Fieldnotes: Fascism, women, and the Spanish Civil War

WARNING: If you’re upset by violence, you might want to skip this post, because this one is ugly.

In order to simplify the opposing forces in the Spanish Civil War for my American readers:

The elected Republican government was roughly the equivalent to today’s Democratic Party. Franco’s fascists referred to the Republicans as “leftists,” or as “reds” even though most Republicans did not consider themselves to be communists.

The rebels (Franco and his military junta) were backed by the Church, industrialists, the rich, and fascists, which can be likened to today’s evangelicals, the one percent, and Trump’s fascist party, the GOP. They consisted of members of the hard-right and fascists.

Before anyone accuses me of misrepresenting the GOP’s fascist mentality, their current philosophy was initially made clear in a speech by one of Franco’s more flamboyant generals, Juan Yagüe y Blanco (more commonly known as the Butcher of Badajoz):

“… We have decided to redeem you and we will redeem you whether you want to be redeemed or not. Do we need you for anything? No, there will never again be any elections, so why would we need your vote? The first thing to do is to redeem the enemy. We are going to impose our civilization on them and if they don’t accept it willingly, we will impose it by force …”

That attitude, expressed by Yagüe in October of 1937, exemplified the rhetoric behind Franco’s war of annihilation, which was especially brutal on women. Republicans, who weren’t able to flee Franco’s advancing forces, were shot or taken into custody, not as prisoners of war but as common criminals. If the men couldn’t be found, their mothers, wives, and daughters were imprisoned in their stead. In Huesca, seventy-four women were executed for the crime of being the wives of men who had either fled or been shot.

Falangists (fascists) raped Republican women at will. They were also known to brand their victims’ breasts with the Falangist symbol of yoke and arrows. In one case, Falangists raped two women and when they were done, they placed hand grenades between the women’s legs and pulled the pins.


Executions were commonplace and had no regard to either gender or age. In Madrid on 5 August 1939, “fifty-six prisoners were executed including a fourteen-year-old boy and thirteen women, seven of whom were under the age of twenty-one. They came to be known as the Trece Rosas, thirteen roses whose fate symbolized the cruelty of the Franco regime. They were members of the United Socialist Youth, the JSU. Their capture in the spring of 1939 had been facilitated because the Casado Junta had seized JSU membership lists then left them for the Francoists. The excuse for the executions was a non-existent plot to murder Franco.”

The repression in Jaca was exceptionally brutal and was quite often led, not by the military, but by the priests. One in particular, Father de Fustiñana, who was the Chaplain to the local Requetés and liked to walk the streets carrying a gun, was especially feared. Called a ‘bird of ill omen,’ the prisoners knew that when he entered the prison, death followed. On 6 August 1936, Fustiñana, an army captain, and two Falangists “seized two women from the Jaca prison, took them out into the countryside and shot them.” The women were Pilar Vizcarra, who was twenty-eight-years old and pregnant, and Desideria Giménez, a member of the Socialist Youth. Giménez was sixteen.

Fustiñana enjoyed these executions. “He offered confession and the last rites to those about to be shot. Then, his shoes caked with blood, he would visit the families of the few that accepted.” Fustiñana maintained lists of those executed and whether or not the condemned decided to make confession at the end. Over four hundred people from Jaca and its surrounding villages were murdered during this purge.

Those arrested were often members of the Republican middle class, especially doctors and schoolteachers. Women weren’t allowed to take children older than three into prison with them. Since family members were also either imprisoned, executed, or in exile, the women had no one to care for their children. In other cases, babies were taken away (often by force) from their mothers immediately after birth in prison.

The Republican children were placed orphanages, often while the parents still lived.

The justification for removing children from their parents was precipitated by Major Antonio Vallejo Nágera, who was appointed by Franco to oversee the Psychiatric Services of the rebel army. Vallejo spent his time searching for the “‘red gene’ and the links between Marxism and mental deficiency on Republican prisoners.” He justified “the sequestration of Republican children in a book entitled The Eugenics of Spanishness and the Regeneration of the Race.” Vallejo’s theory was that race “was constituted by a series of cultural values” such as hierarchical, military, and patriotic.

Of course Vallejo noted that the values of “the left” were inimical to the fascist idea of Spanishness, and therefore had to be eradicated. “Obsessed with what he called ‘the transcendent task of cleansing of our race’, his model was the Inquisition, which had protected Spain from poisonous doctrines in the past.” To his way of thinking, the “health of the race required that children be separated from their ‘red’ mothers.”

