We recently promoted the work of upcoming fantasy author Victor A. Acnam II, after he debuted a stunner of a title in A Child of Ashes: Volume 1: The False King. Even more recently, we had the opportunity to chat with the author himself, to learn a bit more about his writing process, and about what’s to come for his series. Read on to see what makes this talented author tick.
Tellest: Hello Victor! First, I just wanted to say thank you for spending some time talking to me about all the cool things you’ve got going on in your life right now. I find that when we’re ready to finally do an interview with someone, it’s because their calendar is chock full of so many projects and events that they have an array of awesome things to talk about. So, I appreciate being able to squeeze in some time to learn more about you.
Victor A. Acnam II: Of course! Thank you so much for having me! I’m excited!
T: Each time I start one of these interviews, my first question revolves around what led the interviewee down their storytelling path. Before A Child of Ashes was even a thought in your mind, what sort of inspirations led you to think about beginning work on storytelling? Did you have any favorite authors, or did you come from a large family, and had talespinners available to you from a young age?
VAAII: Well, my path to storytelling actually started a lot earlier than I realized. When I was about six, I was an avid drawer. I loved to doodle random things and I would tell my parents small little stories that my drawings told. But at that time, it was just small little projects that I liked to do. I don’t think I really immersed myself in storytelling officially until my family exposed me to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. I watched the movies over and over again as a kid. I loved seeing the world, loved the characters, the storytelling, they made me laugh, cry, and threw me into a whole bunch of emotions. Those were the first two movies or stories that just changed my outlook on how I viewed stories. So, I said to myself I want to do that too! Those pictures I drew, eventually evolved into comic books or picture books, with each story slowly getting more complex the more I wrote. And I had a lot of support with this too. My mom loved to write poetry and she loved to incorporate life lessons she learned along the way into her works. She would help me write stories, help me come up with twists, build characters, and overall served as big foundation that inspired me to get into storytelling.
T: Now that you’ve come such a long way, what do your friends and family think about the huge accomplishment you’ve made? There aren’t too many people who undertake the monumental task of publishing a book. Is your mom still part of your creative support team?
VAAII: Well both my family and friends, they’ve expressed a lot of excitement over my book. Since I told them what I was working on, they all would ask me stuff about it such as when it was going to release and even asked for some spoilers haha. When I told them about the release, I actually got a barrage of texts and calls in the next couple of days. All of them saying how proud they were, how excited they are to read it, and a lot of them telling me that they’ve recommended it to their friends. They’ve been with me on this road for as long as I can remember and that’s the reason why when you flip to the dedication page, I dedicated it to them.
Even after the publication, they’re still helping me with the design of the story. My mom, especially, still gives me that creative support. The funny thing is my mom probably exposes herself to more stories than I have and the stories she hears through her tv shows or through books is very diverse. I remember walking by the living room with her watching a Korean drama and an hour later, she’s watching a completely different show with ghosts. So, whenever she talks about her shows, about what she likes and what she didn’t like, I listen. Because it’s that exposure to numerous genres that she has that I value. But what I love the most is that while I love her suggestions, the main core of her support has always been the motivation that she gives me. It’s those random cups of water or coffee that she gives me while I’m working on the book, it’s her reminder asking me if I wrote today, and even her telling me to take breaks. It’s the small things that, on the surface, might not seem much, but to me, it’s all helped my writing develop.
T: When it comes to the diverse stories you purposefully expose yourself, or that you see on the periphery by happenstance, do you try to loop those things into your main series here, or do you ever think, “oh, I could make this new story with this in mind”?
VAAII: Oh, all the time! Whenever I expose myself to all these diverse genres and methods of storytelling, it’s like I’m absorbing small ideas and concepts overtime. My mind is in constant creation mode so I’m always looking for things that I could explore, add my own twist, and turn into a story or concept. But it’s mainly a slow build up and the ideas come at the most random of times, often when I’m not expecting it. If you ask my friends, it’s quite common for me to just stop what I’m doing, eyes wide, then see me quickly pull out my phone to jot down what came to mind. So, when you check my notes, it’s really just an idea dump full of random things that honestly don’t make much sense. But that’s the beauty of it. Turning those random ideas and formulating them into the base for a story is honestly such a nice feeling. I think to this day, I have dozens of concepts and plots that, after some fine tuning, could spawn new stories and new worlds in multiple genres.
