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 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 church to their last. It's a form of brainwashing and explains why people like Alex Jones and Jim Jones can lead their followers to drink the Kool-Aid.

The indoctrination age also seems to have dropped too. 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 my current novel, I think 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 "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 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 politics or your religion), 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 Jim Joneses and Alex Joneses of the world 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 schemed his way into being elected for a third term? And how many of these things came to pass?

None.

They were lies predicated on fear.

Since those portents never came to pass, 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. 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 to Trump's success. He, and the politicians and the Evangelical ministers who supported him, convinced people they were victims of persecution. He told them what they were eager to hear: your circumstances are not your fault, it's all of those other people who are the problem and once they're gone, everything will be just fine for you, and enough Americans drank the Kool-Aid, and here we are.

Now the NRA and Alex Jones are telling people that disaster is once more upon us, and that people must fight with "clenched fists of truth," because it sounds manly, I suppose. These fighting words make them feel important, like they are embroiled in a holy war whereupon their suffering will bring them salvation.

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.]

I'm still here: taking care and trying for quality over quantity

Authors are just chock-full of advice about writing and publishing and commas.

Okay, we don't know shit about commas.

BUT we can swing a mean panel discussion on characterization, story-building, marketing your book, and how to manage a write-until-you-drop work schedule. As a matter of fact, push ... Push ... PUsh ... PUSH ... is mostly what you hear us say. And it is true that we often have to manage grueling schedules to get our work done.

What we don't talk about enough is self-care, which should be part of your writing routine.

I'll tell you a story--no, really, this one is true.

I went to the doctor recently for my annual checkup. My blood sugar was up, along with my weight, and all the things that come after a certain point in adulthood. I was exhausted all the time. I felt bad all the time, but I couldn't pinpoint the source of my malaise.

Some nights I went to bed at eight o'clock. My diet consisted of cereal at breakfast, and at lunch, of a sandwich, chips, and a candy bar. Often we had healthier fare at dinner, but I would either consume too much of it, or I'd be too tired to fix dinner, and we'd wind up going out to eat.

Last year, my doctor let me off with a warning. This year, he said I had to get it together. So I've been eating healthier food (cut out the chips and candy and reduced the carbs), and I started walking on a regular basis.

The walking takes time away from--you guessed it--writing. Yet I'm getting more quality writing done.

How does that work? you may ask.

And you may.

I'm staying up later in the evenings, because I have more energy. My brain is sharper, and I don't feel exhausted all the time.

Although taking care of myself has cut into the quantity of work in terms of blog posts, it has enhanced the quality of my writing. Please don't take this to mean that people who write quickly, or who produce a lot of works in a short amount of time aren't quality authors. There are an incredible number of factors that go into how much and quickly someone can produce a work. Some authors can easily produce two good books a year and several short stories.

It's just that I'm not one of those authors. Partly because of many factors beyond my control, but also because of the way I write and how I tend to edit as I go. Some days I can easily pump out four thousand words, and on other days, I consider it a victory if I manage some editing and two new sentences. It also helps me to step away from a manuscript or story for at least two weeks, maybe more, before coming back to it for the final edits.

My novella In Midnight's Silence was written at the end of 2014. During 2015, I wrote two novellas at approximately 33,000 words each, or the equivalent of a 90,000 word novel. Those words came quickly, because I already had the novellas mapped out when In Midnight's Silence sold to Harper Voyager Impulse. Those 96,000 words do not account for blog posts, interviews, and shorter works of fiction that I produced in order to promote both In Midnight's Silence and Without Light or Guide.

Things I didn't factor into my deadlines: a month of edits on the front end of a new novella and a month of promo on the back side of the gig. However, even knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn't have scheduled them differently. I wanted about six months between each work and with the help of Harper Voyager, it worked out beautifully.

Now that The Second Death is out in the world, I've been focusing on promotion and a new novel. All of these things consume a lot of my energy. Which sort of brings me back to taking care of myself. My free time is short, so I have to manage my time very carefully, and factor in that self-care. I do that by focusing on projects that pay, or projects that help me promote the novellas (i.e. blog posts and interviews). Since I am also involved at The Supernatural Underground, you will sometimes find my monthly post over there rather than here.

The point of all this is: I can't do all the things anymore, so sometimes those things, such as they are, will get quiet here at the blog; although not for long.

All this eating right and exercising more has helped my mental health, too. Walking is wonderful and frees my mind. I'm able to burn energy and quiet the voices in my head long enough to achieve a little peace and serenity in my brain. For me, that is a necessary and pivotal part of my mental health. My brain tends to run in overdrive 24/7 and I need to remember how to slow down and listen to the quiet.

I've also been reading more of other people's works, and that, in turn, helps me produce more quality work. Since I'm more alert, I've able to read more analytically. I learn by writing, but I also learn by reading quality books. I'll be talking about some of those books later. For now, I am enjoying them as a reader and a fan. I also want to write a Goodreads review for each book, because I think it is important to support other authors, and reviews, even a couple of sentences, can help someone else.