His work eventually led to the 1941 law that “legalized the changing of the names of Republican orphans.”

After the war, roughly twelve thousand children were placed in state or religious orphanages. These orphanages brainwashed the children by telling them that their parents were criminals. One woman recounts how her husband was shot before her and her small daughter. She was arrested and the child was given to a Catholic orphanage. “The mother wrote regularly until one day her daughter replied saying, ‘Don’t write to me any more about papa. I know he was a criminal. I am taking the veil.’”

Likewise, other children were brainwashed into denouncing their fathers as assassins. They were “forced to sing the songs of the murderers of their father; to wear the uniform of those who have executed him, and to curse the dead and to blaspheme his memory.”

When women were allowed to take their small children with them into prison, it usually resulted in a death sentence for the child. In Ventas, Paz Azatí recounted that each day “on the floor of the Ventas infirmary you would see the corpses of fifteen to twenty children dead from meningitis.” The notorious prison in Saturrarán prison in the Basque Country murdered more than one hundred women and fifty children with disease alone.

Rather than outcry, the Francoists applauded his atrocities at every turn. Propagandists “presented the executions, the overflowing prisons and camps, the slave-labour battalions and the fate of the exiles as the scrupulous yet compassionate justice of a benevolent Caudillo. In 1964, they launched a highly choreographed, nationwide celebration of the ‘Twenty-Five Years of Peace’ since the end of the war. Every town in Spain was bedecked with posters rejoicing in the purging of the atheistic hordes of the left.”

In an interview with ABC, Franco “made it clear that the celebrations were not for peace but for victory … The unspoken message of the elaborate celebrations was that the return on Franco’s investment in terror could not have been more successful.”

For the sake of ourselves and our children, we should take care the past does not become the present.

All quotes taken from The Spanish Holocaust: inquisition and extermination in twentieth-century Spain by Paul Preston.

Swept away in the mainstream of life ...

Some friends of mine have a saying about getting back into the mainstream of life. These last few weeks, it seems like I was swept away in a stream that became a flood, and I mean that literally and figuratively.

I haven’t been blogging and only recently got back into my writing groove.

My husband had some health issues with his heart for which he was hospitalized. He went to see his cardiologist and they admitted him that day. It was all very frightening and sudden, but he got the absolute best of care. I spent nine days holding down my day job, visiting him in the hospital, and doing all the things I do in addition to all the things he does. My daughter was an absolute lifesaver for me. She stayed with me and picked up all the slack. I don’t know what I would have done without her and my sister-in-law. I’m so very lucky to have them both in my life.

While my husband was in the hospital, Hurricane Florence decided to visit. We’re far enough inland that we’re usually safe; but on Wednesday of last week, NOAA predicted a Category 4 hurricane. A Category 4 will produce high winds for us, even as far west as we are, and although it’s usually downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it arrives here, those winds can be fierce, especially when you’re living in a rural are with a lot of trees. When we lose power, we lose our well, which leads me to the next part of this story …

Needless to say that my stress levels were somewhat higher than normal. Let’s all recall that I’m a little high strung in the first place. So when I went to the grocery store and saw all of the bottled water had been sold, I had a mini-breakdown on the aisle. I eventually managed to score some bottled water. I panicked and purchased about six cases. We’re good on bottled water, thank you.

By the time my day ended at 8:00 p.m. each evening, I was so exhausted that I fell into the bed and died until it was time to get up and do it all over again. My husband’s cardiologist is wonderful. He did all the right things, so now I have my husband back home again. Florence was evil, but we weren’t affected with anything other than some blustery weather and rain.

The first part of September was wild, and there is still a couple of weeks left, but I’m sort of hoping that it’s a case of in like a lion and out like a lamb. I’m so happy to have my husband home and feeling so much better. We’re making some lifestyle changes that will benefit us both.

I’ve finally had a chance to see Black Panther. It is a wonderful movie filled with all of the things I love: a nuanced villain, wonderful acting, a clear recognition of history and how it affects our lives, and a wonderful theme. If you haven’t had a chance to see it, check it out.


I also had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of John Hornor Jacobs’ new novella, The Sea Dreams it is the Sky, which is due to be published on October 30.

