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.

misunderstandings and more woerld-, er, world building

Art supplies, tracing paper, atlases, and the trusty laptop commandeered my kitchen table as I exercised cartographic muscles I didn't realize that I possessed. My husband took one look at the mess and said, "So, let me understand this: you are using a map of places that DO exist in order to construct a map of a place that DOES NOT exist?"

"Yes."

And that, my friends, is essentially what I've done with Woerld from the beginning. I am giving you your world back to you--regurgitated in a different form--maybe better in some ways, maybe worse, but it is an alternative world/Woerld of my imagination. However, in order to do that, I wanted to build upon the familiar.

I talked about it in another post that I wrote sometime ago when a reviewer, who wasn't very linguistically savvy, intimated that I made up the the word "Woerld" because "woe" constituted the first three letters. Woerld, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a medieval spelling of the word "world."

The word inspires the familiar. The spelling throws a twist into an otherwise known factor. Most readers got the twists and turns in Miserere, others focused primarily on the familiar.

Michael C. Hayes, in his superb cover art, picked up on the familiarity of the Templars as Christian knights. Hayes projected his thoughts onto the cross on Lucian's chest (and on the swords and other insignia in the cover art), which is a Templar cross. There was nothing wrong with this at all, by the way. I'm just using Hayes' art to show you how we all project our own experiences into the stories that we read.

The cross, Templar or otherwise, is not the Citadel's emblem. The Citadel's emblem is the alpha and omega combined to create an overlapping image. This was also deliberate on my part.

I could have used a crucifix, which is symbolic of the passion, or a resurrection cross, which is symbolic of the eternal life thereafter, or even the Templars' cross, which Hayes favored. Instead, I chose a symbol used most often on scholarly publications--the alpha and the omega. I always saw my bastions, all of them, as being much more like universities.

The focus on the Christians and the Citadel was due to Lucian and his biography. The time period and location of Lucian's birth would have made him an Eastern Orthodox Christian. A lot of people confused Eastern Orthodox with Catholic, and part of that was my fault. In creating the Citadel's rites and rituals, I went back to many early forms of Christianity that predated the schism between the east and the west. While I tried to remain true to Eastern Orthodox rites, it is, frankly, hard to beat out the Roman Catholics for flash and glamor--hence the exorcism performed in Miserere is Roman Catholic.

Unfortunately, Miserere experienced something of a Christian-anathema, and this attitude created a backlash that I wasn't prepared for--not just among fans but among a few other fantasy authors as well. For a while, I was mistaken for a Christian fiction writer, even though Miserere can in no way be categorized as Christian fiction. People who attempt to pass Miserere off as Christian fiction do not fully understand the Christian fiction market--or Christianity, for that matter.

Fortunately, a lot of fantasy authors have praised the book. I've even had atheists tell me that they've enjoyed the story, because it is not about religion but about people. When people read Miserere, some of them remark that they see the romance, others see an epic story, while others see only the religion. What they see is a reflection of themselves in the world that I created.

If you had asked me, last year this time, if I was going to write any other novels set in Woerld, I would have said no. Never.

However, a lot of people are asking for a second book--enough people are asking that I intend to work on Dolorosa. I'm curious what they will see this time. I am not afraid of those who misunderstand my intent. Those kinds of people only see reflections of themselves and their own prejudices in everything.

I've made a map of Woerld and am working with a friend to bring it to life. Like everything else in Woerld, it will be a familiar reflection of what is here on earth. Once I have acclimated you to Woerld and its hierarchies and bastions and places, I want you to get ready, because in Dolorosa, we are going to Hell ...

a new page for Woerld

I've been working this weekend to create something new for the website. When writers submit a novel to an editor, we are sometimes asked for something called a series sheet. While I went over my notes on Dolorosa, I have been referring back and forth to the series sheet that I created for Miserere. I needed to refresh my memory as to the rules I constructed around Woerld. As I worked through those maps and notes, I thought some of you might like to see my brief history of Woerld.

Thanks to everyone on Facebook who checked links (*waves at Andy*) and who caught pokes for spokes (*waves at Tammy*), and special thanks to Mihir for his wonderful help on checking names and titles for the Mandir and the Mosque.