T: Let’s move along and find out a little bit more about your fantasy world. I’m interested in when the idea of A Child of Ashes came to you, and how long you’ve been working on it.
VAAII: A Child of Ashes is actually pretty old, despite it being my debut novel as an author. I started writing it when I was a sophomore in High School and admittedly, it was during lectures when I snuck those writing periods in. On the outside, it looked like I was really into taking notes for the class but if you looked closer, I was really working on A Child of Ashes. And if you’re wondering, yes, the very first edition of my novel is actually handwritten. But the funny thing is, regarding the origin of how I came up with A Child of Ashes, is that it was based off the silly adventures I had playing video games online with my friends. We were playing Minecraft and its hilarious because there was a lot of drama for a video game. The next thing I knew there was a little rebellion going on in our group in the game which I still find super funny considering how serious we actually were about it back then. So maybe after a week, when the ‘rebellion’ in the game died down I was like oh you know what? This would make a fun little story. Then the next thing I knew, I was writing about it. It wasn’t until a year later, when I found what I had written did I take a good look at it and realize that I could turn it into something. I sat down with my laptop, opened a word doc with those handwritten chapters beside me, and started typing away. I threw in storytelling techniques I learned, designed more characters, detailed the world more, designed epic plot twists, and tossed it through revision after revision, and rewrite after rewrite, up to the point where it’s now an officially published novel. The whole journey took me about seven years’ worth of work.
T: A big part of all that is the worldbuilding. You had a backbone to rely on thanks to your earlier writing in class, but there’s a level of detail and richness in lore and history that makes A Child of Ashes feel real and immersive. What were the steps you took to make it feel so alive?
VAAII: Worldbuilding was actually a weak suit for me in the beginning. I loved plot and character design more and put more effort into it admittedly because I knew that worldbuilding is difficult if you want to do it right. Eventually, when I did dive into it, it was a lot of trial and error. My beta readers told me that while they enjoyed the story and characters, the worldbuilding for them fell a bit flat so I knew that I’d have to overhaul it. So, the first thing I did, as what every author does, is read. I read other novels, history books, read articles online about turning points in Asian and European histories and drew inspiration from them. Then, with my journal full of notes and concepts, I took each country in the novel, and started from ground zero. I rebuilt them, gave them histories, gave them tragedies, gave them historical figures, and added my fantasy mix to it.
One of the key things I learned about worldbuilding is that while design is important, it’s not enough to just expose the reader to the lore. What makes worldbuilding immersive and real to readers is seeing how the character reacts to it. How does knowing this history make the character feel? What are their opinions on it? So having that level of design through feel and opinions of the characters, is what is important that allows the worldbuilding to really shine.
T: I love that you did that, and that you recognized that to enrich a world like that, you need to work on lore and mythology, and that you added historical events that added to the overall tapestry. What do you think is the most challenging aspect of adding those extra layers? Is it just the amount of work you must put in? Is it trying to remember it all once it’s been sewn into place? Or is it something else entirely?
VAAII: Honestly, all of what you said and probably more. Since I had to almost restructure several countries or kingdoms in my world, it took a long time until I was finally happy with the results. I think the world overhaul took me a little more than five months and it was definitely tedious. A lot of things that took time was making sure that each country was unique in their own ways. They have their own unique culture, own histories, and they’re different compared to other places. And the benefit of doing this, despite just making the world feel more real and alive, is that I can use what I created for other stories too. I think I designed a lot of things in each respective country or kingdom so it wouldn’t feel right to cram it all into one novel or series.
There are some concepts I have that might not be fully explored in A Child of Ashes, and that’s because I may or may not already have a spinoff novel that explores it in more detail. Because I believe worldbuilding takes time to really get it right, it should take time for the reader to fully immerse and understand the world as well as opposed to just dumping it into one chapter or novel for that matter. Of course, keeping track of all that is probably the biggest challenge of all since there is so much detail. I actually made pretty much a wiki-page of the world for myself just to help me keep track of everything. It talks about historical figures, how it was founded, symbolic battles, even things about the economy. And if it’s something my readers would want to see and be interested in exploring further, I’d be more than happy to have an actual wiki site for it too!
