Ricardo Victoria is a regular here at Altered Instinct. He’s a big part of Inklings Press as writer, designer, cheerleader and more. And he has a new book out! So he stopped by to have a chat as his sequel nears publication.
Q. Hey, Ricardo, congratulations on book two in your series! A large part of book one was very much assembling your cast of characters – with your cast already introduced, how different was the approach to book two?
Thank you! It has been quite exciting to write the second book. Regarding your question, well, I took two approaches:
For the original cast of the first book, the key was to build upon their character arcs from the previous book, showing the consequences of their actions. You can save the world, but it has a toll, both in your personal live and in a grand scale. So I started with asking myself a few questions: how the world would change if they find out that one of their heroes form the past became a monster bent of the destruction of his own people, that the ruling family built a kingdom based on a lie and that the main character was complicit to a point in said lie. How you move forward with that, how that affects the relationship between the three species – human, freefolk and samoharo - and how that moves and shakes the geopolitical stage in an unstable world. Then at a personal level, which scars the adventure left, not only physical, but mentally. For this, I changed the focus of the plot from Fionn and Gaby, to Alex and Sam. Particularly Alex’s struggle with depression helped me to frame how going in these adventures can affect you as a person.
I did introduce three new main characters, Kasumi, Joshua – yes, the same Joshua of my Buried Sins story you read before in Tales from the Underground by Inklings Press- and Yokoyawa - who also appeared in the Cosmic Egg story published in Tales from the Universe - who join the plucky team of heroes with their own agenda, needs and arcs. To be honest, I created them since the very beginning of the Tempest Blades Universe and in previous version they join the team in the first book, but couldn’t find a satisfactory way to do it with an already bloated cast, so I decided to leave them out and hoped that if I ever got around to write a second book, they would be introduced there. And here we are as their arcs intertwine with the general plot and the character arc of a couple of the original cast members.
Q. So what’s going on in book two – what can reader expect, without too many spoilers?
The basic plot is that there were political and personal repercussion of what happened in the last book. You see Alex struggling with his depression, Sam having problems to use magick after what happened, the Free Alliance in turmoil and a shadowy force making things worse. So the city states members of the Free Alliance, plus the Foundation and allied nations decide to settle things at a diplomatic conference that will take place this time in the capital of the Kuni Empire, while the Triannual Chivalry Games take place there as well. Think the Olympics but with a twist: it’s a martial arts tournament with peculiar rules, where each fight takes places in different, moving, wacky scenarios and the representatives of each participant nation can be hired to represent them while at the same time using the combats to settle dispute between nations in a somewhat peaceful way without going to armed conflict. And with Harland’s Foundation and the Freefolk added to the mix, the whole team gets split representing different factions with different agendas. This is when Alex recruits an old friend – Kasumi, a demonhunter who is also hard-of-hearing - who in turn brings a man with a mysterious past to help him represent the Foundation at the Games. After something happens during the event, things spiral into a chaotic night that threatens to destroy the Alliance, destroy friendships and worse, resurrect the dreaded Cursed Titans of the title, former benevolent beings that were corrupted by the same dark power that is working behind scenes to throw everything into chaos. All of this while Alex – the main focus - has to deal with a really bad bout of depression. It becomes a question of who will crash and burn first: Alex or the Alliance. It’s a tightly packed, fast paced book which is also mostly self-contained.
Q. One of the features of the book is dealing with depression – a tough task to do in an adventure tale, what made this such an important part of the book to you and what do you think you were able to say through the story?
Because I suffer from chronic depression (which got so bad in recent times due to a myriad of things, including the pandemic, that I went back to take anti-depressants in recent weeks), I sorta, kinda used this book as a means for therapy and as a way to final express out loud how I personally perceive my depression. I’m not an expert nor a therapist, so I won’t presume that everyone feels the same way. However, in this particular case, Alex’s struggles with depression, the way he perceives it is the way I struggle with it, the way I perceive. Alex even says some of things I have said in my personal life and acts in some (unhealthy at times) ways I tend to. I know, a writer shouldn’t put themselves in the story, but in this case, I couldn’t find other way. In that regard, this is probably the most personal piece of writing I’ve ever done. Which I know is risky to put out there for others to read and judge. But in this case, I wrote the book more for me and my mental health that for others. If the book helps others with the same struggle, then I think I made a worthy contribution to this planet.
Also, there is one thing that I wanted to prove: you can write a character with mental health issues that can be the hero and said issues can be described in a careful way (the tricky thing was not doing it in a triggering way), while still having a hopeful, fun adventure of story. Usually in SFF, mental health issues are described either as the reason why the villain is, well, the villain, or as a crippling weakness that takes away the worth of the hero, a weakness they can magically cure away, which is far from the reality of the issue. In other words, media for years have demonized mental health issues under the assumption that they make you weak, or worthless, that talking about them is boring, or taboo, or being a drama queen and I hate that. Many people live day by day with mental issues, and work hard to have meaningful lives, while still struggling with those issues. My point is that yes, you can have depression, you can have anxiety, and that doesn’t make you weak or incapable of having a meaningful life. It’s high time we present mental health issues in SFF as something normal, that anyone can go through. The only scene I could recall from when I was younger, that was sorta positive about the issue, was that famous scene in All Star Superman, where Supes comforts that girl in the roof of a building, telling her that she is not alone. Which is true, many people suffer from mental health issues, which needs to be normalized, not mocker nor demonized. And by normalizing the idea, you can also normalize the idea of going to therapy, of taking meds under the supervision of a physician, or taking care of your mental health the same way you take care of your body and realize that like that comic vignette, you are not alone in this struggle. I mean, it wasn’t until I started to write this book that I realized that Frodo suffers from PSTD. The good thing I guess, is that I’m not the only one thinking about it, you see that in WandaVision (an exploration of grief and depression), Falcon and the Winter Soldier (PSTD), but there has to be more positive examples. I’m not sure if I’m making sense or I’m rambling at this point. Anyways, that was my approach.
Q. What was one of your favourite parts to write?
There are a couple of action scenes, can’t tell much because it would be a spoiler, but they feature Alex in a big way. The first one was an homage to a scene in one of my favorite movies ever. The other two are scenes that believe it or not, I dreamt a decade ago, wrote down in a pad and finally found a way to incorporate them in the plot. In fact, one, Alex’s first round in the competition of the Chivalry Games, was the reason why the whole subplot of the games came to be. I also got a kick out of writing a setting inspired by the sights I had the opportunity to visit in a trip to Tokyo I did with my wife before the whole pandemic. So yeah, I might have gotten a bit carried out with the world building this time, but in a good way.
Q. Splendid – so now… what’s next? Book… three? What can readers expect in the future?
Regarding Tempest Blades, I already have plotted the whole remaining of the story. It should take 2-3 more books to finish all, depending how the next one shapes and if it needs to be split as I’m planning two parallel plots. Time will tell. As well I’m trying to get off the ground a collection of stories set in the same universe, some have already been published, some are brand new that I’ve already written these past years but have never been able to publish them. And for some reason I want to write an ‘in character’ book about the folklore, beliefs and traditions of the world of Theia. So basically I have plans to keep me busy in the writing side for the next decade.
Meanwhile, I have a quirky Alt History short story to be released at some point of the year in an Inklings Press anthology. You have already read it. I tried to write my second comical story, let’s see if I pulled it. If not, at the very least, I will end having the concept for a boardgame. Yeah my mind works in weird ways. Not sure I will write more short stories for the foreseeable future after this one, but I’m not closing that door either. Time will tell.