A Kickstarter & a video of my evil henchman Macavity & me

The Kickstarter for EVIL IS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF ANTAGONISTS, is here and LIVE, staring at you from your electronic device! 

And for this Kickstarter I, the reclusive author in residence, shot a short video of me talking about Evil is a Matter of Perspective WHILE HOLDING DOWN AN ANGRY CAT! You cannot get entertainment like this on Netflix, my friends. [NOTE: the transcript of my talk, for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, is on the site at Youtube along with the video.]

For those who can hear: you can listen to me read from Without Light or Guide with my Southern accent, and talk about Alvaro, the antagonist/protagonist of my story for Evil is a Matter of Perspective. As of this post, one of my cohorts in evil, Bradley P. Beaulieu, talks about his involvement as well. Keep checking those updates to hear more of your favorite authors talk about the anthology and why they are involved.

As a part of the Kickstarter package, I am offering you, that's right YOU, a chance for a Tuckerization in the story! If you choose that level, you will get to pick whose side you are on and fight in the streets of Barcelona during the May Days of 1937. I will give you the power to sing your magic, and if you're really lucky, a most grisly death.

I am also offering to critique 10,000 words of a story for one--COUNT THEM: ONE--backer. So hie thee over and get to backing. Trust me, I won't be gentle, and I will make your manuscript bleed. [NOTE: This level comes with a complimentary package of tissues.]

There is a stellar lineup for Evil is a Matter of Perspective:

R. Scott Bakker (The Second Apocalypse)
Adrian Tchaikovsky (Shadows of the Apt, The Tiger and the Wolf)
Michael R. Fletcher (Manifest Delusions)
Shawn Speakman (The Annwn Cycles)
Teresa Frohock (Los Nefilim)
Kaaron Warren (The Gate Theory, Mistification)
Courtney Schafer (The Shattered Sigil)
Marc Turner (Chronicles of the Exile)
Jeff Salyards (Bloodsounder's Arc)
Mazarkis Williams (The Tower & Knife)
Deborah A. Wolf (The Dragon's Legacy)
Brian Staveley (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne)
Alex Marshall (Crimson Empire)
Bradley P. Beaulieu (The Song of the Shattered Sands, The Lays of Anuskaya)
Matthew Ward (Shadow of the Raven, Coldharbour)

The Kickstarter is HERE, the angry cat is HERE, and I hope you'll join us as we explore evil ... it's a matter of perspective.

Fiction and Abandoned Children with a new introduction

I had a nightmare, wherein my husband drove us through Greensboro, and he was chatting about this one and that one and the things they had done. The weather was foul, full of wind and thunder. A tornado appeared four streets away from us and roared from west to east. Good backseat driver that I am, I tried to direct him into an empty lot, but more tornadoes were forming there. He indicated the tornadoes and asked if I wanted to die. I told him I wanted to feel safe, and then I awakened.

I suppose that is what we all want--to feel safe, especially when we feel like the world is collapsing all around us. A lot of people take that feeling for granted without realizing it. Abandoned children never do.

I’ve put off this post for a couple of reasons. The first is simply because it is a subject that can occasionally be painful to me. I keep it at a distance most of the time and try to view the past through an analytical lens. I keep perspective that way.

The other reason is because people tend to have very strong feelings on the issues of orphans and adoption. These strong feelings generally result in passionate arguments for or against … well, concepts, and not necessarily children. People dislike having their expectations challenged, and in some cases, feel guilty; although they have, in actuality, done nothing wrong.

Emotions are funny like that. Our brains tell us one thing, but our hearts say something different.

So today, I am going to talk about abandoned children–the perennial favorite of most authors–and these children’s special needs. As an adoptee, I am highly sensitive to themes of abandonment in both film and literature. The casual way in which abandonment is treated has always bothered me about a lot of the myths and stories I remember from my childhood. In these stories, the young hero is abandoned at an early age, but never suffers a single identity crisis. Complicated creatures like mothers and fathers are held at arm’s length, or cast into the shadow of the grave.

In real life an infant knows its mother’s smell and moods. Both the mother and father produce chemicals, such as oxytocin and vasopressin to name merely two, that help facilitate bonding with the newborn infant. Through the great cocktail of chemicals in the human body, all three–mother, father, and infant–nurture one another through sight, smell, and sound.