T: Victor, one look at social media shows that you’re charming, friendly, and that you’ve got a large family, as well as a large friend group. How do you find that you’ve channeled that into your worldbuilding? And do you think that you’ve been able to lean on them as a support group if you ever need a hand
VAAII: Yeah, so when I first started designing characters, it was still a bit of a challenge because I was new to it. I couldn’t come up with a character’s personality on the fly, so I had to look for inspiration. What I found myself doing was basing a lot of my characters off of my friends and family. Since I knew them so well, it was easier to translate that into fictional characters and overall, it served as a nice foundation for me to further build upon and design. And it goes beyond the characters too. My friends and family have honestly shown me so much support that I still get butterflies and nervously excited whenever they ask me about how the book is going. I would ask them about certain things I had for worldbuilding, and they would give me their opinions and comments and I would build off there. They told me what they liked, what they didn’t, and even provided suggestions. My friends and family served a big role in the design, and I honestly think that without them, I don’t think the world I built would have felt as alive and immersive as it does now.
T: You stated that some of your family served a big role in design, and large, persistent fantasy worlds oftentimes need to rely on other people. Especially since you’re still growing it by leaps and bounds, have you ever thought about having a freelancer or another author work on any parts of your world, or is strictly speaking a Victor-specific universe?
VAAII: Oh, I’ve most definitely thought about it! When I designed this world, I always had the intention of it being open. I wanted this world to feel so alive and so real that it serves as a good escape for readers and fans. Now I think that’s a big goal, and of course, I can’t do it on my own if bringing it to life and growing it is my end goal. If other authors or freelancers can show me that they love this world and they want to help grow it, my answers will almost always be yes! I would love to work together to add that extra layer of detail in the world that extra layer of immersion that really makes it pop. Can I do it by myself? I am confident I can. But if I had the option to work with other wonderful authors or storytellers, then I will always take that opportunity! And personally, I would see it as an honor. Here we have many talented and wonderful writers and storytellers who no doubt have their own universes that they are growing too. So, to have them look at mine and say they want to help expand it, it means I did something right with the world. It’s amazing just to think that someone other than me would want to grow the universe I designed.
T: In sticking with that line of thinking, what do you think is the best way of collaborating on a world with as much breadth as yours? Do you have open threads that you think you would pitch to interested storytellers, or would you want writers to look at your world and say, “this part of the world interests me, maybe I can talk about this character who was briefly mentioned”?
VAAII: I think I would want writers or storytellers to reach out to me. That alone tells me that they want to work on it. Every author who creates their own world is no doubt very close to their world. So, if we ever decide to let others write stories in our own worlds, there’s almost a level of passion that we would like to see. I want writers to explore my world, find a part that really fascinates them, and if they can show me this level of passion, care, or love with it, I almost always will give the green light. If they even wanted to introduce an entirely new novel, I would be so open to it!
Of course, I would reach out to writers too as well. The world I designed really is so open and just begging to be explored. I wouldn’t be doing it justice if I left parts of what might seem interesting to explore unturned. I would be open to reaching out to writers to explore certain parts of it and have them write their own stories. Admittedly, I feel like I would be a bit picky, as I imagine every author would be, when choosing to have someone write in their universe. But overall, just the idea of bringing more life and realism to a world you designed is simply an opportunity I would have trouble ever turning down.
T: One of the things you’ve mentioned on your site is that it is truly a compelling villain that makes a story pop. What would you say you did to prepare your fantasy world for a villain of that caliber, and how did you come up with them?
VAAII: When I decided to turn A Child of Ashes into an actual novel, the first thing I designed off the bat was the villain, so in a way, the universe was built around this one character. Even before I started writing seriously, I was really intrigued by the antagonists of stories and most of the time I would actually pay more attention to them then I would the heroes. So, coming in, I knew that if I wanted this story to do well, I would have to absolutely nail the villain design. I think it took me about a month’s worth of work, researching, and writing, until I finally settled on the villain of my story. I watched movies, read books, and even played video games with compelling villains that I thought were great. It didn’t take me long to realize that one of the cores of a great villain is their justification and motive.
