I suppose we all have different ways to measure our success as authors. Some gauge Amazon rankings or sales figures, others assess the number of fans or followers. Some might use awards as the yardstick for accomplishment while others look to the bestseller lists.
I measure mine by the fulfillment of my goals. With Los Nefilim, I wanted to have my writing accepted for publication because the story was well-written and entertaining. That happened with Los Nefilim--a fact that I marvel over each day, because it wouldn't have occurred quite the way it did if people weren't vocal about representation.
You see, when I first envisioned the character of Diago several years ago, he was a stereotypical gay man: a caricature, not a person. Fortunately, I was online and began to read discussions about representation on blogs and through Twitter chats. As I did, I realized that my initial depiction of Diago was not only wrong, but also harmful.
Unsure how to proceed, I asked Robert Dunbar for help, and he most graciously made a place for me to ask questions in his Goodreads group. Then he went one step further and asked some of his friends to help--members of the LGBT community, who answered my questions and overlooked any faux pas I might have made in the discussion. With patience and understanding, they guided me with their words, and here is what I learned:
When it came to representation in novels, gay men were often defined as being constantly on the hunt for sex. Or they were seen dying from suicide, or suffering from depression simply because they were gay. The not so subliminal message in these works is that one cannot be a gay man and be happy.
Yet neither of these portrayals were like the men I knew, who had healthy relationships with their partners and with the people around them. Likewise, my friends who were single were also emotionally centered and enjoyed their lifestyle. So I understood exactly what the people in Rob's forum were saying when they told me their biggest request was to see a gay man (or any member of the LGBT community) represented as a whole person, and not simply defined by one aspect of their character.
I spoke to other people, and they said they were tired of seeing gay men ridiculed in film and novels. Their issues with these portrayals wasn't because they didn't have a sense of humor. But when someone is seen as nothing but the joke of a story, then the joke becomes a myth of its own making and strips people of their humanity by lampooning them. Done long enough, the jokes become insidious and color our perceptions of others until we only see the satire, not the human being.
Recently, Laura M. Hughes reviewed Los Nefilim on her blog. Out of all of the kind things she said about the series, this was my favorite part:
... the heroes of Los Nefilim are deep, fully-rounded characters who are far too complex to be defined simply by which master they serve; or, for that matter, by their sexuality. Issues of gender are neither downplayed nor dwelt on, and the fact that Diago and Miquel are both men is but a natural part of the story.
(In fact, the author’s egalitarian approach to gender holds up a mirror to our own lives in the least patronising way possible. Simply put, Frohock shows us a society where men are just as vulnerable as women, and often suffer in silence because of unequal and arbitrary gender expectations. She shows us a society in which men are just as likely as women to experience rape, and verbal abuse, and sexual harassment – a fact we all need to recognise and empathise with.)
On the surface, Los Nefilim could also be regarded as a moral tale about overcoming intolerance: the Nephilim’s secret war does indeed serve as a clever analogy for how homosexuality was stifled beneath the stigma of a god-fearing society. But while this is without doubt a huge part of the story, in my opinion it’s actually far subtler than that. Great speechifiers and glorious martyrs our protagonists ain’t: they are heroes of necessity, not intent. And Frohock doesn’t idealise Diago and Miquel’s relationship so much as naturalise it. Their connection is shown through understated dialogue and non-verbal interactions, and by the gradual emergence of both men’s paternal instincts as they work hard to create a harmonious family unit for Diago’s son.
For me this was a huge relief. In the past I’ve pointed out more than a few female writers who draw on shallow stereotypes of sexual promiscuity and unequal partnerships in an attempt to portray same-sex male couples. Thankfully, Frohock avoids this entirely: she doesn’t ‘write gay characters’; she writes characters who happen to be gay. Contrary to stereotypical beliefs – and exactly like couples of any orientation – Miquel and Diago don’t hump like rabbits, nor are they joined at the hip. And their relationship might be the pivot on which the events of Los Nefilim turn . . . but no one can accuse the story of being ‘too romantic’.
Hughes' analysis of the series has been echoed by other reviewers. Hers simply went into more detail.
And what I realized, as I read her review, was that while Los Nefilim might not be the most talked about series of the year, I had succeeded in doing what I set out to do. I wrote a good story, which is an entertaining read, and it sold on the strength of my writing. My gay characters weren't secondary: Diago is the protagonist, and his partner, Miquel, is featured heavily in each of the novellas.
Los Nefilim isn't the only novel out there with a gay protagonist, but Diago is mine, and I am incredibly proud of his story. Meanwhile, I feel like I've honored the good men that I know--the same men who still face prejudice and hate simply because of who they love--by writing a series that doesn't add to the list of stereotypical portrayals of gay men.
And that, my dear friends, is success.