a poem, a title, and how all this works in publishing

A very quick note on book titles. When I pitched the Los Nefilim series, I wrote a proposal that consisted of the first ten thousand words of the first book, a three-page synopsis (roughly … okay, three and a quarter, so what?), and two very brief proposals, meaning a paragraph each, for the how I envisioned the next two books in the series to play out.

As part of the proposal, I gave titles to all three books. That is because this is usually how proposals are submitted, although I’m sure some authors list Book #2 and Book #3, as well, who knows? I’m just speaking from my own experience.

Ask any author, and they will most often tell you that they hate coming up with a title for their books. It’s serious torture. We’re trying to think of something unique enough to stand out while remaining brief enough for readers to remember. It’s a lot like writing poetry, except you only get to write one line and it can’t be too many words, because it has to fit on the cover of a book, and it also has to essentially capture the essence of your story and SURE THAT’S EASY! NOT!

In my case, the original titles that I proposed for the Los Nefilim novels were: Where Oblivion Dwells; Carved from Stone and Dream; and A Song with Teeth. These are the titles that wound up in the contract, for yea, this is how contracts are written—with titles, because publishers and agents and writers and editors and lawyers love details, because legal and binding and all that.

Of the three titles, I’m only going to talk about the first book for the purposes of this post. I got the title from a poem by Luis Cernuda entitled: “Donde Habite el Olvido.” I’ve seen the title translated to both “Where Oblivion Dwells” and “Where Oblivion Lives,” depending on the translator.

For those who are unfamiliar with Cernuda’s work, the poem is:

I

Forbidden Pleasures: Luis Cernuda New Selected Poems [1924-1949] , translated by Stephen Kessler. Boston: Black Widow Press, 2015.

Forbidden Pleasures: Luis Cernuda New Selected Poems [1924-1949], translated by Stephen Kessler. Boston: Black Widow Press, 2015.

Where oblivion lives,
In the vast gardens of darkness;
Where I will be no more
Than the memory of a stone lost in spiky weeds
Where the wind goes to escape its insomnia.

Where my name leaves
Its body destined for the arms of the centuries,
Where desire has ceased to exist.

In that great realm where I love, terrible angel,
Doesn’t slip its wing
Into my chest like a knifeblade,
Smiling airily as my torment grows.

Out there where this passion demands a master in its own image,
Submitting its life to another life,
With no more horizon than a face with other eyes.

Where sorrows and joys are nothing more than names,
Native land and sky around a memory;
Where at last I’ll be free without even knowing it,
Mist in the fog, an absence,
A light absence like a child’s flesh.

Out there, far away,
Where oblivion lives.

The imagery and themes Cernuda expressed in this poem simply ignited my imagination and heavily influenced some of the ideas in my novel. Which made this a rare time when choosing a title wasn’t difficult at all.

When I first read the poem, translated by a different individual, it was entitled “Where Oblivion Dwells.” I loved the sound of “dwells” and decided to go with that as my initial title: Where Oblivion Dwells. I did all the due diligence of running the title through Google, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble and I couldn’t find another similarly title novel in their databases. This proposal was submitted to and purchased by Harper Voyager in April of 2017.

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE, COMPLETELY UNBEKNOWNST TO ME, SOMETHING COMPLETELY SIMILAR WAS GOING ON:

So one fine day, I was busy checking my links and did a quick name search in Google to make sure a certain link was appearing correctly, when low and behold but what did my wondering eyes see: they’d listed me as the co-author of a completely different novel entitled Where Oblivion Dwells by Lorena Franco.

Of course, I’m all: wut?

It seems that Ms. Franco’s novel was originally published in Spanish and it was entitled … wait for it … Donde Habite el Olvido. The novel had recently been translated into English in May 2017 and given the title: Where Oblivion Dwells, about a month after I’d done all of my searches for books with that title.

Google’s algorithms apparently decided that since two women had written a book with and identical title, we must therefore be co-authors, because algorithms without human intervention are notoriously stupid. Out of curiosity, I looked at Franco's book, which is also Gothic and has supernatural elements. That put us in similar categories. However, other than the titles, our themes and stories are very distinct.

