3. Scorpio Milo gives a good fight but he is a good guy and changes his mind and Pisces… he is so damn annoying and his fight with Shun really drags on. Aiolia Leo is being brainwashed by the main bad guy so he has to be freed from his control and Saggitarius Aiolos has been dead for 13 years. And when the Poseidon Chapter comes, nothing happens with them. The Hades chapter was meant to redeem them, but it only worked for Dohko and Kannon, the evil twin of Geminis Saga that now is the good twin -that family has ISSUES-. Then came Soul of Gold that tried to redeem them but the animation did them no favor at all. And Lost Canvas, which is not canon, did use well ALL the Gold Saints, but they were from a previous incarnation, taking place in 1743 and the only known character there is Dokho who is kinda a rookie then (this Obi-Wan in Episode I).

And here is the thing that bothers me: they are not that awe-inspiring when they appear, aside Saga whose power set is broken (which makes him a good villain).  I get that the animation techniques back then (the series started in the 80s’ even if it arrived at this side of the world in the 90s’) didn’t allow for much spectacle and thus the powers seem subsided, reduced. But when I was a kid I remember dreading the day the 5 Bros were about to face the Gold Saints because of the show’ propensity to sell you the idea that the later were nigh impossible to defeat. That their powers were earth-shattering -literally in the case of Capricorn-. But when the fights came about, they were not that different from the main 5. Which led to a sense of power escalation in later seasons -as many shonen***** anime do- that never allowed the Gold Saints to show their prowess against feared rivals like Poseidon’s Marines or Hades’ Specters. They were punked.

Which leaves me a sour taste in the mouth, because the Gold Saints should be downright terrifying. The kind of guys that inspire myths because what they can do is off the charts: create tears into the space-time continuum, freeze things to atomic level reaching absolute zero (the show plays fast and loose with physic laws), cut through the Earth itself, move at the speed of light, send your soul to the Underworld, crash a planet on your head… you get the idea.  They are the stuff of nightmares, even if they are, for most of the part, the good guys.

Rather, they are not so spectacular.

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Yes, it’s kinda sad, kinda amusing, Dohko.

This is a particular issue of concern for me while I work in the sequel of Tempest Blades. Fionn -and really, any of the Gifted- is known as a powerful warrior whose abilities are way beyond the ken of mortal men. But due to the peculiarities of the villain in the first book, he had to fight with a literal hand tied to his back. Same for Gaby and Alex. Now, for the sequel, they have free reign, more training, and more experience under their belts to show off all that they can do. However, I know the risk of power escalation, which can destroy the suspension of disbelief within the setting, making the Marty/Mary Sues, if I just give them more power. That’s a serious problem.

So that left me thinking…

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The solution is already set in the first book. In the POV of the only regular character of my cast: Harland. And others like him.

I don’t need to increase their powers. There is no need because they are already that powerful. What I need is to show how the powers they have, without the restrictions, posed by the plot of the first book, look to others from the outside. Namely, for Alex, manipulating energy might seem normal after 10 years. But for Harland, who is a regular human, it might be downright scary. And what about when Fionn truly let go. So far he has barely shown his full potential, for fear of collateral damage. But if the restriction is lifted… Gaby… well, you will see. That’s why in the new book I’m introducing a couple of characters that will give the perspective of how is like to watch a Gifted with a Tempest Blade in hand, going full out. Because while for my main cast, Harland aside, doing what they do is part of their daily lives, for the people watching from the sidelines, what they do, is the stuff of nightmares. Even if they are the good guys.

I just hope Athena can guide me to make it work.

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*Well, not basically a buddha, he is actually a reincarnation of Buddha.
**She is like the Christ-like figure of the story. Seriously, Saint Seiya is a hot podge of myths, religions and everything between, but seen through the greek mythology glasses and anime tropes.
***Weaker, sort to speak. While the 5 main characters: Pegasus Seiya, Dragon Shiryu, Cygnus Hyoga, Andromeda Shun and Phoenix Ikki are Bronze Saints and thus the lower step of the stair, they -in very shonen fashion- grow to be more than a match for the Gold Saints and assorted deities.
****No, really, that’s his birth name. Kurumada has the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
*****Shonen is anime aimed for male audiences, think Dragon Ball.

