A few random thoughts

Before I begin, I want to take a moment and thank everyone who has taken time from their busy schedules to either rate or review either Los Nefilim (the omnibus or the novellas) and Where Oblivion Lives. I know your lives are just as busy as mine, so please know that I appreciate your time! Knowing what you love, or hate, helps me steer the series in the right direction. I won’t sacrifice the story I want to tell, but if there is some small way I can make the series more enjoyable to its fans, I like to do that.

Which brings me to the Los Nefilim Snippets (see the sidebar). I haven’t been around much, but it’s mainly because I’ve got several things going on this year. I’m promoting one book, editing a second, and writing a third. It all tends to take up a bit of time. I wrote the first post in what I hope becomes a series for the fans of quiet moments in the novels: Los Nefilim Snippets. There are only two right now, but I’ll probably add one a week or every two weeks as time allows. They’re fun for me to write—more fun than coming up with blog post topics.

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Author’s copies finally arrived for Where Oblivion Lives! That means I can now come up with some ideas for a contest to give away a few copies. So watch the blog, my newsletter, and my Twitter and Facebook feeds for those.

I also discovered that I can leave annotations with Goodreads through my Kindle Notes and Highlights. There were about eight things I wish I’d had space to note within the text, so I compromised and waited for publication. You can go to Goodreads and read the annotations. The last two are spoilers and concern Rudi. I’d suggest you finish the book before reading those. I used spoiler tags so they’d be hidden and no one would accidentally stumble on them.

The next book in the Los Nefilim world is called Carved from Stone and Dream. I’ve been busy locating photos that evoke the essence of that novel’s story for the cover art, as well as coming up with cover copy (blurbs, etc.) for it.

If you want a hint (and a teeny excerpt) about Carved from Stone and Dream, the key refrain will be: “Don’t blink:”

Miquel stared back, projecting a calm he didn’t feel. This was another interrogation trick: mention a loved one and watch the source carefully for a twitch, or a tear, or a blink. Anything to indicate the jab hit a nerve. Miquel knew that if he showed the slightest interest in Diago’s welfare, Benito would use Miquel’s fear as a cudgel. Don’t blink.

I’m also getting a great deal of glee every time someone signs off one of my social media accounts or a review with “Watch for me.” You guys are made of awesome.

I’ll be around.

Watch for me.

Hey, hey, it's release day for Where Oblivion Lives!

It’s finally release day for Where Oblivion Lives, and the book kicks off with an awesome review at RockStarLit Book Asylum!

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“I would have given this book six stars if GoodReads would have let me. Well worth checking out and quite easy to jump in at this point. But, I can guarantee if you’re like me, you’ll want to go back and catch this series from the start.” —Jennifer (BunnyReads)

I’ve got an interview coming up on Thursday at the Fantasy Hive, where I’ll be talking about the novel, and I’ll be at MystiCon this weekend for a ton of excellent panels. You can find all my comings and goings at my Events page.

If you didn’t pre0rder, you can still get a copy at:

Scuppernong Books HarperCollins | IndieBound

The talented Vikas Adam narrates the audiobook, which is available from Audible.

A reminder: Goodreads giveaway for advance copies of WHERE OBLIVION LIVES

Just a reminder, in case you missed the first blitz of tweets, my publisher is hosting a Goodreads giveaway from December 3, 2018 - January 1, 2019 for copies of Where Oblivion Lives. This giveaway is U.S. only.

For those of you who don’t know: I’m very excited about this novel. It’s a mixture of all the things I love: a 1930s noir vibe, a Gothic haunted house, and historical fantasy all swirled together.

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I also love writing about Diago and Miquel, because they have something I crave in my fiction: an emotionally healthy relationship. All people are broken to some extent. It’s how we prop one another up during those bad times that makes us healthy. And I wanted to write something that I’ve seen other authors do successfully: that couples can be tender and loving with one another without robbing the story of tension.

If you want to read about some of the historical background for Where Oblivion Lives, you can check out the Fieldnotes category in the sidebar. I’ve written several articles about the historical settings in Where Oblivion Lives and will be adding to that category periodically as I move through the next two books.

I’ve been working on the blog and fixing a lot of the categories so that things will be easier to find. I’m also hard at work on the next novel in the Los Nefilim series, Carved from Stone and Dream.

I’ll be around.

Watch for me …

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.

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.

Smoke.

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 . . .

“Diago?”

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)