This next part of this saga is very important, because at the point I discovered this SNAFU of minor proportions—which was some time in the late summer of 2017, I think—we had put zero work into the cover art for my novel. Timelines in publishing can be tight, and you don’t want to make a title change that is going to affect the work of the cover artist, who has spent effort in coming up with the right design. Not to mention the fact that the title was already beginning to show up in online searches through Amazon, etc. and is probably what caused the initial algorithm co-author issues in Google books. Someone would have to go back and make any changes to those databases.

If we had gone even a month more into the process for my book, we couldn't have done what we did. As it was, we were drawing a tight line and creating more work for people, who are, like everyone else, maxed out to the max in their jobs, too.

Knowing this, I emailed my editor and agent and outlined my thoughts. I wanted to see if was too late to change the title to eliminate confusion. Fortunately, David was fine with it. We decided to go with Where Oblivion LIVES, as this would cause the least disruption to the title change, and which spellcheck sometimes calls Where Oblivion LIES just for shits and giggles, I guess—I don’t know; I’ve just learned to roll with these things.

So the thing with titles and the sheer number of books being published means there will be some, nay, maybe a lot of crossover in book titles. No matter how diligently you search for your novel’s title or series, someone else may be rolling in with the exact same title within days, months, or years of one another.

And it’s okay. The people who are going to buy Franco’s novel, are going to buy her books. Likewise, the people who are looking for Los Nefilim stories know where to find me. Neither of us are taking anything from the other.

As a matter of fact, if someone buys Franco’s novel, thinking that it’s mine, they might find themselves turned on to a new author they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. I think that’s a win a for all of us.

A return to the blog

I don’t know about anyone else, but the very nature of social media is beginning to exhaust me. Some days I feel spread quite thin. I have a novel to write, and I’m thoroughly enjoying working with my Pitch Wars mentee, Elvin Bala. I also have all the tiny behind-the-scenes maneuvering that goes on prior to a publication, in addition to normal life events such as my day-job and family.

None of this is complaining, by the way. I love all these varied aspects of my life. However, I also know when stress is beginning to affect my body, and when I have to slow down, or at least unplug somewhat. Facebook has been the first to go. I haven’t disappeared entirely there, because I belong to some public groups that I enjoy, and a private group of extraordinary fellows of arcane society and another of Harper Voyager authors, both of which have saved my sanity on more than one occasion.

I’m still on Twitter, frankly because it’s easy to blurt short bursts than it is to sit down and compose a blog post. However, whenever I find myself doing a thread, I wonder why I didn’t take the time to blog. Social media demands you be there in the moment, and blogs are somewhat more static. My newsletter goes out much more randomly, but that’s because newsletters can seem kind of spammy, especially this time of year, so I tend to keep those for special announcements.

In the sidebar there is a link to get the blog posts via email, in case you want to sign up there.

I’ll run my blog posts through Twitter, Tumblr, and my author Facebook page. I’ll be around, but engagement on social media might be spotty for a bit. I hope you’ll understand.

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.

Sea.jpg

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.

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.

Thoughts on Silence

I know these long theological screeds aren't winning me either fans or brownie points with the world in general, so if you're just here for the fantasy and science fiction, move on and skip this post. Trust me, I understand.

However, thoughts simmer in my brain and won't let me go until I put them down in some form. Given that none of these thoughts are pertinent to my stories, I'm going to use my long-neglected blog to hold forth on opinions that are mine and mine alone.

On a road that I drive on everyday is a church with a sign, and on this sign the members of this church post phrases designed to inspire their members and anyone else who happens to be passing along. Often the words on this sign are misspelled, which worries me because it denotes a lack of care in their message.

Since Easter is coming--that annual religious holiday when Christians all over the state make an annual pilgrimage to the beach--I suppose the members of the church wanted an Easter theme. This week's sign states that people's sins drove Jesus to the cross, a theological point that intimates Jesus had no choice in his sacrifice, which in turn robs the Crucifixion of meaning by implying that his death was not an offering but instead a murder. This, likewise, worries me, because it is probably an unintentional but very strange twist on Christianity's theme of sacrifice and redemption.

Then, in a completely unrelated event, an individual, who I personally know identifies as a Christian, made a racist comment around me as casually as if she were commenting on the weather. Just a wee hate-filled bon mot thrown out there for the world to see.

Something in my gut clenched and I thought immediately of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis during World War II. Everyone remembers Bonhoeffer for his famous "First they came for the ..." speech, which reflected his belief system of putting Christian principles into action. He wrote extensively about Christianity's role in the secular world, and in doing so produced an essay entitled "Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace."