Anyway, Woerld is finally live and ready for everyone to peek at. I'll be adding bastions to the page when I have time. When I've made significant changes, I'll update you all through a blog post.

picks and pans--Dolorosa

This scene will probably be like my scene with Diago and Miquel in Garden in Umber--the essence of the scene will remain the same, although the context will change as the story matures. Here is a quick peek at Miserere's sequel, Dolorosa.

“Lucian?” Rachael held her candle higher but the feeble light barely illuminated the parlor that she and Lucian shared. Coals shimmered in the hearth and blinked sparks up into the chimney. Across the wide room, the door to Lucian’s bedchamber stood open. On the nightstand beside the empty bed, a lone candle fluttered against the darkness.

The humpbacked shapes of furniture rose from the shadows, but Rachael barely noted them. Lucian stood beside the chamber’s sole window and gazed down into the courtyard, his profile etched in darkness. As her eye adjusted to the gloom, she picked out the soft white of the cotton shirt he wore beneath his robes. He leaned against the casement, his left hand clenched at his side, his cane rested against the wall within easy reach.

She discerned the reflection of his features in the frosty pane and noted the downturn of his full lips, the rigidity of his stance. If he turned his head, she knew his eyes would sparkle with fury.

it's a cop-out, but ...

I was away this past weekend and did not have time to compose a lengthy blog post. Instead, I have (after about twenty false starts) achieved the opening of Dolorosa. This is the keeper version, and rather than break the rhythm, I thought I'd roll with the novel in lieu of a blog post. Then I was overcome by intense guilt for having no blog post--okay, that's a lie, I just like the attention.

As a compromise, I thought I'd share a little news in the making and give you a list of non-fiction books that I'm reading for research purposes.

Look ... it was this, or a picture of my cat.

Okay, the news first:

I've been hanging out with a group of real shady characters who have enticed me to join them for a new collective blog called BookSworn. So far, Mark Lawrence, Mazarkis Williams, Courtney Schafer, Anne Lyle, Helen Lowe, Elspeth Cooper, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Doug Hulick, Stina Leicht, Jeff Salyards, Zachary Jernigan, Kameron Hurley, and Betsy Dornbusch have signed the pact in blood and ink and bytes. We are hammering out the details and the secret handshake now. Of course, as soon as everything goes live, I'll send you an update along with a link. Meanwhile, follow @BookSworn on Twitter so you don't get left out.

I'm working on two guest posts and doing a bit of research, so that means non-fiction books. During my research for In Midnight's Silence, I found two items of interest:

Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources (2nd ed.) edited by Olivia Remie Constable (Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

An interesting tidbit from "Administration of an Urban Militia" taken from Fuero de Cuenca (ca 1190) and translated from the Latin by James F. Powers. From section XXX.I. The government of the military expedition and the guarding of the city:

Before taking a military expedition against a foe, the council is required to appoint watchmen to keep an eye on the city. The watchmen's responsibilities were clearly stated:

"After sunset, if the guards find anyone walking in the streets without carrying a light, they should seize all his belongings and put him in confinement until the following morning. In the morning, he should be brought before the [acting] council, and if he was a citizen or a son of a citizen, he should be absolved; but if he was a stranger, let him be hurled from the city cliffs."

Rough town.

Next up is Queer Iberia: Sexualities, Cultures, and Crossings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, edited by Josiah Blackmore and Gregory S. Hutcheson (Durham : Duke University Press, 1999).

I had to get this one from a used bookstore, but it was well worth the price. I'm about a quarter of the way through it and enjoying it immensely.

Favorite quote thus far is from "Queer Representation in the Arcipreste de Talavera, or The Maldezir de mugeres Is a Drag" by Catherine Brown:

"He [the Archpriest] presents them [the Beghards], that is to say, as figures of the Hypocrite, whom Gregory the Great defined thus: 'Hypocrita, qui latina lingua dicitur simulator, iustus esse non appetit, sed uideri' (Moralia in Iob 18.7) [The hypocrite, who in Latin is called a simulator, does not want to be just, but rather to appear so]."

That has to be the best definition of a hypocrite that I've ever read.

I'm also doing research for Dolorosa with Codes, Ciphers, and Other Cryptic and Clandestine Communication: Making and Breaking Secret Messages from Hieroglyphs to the Internet, by Fred B. Wrixon (New York : Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers : Distributed by Workman Pub., 1998).

