On Miserere and sequels and how all of this works ...

A lot of people have been asking me about a sequel to my debut novel Miserere: An Autumn Tale. A lot of people. I have responded to several emails along with discussions on various social media venues. I've answered the same questions privately to each person as I am able, and I am finding it a bit difficult to keep up with the questions.

So this [very long] blog post is going to be one of those posts that I can refer people to whenever they ask, primarily because I think it helps readers to understand the evaluation process an author goes through when deciding which projects to pursue. This post is NOT designed to be a guilt-trip on anyone. I'm just stating the facts as they are. The burden of promotion should not be allocated to the fans. I know you guys buy what you like and talk about the novels you love the best, and that is all cool with me.

So what happened with Miserere?

Miserere stumbled out of the gate at a distinct disadvantage due to several reasons beyond my control. The publisher, in a moment of marketing brilliance, categorized Miserere as Christian Fiction. For those of you who don't understand how these categories work: Christian Fiction is reserved for books and stories that promote a Christian worldview. While Miserere doesn't portray Christianity or Christians as evil, Miserere does promote a worldview of tolerance and acceptance whereby all religions are respected, honor one another and the philosophies of each, and work together and so on and so forth.

Anyone who has read Miserere can tell you that Miserere no more promotes Christianity than Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon promotes Islam. Both novels rely on myths and common knowledge of their respective religions, but Ahmed isn't out to convert anyone anymore than I am.

Unfortunately, having Miserere in the Christian Fiction category colored people's initial perceptions of the novel. A hate review of "ew, ew, Christians" in one major publication didn't help matters. The same women authors who were cheerfully publishing their own novels about fallen angels of various kinds also went "ew, ew, Christians" as if they didn't realize the mythologies they were relying on to sell their own works were Christian in nature.

Fans of young adult fantasy picked up the novel and were absolutely flummoxed by the fact the novel wasn't about the twelve-year-old character. Why were young adult readers picking up Miserere? Once more, poor marketing.

Where was the publisher during all of this? I'll get to that in a moment.

Meanwhile, the young adult readers found many scenes "icky," which is good, because Miserere is dark fantasy, but bad, because the readers' expectations were totally blown away, and they wound up with a book they didn't like. It wasn't until after I'd finally had enough and exploded with a blog post that I write dark fantasy that everyone finally seemed to get it.

File that one under WHY AUTHOR BLOGS ARE IMPORTANT.

If bad marketing doesn't kill your novel, your publisher filing for bankruptcy will definitely screw you to the wall. When a publisher files for bankruptcy the rights to the novels under contract, in this case Miserere, become tied up in the bankruptcy proceedings. This meant that even if I wrote Dolorosa (Miserere's sequel), it couldn't be shopped to other publishers while the bankruptcy proceedings were progressing. Publishers are leery about picking up a second novel if the sales to the first book weren't good, because the numbers prove that the second book in a series doesn't always sell as well as the first.

A bankruptcy proceeding of this nature can last for years. During the bankruptcy proceeding, rights are rarely returned to the authors. At that time, I had started Dolorosa, but when the news of the possibility of a bankruptcy action hit, I had to re-think my publishing strategy.

I suppose this is a good place to pause and point out that I'm not writing novels for funsies. Oddly enough, I have the same objective as every male author out there, to make money. It might seem strange to phrase it that way, but many men seem to be of the opinion that this is some kind of hobby that I indulge in for empty praise. However, as the sole wage earner in my house, it's not a hobby to me.

So when I'm balancing the facts that I have a full-time job, a family, and the strict limitations on my writing time, I have to focus on projects that have the potential to sell.

During, what I now refer to as the YEAR OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, the entire Katharoi series was dead in the water, because Night Shade Books had purchased Miserere along with the right of first refusal on any sequels. This portion of the contract tied Miserere along with any sequels into the bankruptcy proceedings. Night Shade did eventually sell their company to Skyhorse/Start, who currently publishes Miserere under the Night Shade Books label.

However, that sale left all of the Night Shade authors holding our collective breath, because if the original owners of Night Shade Books had changed their minds and filed for bankruptcy during the year following the sale to Skyhorse/Start, the sale would become null and everyone's contracts would enter the bankruptcy proceedings [see all of the angst in the paragraphs above, but especially the part about time]. Needless to say, the year came and went with no further bankruptcy proceedings, and that was a VERY GOOD THING.