So that is where I have been and what I've been doing. I'm also working on a short story with the Los Nefilim characters, maybe one with Rafael since he is so many people's favorite. I've no shortage of ideas percolating in my busy brain, but I'm going to take care of myself so I can be around to write them.

Random thoughts: the Hugo, slates, Diago and Miquel, and LGBT tropes

This is one of those blog posts where I think out loud for a bit as a way of getting thoughts off my brain so I can focus on writing fiction. If you've got better things to do with your Saturday--you know, like being with real human beings or just having fun--you might want to skip it.

On the Hugo: Once upon a time, back when I was a baby writer in my twenties, I thought that winning a Hugo was the epitome of an author's career. Having watched the logrolling and constant infighting within the SFF community, I don't hold the award in the same esteem as I once did.

However, I do believe in change, and I know the community is working on changing the rules for nominations in an attempt to derail the logrolling and the building of slates. That gives me hope. The Hugo is a fan award, and it should be about the fans, not the authors.

To the fans: vote for the works that you love.

To the authors: suck it up and let the fans pick what they like.

On slate voting: I see nothing wrong with a recommended reading list, or an eligibility list, but slate voting has got to stop. It's simply juvenile. Every time it comes up, I question the emotional maturity of the people involved, regardless of their chronological age. Seriously. I can't think of anything else to say about it. [See the suck it up portion above.]

On Diago and Miquel: When you're reading Los Nefilim, remember that Diago and Miquel are hundreds of years old and have been in a relationship with one another for over a century. I did this for a couple of reasons, the most important of which was that I wanted to show you the kind of relationships that a lot of my friends have.

Diago and Miquel have been through many adventures, but they've also been through many of the ups and downs that people experience during long-term relationships. They support one another emotionally, which can be far more critical than fighting, or even physical attraction, especially given the kinds of circumstances in which they often find themselves. In other words, they aren't quite as emotionally angsty as a young couple still getting to know one another.

Like a lot of people, I get very tired of the trope where the LGBT person dies in a story, or even worse: LGBT characters that live miserable lives simply because of their sexual preferences. Those tropes are evident in both literature and film.

Most of the LGBT men and women that I know in real life are nothing like their literary and cinematic counterparts. These men and women have fought long battles in order to accept themselves for who they are, in addition to cultural fights against oppression so that others won't experience the hate and misunderstandings they were forced to endure. They have strong moral character and fierce spirits.

Those are the characteristics I wanted to portray with Diago and Miquel. These characters were designed to give you an example of two emotionally stable men living together as a married couple. I want to believe that if enough people see strong LGBT people in literature, they will be more accustomed to the idea in real life.

Those are all the thoughts I have for today. My brain is empty now. Thanks for listening.

Women Write Romance, Men Write Manly Things

And here we go again.

A Redditor on r/fantasy asked the following question: Can women Writers write (non romance) epic fantasy?

To his credit, as with many of the people who have asked this question, he had a genuine desire to understand. So no bashing, BUT since this question keeps coming up over and over, I wanted a blog post so I could just copy/paste my answer henceforth. I made a couple of comments on his post, and I thought it might be nice to clean up my poor grammar and draw my comments together in a more coherent manner for future reference.

As I've stated before, I've noticed that this question has been introduced by both men AND women at various times in different forums, so I don't think this is a question posed by only male fans. For future reference, here is what I said:

If a woman is writing epic fantasy, she is not writing romance. The misconception about "romance in epic fantasy" stems from a misunderstanding of the tropes within romance novels and the tropes within epic fantasy.

Each of the genres follow different plot arcs.

If you want to understand how the tropes and plot arcs work in romance, please read this very insightful post by Ilona Andrews called Brief Analysis of Alphahole Trope in Romantic Fiction. While Ilona is speaking primarily to the trope of the alpha male, she does give an excellent overview of the plotting arc utilized when writing romance.

If you are reading epic fantasy, you will not experience the same plot arcs as a romance novel (i.e. girl meets boy, boy is asshole, asshole is redeemed, couple lives happily ever after--see Ilona's post for a much better description of how this works). Most often in fantasy, especially epic fantasy, the entire plot and characterization of the story are developed around an adventure of some kind. Fantasy is usually about the rise and fall of kingdoms, the slaying of monsters, and bringing myths to life. Therefore the plot and characterization of the story are developed in order to bring down kingdoms, slay monsters, or bring myths to life, and so on and so forth.

HOWEVER, the story, which is about bringing down kingdoms, slaying monsters, or bringing myths to life, will also involve characters. These characters will develop relationships of all kinds. Some will hate each other, others will tolerate one another, and some will even FALL IN LOVE.

This often comes as a shock to many people, but even epic fantasy by men has romantic elements involved in the story. I wrote about that with We Don't Need No Stinkin' Romance.

Romantic elements in epic fantasy novels written by men often experience romance through the male gaze, which is probably why male readers don't notice them as much as the romantic elements in a story written through the female gaze. Men and women focus on different aspects of one another while in a relationship.