For those of you who don't know me, I was raised in Evangelical churches and I talk a little about that here. So I know that along with the prosperity gospel, the Evangelicals are also big on cheap grace. I simply never had a name for it until I read Bonhoeffer's works, but once I saw it I couldn't unsee it, so here we all are again.

Bonhoeffer describes cheap grace thus:

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. --Dietrich Bonhoeffer

That was what I was taught. If you sin, just ask for forgiveness and everything will be just hunky-dory. Boom. I did it, I'm sorry, it's over, bygones. Finis.

As I grew older, I found the Evangelical's philosophy of cheap grace to be highly empty--both from a theological and spiritual point of view. I received nothing from the experience of repentance, because no action was demanded from me.

The more I read, the more I found that there is much more to repentance than simply expressing remorse and moving on. Which brings me to Bonhoeffer's flip side of cheap grace. He believed that costly grace "is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."

Silence.jpg

All of these thoughts were tumbling through my mind as I read Shūsaku Endō's novel Silence. Written in 1966, the story follows the 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priest Sebastian Rodrigues to Japan, roughly fifty years after the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637.

Rodrigues is searching for his mentor Cristóvão Ferreira, who has renounced his faith while on a mission in the country. When Rodrigues and his fellow priest Francisco Garrpe arrive, they find that the country's Christian population are being systematically exterminated. No matter how the Christians suffered, "... like the sea God was silent."

Of course, Rodrigues is eventually captured by the Japanese and is expected to renounce his religion. He meditates on the meaning of martyrdom and his faith in general. Quite a few lines of Endō's prose have stood out for me, but it is his clear definition of sin that remains closest to my heart. In Silence Endō has Rodrigues reflect that "Sin ... is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind."

I thought of the way people I know have suddenly decided that it is okay to walk brutally over other people's lives with their words and their actions. They seem to feel their belief shields them from the ramifications of their deeds. Maybe they interpret God's silence as an endorsement to their beliefs, but I have hard time believing that is true.

"... but our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent,
my life until this day would have spoken of Him."

With this quote, Bonhoeffer and Endō merge. Both of them speak very strongly regarding action, a duty to respond to injustice. Speech is a conscious act and words are important. In both of the examples I presented at the top of this post, neither the church nor the individual seem to put much stock into either their theology or their how their actions affect others.

Usually no one would say anything about these things, because both the church and the individual are simply voicing opinions ... right? 

Maybe. But should I respect opinions that are morally wrong? No. There is nothing that demands I remain silent in the face of such a case. As a matter of fact, I'm more inclined than ever to call them down, because my silence can be misinterpreted as tolerance.

In Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, the atheist Albert Camus admonished Christians in 1948 to "speak out loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today. The grouping we need is a grouping of men resolved to speak out clearly and pay up personally. When a Spanish bishop blesses public executions, he ceases to be a bishop, or a Christian, or even a man; he is a dog, just like the one who, backed by an ideology, orders that execution without doing the dirty work himself."

So I'm here to say loudly and clearly so that even the simplest person can understand: when you trample brutally on other people's lives with your words or your deeds, I'll be here to point out that what you're doing is wrong. You may wave Jesus in my face, or you can wave my admonishments off as "not a big deal." However, I will not be silent.

Furthermore, I do not want an apology. I want to see your restitution reflected in the way in which you live your life. To change one's behavior requires understanding costly grace, which avoids judgmental fear and is predicated on the hardest Christian principle of all to work in our lives: love for others.

Disaster utopias

Hang in there ... this is another one of those long gotta-get-it-out-of-my-head-before-I-can-move-on posts. I'll try and do a fun post after this mass of thoughts has cleared my head.

Human behavior baffles me. It's one of the reasons I write. Stories are my way of trying on someone else's mindset in order to see how they think.

Sometimes reality intrudes. For the first six months after the 2016 election, journalist after journalist canvased America, trying to understand the phenomenon behind Trump's election. Nothing they said rang true to me.

I didn't—and still don't—buy into the theory that rural voters are stupid. Educated people live in rural areas, too. People with college educations voted for Trump. Journalists' attempts to fit all of these groups into one mold felt like a jigsaw puzzle hammered together—the picture was disjointed at best, broken in other places. However, in reading all of those articles, I did find a couple of common characteristics in these voters: they were Evangelical (or identified with Evangelical churches) and they shared feelings of persecution exacerbated by the rhetoric of their pastors, the GOP, the NRA, and straight-up lunatics like Alex Jones.