My 2019 awards eligible stories

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Hello there, world. This is the first time I write one of these posts (as I have only been nominated once for an award and I wasn’t the one promoting it). But given that this was a seminal year for me as a writer, it was due time to create one. So here there are my award-eligible stories for 2019. Here are in order of length.

Novel

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518349ZKw8L“Tempest Blades: The Withered King.” Shadow Dragon Press. August 2019. Approx. 97,500 words.

Buy it from Amazon: https://mybook.to/TempestBladesWK
Buy it from Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2kDhBlA

Genre(s): Fantasy, Science Fiction

What’s about? Fionn thought that his days as a warrior were over. Gaby & Alex never expected to become heroes. Now they must join forces to stop an ancient evil. In a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible. Including second chances.

What others have said about it:

“An action-packed blend of magic and mayhem, sword and sorcery, science fiction and fantasy. The book is full of entertaining characters, has a sense of humor and adventure, and there’s a crackling video-game vibe added for good measure.” —Maria Haskins, author, and B&N Blogger

“A glorious sci-fi adventure for any reader of the fandom of the classic video game ‘Soul Blade'” —Booklist

“Like Final Fantasy meets Dungeons & Dragons! An action-packed sci-fantasy adventure that fans of the genre will love! Victoria delivers a lively story that feels like a video game, with plenty of heart and humor along the way. The characters are interesting, the action keeps you turning the pages, the concepts are fascinating! This is good stuff! The one-liners are killer, too!”Diane Morrison, Author of the “Wyrd West Chronicles” & Manager of the official SFWA YouTube channel

“It was a fun, fast book, full of action beats. It was also surprisingly introspective and deep. As entertaining as it was, this is ultimately a book about second chances. I found it highly enjoyable.”Jodie Crump. Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

“It’s a science fantasy epic that bursts with originality. It is new, it is fresh, and it makes the imagination soar. In short, this is not something you’ve read before.”Leo McBride at Altered Instinct

“There’s a some portals and a spaceship, a lizard pilot dude and a good deal of magick, a 133 yr old father-mentor guy and lottsa swords. A total mashup spanning the spacepunk, fantasy, scifi, and LitRPG genres, The Withered King looks to surprise you on every page…

…The Withered King is an impressive debut that any reader of speculative fiction should enjoy.”Paul at Paul’s Picks

Novelette

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Tales of Magic and Destiny cover“Asherah’s Pilgrimage.” in the anthology Tales of Magic & Destiny (Inklings Press). Edited by Leo McBride & Rob Edwards. July  2019. Approx. 9,100 words.

Buy it from Amazon: http://mybook.to/MagicDestiny

Genre(s): Fantasy

What’s about? A girl, the first with the gift of magic, has to step up and lead her people into a new world in finding a place to settle. But the perilous journey will mean for the freefolk to leave behind what remains of their old ways. And for Asherah to succeed, it will mean sacrificing everything she is and find her new place in the world.

What others have said about it:

“A story that has high-stakes and drama, personal courage and friendship, action and introspection, humour and pathos. For me, it captures the essence of what it is to be an individual overcoming their own limitations to achieve something that really matters.”  E.M. Swift-Hook at Working Title.

“…I loved the image of the freefolk and they seemed so intriguing and I loved the little glimpses of the world they left behind. I loved how the story grew to its close and I absolutely wasn’t ready for this one to end. The battle in the maze had some really great imagery. I haven’t read this one a second time yet (because I just read it this afternoon on my lunch break!) but I will definitely give it a second read.”Reviewer at Amazon.

Short Stories

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51yj0nKMCsL._SY346_“No-Sell.” in the anthology Gunsmoke and Dragonfire. Edited by Diane Morrison. March  2019. Approx. 4,800 words.

Buy it from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1999575717

Genre(s): Fantasy Western

What’s about? In a world where magic delayed the invention of firearms, an ex-spellslinger has taken up a career as a traveling sales being of a newfangled weapon called a “rifle”… and he has a few tricks under his coat.