A good trick I found early on is that if you take the hero and villain’s motives, write them down, erase their labels, ask someone to identify which is the hero or villains, and if they have a hard time guessing, then you got the workings of a great villain. So, when I designed the basics of my villain, that’s when I threw in the details of the world and began shaping him in a way around the world that would let him thrive. If you removed the labels of the villain in my book, I’m almost confident that you would think he was the hero. Which…depending on your point of view, he might be.
T: A lot of authors will sometimes struggle with putting their heroes through the wringer. A big part of the adventure is loss and pain. Now with the villain so fully realized, you’ve had to look at things from a different angle. Is it tough to pit forces like that against one another, knowing that there is bound to be some suffering one way or the other?
VAAII: It is, yes. When you put a lot of work and effort with your characters, you develop that personal attachment to them. You personally know their history, what they’ve been through, and even might know their fate in the story. And since I put as much love and effort in designing both opposing sides, I have a clash of emotions constantly when they fight each other, especially when the fight demands that a character falls. And that’s the case since I never really see my own villains as villains, rather just heroes of their own story so there is that extra level of attachment. So, when I write their encounters, I make the extra effort so that I do justice to both sides. Especially when it comes to killing off characters, the process I undergo can be dramatic because I love all my characters and enjoy writing them. So, the idea of not being able to write a character anymore because it was their time in the story to kick the bucket, is kind of sad to think about.
T: That leads us to talk about one of the big fantasy tropes: is a dead person in fantasy ever really dead? I suppose it happens more often in comic books, but with fantasy, we’re seeing it more often as well. Do you ever play the game where you take a character off the board knowing that you’ll be putting them back on later? Have you ever been tempted by the idea but had to fight it off with all your might?
VAAII: Absolutely. The temptation is definitely real, and I didn’t believe it until I started writing myself. We develop so much care and connections with these characters that sometimes its really hard to believe that they are actually gone. The rule: ‘never found the body’ is a big thing in storytelling since it pretty much indirectly does not confirm a character death. And I know that readers and other people know this and because of that, I love playing with this rule. I won’t lie, I’ve done it before in my very early stories and I think when done right, it can really invoke a big reaction from your readers. But the thing I found out is that when it comes to bringing characters back, it shouldn’t be done too many times where it kills the tension of character death and future character deaths. In a way, it’s very complicated and you have to really think if bringing them back will do them justice or not, either as a character or for the story.
If you write off a character, give them an honorable goodbye, have all the characters grieve, have them say emotional speeches about that character, but then bring that character back, it pretty much kills that drama and tension that was built. I do think it’s a staple in fantasy and honestly, when it’s done right, it really brings in excitement and suspense. I think just as long as that character return doesn’t become a habit or take away from the story, then I’m all for it.
T: You’re a fan of a lot of different pop culture, from Star Wars to superheroes. How do you bring things like that into your work as an inspiration, but still have your work feel fresh and distinct from what people are familiar with?
VAAII: Star Wars and many other movies and worlds are filled with so much detail, lore, and are filled with amazing characters that a lot of people love and adore. What I did was take a second to see how these emotional relationships between the audience and character is built. People develop connections with these characters in different ways. Maybe we loved Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter because of their ‘chosen one’ statuses and upbringing. Maybe we loved Frodo and Samwise from Lord of The Rings because they were small people in a dangerously big world. So, I studied how these characters made me feel and tried to understand why they made us feel that way. It was the connection. So, I tried to find and design different ways that would allow us, as the audience, to develop that deep connection with these characters.
And this goes beyond characters too, but other aspects of worldbuilding and story. Why did this twist or reveal really get us? Why do I love this part of the world’s lore so much? I asked these questions and tried to answer them which eventually led me to design my own aspects of storytelling in such a way that was fresh but also familiar with the audience.
T: Who do you think in your pantheon of characters will resonate the most with readers? Which of your characters is the one that you’re closest to?