It has been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure to read such a cerebral work of cosmic horror. The last time I enjoyed a horror novella this much, I was reading Stephen King’s 1922.

In Jacobs’ novella, Isabel meets a fellow ex-pat, who is simply known as the Eye. When the Eye receives a mysterious note, he returns to their homeland and leaves Isabel in charge of his apartment. There, she finds that the Eye is none other than the reviled poet, Rafael Avendaño.

As Isabel reads the manuscripts the poet has left behind, I was immersed into a creeping sense of dread that intensified with every page. Like Isabel, I was drawn into the terror of Avendaño's life during the military coup that left him maimed in body and soul. And behind the coup, seen only by Avendaño, is an ancient horror that Jacobs reveals by masterfully stripping away one layer of reality after another.

Equal turns poetic and hypnotic, Jacobs resurrects the surreal imagery of Jorge Louis Borges and couples it with visceral prose that cuts to the bone.

It gave me nightmares.

Needless to say, I loved it, and I send it your way highly recommended. Pre-order it if you can so it drops into your magical device just in time for Halloween.

So that is what I’ve been doing and where I’ve been. I’ve also been reading Pitch Wars entries and having to make some hard choices. Everyone who submitted to me is talented is so many different ways.

On Monday of this week, I got my page proofs for Where Oblivion Lives. They get the priority, because deadlines. I’m also working on the next Los Nefilim novel, Carved from Stone and Dream. After many false starts, the story is beginning to take shape.

I can also now confirm that I will be a guest at MystiCon (February 22-24, 2019) in Roanoke, Virginia! That’s really exciting for me. I’ve been wanting to attend this con for quite some time, so I’m looking forward to being a part of their program.

I’ll also be attending World Fantasy Con in Baltimore this November, so watch for me there. As always, take care. I’ll be around.

Watch for me.

Pitch Wars 2018 Mentor Wish List

For those of you who are new to Pitch Wars: hi, how are you, we'll be new together.

If you've been involved in Pitch Wars before: hi, how are you, be gentle, I'm new.

You know this is an official pitch wars post, because poe IS HERE.

You know this is an official pitch wars post, because poe IS HERE.

This is the post whereupon I tell you the things that I'm looking for and some of the things that I'm not. For the record, I've been writing long enough to know that most of you have already skipped to the end to see the wish list. That's okay. Trust me when I say: I understand.

I've been where you've been. I'm also still where you're at, because I go through exactly the same anxiety every time I submit a new work to an editor. Being published and having been through the submission process multiple times doesn't decrease my apprehension. 

Does anyone ever get to the point where they don't care? I'll let you know when it happens, but today is not that day.

What all this means is that I wish I had some magic words to make you feel safe, but I don't.

What I do have is a bit of advice, something that I've learned to do: lean on my friends. I have a small circle of very close writerly friends, and while they can't make me feel better or fix my anxiety, they do lend me an empathetic ear. Make sure your group is private, so you can vent loudly and at will. It doesn't fix the weird subjective nature of this process, but friends make this world much easier to bear.

About Me

In case you don't know anything about me, this is my first year as a Pitch Wars mentor. My qualifications to be a mentor include the following: I am a past member of the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. I workshopped my first novel Miserere: An Autumn Tale (2011) through OWW and had the privilege of critiquing many fine works while I was there. I also survived the great Night Shade meltdown of 2013 to go on to sell three novellas to Harper Voyager Impulse--In Midnight's Silence (2015), Without Light or Guide (2015), and The Second Death (2016), which were all compiled in the omnibus Los Nefilim (2016). I've had my short stories appear in Grimdark Magazine and various anthologies, including the most recent, Evil is a Matter of Perspective (2017), which contains the Los Nefilim short story "Every Hair Casts a Shadow." My newest work is Where Oblivion Lives, the first of three Los Nefilim novels, and it will be published by Harper Voyager in February 2019. I'm represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Agency.

During the last nine years, I have continued to work with other authors on their manuscripts and they have helped me with mine. I'm telling you all of these things not to brag, but so that you know I am bringing something to the table for you.

What am I looking for?

I thought long and hard about what to write here, because I don't want anything to be misconstrued as being negative about any sub-genres. Personally, I don't restrict my reading to any particular genre and read everything from literary fiction to genre fiction to nonfiction and all the things in between. However, I'm not as intimate with the different tropes of every market as I am with science fiction, fantasy and horror.