What others have said about it:

“I also enjoyed No-Sell, from Ricardo Victoria, taking the theme and running with it, for in a Wild West world where magic is commonplace, what use is a gun? And what would the equivalent of a snake-oil salesman do with one if he had one?”Leo McBride at Altered Instinct.

““No-Sell” by Ricardo Victoria was a fun story that reminded me very much of Dragonheart, but in a Western setting and blending in a bit of Aztec mythology. I really enjoyed the slow reveal on this story and the twist at the end.”Geoff Habiger.

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41sHL1Kc1rL“Good Boys.” in the anthology Gods of Clay: A Sci Fi Roundtable Anthology. Edited by Eric Michael Craig & Ducky Smith. February 2019. Approx. 4,800 words.

Buy it from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Gods-Clay-Sci-Roundtable-Anthology/dp/1733728317/

Genre(s): Science Fiction

What’s about? In the distant future, uplifted dogs and octopuses sent a mission back to a legendary place, a ‘lost’ planet, to find about a strange signal sent by their long-gone creators. The secrets they find there, the ancient enemies they will encounter, will shake their beliefs and their future.

What’s like to live with depression

Trigger warning: this entry discusses topics like depression and suicidal thoughts. Please refrain to read about it if you are triggered by them. Also, seek help. There is someone out there, a hotline, a support group, a therapist, a doctor, that can help you or at least offer you guidance to obtain it. You are not alone.

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Disclaimer: I’m only talking about my own personal experience. I don’t claim to talk in the name of every person that goes through depressive episodes because I’m not an expert -just a fellow sufferer- and the experiences are particular to each person.

I know this might be an odd time to talk about this, it’s not a mental health awareness month, and I should be celebrating the recent release of my book. Regarding the former, I believe that mental health is a topic that should be addressed at any moment, not just during a month or a week. Mental health problems don’t disappear for the rest of the year. As for the latter, well, the way I’m feeling right now is not allowing me to enjoy the moment as it should. Thus, this blog post is a way to get things out of my chest, in some sort of therapy. Which goes to one of the roots of why I write: writing for me is my therapy and the way I have to express what dwells inside my head in a healthier manner, compared to other means. There is another reason why I’m writing this, but I will address it at the end. For now, just talk about what’s like to live with depression.

I have suffered from recurrent bouts of depression plus anxiety since I reached teenagehood (maybe earlier). I have gone to therapy and taken meds as prescribed by doctors. Writing so far has been the most effective way I’ve found to deal with it in a healthy manner. And now I’m writing how I feel when I’m in one of my down periods.

Now, imagine that you have a roommate inside your head, a voice that persists and nags you all the time. Most of the time you ignore it, or if you are lucky, keep it quiet. But then one morning, the voice becomes louder. You feel low on energy, so getting up from the bed feels like a bigger chore than usual. You drag your feet to get on with your day. Then something happens -a disagreement, an argument, a misunderstanding, bad news at your job- that increases the volume of the voice. And then it goes downhill from there.

Every mistake is magnified, take out of proportion even when your rational mind tells you it can be fixed. The voice won’t let you listen to reason. Every triumph gets minimized. No matter what you achieved that day (or the day before), it pales in comparison with your mistakes. No matter how much others try to cheer you up, to point out the good over the bad, you still feel down. And then the others feel frustrated, get angry even, and tell you off. Not out of malice -not always anyways- but because they don’t understand. Because for them, all the issue is in your head and you need to get over it. Because they are not feeling what you are feeling, because they lack empathy for the situation. Because they can’t hear the voice.

You don’t say anything, try to keep it down, a smile perhaps, to take the attention away from you and your issues. Because in our current culture -an in Mexican culture the situation is even more toxic- you are taught that you have to bottle up, buckle up and move one. And for the most part, you learn to move on, despite how shitty you are feeling. If you are lucky, you learn to be resilient or have a support group, or your therapist is good. Maybe the meds worked or the techniques you use to ‘build a ladder’ to get you out of the hole work this time.

But none of them will work all the time.