Last summer, Start posted Miserere in a BookBub deal. This was also a VERY GOOD THING, and a lot of people snapped up the novel. Unfortunately, some people have posted the book to Torrent sites.

Here is a list of things that book publishers DON'T examine prior to signing an author:

  • The number of free downloads from Torrent sites
  • Reviews (reviews are nice and the best publicity an author can get, but reviews don't impact decisions in marketing unless they are in major publications like the New York Times)

Here is a list of things that book publishers DO examine prior to signing an author: 

  • SALES

Nor do marketing divisions take into account all of the negative things that were totally beyond the author's control, regardless of the fact that these factors might have been the cause of low sales. Numbers are the bottom line and everything else is simply excuses.

So what does all of this have to do with Dolorosa?

TIME and SALES.

Time is something I don't have lot to spare, and sales, sadly enough, are why you see authors on Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites, constantly whispering: Buy my book. We're like demons in the machine, but we can't help it. We need those numbers.

I had hoped that if I could get another series off the ground, or place a major project with another publishing house, then I might get the chance to develop a larger following. With more fans, I could justify the time necessary to write Dolorosa.

That plan is still fully in effect. I haven't given up, which is why you see me all over the Internet, whispering: Buy my books. It's also why I've been pushing Los Nefilim so hard over the last year. A win for Los Nefilim is a win for the Katharoi series.

So the crux of the whole matter isn't the lack of desire to write Dolorosa, because the desire is there. The issue is the time necessary to write a work that will most likely fail to sell due to the poor sales of the first novel.

I want to reiterate: this isn't a hobby to me. So I have to keep focusing on writing projects that have the potential to sell, and when the right day comes, I will write Dolorosa, because I never say never. I hope that helps to explain my reasoning in this process and why you haven't seen Miserere's sequel.

If you have a question, drop it in the comments, and I will try to answer as time allows. Comments are moderated, so don't panic if you don't see yours appear immediately.

Fiction and Abandoned Children with a new introduction

I had a nightmare, wherein my husband drove us through Greensboro, and he was chatting about this one and that one and the things they had done. The weather was foul, full of wind and thunder. A tornado appeared four streets away from us and roared from west to east. Good backseat driver that I am, I tried to direct him into an empty lot, but more tornadoes were forming there. He indicated the tornadoes and asked if I wanted to die. I told him I wanted to feel safe, and then I awakened.

I suppose that is what we all want--to feel safe, especially when we feel like the world is collapsing all around us. A lot of people take that feeling for granted without realizing it. Abandoned children never do.

I’ve put off this post for a couple of reasons. The first is simply because it is a subject that can occasionally be painful to me. I keep it at a distance most of the time and try to view the past through an analytical lens. I keep perspective that way.

The other reason is because people tend to have very strong feelings on the issues of orphans and adoption. These strong feelings generally result in passionate arguments for or against … well, concepts, and not necessarily children. People dislike having their expectations challenged, and in some cases, feel guilty; although they have, in actuality, done nothing wrong.

Emotions are funny like that. Our brains tell us one thing, but our hearts say something different.

So today, I am going to talk about abandoned children–the perennial favorite of most authors–and these children’s special needs. As an adoptee, I am highly sensitive to themes of abandonment in both film and literature. The casual way in which abandonment is treated has always bothered me about a lot of the myths and stories I remember from my childhood. In these stories, the young hero is abandoned at an early age, but never suffers a single identity crisis. Complicated creatures like mothers and fathers are held at arm’s length, or cast into the shadow of the grave.

In real life, an infant knows its mother’s smell and moods. Both the mother and father produce chemicals, such as oxytocin and vasopressin to name merely two, that help facilitate bonding with the newborn infant. Through the great cocktail of chemicals in the human body, all three–mother, father, and infant–nurture one another through sight, smell, and sound.