In the end, I based my decision on what to accept by how well I know the market. For example: I love reading historical fiction such as Wolf Hall; however, I know next to nothing about selling historical fiction to an agent or editor, because that is not what I write.

Part of my job as a Pitch Wars mentor is not just to critique your manuscript but also to help you through the query process. In order to do that, I need to have a grasp on what kind of books agents and editors are buying, which like everything else is publication is something of a crapshoot, but here we all are anyway.

Likewise, I don't want you to waste a mentor slot on me if you don't think we'll be a good fit. Center one objective in your mind: you're not out to get any mentor. You want the mentor who is going to be the best fit for you and your work. If it's not me, that's cool. This isn't a popularity contest--it's a working relationship.

The kinds of books that draw me in have strong voice and characterization. When the committee at Pitch Wars asked for my five favorite novels to post on my mentor profile, I deliberately chose five very distinctive books to give people an idea of the wide range of styles that I enjoy.

With all that said, here we go:

What I want: magical realism, historical fantasy, dark fantasy, or dark urban fantasy (see Laura Bickle's Dark Alchemy), and the grimdark. I'm cool with vampires if they don't sparkle, werewolves, jaded gods, and fae. I'm looking for a fresh new take on any of those things. Twist it, turn it, if in doubt, send it.

What I'm not looking for: no epic fantasy (elves, dwarves, Tolkienish fantasy) UNLESS you've got a really unique spin on the idea, no paranormal romance, no magical schools or military schools--frankly no schools unless you're got something exceptionally different. No coming of age stories.

What I want:
 ghost stories, haunted houses, demons, vampires, possession (think Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts; Clive Barker's Cabal; Lisa Mannetti's The Gentling Box are some examples across the board)--if it's supernatural and you can rock it with a dark edge, I'm interested.

I'm a huge fan of Gothic horror, especially when it's twisted into a modern setting (Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi); Southern Gothic (High Lonesome Sound by Jaye Wells); and weird fiction (A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files; Nod by Adrian Barnes), definitely historical horror (Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman); and literary horror (Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger).

What I'm not looking for: Frankly I'm not into any form of torture porn, so no splatterpunk, no zombies (unless you've got an awesome upgrade/twist on the theme such as Justina Ireland's Dread Nation), no graphic mutilations, or teenagers being hunted a la Friday the 13th [note: see Other Considerations for more information].

To give you an idea of the kind of horror that I'm into, check out some of the movies that I've recently enjoyed, which include: A Quiet Place, Get Out, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Conjuring (I & II), and The Babadook. If you're writing the literary equivalent of any of these, send it my way.

Science Fiction
What I want:
 I'll look at any science fiction as long as the caveats in Other Considerations [below] are kept in mind. Like horror, I'm not interested in zombies unless it has a new twist, but I do love alien horror, such as in Aliens, et al. Any science fiction with a dark edge appeals to me (Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear). If your weird fiction falls under a science fiction heading, send it along--this includes dystopias. Thrillers (Up Against It by M.J. Locke), especially political thrillers in the vein of Dune also appeal to me. I'm open to first contact stories and alien adventures. In terms of science fiction, I'm open to just about anything.

Other Considerations
(These apply to both fantasy and horror)

Market. Adult. I am not willing to look at New Adult, because I'm not familiar with the market. If your new adult novel falls into the adult market, call it adult and send it to me. If you're looking specifically for mentors who will accept New Adult, go to the bottom of this post. We've made it easy for you to find mentors who are accepting New Adult.

Diversity. I am exceptionally open to diverse authors and characters. I love reading books with older protagonists, especially older women in active roles.

Is your work #ownvoices? Send it. I'm not making a list in the event I accidentally exclude someone, but I am open all #ownvoices stories.

If you're writing from a perspective outside your own, that's cool, too. I will ask you to do what I do and work with sensitivity readers. Likewise, while diverse characters can add so much dimension to your story, being diverse can't be their only interesting quality.

If you look at my five favorite novels, you'll notice they all share one thing in common: the characters drive the plot. I'm looking for exciting, complex characters. I shouldn’t have to say this, but just in case you have a question: I will work with anyone, regardless of your gender identity.

Romance. I mentioned no paranormal romance, not because I don't read or like paranormal romance, but because I'm not familiar with the market.

I will read a novel with romance in it.

