The measure of success; or, there is more to life than Amazon rankings

I suppose we all have different ways to measure our success as authors. Some gauge Amazon rankings or sales figures, others assess the number of fans or followers. Some might use awards as the yardstick for accomplishment while others look to the bestseller lists.

I measure mine by the fulfillment of my goals. With Los Nefilim, I wanted to have my writing accepted for publication because the story was well-written and entertaining. That happened with Los Nefilim--a fact that I marvel over each day, because it wouldn't have occurred quite the way it did if people weren't vocal about representation.

You see, when I first envisioned the character of Diago several years ago, he was a stereotypical gay man: a caricature, not a person. Fortunately, I was online and began to read discussions about representation on blogs and through Twitter chats. As I did, I realized that my initial depiction of Diago was not only wrong, but also harmful.

Unsure how to proceed, I asked Robert Dunbar for help, and he most graciously made a place for me to ask questions in his Goodreads group. Then he went one step further and asked some of his friends to help--members of the LGBT community, who answered my questions and overlooked any faux pas I might have made in the discussion. With patience and understanding, they guided me with their words, and here is what I learned:

When it came to representation in novels, gay men were often defined as being constantly on the hunt for sex. Or they were seen dying from suicide, or suffering from depression simply because they were gay. The not so subliminal message in these works is that one cannot be a gay man and be happy.

Yet neither of these portrayals were like the men I knew, who had healthy relationships with their partners and with the people around them. Likewise, my friends who were single were also emotionally centered and enjoyed their lifestyle. So I understood exactly what the people in Rob's forum were saying when they told me their biggest request was to see a gay man (or any member of the LGBT community) represented as a whole person, and not simply defined by one aspect of their character.

I spoke to other people, and they said they were tired of seeing gay men ridiculed in film and novels. Their issues with these portrayals wasn't because they didn't have a sense of humor. But when someone is seen as nothing but the joke of a story, then the joke becomes a myth of its own making and strips people of their humanity by lampooning them. Done long enough, the jokes become insidious and color our perceptions of others until we only see the satire, not the human being.

Recently, Laura M. Hughes reviewed Los Nefilim on her blog. Out of all of the kind things she said about the series, this was my favorite part:

... the heroes of Los Nefilim are deep, fully-rounded characters who are far too complex to be defined simply by which master they serve; or, for that matter, by their sexuality. Issues of gender are neither downplayed nor dwelt on, and the fact that Diago and Miquel are both men is but a natural part of the story.
(In fact, the author’s egalitarian approach to gender holds up a mirror to our own lives in the least patronising way possible. Simply put, Frohock shows us a society where men are just as vulnerable as women, and often suffer in silence because of unequal and arbitrary gender expectations. She shows us a society in which men are just as likely as women to experience rape, and verbal abuse, and sexual harassment – a fact we all need to recognise and empathise with.)
On the surface, Los Nefilim could also be regarded as a moral tale about overcoming intolerance: the Nephilim’s secret war does indeed serve as a clever analogy for how homosexuality was stifled beneath the stigma of a god-fearing society. But while this is without doubt a huge part of the story, in my opinion it’s actually far subtler than that. Great speechifiers and glorious martyrs our protagonists ain’t: they are heroes of necessity, not intent. And Frohock doesn’t idealise Diago and Miquel’s relationship so much as naturalise it. Their connection is shown through understated dialogue and non-verbal interactions, and by the gradual emergence of both men’s paternal instincts as they work hard to create a harmonious family unit for Diago’s son.
For me this was a huge relief. In the past I’ve pointed out more than a few female writers who draw on shallow stereotypes of sexual promiscuity and unequal partnerships in an attempt to portray same-sex male couples. Thankfully, Frohock avoids this entirely: she doesn’t ‘write gay characters’; she writes characters who happen to be gay. Contrary to stereotypical beliefs – and exactly like couples of any orientation – Miquel and Diago don’t hump like rabbits, nor are they joined at the hip. And their relationship might be the pivot on which the events of Los Nefilim turn . . . but no one can accuse the story of being ‘too romantic’.

Hughes' analysis of the series has been echoed by other reviewers. Hers simply went into more detail. 

And what I realized, as I read her review, was that while Los Nefilim might not be the most talked about series of the year, I had succeeded in doing what I set out to do. I wrote a good story, which is an entertaining read, and it sold on the strength of my writing. My gay characters weren't secondary: Diago is the protagonist, and his partner, Miquel, is featured heavily in each of the novellas.

Los Nefilim isn't the only novel out there with a gay protagonist, but Diago is mine, and I am incredibly proud of his story. Meanwhile, I feel like I've honored the good men that I know--the same men who still face prejudice and hate simply because of who they love--by writing a series that doesn't add to the list of stereotypical portrayals of gay men.

And that, my dear friends, is success.

And the world moved on ... Los Nefilim

I don't have a lot of clear memories from my childhood, but there are a few, and some of my best memories are the days, especially the nights, that I would spend with my grandmother. My grandparents had a farmhouse that they heated with a wood stove even though the rest of the house was wired for electricity. I remember snuggling down under a mountain of quilts with my grandmother beside me, and she would answer my hundreds of questions, or just listen to me talk.

The cool thing about Grandma was that she answered me like I was an adult; I always knew she would give it to me straight. She never told me to be quiet, or to not be so bossy, or any of the other things adults said to me when I was a child.

On one of those many evenings that we shared, she and I were in bed at my parents' house. I remember being so happy, and on that particular evening, I felt exceptionally safe and secure. I told her I hoped nothing ever changed. To my surprise, she laughed and said that everything changes, nothing stays the same forever, and that I needed to learn to change with the world around me.

