FQ: Can you share a bit about your background prior to writing your first novel? Your author bio states that you initially planned to be a mechanical engineer. Did you complete any type of training for that profession?
PEÑA: Sort of. As a junior and senior in high school, I was part of a vocational program geared toward pursuing a career in engineering. For the first half of the day, I attended classes as you’d expect at my high school. These were my English courses, electives, and stuff like that. After lunch, though, I’d ride a bus to a technical campus where I learned the fundamentals of different industrial fields. This served as the Science and Math credits I needed to graduate while also giving me a head start in my college career. The program introduced me to heavy machinery, computer-aided drawing, and even robotics and automation. In all honesty, though, my interest in Engineering was only ever financial as my passion has always been for writing.
FQ: Your book shares similarities with the likes of series such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Lord of the Rings to name a few. Did any of these series provide the inspiration for your story? If not, where did you derive your inspiration from?
PEÑA: Yes, actually. The adversarial dynamic between Harry and Draco directly inspired the contention between Virgil and Lucious. I have heard the comparison to The Hunger Games a few times now, and I kind of get it, but I can’t say the series offered any inspiration for me. I am incredibly honored, though, to have my work compared to such a giant in the literary space. As for Lord of the Rings, it was more of the fantasy concepts, ideas, and creatures that inspired me rather than the series itself.
FQ: Your novel contains a large cast of characters. Can you share a bit about the inspiration behind how you developed all these crucial players in your story?
PEÑA: My biggest concern when crafting these characters was ensuring the cast felt unique and necessary. I typically started with a core idea or belief. Something that, above all else, defines them. Of course, if you leave things there, the character is one-dimensional. I then took things further and asked not only the fun questions but the hard ones as well. What does a character like to do when they aren’t on a quest? What are they good at? What are they afraid of? How would they react on the worst day of their life? I find that the more you flesh out a character before you start writing, the easier it is to develop them throughout a story.
FQ: There are some great plot twists (which I won’t mention to avoid spoilers) in your story which really surprised me. Did you have these plot twists decided before you started writing or did they come to you during the writing process?
PEÑA: I can confidently say that all plot twists in the book (and seeds planted for later books) were conceived before I started writing. Not to say I’m a master planner or anything like that. I actually prefer to write in a very loose hybrid style outlining only what is necessary for me to move from chapter to chapter and avoid writer’s block. More so what I mean is that plot twists and story beats are like scheduled pit stops on a road trip for me.
FQ: I love the background to the magic system in your book, what you call “Crystal Divination.” Would you give our readers a brief explanation of how the system works?
PEÑA: Certainly. In the realm of Inassea, magic falls into five separate but equally powerful branches. Fans of the Chinese elemental zodiac will recognize this. You have Pyromancy (the fire element), Allostry (the metal element), Forestry (the wood element), Geomancy (the earth element), and Aquamancy (the water element). A person’s affinity for a magic branch is more often than not determined by their birth year. Most people are born with at least two affinities, but of course, there are those unfortunate to be born with no magical abilities at all. And then some are blessed with what is known as talents. A few of these appear in the book, most notably Virgil possessing the pyromancy talent of flight.
FQ: The series of your book is entitled the Inassea Chronicles. Can you share how you came up with the name “Inassea” and if there is any significance to it?
PEÑA: Sadly, there is no significance to the name. I must confess that naming things is, without a doubt, my least favorite part of the writing process. When it comes to thinking up names for things, it is where my creativity seems to check out. To come up with the name for the realm in this series, I used an online name generator that spat out a list for me. I twisted a few around, asked some friends for feedback, and eventually landed on Inassea.
FQ: Can you explain a bit about how the writing process was for you when working on this story? Specifically, how did you so thoroughly develop the plot and characters while not losing track of the complex story and maintaining the natural flow and progression of the story?
PEÑA: I keep a master spreadsheet separate from my book outline titled The Tapestry that spans the entire series. I use this spreadsheet to track the major characters and where they are in the narrative at any given point, as well as the themes, symbolism, and subplots. The spreadsheet is super concise, with each plot point only being a sentence or two, but parsing everything out like this gives me a bird’s eye view of the story. This way, I can make sure everything progresses naturally and believably. Naturally, this document came first, and then I used it to get a little more specific with my outline for the book.
FQ: I love your “author photo” on your website - the animated hero. What was the thought behind using a digital creation as your author photo? And with the outfit and posture, I have to ask - do you see yourself as a character from The Blighted Flame?
PEÑA: I decided to go with a digital representation of myself for a few reasons. The most notable one, though, is I thought it would be a cool thing to do. I chose a knight in heavy armor for the fantasy aesthetic and my love of those works. Also, the paladin has always been my favorite fantasy archetype. As for whether I see myself as a character from The Blighted Flame, I can’t say that I do.
FQ: As your book is titled, it suggests that you have more books planned for this series. What can you share about future books in this series? How many books do you have planned?
PEÑA: Fans of the series will be happy to know that I have big plans for the realm of Inassea and Virgil’s journey. In terms of books, the series will consist of five novels. The next in line is titled The Revenant Blade. Without giving too much away, readers can expect this book to be a lot darker, gruesome, and more romantic than the first.