If you want to understand how the tropes and plot arcs work in romance, please read this very insightful post by Ilona Andrews called Brief Analysis of Alphahole Trope in Romantic Fiction. While Ilona is speaking primarily to the trope of the alpha male, she does give an excellent overview of the plotting arc utilized when writing romance. If you want to see my views on romance in fantasy, you need to read my blog post Women Write Romance, Men Write Manly Things, but the upshot of it is simply this: if your story is NOT genre romance (because market), then you can send it to me.

Graphic Violence. I can take the gritty (A Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files) and I can take the weird (Nod by Adrian Barnes), but what I can't take is graphic violence for the sake of graphic violence. 

If your novel kills characters for shock value, or has rape, fridging the spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/lover, or kills the gays, you may send your novel. We'll examine the context of how these elements fit within your story. However, be aware ahead of time that it might become necessary to change some of these aspects to make a better story.

My job as a mentor is to help you craft a novel that moves outside the box, and all of the things I listed in my previous paragraph are story clichés. Just because these things worked for Famous Author X, doesn't mean they'll work for you. Besides, Famous Author X has already done the thing. We want your novel to do a new thing, because your story deserves to stand out, not blend in with the crowd.   

POV. No preference. I've read (and written) novels in third, first, and combinations thereof. In any multi-POV work, I generally need to see a clear protagonist. Once that character's arc is established, multiple POVs don't bother me, but if you've got eight POVs, we'll need to examine ways in which to narrow it to three.

Remember: Stephen King published Carrie before the The Stand. You're at the Carrie stage of your career. If I find you switching POVs too much, or the character arcs are too jarring, we can work on those things together, but they will have to change.

Word Count. Stick with debut word counts. I know Famous Author X has written a door stopping blockbuster, but if you walk backwards, you'll see that, in most cases, Famous Author X's first novel was significantly shorter (see the Carrie/Stand example above).

With a debut fantasy, you need to keep the story between 80,000 to 125,000 words. Horror will usually run shorter, between 70,000-90,000. Those are ballpark figures. If your novel is 50,000, or 84,000, or 125,200 words, I won't discount it.

However, if your fantasy is 175,000 words, I'm going to have to see a mind-blowing theme and a knock-out first chapter. With larger works over the 125K mark, I'll expect that you'll be willing to work toward trimming the novel so that it is closer to industry expectations.

Final Notes

If you’re still here, that means you're willing to explore the possibility of working with me. That's great.

As I said earlier, this isn't a popularity contest. You get to pick four mentors, and it's exceptionally important that you choose wisely.

The mentor/mentee relationship is one of mutual respect. We're colleagues in the sense that we're in the same profession. You've worked hard to get where you are, and I know that because I'm still working hard to maintain my toehold in the business.

This is a business and it's tough, so I'm going critique your story the same way my editors have critiqued my work--as a professional with an eye to the market. Despite the rumors you might hear to the contrary, I'm not heartless. But this is a business that requires a thick skin, and I'm here to help you develop one.

I am good at picking out plot flaws and poor characterization and offering constructive criticism. You need to be realistic enough about your writing and the harsh realities of publication to know that I'm not picking on you or your work, but that I'm trying to help you so that your work stands out in a very crowded field.

However, I'm also keenly aware that this is YOUR story. You know where you're going with it, and you know what you want it and the characters to do. Since you need to be comfortable with any changes, I'm perfectly okay when someone rejects my comments or suggestions. This cannot be my way or the highway. You've created a picture and I'm going to suggest where you might want to deepen the shading or remove a hill or two to sharpen the focus of your work. Whether or not you take those suggestions is entirely up to you.

I make notes in Track Changes as I read your work, so be sure you can send your manuscript to me in Word and that you know how to work Track Changes. I also give you a brief editorial letter that elaborates on any issues I might have.

In terms of personality, I'm not quite as dour as this post reads, but you get the general idea. If you want to know what I'm like, you can follow my Twitter feed. That's really a good place to get to know me. I've been around for about nine years, so it shouldn't be hard to find people who've worked with me. They'll tell you that I swear and leave a lot of notes with my critiques, but mostly that I swear. If profanity bothers you, I might not be the person for you. 

I am not answering DMs on Twitter or Facebook during the Pitch Wars submission process. I'm not being mean, but I know my limitations, and I simply don't have time to chase twenty conversations across social media, or to answer the same question hundreds of times. Besides, several other people might be thinking of asking your question. If they are, then I can answer your question and point the others to the response.