Remember that I was raised in the shadow of the Evangelicals. I talk a little about that here and also here, and probably somewhere else too, because religion and its grip on the supplicant's mind fascinates me.

Anyway, the important takeaway from both of those posts is that throughout my childhood I was told not to question the authority of the Bible or my minister. Likewise, politicians told me that they knew what was best for me, and based on their superior knowledge, I should simply accept my circumstances and be happy with what I had, because hey, questions are easy, answers are hard.

This is important, because the command not to question authority is drummed into a child's head from their first experience in an Evangelical church to their last. It's a form of brainwashing and explains why GOP and the NRA can lead their followers to drink the Kool-Aid.

Since my childhood, I’ve noticed that the indoctrination age also seems to have dropped. When my daughter was very young, five or six, she wanted to spend a Saturday night with my niece and her family. I knew this meant she would end up going to church the next morning, but I figured, hey, little kids in Sunday school with Jesus and all of the baby lambs, what could possibly go wrong?

Over dinner that Sunday evening, I asked my daughter how church went and she proceeded to tell me about Satan and the demons from Hell and how the world was going to end in fire and blood. I inquired about Jesus and the baby lambs, and she told me the preacher talked about nothing but end-times. From that point forward, I took over my daughter's spiritual education, found a nice Episcopal Church (Catholic-lite, all the ritual, none of the guilt), and forbade my sister from taking my daughter to her cult-church again.

Bad experiences aside, I've always wondered why Evangelical ministers seize so fervently on these apocalyptic themes. It's almost like they exult in recounting the suffering to come.

And then, while doing research for Where Oblivion Lives, I accidentally stumbled on the reason.

In this passage from The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology (p. 86), Goodrick-Clarke discusses Michael Barkun's theory of a "disaster utopia":

"Barkun observes the ambiguity of disaster which, while obviously subjecting people to deprivation, can also produce unusual feelings of well-being. He notes that disasters often induce a temporary sense of common purpose and that 'invidious social distinctions disappear in a suddenly opened and democratized atmosphere.' This evaluation accords well with the euphoria implicit in the ‘Ideas of 1914′, and also illuminates [Guido von] List’s enthusiasm for the actual hardships of war. Because a belief in the millennium often assumes the occurrence of disasters that precede the epiphany, the sense of fellowship in the midst of actual disasters can appear to confirm the millenarian expectations. For List, suffering augured salvation."

Ah! said my brain as it is wont to do in these circumstances. This fits. These themes of end-times persecution give a lot of Evangelicals that sense of common purpose. Together, they will suffer through the occurrences of disasters, a process that will bring them all closer together in their shared adversity. The epiphany—or Christ's second coming—is soon to be had, delivering them from a world filled with pain and broken promises.

Suffering augurs salvation.

That's the Kool-Aid.

Some of us drink it, some of us spit it out.

Because no matter how Evangelical ministers and the GOP might misrepresent the situation, Christians are not oppressed. Their churches flourish, their politicians are in office—misquoting Bible verses and making Jesus look bad—but there is no oppression here. No one is arrested for going to church. People might disagree with you (or your religion or your politics), but that's not the same thing as persecution.

Yet in the minds of those that adhere to the disaster utopia one cannot suffer without persecution. So the ministers and the NRA and the GOP manufacture persecutions.

Remember how armies of ISIS troops were flooding over the Mexican border? Remember how Obama was coming to take your guns? And how Obama intended to scheme his way into being elected for a third term?

How many of these things actually came to pass?

None.

They were lies predicated on fear.

Now the groups propagating disaster utopias must find different ways to keep their base in a state of fear. Now they must manufacture new and improved terrors. They want their listeners to be scared of people different from themselves. They divide the world into right and wrong, black and white, right and left, conservative and liberal.

Subtleties cannot exist within these labels, because nuance mitigates the community's suffering, and without suffering, salvation remains distant, robbing the true oppressors—those that advocate disaster utopias—of their power over others. And therein lies the answer that all the news outlets are missing.