VAAII: I’m hoping they resonate with Leon, who is the main character of the series. Leon is the character that I’ve taken the longest and most care to design and because so, he’s become the character that I’m really closest to. When it comes to character creation and design, Leon has undergone the most changes. The first Leon I designed when I first wrote A Child of Ashes is vastly different from the one that is published today. I’m sure my very first beta readers who read the first versions, if they reread the final version of the novel today, would think that Leon is a completely different character. One of the main things I hope the reader will like is his motive. And that is: he is a strong believer in second chances. He believes that people might not get things right the first time and that’s okay. He believes that as long as you are willing to work for it, as long as you are willing to change, you can earn that second chance to try again. Leon has always been a character that I wanted my readers to resonate with, to develop that attachment, because in a way, I designed him to be a lot like many people today: afraid to fail, but not afraid to try again. His background of being isolated in the royal palace, thus making him ignorant of the world events going on around him, makes him perfect for the reader to follow. Because Leon is exploring and learning about the world alongside the reader while giving readers that chance to explore Leon too. In the first volume, we get to learn who Leon is and who he was in the past, and since it’s in first person, you get to explore his thoughts and emotions on a personal level as the story progresses. However, the first volume only just dents the surface of his character. The plans I have for him, his interactions, his development, I’m honestly so excited for people to experience his journey.
T: Getting readers to love a character is certainly one of the challenges that writers have. Sometimes it’s just as challenging to make them hate characters. What sort of ways do you prepare yourself for one of your characters to do something really rotten?
VAAII: Oh, I agree, it’s very challenging. You know even though I took a lot of care into designing my antagonists, I was careful in that I had to add things to remind readers that these are the ‘bad guys’ of the story. So, I did have to give my antagonists qualities or have them do things that readers would question. I don’t necessarily write my antagonists whose goal is to be disliked by the readers, because again that’s a hard thing to do, and sometimes it can read a bit forced if done incorrectly so it doesn’t come naturally at all. Readers are very smart, they can tell if a character is being forcibly pushed to be someone that is supposed to be hated, and it could end up taking away from the character or the story if say, I try to force it too much.
I know writers and storytellers that can execute this very well and make it natural, but the way I do it—I like to do it as gentle reminders that these guys, the antagonists, are supposed to be villains too. But of course, the extremity of the qualities or acts depends on the character and whatever they do has to make sense for that character. So, when I’m considering what type of things this character has to do to remind readers that this is in fact an antagonist, I have to take a second to understand my character a bit more and think up things that is realistic for this character and is also in line for their type of personality or goals.
In one of my earlier revisions, a good amount of my beta readers started liking my main antagonist a bit more than my hero, so I took that as a sign that oh, I need to either make my hero more likeable, or remind my readers that the antagonist they’re rooting for just how evil he actually is. So, I added in those acts and gave him qualities that made sense for his character. Eventually my readers did begin to question the antagonist a bit more and not only was I able to have more beta readers favor my hero, but it also highlighted my antagonist too and made him more complex and real.
T: You’ve learned to tell stories in many ways. Obviously, the reason we’re here is your novel. But you also spend time voice acting. You DM a D&D campaign. What are the big differences that you notice about telling stories across these mediums?
VAAII: Dungeons and Dragons is pretty chaotic in terms of storytelling. Because of course, it’s not just me doing the storytelling, it’s the entire group. So, it’s the spontaneous nature of it that really sets apart the two styles. Even though my players do catch me off guard, the stories that we manage to create with each other is honestly some of the most memorable ones that I’ve been a part of. I never know what my players are going to do and it’s actually a really good test for me as a storyteller. I give them the pieces in the world to play with and they guide the stories themselves and I have to decide how the world and story changes around them. So, I learned to appreciate the fact that the best stories are the ones that you make with those you care about, and it’s one of the main reasons why I chose to get into D&D too.
T: Do your novels and your gameplay sessions ever find their stories cross-pollinating? Do you ever have any events in D&D start to worm their way into A Child of Ashes?
VAAII: They do! For my friends that are familiar with my universe in my novels, they reference a good amount of the events in my book and apply it when they play. One of them even took a battle strategy that one of my characters in the book performs and managed to execute it perfectly in the D&D campaign and I was both impressed and shocked that it managed to work. So, there’s actually a good amount of crossover between the two. For the story in my campaigns, I would design an original plot, but for fun, I would take some scrapped ideas I had from A Child of Ashes, refurbished, and redesigned them to use in my D&D games. So, seeing my friends’ reactions to plot twists that I originally had in A Child of Ashes, is really amusing and fun to watch. In reality, that’s every Dungeon Master’s dream, to see their players flip out in excitement over the story you designed, and since some ideas I had were originally in my novel, it’s a double benefit. And since my D&D universe, which is all homebrew, takes place in a separate universe from my books, I actually considered merging them because the world I built for D&D is so interesting and actually can fit quite well with A Child of Ashes. So, there might be even more easter eggs for my players to run into and I might actually make small references in my actual books. And who knows, I might even make a novel that officiates and confirms the crossover.