Some days the voice wins the arguments inside your head, presenting you with the worst scenario or making you feel like those close to you would be happier if you weren’t around. You start feeling like a nuisance. Everything you do, say or chose is a mistake. Like your mere presence annoys or hurts others and if you try to reach out, you only make matters worse -the so-called hedgehog dilemma-. You overreact to everything, you might become aggressive or seek conflict to five minutes later regret what you did and feel even worse. If you retreat, you end alone -and accused by insensible people- that because you want to be alone, you will end alone. If you couple that with your anxiety, you start imagining that you will die alone. And then is when the nasty thoughts as I call them appear: you muse how it would be if you simply walked away from home, to disappear from the life of those you feel -or make you feel- that you are hurting. And you start making plans to make that happen. Or you start thinking about how it would be if you died. If someone will miss you, someone will remember you. If someone would care. And then is when you start musing on how you would do the deed. Because who would want a failure around them?

And all of that chat with the voice happens inside your head, while you put a brave face to the rest of the world. It doesn’t have to be a smiling face. Maybe your face reflects the sadness you feel inside. You excuse yourself saying that you have a cold or migraine. You start searching for an excuse to be left alone, maybe sleep. But your sleep won’t be a refuge because the voice is still inside. You go to sleep wishing you never wake up again so you don’t have to hear the voice or feel like you are a waste of space or screwing up things. And the voice never leaves. You know why?

The voice is your own.

And it seems as it has control over your perspective… all the time.

That’s how I feel when I’m undergoing a depression bout. So far I’ve been lucky to learn to keep myself in check and after a good scare, reach for help or seek things that can cheer me up. To write down my feelings and allow myself to let go. But every day is a struggle. Depression is not something that goes away with your good wishes. It is something that has to be dealt with. You need to remind yourself every second that you are stronger than you think and you can get through this. That’s why this panel resonated so much with me the first time I read it and made me cry.

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A few of the reviewers of my novel have pointed about Fionn’s feelings during the book, his depression, about how he feels like a failure. A writer writes about what they know, and I know how I feel like a failure every day. Maybe that’s why I push myself so hard, beyond what’s healthy for my body and mind. To stop feeling that way. Writing Fionn’s journey helped me to deal with a few issues that have made me feel like shit as an adult. However, it hasn’t been enough of late. This year, for multiple reasons I won’t bore you with, has been so tough and exhausting that I’ve been barely able to celebrate achieving the publication of my first novel.

So I’m gonna do what has worked for me so far to keep myself in check an avoid letting the voice win: go to therapy, reach out my support group and write. The sequel novel will be a more personal affair, as Alex -the character that’s more like the real me, annoying habits included- is a chronic depression sufferer, despite -or perhaps because of- of all the things he can do and has done. The first book gives hints of that. Now I will explore the issue in depth because basically, I will talking to myself about how I’ve been feeling all these years and about my unhealthy habits, about pushing myself into exhaustion and still feel like a failure. Don’t worry, the book won’t be a sad affair. I’m using the story to deal with my inner demons, not to make anyone feel sad or trigger someone -it won’t be 13 reasons why-. It will be still an adventure. Just one that will explore a personal topic because really, if I don’t do it, I feel like I’m gonna explode. So better to deal with it in a healthier way and if it helps someone else, cool.

No, I didn’t write this blogpost to call for sympathy or pity or plug my book. Rather I’m writing this to explain my rationale behind my writing, why it is taking me so long to get it done and why the next book will be more personal. Because it will be my therapy session. Hopefully, I will be able to pull it off. And hopefully, me talking about depression in a more open way helps to further the discussion, eliminate the stigma and show that everyone can suffer from it and it is not a sign of weakness. It is something very human, something that has to be talked about and more importantly, something for which people needs help and understanding, a lifelong condition that needs above all, better understanding.

You are not alone.

Today is the day.

So yeah, I published a book today.

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

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

Damn, I need new goals now.

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

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

And this is the book blurb:

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

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

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

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

Including second chances. 

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s examine this:

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

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

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

A Clash of Kings, Chapter 10, Davos I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World of Ice & Fire, Yi Ti.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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