The Evangelical ministers and the GOP continually warp reality in order to convince people they are the victims of persecution by telling them what they’re eager to hear: your circumstances are not your fault, it's all those other people who are the problem and once they're gone, everything will be just fine for you, and enough Americans drink the Kool-Aid on a regular basis, and here we are.

The Evangelicals and the GOP claim they are embroiled in a holy war whereupon their suffering will bring them salvation. But that’s their utopia, not mine.

I'll take my epiphany without a disaster, thank you very much. I hope you'll join me in spitting out that brand of Kool-Aid too, because if we allow ourselves to be manipulated into another disaster, we might not find our way out.

Simon Magus: magician or victim?

In my previous discussions on grimoires (here and here), the focus was primarily on Old Testament pseudepigrapha such as the books of Enoch and The Testament of Solomon, both of which influenced the angelology and demonology for my Los Nefilim series. The Key of Solomon, probably the most well known of grimoires, was allegedly translated from Hebrew; although, according to Owen Davies in Grimoires: A history of magic books, "there is no substantive evidence for a Hebrew version [of The Key of Solomon] before the seventeenth century."

Likewise, there are enough Christian references in both The Testament of Solomon and The Key of Solomon to raise doubts that either of the documents were ever originally Jewish, much less authored by Solomon. However, I would argue that this is not a case of seventeenth century cultural appropriation.

When examining grimoires, it is essential to remember that Christianity began as a Jewish Reform movement before the end of the Second Temple period in 70 A.D. when the Jews were seeking the promised Messiah that would conquer the Romans and return Jerusalem to Jewish rule. Unfortunately, the prophet of this reform movement, Jesus of Nazareth, left no written records.

However, a Pharisee convert to Christianity, Paul of Tarsus, left many letters written to the early Christian churches, detailing the meaning of Christianity as he understood the young religion. These early Christians placed a large emphasis on textual documents with the predominant literary form of the New Testament comprised of letters (Erhman 180); twenty-one of the twenty-seven documents that embody the New Testament are of letters or epistles. Of these twenty-one, fourteen of these letters are attributed to Paul as he attempts to address several concerns of the early Christian communities. (Metzger 204) The major issue that split the Jewish Christians from Paul and his Gentile converts was the question of Gentile conversion to Judaism, or should Gentile converts to Christianity be required to adhere to Mosaic Law? (Ehrman 97)

Over time Paul's interpretation of Jesus's teachings took precedence over Peter's, which in turn created different sects of the youthful religion. Each of these sects carried forward the original teachings and added their own embellishments to the emerging Christian doctrine. The bottom line is the early Christians didn't appropriate Jewish beliefs insomuch as they carried their own Jewish traditions into a new religion. The usage of Jewish texts and prophecies in Christianity is actually more syncretic than appropriated.

The reason this is important is because as Christianity struggled to define itself, it also had to define what it was not, or how it differed from rabbinical Judaism. The psychological dynamics of early Christianity’s need to establish itself as a community different from Judaism utilized "three distinctive forms of anti-Jewish polemic ... the Christology polemic, supersessionist polemic, and defamatory polemic." (Kille 293) The first two of these polemics, Jesus as the Messiah and the New Covenant/Testament between God and Christians, are reiterated throughout Christian literature establishing the theological differences between Christianity and Judaism. However, when the question of Jewish traditions continued to intrude on the early churches, Christian literature and sermons slid into the third, and most dangerous of these polemics, the defamatory polemic that dehumanizes Jews (Kille 293), or as will be discussed in our case here: Simon Magus.

Simon was, in all probability, a very real person. Josephus mentions a magician named Simon in The Antiquities of the Jews (20:7:2) as a friend of Claudius Felix, procurator of Judea in 52-58 A.D.. The Simon of Josephus's history was born in Cyprus and did claim to be a magician. His power was such that when Felix fell in love with the beautiful Drusilla, he hired Simon to persuade Drusilla to forsake her husband and marry him. Whether Simon accomplished this act through magical means or not is not mentioned.

There is some dispute over whether this particular Simon was the same Simon Magus mentioned in Acts 8:9-8:24. The footnotes of my copy of The Works of Josephus (translated by William Whiston) discount Simon of Cyprus as the infamous Magus in Acts. Whiston's argument is that in The Antiquities of the Jews (20:7:2) Josephus calls Simon of Cyprus a Jew whereas the anonymous author of Acts 8:9-8:24 describes Simon Magus as being a Samaritan. This is an important distinction, because the Samaritans observe a form of Judaism that accepts only its own ancient version of the Pentateuch as Scripture.