Thus far, my favorite code is ... well, that would be telling, now wouldn't it?

Check them out if you have a minute, and don't forget to follow @BookSworn for more updates of our dastardly doings as we soar through the interwebz seeking redemption, glory, words, and chocolate ... something ... something ... something ... until next week ... write on ...

Autumn Tales

2012 is done and over, and frankly, this author is happy to see that dreadful year go. It wasn't completely terrible though. Many good things did happen and here are a few:

During 2012, I met a lot of online book bloggers and fans, and I have to say that all of you really made my year special. I can't single one of you out without missing someone else. You know you are, we talk on Twitter and Facebook almost everyday, and my world would be a little less brighter without you in my life.

The highlight of the year was when NYT Bestselling author Ilona Andrews read Miserere and bestowed such a lovely review on her blog. I was awed when she said that "Miserere reads like Ladyhawke had a baby in purgatory and Meljean Brook delivered it."

Just recently, a second surprise hit when Felicia Day posted her gracious review for Miserere on Goodreads that just blew me away.

Even with the blessing of those two dynamic ladies, the best part was all the lovely emails and Facebook posts that people sent me to tell me how much they enjoyed Miserere. Just that you took a moment out of your busy schedule to send me an email to say that you enjoyed the story made my whole day, sometimes my whole month.

I got to attend my first major con in Chicago at WorldCon. I met a lot of the authors that I've come to know on Twitter and had great fun at the panels. It was a joy to meet these people and find out they are all as kind and fun in real life as they are online. I look forward to seeing them all again in the future.

The end of the year saw my first agent leave publishing, but as that door closed, I acquired a second shot at querying another agent who I greatly admire.

At the very end of the year, I was seized with some strange madness to run a Gender-Bending experiment, and the results of that will be posted on Monday, January 7, 2013.

And now that experiment is done, I am moving forward.

I want to make an effort to post more consistently on the old blog here, but if I disappear, know that I'm writing stories for that is where my true love lies. I'll keep you up-to-date and post some snippets from time to time and never fear, I will try and drop by at least once a week to tell you what I think.

More often than not, you'll find me spinning autumn tales. Stay with me. There is more to come ...

A [belated] but most sincere Happy New Year to you all.

in the spirit of opening paragraphs--Dolorosa

In the spirit of those opening paragraphs and how often they change, I thought I'd post Dolorosa's opening for you. For those of you just tuning in, Dolorosa is Miserere's sequel.

Let's see how many times this one morphs and changes over the course of the novel. I think I'll name this chapter Resurrection ...

A sky full of winter threatened snow with a steel wind. Eight corpses swung from the ancient oak tree just beyond the Citadel gates. The dead Katharoi did not turn their faces away from the north. It was as if they watched for the war to come. Or Catarina’s second coming, thought Rachael Boucher.

pictures from ChiCon

Thanks to everyone who took so many great pictures at ChiCon 7! They're sort of everywhere all over the Internet.

Courtney Schafer has two pictures of the elusive Mazarkis Williams on her blog.

Martha Wells has posted several pics at her blog as well.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Al Bogdan have a lot of great shots on their FaceBook pages.

Thanks to Bryan for giving me permission to post this picture. It was taken during the Vivid Characters panel with Randy Henderson. This picture is one of my favorites:

I'm sure the others would kindly give me permission to post their photos too, but I'd much rather send you to their sites.

I was too scattered and still coming down from all the excitement yesterday (read: no writing whatsoever was done). I'm feeling more centered today.

 

More later ...

ChiCon 7, home again, and news on Dolorosa

I only have time for a very quick update:

ChiCon 7 is finally over and what a blast it was for me. The people who organized the con did a magnificent job. I got to meet so many wonderful people. My roommate was awesome and we had great fun together.

I've got to jump right back into my everyday life; however, I'm not going to leave you empty-handed! My friend (and colleague) Mazarkis Williams, author of The Emperor's Knife and Knifesworn, has blogged about ChiCon 7 and did a super job summing up the panels and events (My First Day at ChiCon, ChiCon Day 2, and ChiCon Day 3).

Dolorosa, Miserere's sequel, is in the works. I hope to have something to share with you on the story by the end of this week or early next week.

And I hate to run, but the clocks are ticking on me once more so I must go. I'll be back later!