When an infant is permanently removed from her biological parents, the child is not only deprived of these beneficial chemicals, but stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are produced in greater quantity. Cortisol and adrenaline prepare the body for flight or fight in response to either psychological or physical danger. In some children further imbalances in serotonin and noradrenalin can reprogram the child’s brain to remain in a constant state of readiness. Combined, these imbalances can result in physical issues such as high blood pressure, easy startle response, and instantaneous explosive behavior–symptoms which are consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Even when a child is transferred from an abusive environment into a loving home, the brain remembers, and the child perceives the world as an unsafe place. Children who have experienced early trauma also have attachment issues, suffer from the inability to focus, and possibly night terrors. They are impulsive and tend to exhibit defiance, aggression, and rage. In a subconscious effort to self-medicate, some of these children will become dependent on drugs and alcohol in adulthood.

Welcome to my world. Having experienced all of those things, I can assure you there is hope.

A nurturing environment coupled with parental patience and adults who are aware of the issues involved can mitigate many damaging experiences, but it takes time. In other words, while adoptive parents can’t magically wipe away the past, they can teach their children coping strategies that will enable the children to survive and sometimes thrive.

What does all of this have to do with writing science fiction and fantasy?

With my Los Nefilim series, I have two individuals who were abandoned at very early ages: Diago and his son, Rafael. Diago suffered tremendous abuse, and still deals with the fallout from his early childhood. Rafael, meanwhile, was abandoned at an earlier age and lived in an orphanage before Diago discovers him.

I didn’t need to research the effects of abandonment on either Diago or Rafael–personal experience was already under my belt. I did do some research into how to mitigate the effects of abandonment on children. By looking at the problems and solutions that the adoptive parents of Russian orphans placed in American homes experienced, I was able to see tactics that failed miserably and others who experienced success.

Apparently, in some cases, the adoptive parents weren’t prepared for the emotional issues of their children. They expected love and discipline would be enough. One example that remained with me was that of a young Russian boy who had been adopted by an affluent family. The mother and father tried everything in their power to do all of the things they, as parents, felt they should do. In other words, they employed the parenting tactics their parents had used on them. There was a schedule, and rules, and expectations for behavior, which the youth was unable to fulfill (and this is not to fault the family or the child–they did everything the doctors and psychologists told them to do).

Due to his own fears and abuse, the child could not meet these parental expectations. In frustration and fear, the child lashed out. The family became afraid and got in touch with the adoption agency. The agency placed the child in a different home.

The second couple had a lot of experience with abused children. They had a more relaxed regimen. For example, in his previous home, the youngster would want to eat all the time. Food deprivation in the orphanage was a factor in this behavior. The first adoptive mother wanted to establish regular meals that fit the family’s lifestyle. When the youth disobeyed her, she would, in turn, become frustrated, impose more restrictions, and this would only intensify the youth’s misbehavior.

In his new home, he was supposed to be present for meals, but if he wasn’t there was no retribution. As the family continued to sit down and eat at regular times, the youth eventually joined them. This took a great deal of time and patience on the new adoptive parents’ part, but as I said, they were used to dealing with abandoned children.

The difference between these two homes weren’t the difference between “good” parents and “bad” parents. The major difference was in the parents’ expectations and preparation for the child’s issues.

For adopted children, a perpetual cycle of questions remains lodged in the back of the adoptee’s mind like splinters in the subconscious. Who am I? Where do I belong? Are there people who look like me, think like me, somewhere else in the world? Will I know them if I see them? And, more importantly, will they know me?

All the while, I loved my adoptive parents, and my father especially went out of his way to say that I was loved. Even so, there was a constant tape playing in my heart that said: I’m not good enough to keep; no mother rejects her child unless something is wrong with it; if I want these people to keep me, I have to do better, be better; I’m not good enough, not good enough, not good enough …

Remember what I said earlier: our brains tell us one thing, but our hearts say something different.

A child’s brain may parrot the assurances of the adoptive parents and society as a whole, but the child’s heart bears a different pain, one they are not always able to articulate. Feelings aren’t rational–they are simply there, lurking within us and waiting for the right trigger to stimulate them into existence. Some adoptees eventually learn to reconcile the facts of their circumstances with their feelings, others may become swallowed by the world around them.

One of the reasons I loved Jessica Alba in Dark Angel (a science fiction series from 2000) was the adept manner in which both the writers and Alba handled the protagonist, Max Guevara, who was an genetically engineered super-soldier, but with a missing piece to her life … the mystery around her mother and her birth. They managed to convey the trauma of Guevara being separated from her mother at birth along with Guevara’s constant yearning to find her mother and the story of her beginning.

This is why I find stories with children who are spirited away from their parents into new circumstances hard to swallow at times. Infants don’t roll into the world as a blank slate. Our experiences in the womb are embedded in our psyches in order to prepare us for survival.