While Samaritanism is related to rabbinical Judaism, the two groups do not consider themselves the same. The Samaritans believe that they practice a pure form of Judaism that was observed during the pre-Babylonian captivity, whereas they see rabbinical Judaism as an amended religion, which was brought back from the Babylonian captivity.

The anonymous author of Acts might not have realized the religious differences and merely distinguished Simon Magus based on a geographical basis; although I find that hard to believe. More likely, s/he was attempting to divorce Simon from any association with rabbinical Judaism, and by later extension, with Christianity as well. We'll see why in a moment.

First let's look at Acts 8:9-8:24 (NRSV), where we're told:

9 Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. 10 All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! 21 You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” 24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”

It seems here that Simon repented of his greed and asked for the apostles' forgiveness and blessing. So why did the early Christians seek to slander Simon Magus's reputation?

Acts 8:9-8:11 gives the answer: Simon practiced magic and alluded to his own greatness, much as Jesus did. Nor was Simon Magus a charlatan, because according to the author of Acts, "All of them, from the least to the greatest," meaning the people of Samaria, "listened to him eagerly, saying, 'This man is the power of God that is called Great.' And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic."

Of course people often said the same things about Jesus. Therefore, in order to protect the sanctity of Jesus's miracles, a thorough attack had to be launched on Simon Magus's power in order to distinguish the two. This is where Kille's defamatory polemic comes into play. Remember: in order to validate one philosophy, it becomes imperative to show how the other failed in logic or was false. Without the ability to fall back on either the Christology or supersessionist polemics to explain the differences between the miracles worked by Jesus and Simon Magus, Christian detractors seized the defamatory polemic.

Thus began a gradual form of character assassination that started in Acts and continued through the centuries. One of the early church fathers, Justin Martyr, was one of the first to besmirch Simon's reputation, nor was he the last. Each tale about Simon Magus became more malignant in the telling. Christians seeking to differentiate Jesus's "good" magic versus Simon's "evil" conjurations spread rumors that Simon used "semen and menstrual blood in his incantations." (Davies 16) Of course, the sexual connotations of semen and menstrual blood were seen by early Christians as vile, especially in contrast to Jesus's application of his own saliva to the eyes and ears to cure the blind and deaf, which was holy and clean, because Jesus was God's son, or so the argument went. 

Sometime during the second century, Simon is said to have founded the Simonian Gnostics, a sect that was denounced by Orthodox Christians because the Simonian Gnostics were said to be "addicted to magic." At some point during the fourth and fifth centuries, Simon Magus's reputation grew from a magician engaging in dark spells and leading a Gnostic sect to becoming "the father of all heresies." Each tale grew wilder than the last until, by the medieval period, Davies is able to cite apocryphal accounts that claim Simon possessed "the demonic ability to fly, his conjuring up of vicious dogs to attack the apostle Simon Peter, and his ability to render himself invisible." (Davies 16)

On the other hand, great care was taken by the New Testament authors to guard Jesus's reputation so that he wouldn't be placed in the same category as a magician such as Simon. This was achieved by relying on Old Testament prophecies for the Messiah to cultivate the appropriate origin story for Jesus. By being cast as the promised Messiah and as a son of God, Jesus's sanctity was cited as the motivation for his miracles. Therefore, Jesus was always presented as humble and sought to help others while Simon Magus was spoken of in terms of derision due to his arrogance and base motivations. Jesus followed the dictates of rabbinical Judaism whereas Simon Magus was a Samaritan, and so on. 

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

Recall that Enoch, Moses, and Solomon were all known for the written forms of their occult knowledge. Because they authored numerous texts, it was equally valid to assume that they also wrote secret texts of more arcane knowledge. All three were recognized by both Christians and Jews as being wise, pious, and learned, with a heavy emphasis on pious.