This saves us all time.

SO, with all that said, if you have a general question about me or how I edit, you can either drop a comment on this post (preferred), or use my contact page to get in touch with me for now.

If I'm not the mentor for you, you can check out more Pitch Wars mentors below, or head over to the Pitch Wars Mentor Blog Hop Post. Either way, good luck, and I hope you find the best mentor for you and your work!

Fieldnotes: the Great War in Where Oblivion Lives

It's been a while since I've given you some Fieldnotes, so I thought I'd show you a quick one. Some of the most dramatic moments in Where Oblivion Lives come from Diago's flashbacks to battles of the Great War, which was how World War I was known during the 1930s.

During my early research, I came across the following account by Private Wilf Wallworth from the South Lancashire Regiment:

There was a little tramway up the back of the bank leading up to the Bluff trenches. You couldn't be seen by the Germans there, but they had it taped. For a while it was my job to take up ammunition, water, supplies, food and that, to a place just behind the trenches where it would be unloaded. This was at night of course.

For the return trip they put bodies on the trolley -- men who had gone west that day I suppose. I hated the homeward journey. I don't know why because I must have seen thousands of dead men, dead horses, mules, by then, and I was properly hardened to it. But pushing the tram back . . . well, I wasn't comfortable.

You had shells and mortars and starshells going off regular, and in the flashes, especially the starshells which burned for a bit, I couldn't stop myself looking at my load. I didn't want to, but I was drawn to it. The track was uneven and wobbly, and it looked like they were moving, coming back to life. It made my skin creep, but I just couldn't keep my eyes off them when the lights went up.

Everything in that war was down to luck. Although Minnies landed pretty close a few times -- a hell of a crash, they made -- and shook us about a bit, they never got me, and I never had anyone [a body] tumble off; I think I would have left him there for someone else if I did. I had been told of other blokes and their load just disappearing; just a smoking hole there in the morning.

Funny what your mind does. If I hadn't been alone it wouldn't have been so bad, I suppose. It probably sounds ridiculous [to you], but my obsession with looking at those lads -- who couldn't do me no harm, could they -- took away the fear of the shelling.

--The Battlefields of the First World War by Peter Barton

That image--of a soldier wheeling bodies away from the battlefield--remained with me as I worked on the early drafts of Where Oblivion Lives. The scenes took several forms until the final draft, where it's been trimmed and polished to be seen in Diago's first nightmare scene.

In this excerpt, Guillermo's wife, Juanita, who is an angel and Los Nefilim's doctor, has persuaded Diago to let her hypnotize him. They dream his dream together:

“This is similar to hypnosis,” Juanita murmured. “I will take you down into sleep by adjusting my voice until I find the vibrations that best affect your brainwaves.” Her timbre changed as she elucidated through one set of vocalizations and then another. Diago could tell by the subtle variations that she utilized all three sets of her vocal cords. “When I find the correct pitch, you will begin to dream, and then I will follow you into your subconscious. Now close your eyes.”

It wasn’t hard to obey her.

“Think about the music you hear when you sleep. Try and conjure the song.”

Engulfed by darkness, he listened. Silence met him, as deep and impregnable as the void. Then, from faraway, he caught the first isolated notes of the violin. It was his Stradivarius.

Louder now, as if sensing his presence, the music drew near. The bow attacked the strings (Diago recalled making those quick jabs: strike, strike, strike, followed by a smooth pull) before slurring the chords into decay. The intro descended into pallid notes, gray and soft like fog (no, the smell of cordite is strong in the air . . . it is not fog but smoke) drifting over the muddy ground.

The dream solidified, taking him deeper into his subconscious. The faint outline of a château appeared behind broken (burned) trees, shrouded in fog . . .

“Smoke,” Juanita whispered.


The song’s tempo slowed to become a dirge. Diago walked the scorched field. Lumps of clay (bodies) littered the ground. In the distance came the steady percussion of drums (bombs), shaking the earth with furious thunder.

Squinting through the smoke, he perceived a shadowy figure pushing a tram filled with corpses. The arms and legs trembled as the wheels jittered along on the hastily laid tracks of war. One hand opened to release a silver disc that sank into the mud.

Then the bow resumed its attack and punch against the strings (quick jabs: strike, strike, strike) and the night came down and the world went black and silence descended quick and hard, like the stillness that follows the falling of a bomb.