When an infant is permanently removed from her biological parents, the child is not only deprived of these beneficial chemicals, but stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are produced in greater quantity. Cortisol and adrenaline prepare the body for flight or fight in response to either psychological or physical danger. In some children, further imbalances in serotonin and noradrenalin can reprogram the child’s brain to remain in a constant state of readiness. Combined, these imbalances can result in physical issues such as high blood pressure, easy startle response, and instantaneous explosive behavior–symptoms which are consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Even when a child is transferred from an abusive environment into a loving home, the brain remembers, and the child perceives the world as an unsafe place. Children who have experienced early trauma also have attachment issues, suffer from the inability to focus, and possibly night terrors. They are impulsive and tend to exhibit defiance, aggression, and rage. In a subconscious effort to self-medicate, some of these children will become dependent on drugs and alcohol in adulthood.

Welcome to my world. Having experienced all of those things, I can assure you there is hope.

A nurturing environment coupled with parental patience and adults who are aware of the issues involved can mitigate many damaging experiences, but it takes time. In other words, while adoptive parents can’t magically wipe away the past, they can teach their children coping strategies that will enable the children to survive and sometimes thrive.

What does all of this have to do with writing science fiction and fantasy?

With my Los Nefilim series, I have two individuals who were abandoned at very early ages: Diago and his son, Rafael. Diago suffered tremendous abuse, and still deals with the fallout from his early childhood. Rafael, meanwhile, was abandoned at an earlier age and lived in an orphanage before Diago discovers him.

I didn’t need to research the effects of abandonment on either Diago or Rafael–personal experience was already under my belt. I did do some research into how to mitigate the effects of abandonment on children. By looking at the problems and solutions that the adoptive parents of Russian orphans placed in American homes experienced, I was able to see tactics that failed miserably and others who experienced success.

Apparently, in some cases, the adoptive parents weren’t prepared for the emotional issues of their children. They expected love and discipline would be enough. One example that remained with me was that of a young Russian boy who had been adopted by an affluent family. The mother and father tried everything in their power to do all of the things they, as parents, felt they should do. In other words, they employed the parenting tactics their parents had used on them. There was a schedule, and rules, and expectations for behavior, which the youth was unable to fulfill (and this is not to fault the family or the child–they did everything the doctors and psychologists told them to do).

Due to his own fears and abuse, the child could not meet these parental expectations. In frustration and fear, the child lashed out. The family became afraid and got in touch with the adoption agency. The agency placed the child in a different home.

The second couple had a lot of experience with abused children. They had a more relaxed regimen. For example, in his previous home, the youngster would want to eat all the time. Food deprivation in the orphanage was a factor in this behavior. The first adoptive mother wanted to establish regular meals that fit the family’s lifestyle. When the youth disobeyed her, she would, in turn, become frustrated, impose more restrictions, and this would only intensify the youth’s misbehavior.

In his new home, he was supposed to be present for meals, but if he wasn’t there was no retribution. As the family continued to sit down and eat at regular times, the youth eventually joined them. This took a great deal of time and patience on the new adoptive parents’ part, but as I said, they were used to dealing with abandoned children.

The difference between these two homes weren’t the difference between “good” parents and “bad” parents. The major difference was in the parents’ expectations and preparation for the child’s issues.

For adopted children, a perpetual cycle of questions remains lodged in the back of the adoptee’s mind like splinters in the subconscious. Who am I? Where do I belong? Are there people who look like me, think like me, somewhere else in the world? Will I know them if I see them? And, more importantly, will they know me?

All the while, I loved my adoptive parents, and my father especially went out of his way to say that I was loved. Even so, there was a constant tape playing in my heart that said: I’m not good enough to keep; no mother rejects her child unless something is wrong with it; if I want these people to keep me, I have to do better, be better; I’m not good enough, not good enough, not good enough …

Remember what I said earlier: Our brains tell us one thing, but our hearts say something different.

A child’s brain may parrot the assurances of the adoptive parents and society as a whole, but the child’s heart bears a different pain, one they are not always able to articulate. Feelings aren’t rational–they are simply there, lurking within us and waiting for the right trigger to stimulate them into existence. Some adoptees eventually learn to reconcile the facts of their circumstances with their feelings, others may become swallowed by the world around them.

One of the reasons I loved Jessica Alba in Dark Angel(a science fiction series from 2000) was the adept manner in which both the writers and Alba handled the protagonist, Max Guevara, who was an genetically engineered super-soldier, but with a missing piece to her life … the mystery around her mother and her birth. They managed to convey the trauma of Guevara being separated from her mother at birth along with Guevara’s constant yearning to find her mother and the story of her beginning.