The child who is taken from her poverty stricken parents and raised by royalty doesn’t automatically adjust to these new circumstances flawlessly. The clash of parental attitudes versus the child’s hidden traumas don’t need to be explored in depth in every story, but a cursory acknowledgement of known behavior patterns between adults and adopted children are preferable to none at all.

To concede these issues exist by fairly representing them in our stories is the difference between … say … the adoptive parent who tries to modify her child’s special needs to her expectations and the parent who knows his son’s hunger is driven by fear. One is governed by the intellect, the other by the heart.

If you want the abandoned child in your story to be whole in body and spirit, march the head and the heart in tandem. Then do what every parent does: push your story into the world and hope for the best.

_____

This post originally appeared on SF Signal's Special Needs in Strange Worlds (January 20, 2016).

Folklore Thursday: The Coming of the Angels and the First War

From the writings of Guillermo Ramírez de Luna, first king of Los Nefilim:

In my first-born life, my name was Solomon, and I was the third king of all Israel. Of my father David’s many children, I was the only one born with the fire of the angels in my soul.

My father told me of the beginning days of the world, and now I leave my words for my daughter, who will one day rule Los Nefilim in my place.

During the first generations of the world, the daimons ruled the earth. They were the old gods, worshiped in the earth and water, and drew their sustenance from the mortals’ emotions--the stronger the emotion, the more powerful the daimon. The daimons often coupled with the mortals to create Nephilim, hybrid creatures neither truly spirit nor truly mortal. These Nephilim were the sorcerers, the prophets, the dreamers of the ancient times.

The angels came from sky; a different species made of fire and air. Their explorations of the numinous realms led them to the earthly realm, and once here, they fell in love with the mortals.

The daimons saw the angels as usurpers and refused to be subjugated. The most powerful daimons were those that fed on hate--Moloch and Ashmedai--and they led the others against the angels. The two groups warred and the skies shook with the thunder of their battles. They moved the continents and sank Atlantis beneath their fury. Both sides were equal in cunning and strength, so the conflict dragged on for years to become a stalemate between the powerful entities.

To break the impasse, the angels gambled that the daimons wouldn’t allow the mortals to be annihilated. They manipulated the realms and caused the deluge, and the rains submerged the earth. Millions of mortals perished.

When the daimons saw their sustenance dying, they capitulated to the angels’ demands and negotiated a treaty, but at no point during those mediations did the daimons mention their bastard children, the Nephilim. Unlike their parents, the daimon-born Nephilim weren’t restricted to the many covenants between the daimons and the angels. They set about the lands to provoke war and discontent in order to feed their parents’ insatiable appetite for blood.

When the angels discovered the daimons' children, they created a breeding plan of their own and set it into motion. Angels mated with mortals. Our race, the angel-born Nephilim, was produced to circumvent the threat of the daimon-born. With the Nephilim, the angels and the daimons could avoid another open conflict--their bastard children would decide future wars. Each side sought to breed the most powerful army.

Even today, the war goes on and the breeding programs continue ...

Off the Grid (Indie edition): Sins of a Sovereignty reviewed by Gabby Gilliam

When I started Off the Grid, I said that one Wednesday a month will be allocated to a self-published work. This month's pick goes to Gabby Gilliam, who wanted talk about Sins of a Sovereignty by Plague Jack, which I might add, was one of the final picks in Mark Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off.

Review: Sins of a Sovereignty by Gabby Gilliam

Don’t let the author’s strange pen name fool you. Sins of a Sovereignty is an indie book worth your time. Plague Jack delivers a richly detailed world and a cast of characters who are all fatally flawed, and all the more enjoyable for their imperfections.

In the first installment of The Amernia Fallen series, we learn that Amernia has suffered through two different wars and the scars from both have created the world Jack throws us into. The Rose Rebellion expelled Vaetorian conquerors from the realm and isn’t focused on quite so heavily as the war that led to the subjugation of the sub-human races. The Green War, begun when Prince Darius attempted to usurp the throne, leaves the northern party of the country uninhabitable after a poisonous gas is unleashed on it population. Once Prince Darius has been defeated, the non-human citizens such as elves, dwarves, and gilnoids, are treated with open hostility and disdain by the human residents of Armenia.

There are five main characters, and we learn each slowly as the book progresses. None of them are inherently good or evil. They are multifaceted, personalities shaped by their experiences, and all the more real because of it. If I had to choose one character to label as the protagonist, I might pick Clark Pendragon, though each of the others can make an equal argument to the claim of main character. Pendragon is a veteran of both of Amernia’s recent wars. In most of the country, he is considered a hero. He helped the queen thwart Prince Darius’ attempts to usurp the throne and was responsible for the poisonous gas strike on the north. He does not consider himself to be heroic, and is plagued with guilt for his past actions.