T: Obviously a big part of any long-term career in storytelling is finding out what comes next. So, now that you’ve got A Child of Ashes in the bag, so to speak, what have you got planned for your fantasy universe now? Are you diving right into the sequel, or are you planning spinoffs, or something else entirely?
VAAII: Honestly… all of what you said. A Child of Ashes is a series, and The False King is the first volume of five. At this moment, I actually have all five volumes written. So, the second volume of the series already just needs to go through some revisions and rewrites. Same goes for the third, fourth, and fifth volumes too and I’m honestly so excited for the future of this series. And when it comes to spinoffs? Oh yes. I have prequels and spinoffs featuring new characters and new stories set in different parts and times of the universe. And each story adds even more depth to the fantasy world and with more depth, comes more stories. So really, it just keeps expanding. I even have other stories planned in a completely different fantasy world, a sci-fi, and even mystery and suspense. So really, I never really stop writing or designing stories or worlds. Over time its just become a really big part of me.
T: I find that when someone is working on a series that is this large, and growing, the gears never stop turning. Especially with someone who grew up and was inspired by other mediums, do you ever envision your series brought to life in another style, whether it be a cinematic experience, or something like a graphic novel?
VAAII: Oh absolutely! When I was writing the series, the idea of it being adapted into a film has never failed to excite me and is a constant thought. My friends and I discussed casting actors for it just for fun, like oh, Jude Law or Robert Downey Jr is perfect to play this character in your book. And I think after that discussion, we created an all-star cast that would probably scare any major film production because of the budget on casting alone haha. But yeah, the thought of it honestly just continues to excite me and fuels that desire even more. I joke with my friends that if one day I get that email or call from a film producer saying they want to adapt my books into a movie or TV show, I would say yes immediately but with one condition, ‘I want to be a part of it!’. I am more than willing to drop whatever it is I’m doing, fly to Hollywood, and just be on set as a consultant. It’s a been a dream of mine to be on a film set, but to be on a film set of my book-to-film adaptation, I’d be speechless. And I think after seeing my stories for so long as just words and seeing them brought to life through another form sounds so surreal. I mean even just seeing my book cover design, or even my map, excited me so much. And it doesn’t just have to be a film or tv show, if my book was adapted into a graphic novel, a comic, or animation, that would be amazing, and a dream come true. Because as an author, it’s not just our job to design and create memorable stories and worlds, but a big part of it is sharing it with people who would love to experience it.
T: Victor, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your series and your life, as well as what may be coming next. We’ve only just scratched the surface here, so if any new fans wanted to learn a bit more about you, where could they find you out in the world?
VAAII: Thank you so much! It was so fun taking this opportunity to talk with you! I have a growing authors page on Amazon, a Twitter, and if people are curious about parts other than my writing, then I have an Instagram that people can check out too! I also have a growing author website that people can subscribe to and its where I post some blogs about random things and news about my upcoming works! I’m also a beta reader on the side and I’ve helped many amazing upcoming writers with their stories. Whether it’s about writing, about D&D, or even if you just want to say hello, people are always free to connect with me!
Author’s Website: https://victoracnam.com/
T: Thank you again, Victor. Best of luck on what comes next, and we look forward to seeing you thrive!
VAAII: Thank you again for having me! I had a lot of fun, and it was a such a pleasure! I hope to take the chance to talk again in the future!
Once more, I wanted to thank Victor A. Acnam II for taking some time out of what is no doubt a busy schedule to talk to us about his impressive world. It’s always great to find a new author who speaks to their audience, especially one so passionate. Be sure to check out A Child of Ashes: Volume 1: The False King on Amazon today, and we’ll be sure to let you know when Acnam’s next work is out!
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