This is why I find stories with children who are spirited away from their parents into new circumstances hard to swallow at times. Infants don’t roll into the world as a blank slate. Our experiences in the womb are embedded in our psyches in order to prepare us for survival.

The child who is taken from her poverty stricken parents and raised by royalty doesn’t automatically adjust to these new circumstances flawlessly. The clash of parental attitudes versus the child’s hidden traumas don’t need to be explored in depth in every story, but a cursory acknowledgement of known behavior patterns between adults and adopted children are preferable to none at all.

To concede these issues exist by fairly representing them in our stories is the difference between … say … the adoptive parent who tries to modify her child’s special needs to her expectations and the parent who knows his son’s hunger is driven by fear. One is governed by the intellect, the other by the heart.

If you want the abandoned child in your story to be whole in body and spirit, march the head and the heart in tandem. Then do what every parent does: push your story into the world and hope for the best.

_____

This post originally appeared on SF Signal's Special Needs in Strange Worlds (January 20, 2016).

Folklore Thursday: The Nephilim

Yesterday on Twitter, an author asked about sources on Nephilim, and I had just enough time to shoot her a few links and suggestions. When I was wracking my brain about blog posts this week, I figured that Folklore Thursday might be a good place to elaborate on some of those sources.

So ... *coughs* ... I present to you a very brief [and I do mean BRIEF] history of the Nephilim in canonical and non-canonical texts:

The Nephilim are only mentioned twice in the two books of the Bible; once in Genesis and again in Numbers. The first time is in Genesis 6:4:

3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

And again in Numbers 13:33:

32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Neither of those references seem particularly helpful, probably because portions of Genesis, and in all probability Numbers as well, seem to be heavily edited and cobbled together from multiple sources. A good example is the differentiation between the creation story in Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 and the continuation, or elaboration of the story in Genesis 2:4 - 2:24. In both Genesis and Numbers, the Nephilim are mentioned as if the reader should be familiar with them from the context of a larger narrative.

A longer rendition of the Nephilim narrative can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly in 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees.* Here, in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the Nephilim are linked to the Fallen angels and the Watchers. In Enoch, the reader can find the story of a high ranking angel called Samyaza, who allegedly led a group of two hundred angels to earth in order to couple with mortal women.

Needless to say, this was frowned upon.

So Samyaza and his angels were banished to Tartarus, and the Nephilim were condemned to wander the earth in spiritual form as demons, whose task is was to torment and lead humankind astray. The antediluvian children of the Nephilim were called the Elioud, and they are what the non-canonical texts considered to be a part-angel hybrid.

My Nefilim in my Los Nefilim stories are more akin to the Elioud in nature; although, I never use the word Elioud. This is because I got into a lot of trouble with Miserere by sticking too close to actual texts and practices. What I learned from writing Miserere, and applied in Los Nefilim, is that the general reader doesn't have all of the necessary background information about the non-canonical texts, and it is a bit too much in terms of backstory. With too much backstory, the pacing of a story is slowed to crawl and totally bores the reader into a coma.

Sort of like this post.

But just in case you're one of those weird people like me that really gets into reading about angels and demons, you can find much more about the Nephilim in the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1 Enoch, and The Book of Jubilees.

__________

*The Book of Jubilees is canonical in both the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and by Beta Israel, Ethiopian Jews.

Folklore Thursday: The Coming of the Angels and the First War

From the writings of Guillermo Ramírez de Luna, first king of Los Nefilim:

In my first-born life, my name was Solomon, and I was the third king of all Israel. Of my father David’s many children, I was the only one born with the fire of the angels in my soul.

My father told me of the beginning days of the world, and now I leave my words for my daughter, who will one day rule Los Nefilim in my place.

During the first generations of the world, the daimons ruled the earth. They were the old gods, worshiped in the earth and water, and drew their sustenance from the mortals’ emotions--the stronger the emotion, the more powerful the daimon. The daimons often coupled with the mortals to create Nephilim, hybrid creatures neither truly spirit nor truly mortal. These Nephilim were the sorcerers, the prophets, the dreamers of the ancient times.

The angels came from sky; a different species made of fire and air. Their explorations of the numinous realms led them to the earthly realm, and once here, they fell in love with the mortals.