Diago opened his eyes. His heart pounded and for one wild moment, he thought of Guillermo’s Creed Model 7, churning out messages in staccato beats. He became aware of Juanita’s strong hands, pinning his shoulders to the cushions.

This is the first foray into what Juanita refers to as Diago's "prolonged battle stress," because during the 1930s it wasn't called PTSD, but rather battle fatigue or shell-shock. In the original draft, Diago never spoke of his experiences in the trenches, and probably wouldn't have, but my editor placed a sentence in Diago's mouth that ignited my imagination.

In that first draft, Diago didn't have the second flashback. Juanita asked him if anything else noteworthy happened, and Diago blew off her question. Then my editor had Diago answer her by inserting a single sentence into Diago's mouth: "You mean other than all the killing?"

And I realized I'd missed a huge opportunity with both the scene and the novel. So I went a little deeper into my character's psyche and the result was a much stronger scene that set the stage for everything that follows:

Juanita touched his shoulder. “It’s not unusual to be tormented by past engagements. Nefilim suffer from prolonged battle stress just as mortals do. Did anything noteworthy happen during that fight?”

“Noteworthy,” he repeated dully while rubbing his forehead. He found it hard to keep venom from seeping into his words as he answered her question. “Aside from the sheer magnitude of the death toll?” A sudden image flashed through his mind: huddling in a trench as shells exploded around them. Cold and wet and eaten alive by lice, he’d shut his eyes against the mud falling like rain and when he opened them again, someone’s scalp landed at his feet . . .


He jerked himself free of the memory, uncomfortably aware of his clammy palms. “I don’t know what you want from me, Juanita. After so many days of battle, they all seemed the same.” A never-ending misery.

And that, my friends, is the story of how a tram full of corpses and Diago's PTSD became a huge part of Where Oblivion Lives.

(Obligatory book plug: you can preorder it here: Amazon | B&N | Books-A-Million | HarperCollins | IndieBound or add it to your Goodreads list)

random notes: the differences between horror, dark fantasy, and the grimdark

This is one of those posts. You know, the ones I write so I can just post a link rather than say the same thing over and over again and again and again ... ad nauseam.

My opinion will probably change at some point, because I'm flexible like that, but for now I'm venturing into the grimdark/horror arena for a reason. Yes, yes, I know all about Warhammer 40K "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war ..." so if you comment about Warhammer 40K, I'm going to assume you just shot down to the comments to tell me about Warhammer 40K without reading the actual post.

I'm not trying to invalidate the Warhammer 40K definition. "In the grim darkness of the far future ..." was the beginning. Anyone who says that the grimdark was born of this statement isn't wrong; however, while Warhammer 40K might be the root of the grimdark phenomenon, the branches of that vine have extended to encompass a lot of things outside of Warhammer 40K, and so here we all are ...

What follows is my personal definition. If you need something that cites several articles, look anywhere but here, because I don't have time to chase citations right now. The quick and dirty way I differentiate horror, dark fantasy, and grimdark is simply this:

Horror is a story where the protagonist is helpless in the face of a supernatural threat. It is an ordinary person against a much more powerful supernatural adversary. The protagonist seeks to destroy the supernatural threat in order to save themselves or others, but only when they are forced into a confrontation. The horror elements in the story are culled from the protagonist's increasing helplessness in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Dark fantasy is similar to horror in that it is a story where the protagonist is helpless in the face of a supernatural threat. In some cases a dark fantasy protagonist also has supernatural powers; however the individual is still against a much more powerful supernatural adversary. The protagonist seeks to destroy the supernatural threat in order to save themselves or others. Unlike horror, dark fantasy tends to have a thread of hope running through the story. While at times being helpless, the protagonist generally wins in the end; although the cost (loss of friends/family or even their own innocence) will be great.

Grimdark is a story where the protagonist faces a supernatural threat, but s/he isn't helpless against their adversary. Rather than run from the supernatural threat, the grimdark protagonist actively seeks to subvert or control it. In grimdark, the characters exhibit amoral [read: darker] tendencies, which replace the element of helplessness as the primary focus of the dread/horror.

There are supernatural elements in all three, but they are utilized in very different ways. What separates them is the protagonist and how that individual deals with the supernatural threat.

If you've got a different definition, drop it in the comments. I'm always open to consider other viewpoints, but for now, that's how I'm defining the two.