Calcifer is a young elf that has suffered since the Green War like the other fae. He loves his sister deeply and incestously, and will go to any length to protect her. He has been chosen by the god Cambrian to collect the souls of those who abuse the power he has gifted them. These hellions wield great magic, and Calcifer has been tasked with capturing their souls to return them to Cambrian. His role has earned him the moniker The Bottler, for the vessel in which he stores the captured souls of those he has vanquished.

The Blood Queen, Minerva, at first appears to be selfish and ruthless, intent on maintaining her power regardless of cost. However, as the book progresses, we also come to see her as very intelligent as well as brave, having survived the assassination of her husband, and attempts on her own life. She truly wants what is best for her country and her people though her methods may not be the most agreeable.

Shrike is a surly dwarf who also happens to be the Queen’s Spymaster and one of the most dangerous men in all of Amernia. His network of spies misses nothing, and the dwarf is likely the most knowledgeable being in the kingdom. Not even the Queen has access to all of his secrets.

And then there’s Duchess Veronica Evrill. She wants to unite the races of Amernia and end the subjugation of the non-humans. She offers sanctuary to those that escape persecution in the larger cities. And yet, it is she that helped develop the deadly weapon that left the north uninhabitable. Her benevolence can be seen as penance.

Amernia is a land of knights and swords, but also magicians, inventors, and steampunk-esque technology. It is a pleasant clash of the modern and medieval. It is a land plagued by memories of war and injustice. The characters are well-developed, and I found myself loving them and hating them at various points throughout the novel. You are left not knowing who is a hero and who is a villain, as each character has moments where they appear to be both. It is grimdark fantasy at its grittiest with the dark scenes so well-written you will find yourself both disgusted and enraptured at the same time.

Plague Jack continues The Amernia Fallen series in The Wild War which was published in October 2015.

About the Reviewer: Gabby Gilliam has been reading way past her bedtime since she learned how to read. She can get lost in almost any story as long as its well-written, though fantasy is probably her favorite genre. She lives in Maryland with her husband and four year old son, who is the best storyteller she knows. You can find more of her reviews at From Notebook to Notebook.

On Goodreads and giveaways and passing along The Vagrant

Just like you, I'm a sucker for freebies. So whenever I see Goodreads has a giveaway for a book on my to-read shelf, I enter the giveaway.

Since publishers and authors use Goodreads to find more fans for an author's work, I decided to make it my policy to review the book and give it away, either through a contest on my blog or as a library donation. [Note: This policy is only for fiction. I keep all non-fiction.] Knowing the cost of postage (which Mark Lawrence talks about here) and the need for reviews, I pass the book along in hopes that the next person will review the book, too. That way the author has a shot at getting two reviews for the price of one.

Or so I hope.

My unofficial name for this is the Pass Along Club. I read it, review it, and pass it along to someone else that might enjoy it. Some of you might remember the review and giveaway that I did for Zachary Jernigan's novel, Shower of Stones.

This past week, I found out that I had actually won a Goodreads giveaway for a copy of The Vagrant by Peter Newman. Trust me when I say that no one was more shocked than me. I rarely, if ever, win anything.

So in keeping with the spirit of the Pass Along Club, I will review and then giveaway my copy of The Vagrant. According to Goodreads, it may take four to six weeks for the book to arrive. Once it is here, it gets bumped to the head of the line. I'll read it, review it, and offer it up for a giveaway.

I will run a poll and see if we want to do the annotate/don't annotate game again like we did for Zachary's book.

I do not review often, because it takes a lot of time for me to sit down and write a review. I review when a book totally blows my mind (this happens once in a blue moon), or when I win a book (see everything above). Please don't ask me to review your book. I don't like everything I read. I have a few audacious friends who have actually accused me of being a literary snob--they're wrong, but that's okay, they're my friends and can say things like that to me.

However, I am a fair reviewer and when I read a novel, I take into account the following: story, characterization, and writing style. I rarely review young adult books or science fiction, because I'm simply not well read enough in those genres to give the books a fair evaluation.

However, The Vagrant falls dead within my skill set, so stay tuned. I'll have more information for you later.

Meanwhile, don't forget The Second Death: Los Nefilim, Part 3 is coming on March 29! Beginning at the end of March and going through April, I will be hosting some other giveaways, some especially for Newsletter subscribers, so sign up if you haven't already!