The daimons saw the angels as usurpers and refused to be subjugated. The most powerful daimons were those that fed on hate--Moloch and Ashmedai--and they led the others against the angels. The two groups warred and the skies shook with the thunder of their battles. They moved the continents and sank Atlantis beneath their fury. Both sides were equal in cunning and strength, so the conflict dragged on for years to become a stalemate between the powerful entities.

To break the impasse, the angels gambled that the daimons wouldn’t allow the mortals to be annihilated. They manipulated the realms and caused the deluge, and the rains submerged the earth. Millions of mortals perished.

When the daimons saw their sustenance dying, they capitulated to the angels’ demands and negotiated a treaty, but at no point during those mediations did the daimons mention their bastard children, the Nephilim. Unlike their parents, the daimon-born Nephilim weren’t restricted to the many covenants between the daimons and the angels. They set about the lands to provoke war and discontent in order to feed their parents’ insatiable appetite for blood.

When the angels discovered the daimons' children, they created a breeding plan of their own and set it into motion. Angels mated with mortals. Our race, the angel-born Nephilim, was produced to circumvent the threat of the daimon-born. With the Nephilim, the angels and the daimons could avoid another open conflict--their bastard children would decide future wars. Each side sought to breed the most powerful army.

Even today, the war goes on and the breeding programs continue ...

Driving fans away from SFF

I'm going to talk about this again; although no one really pays attention to me, but hey, it's my blog, and I can whine if I want to, because I think the subject is important. We, the authors, are driving our fans away from SFF, and if the genre dies, so will our incomes, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

Three things in general have stood out to me lately: 1. Yet another protracted battle for the Hugo; 2. Authors telling fans they should be patient and shouldn't write certain types of reviews; and probably the most important, 3. Forget we write for the fans.

Number 1. The Hugo is a fan award that has been hijacked by authors--let the finger pointing commence.

Thus far, I've only seen a few authors rise above this mess. One is George R.R. Martin, who has made every attempt to keep his posts factual and to the point. As for me, I maintain precisely the same attitude this year that I had last year: you should all be ashamed for shitting on the fans, the very people that buy our books.

Number 2. Authors instructing fans on how to act.

Seriously now, maybe it's because I've been around since the 1980s, but fans aren't saying anything new. The only difference is that all of their comments and discussions are nowadays in places where authors can see those discussions. Frankly, I think the fans have every right to complain and express their frustration so long as they are not sending abusive emails to the authors.

I draw the line at abuse, verbal or otherwise.

However, when I was a fan, as opposed to being an author and a fan, but before I ever wrote my first word, I recall grousing about this author or that author being too slow. Back in the old days before the Internet, we ... talked ... outloud ... to one another. Shocking, but true.

What I'm seeing now in the forums are those same types of discussions. I can't speak for everyone, but I know for me, my complaints developed from a sense of helplessness and frustration. It was a form of grieving, of letting go. I don't see why fans should be deprived of this grieving process for characters and stories that they love. Sometimes this grief will result in bad reviews for an author, but seriously, I can read reviews and tell which reviewers honestly didn't like the story. 

Most people can. People are actually fairly intelligent and can suss through the bullshit quite well.

So let the fans have their space where they can complain and grieve and speak of their frustration. I, as an author, don't have to take these things personally. I understand my circumstances, and if others don't, that's okay.

We, the authors, have no business explaining to fans how they should manage their expectations.

Number 3. Forget we write for the fans.

I write for my fans, and also in the hope to acquire new fans as I go along. The people who are attached to my brand of dark fiction have certain expectations, and I try to meet those expectations while also growing as an author and experimenting with new techniques. Sometimes those new techniques will win me more fans, other times, my writing will fall flat.

Skill is honed through failure, not success.

However, I keep my fans and the market in my sights at all times. I'm not a talented writer. I'm the kind of writer that has to work very, very hard to achieve a good story, so it takes me a little longer to produce one good work.

I know that requires patience on the part of my fans, but I am very lucky. My fans are above average readers with discriminating tastes, and I appreciate you all, each and every one.

So let's stop driving fans away from SFF and give them the kind of open and nurturing community they deserve, where they can feel safe and at home.

[Please note: comments are off, because I'm writing. Feel free to whine on your own blog. Here, have some cheese.]