To her surprise, I burst into tears, because I wanted to be six years old forever, and I wanted my grandmother to live forever, and of course, I wanted to feel safe forever. The thought of the world changing terrified me. The concept seemed unstable. Why change? Why disrupt happiness?

What I didn't understand then was I wanted the feeling of safety to last forever, not for the world to stay the same. But I was six, and as a child, I thought like a child, and my grandmother, well, she was so much wiser than me.

Nothing stays the same. In spite of our desires to freeze-frame life, the world moves on. Attitudes change, perceptions change, people change, and unlike the six year old child that I was, I now embrace change, even when it frightens me.

As I grew up and began to read, I happened upon R.A. MacAvoy's brilliant Damiano series in A Trio for Lute. Damiano is a witch, who loves his little town and his life there. When an army marches on his city, he takes it upon himself to make a deal with Satan, because Damiano wants to preserve his hometown exactly the way it is. Satan argues against the deal at first, telling Damiano that if his town doesn't experience privation and war, the city will likewise become stagnant and die. The devil's argument is that adversity leads to growth, a polemic that Damiano ultimately rejects, persisting in his desire to save the town.

As a condition of his bargain, Damiano is forced to leave his hometown, never to return, and by leaving, by experiencing the very change and adversity that he doesn't want to visit on his town, Damiano grows wiser and more worldly. In regards to the town: Satan was right. The world moved on, but the town did not. Peel back the layers of those three novels, there are metaphors there, the kind that I love.

As I became older and discovered adversity and grew through my pain, I began to truly understand my grandmother's wisdom. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same forever. The world moves on.

Not wanting to be left behind in the changing world, I learned to travel through books. Likewise, I write about people and cultures so that I might research them and gain a better understanding of the world in which I live.

In the process of trying to comprehend this ever evolving world, I wrote a novel, it didn't sell, and at the time I was very frustrated by that particular turn of events, but now, in hindsight, I am glad. In spite of all my research and numerous attempts to avoid tropes about gay men, I accidentally wrote those very tropes into that story without realizing it. If I get a chance to re-do the novel, I will, and I will do it differently.

The world moved on, and I listened and I learned.

However, I was so pleased with the characters from that novel, I wanted to resurrect them in a different way. The loveliest thing about embracing change means we get second chances, or as Diago likes to say, "Our incarnations change us."

When you read Los Nefilim, you see those characters, Diago, Miquel, and Guillermo, in a new form.

It's no longer Guillermo's story--I don't think it ever was. Diago Alvarez is my protagonist, and Diago is gay, so is Miquel. With these stories, I wanted to reverse the negative stereotypes of gay men that I had read about or seen on film. For a long time, these perverse images were all that were available and colored people's perceptions: the gay man always on the prowl for sex, or the prancing effeminate male, or the man dying of AIDS. Each of these stereotypes indicated that living as a gay man had terrible consequences. The not-so-subliminal message is that to be true to one's sexuality risks unhappiness, ridicule, and death.

Yet I knew gay men who lived happy fulfilled lives with caring partners. When I write about Diago's and Miquel's relationship, I am showing you what I have seen in my friends. Two men who love one another and are trying to work through life's everyday difficulties while remaining true to themselves.

You know, just like any other couple.

Well. There are a few differences ...

Welcome to Los Nefilim where Diago's world is changing around him, and he is struggling to keep up. He isn't entirely comfortable with his sexuality, but he has something very important in his life: close friends who love and accept him for who he is, not who he sleeps with, and a loving understanding partner, who wants nothing more than to protect him. It is love and acceptance that sustains a person through even the most violent changes, and in these opening novellas, Diago experiences quite a few of those, but he keeps getting up, a little taller each time, because adversity gives him the impetus to grow emotionally.

Collected together for the first time, the three novellas—In Midnight’s SilenceWithout Light or Guide, and The Second Death—brings to life the world of Los Nefilim, Spanish Nephilim that possess the power to harness music and light in the supernatural war between the angels and daimons. In 1931, Los Nefilim’s existence is shaken by the preternatural forces commanding them … and a half-breed caught in-between.

Diago Alvarez, a singular being of daimonic and angelic descent, is pulled into the ranks of Los Nefilim in order to protect his newly-found son. As an angelic war brews in the numinous realms, and Spain marches closer to civil war, the destiny of two worlds hangs on Diago’s actions. Yet it is the combined fates of his lover, Miquel, and his young son, Rafael, that weighs most heavily on his soul.

You see, the world moved on, and I listened and I learned, and when the opportunity arose to make critical changes to the story, I grabbed the chance. These novellas were an absolute joy to write. I hope you enjoy them half as much as I loved working on them.

Whether everyone is ready for a protagonist like Diago or not is still up in the air, but let me tell you something, I have no regrets.

The world moves on, and I listen and I learn, and I hope I never stop.

Saludos,

T

Keeping the closet shut is a choice too

I will tell you the story of a story and how a certain character came to life since we're all blathering about choices in characterization right now. Lord knows, we need something to keep our tiny minds occupied between bouts of writing and marketing, so here comes my entry into this foray and you might not like what I have to say, but, frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

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Meet the Character--Travys du Valois (#SFWApro)

Jason M. Hough challenged me to the latest blog tour ... toury ... bloggety thing going around the Internets, and I thought it would be fun to do. You can read Jason's entry about Nigel, who is a character in Jason's new novella, The Dire Earthright here.

I want you to meet Travys, who is the star of my new novella, The Broken Road:

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