This is in direct contrast with Simon Magus, who is portrayed as arrogant, evil, and vain. Given Simon Magus's medieval reputation, one would believe that a grimoire of his magic might have appeared sometime in the seventeenth century. However, the only magic book Davies found that can be linked to Simon Magus was the Book of Simon the Magician, a copy of which was owned by the German abbot Trihemius (1462-1516). Davies also located a reference to Simon Magus's magic in "a Hebrew manuscript entitled The Book of the Key of Solomon (Sepher Maphteah Shelomoh), which dates to no earlier than the late seventeenth or eighteenth century and was probably translated from Italian," and "contains a Satanic conjuration called 'The Operation of Simon Magus'." (Davies 17)

Compare these meager references with the proliferation of various books and texts attributed to Enoch, Moses, and Solomon--all of whom were seen as devout followers of God and the angels. For example, Enoch went up through the levels of Heaven and met the angels; God spoke directly to Moses; and Solomon was granted God's favor and a magic ring, which gave him dominion over the demons. The grimoires of these figures tend to exemplify the nature of good over evil through God's glory, along with wisdom regarding the spiritual world.

Remember also what I said at the beginning of this rather lengthy post, regarding the fact that The Testament of Solomon and The Key of Solomon might have been authored by Christians. Since, by the seventeenth century, Simon Magus had been dehumanized as the antithesis of Jesus--who was called a son of David, thereby linking him to Solomon through genealogical lines--any book by Simon Magus could "only be a work of evil, and therefore indefensible by those magicians who believed they were acknowledging the glory of God through their rituals and invocations." (Davies 17)

Likewise, while there are enough Christian references in both The Testament of Solomon and The Key of Solomon to raise doubts that either of the documents were ever originally Jewish, much less authored by Solomon, these grimoires did contain references to both rabbinical Judaism and Christianity. Given his Samaritan background, Simon Magus could not possibly have authored a text that fell into line with the rabbinical Jewish/Christian texts that the seventeenth century magicians utilized.

Was there really a grimoire written by Simon Magus? Probably not. Aside from the reference to Book of Simon the Magician there is very little evidence that seventeenth magicians relied on any grimoires by Simon Magus. Furthermore, there is even less evidence that Simon Magus actually authored any books whatsoever, so that any seventeenth century grimoires attributed to Magus were most likely the same as the grimoires attributed to Solomon--fabrications authored by sixteenth and seventeenth magicians that combined rabbinical Judaism with Christian beliefs to form the fabled grimoires of old.

This was a rather in-depth post and took me several hours to compile. I don't keep a Patreon page, but if you would like to compensate me for my time, you can buy me a coffee at the link below:

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Works Cited

Davies, Owen. Grimoires: a history of magic books. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: the battles for scripture and the faiths we never knew. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Josephus, Flavius (trans. William Whiston). The Works of Josephus: new updated edition. MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008.

Kille, D. Andrew. "Unconsciously Poisoning the Roots: Psychological Dynamics of the Bible in Jewish/Christian Conflict." Pastoral Psychology, 53, no. 4 (March 2005).

Metzger, Bruce M. and Murphy, Roland E., eds. The New Oxford annotated Bible with the Apocryphal / Deuterocanonical Books. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

the greatest of these is love

My Facebook page is public, however, I do monitor who I friend. This is done to keep spammers away from family and friends. My general Facebook rule is that we need to have at least three common friends before I will accept a request; although, I have been known to suspend that rule if the person friending me has enough information on their page that I can deduce they are real people and not bots. I'm sure I'm occasionally wrong, but those are my current rules of engagement.

After hearing some of the horror stories about other people who have included LGBT characters in their novels, I expected a backlash to Los Nefilim, which up until recently, has been nonexistent. No one has sent me nasty emails, nor have they left mean reviews of Los Nefilim, and that makes me glad.

However, there seems to be a contingent of passive-aggressive Christian people on Facebook, who are attempting to friend me in a maneuver to ... something ... I'm not sure what, maybe save my soul? Anyway, they are quite consistent in the Biblical passages they use. All of them are quoting Romans 1:18-32, or Romans 1:24-27, which is some folks' Biblical answer to anything LGBT.

From my own New Testament studies, I know that the Apostle Paul had issues. Many, many issues ... But every once in awhile, he would whip out a poetic passage of sheer brilliance. 1 Corinthians 13 is one such passage. You don't hear politicians quote it too much, because it is antithetical to their hate-rhetoric.

Yet when the world gets to be a little too much, I like to read 1 Corinthians 13 again. It restores my hope that not all people are bad or mean-spirited. I am also reminded that this is the philosophy I want to follow, and it goes something like this:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The greatest is love. 
The greatest is love.
The greatest is love.
The end.

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.

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.]