The best way to contrast the issue is by looking at the difference in how sex is presented in a television show such as "Game of Thrones" vs. "Outlander." Take any sex scene in "Game of Thrones" and put it up against the wedding night scene in "Outlander." "Game of Thrones" is one hundred percent male gaze with the camera focused on the objectification of the female body whereas in the "Outlander" scene, the camera is focused entirely on Jamie, AND with a heavy emphasis on Claire leading Jamie through the act.

These same "camera shifts" are going on in novels through the perspectives of the main characters as seen through the author's eyes. Whether the focus is on "tits and dragons" (as Ian McShane so eloquently put it), or on the emotional aspect of the relationship, can sometimes depend on the gender of the author, but not always.

When I wrote "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Romance," there was a really nice discussion thread on r/fantasy about the post, and someone pointed out the difference in how men handled the romantic elements in their novels vs. how women wrote. From the male perspective, the fictional men weren't always taking the fictional women's feelings or desires into consideration. "Romance" was a matter of pursuit and conquest. This wasn't happening in all of the novels written by men, but by most.

Couple that with most people's built-in prejudices and misconceptions about romance being girly and icky (and when I was my late teens/early twenties, I thought that, too), and suddenly readers are seeing "romance novel" where none exists.

So it's not that women are writing more romance into their epic fantasy, or that romance is bad, it's that women are simply writing character interactions from a different perspective. It's still epic fantasy, and women authors deserve the same respect as their male peers for turning out quality stories with or without romantic elements.

David Bowie's Black Star shining

David Bowie's death hit me hard, much harder than it should have. I wanted to wait a bit before talking about him, because I wasn't sure why I felt so gutshot when I saw that he'd died. After all, I wasn't really a fan of his music.

Rather than follow his career, Bowie seemed to follow me, strange as that may sound. I remember his Ziggy Stardust days, but I was too young and unworldly to understand Bowie's sly digs at the music industry ... and the fans.

Whereas Frank Zappa was loud and in your face with his disdain, Bowie was more subtle. He was always there, like a shadow in my peripheral vision, mocking us and our music with sly winks and nudges. The reason he never came off as offensive is because he seemed to be laughing with us, not at us.

He seemed to be saying: It's all spectacle--flash and glam--I am here to entertain you with music disguised as your dreams, and if I can poke a little fun ... well ... all the better for you and for me ... Let's dance.

The mockery ended when it came to his music. Even though his style never appealed to me, I never doubted Bowie was an artist of the finest nature. He knew how to mix sound and visuals to stimulate our senses. And somehow, throughout all the small asides and quips, he seemed to make his music seem to be about us, but I don't think that was the case at all.

His music was about him. He simply spoke so eloquently, we wanted to make his words into our own.

Bowie, like all artists, used his music and visual styles to explore the world around him. He was exceptionally perceptive, even as a young man, of people and our many foibles. One thing I'm sure he learned early, is that all people are narcissistic to a certain degree. We respond to books, music, and films, that seem to speak to us about us.

Like Bowie, we are always looking for reflections of ourselves in the world.

It's weird, or maybe not so much, but the first Bowie song I remember was "Space Oddity"--about fame and a man who was dying in space. The final Bowie song that remains lodged in my heart is "Lazarus," which is Bowie, examining his own death creeping up on him as he tries to finish the the things that have meaning.

If anyone could come full circle so powerfully, it would be Bowie.

And while he might have been saying goodbye to us with Black Star, I think that is us once more making his music about us. He articulated the moments that had meaning, and we took them for our own.

Not selfishly, mind you.

Bowie offered them to us, like all poets do, freely, and we gobbled the songs and the lyrics, thinking they would never end. And in manys they won't.

Bowie's star might be black, but it will continue to shine, and I am glad, because we need artists to inspire us--both in life and in death.


The Cult of the Dead-Undead Cat and American Politics: Is It Beyond Redemption?

Some context for you: I'm currently reading Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher. This is an excellent novel that I've almost finished, and I will review it for you later. For the purpose of this post, it's enough to know that in Beyond Redemption, faith and belief have the power to define the world. If enough people believe the same thing, delusions become reality.

Remember that last bit: delusions become reality.

The novel is grimdark, and I mean very, very dark, so if you normally avoid this kind of novel, then I wouldn't recommend it to you. However if you're like me, and you enjoy looking under psychological rocks in order to see what breeds there, come along ...

There is a scene in Beyond Redemption where the god-child, Morgen, brings a severely injured dead cat back to life, but he doesn't heal it. The dead-undead cat crawls away, and that is--the reader thinks--the last we'll see of the dead-undead cat.

Haha, fooled you.

The dead-undead cat shows up again about two chapters later when another character, Asena, comes upon "the dead cat, spine and skull crushed, still twitching and dragging itself through a narrow alley. A trail of beggars followed the cat, proclaiming its divinity and protecting it from all who attempted to approach." [Emphasis mine]

And my brain went hmmm as it sometimes does, and I started thinking about how "delusions become reality" and couldn't stop, and then how one person's delusions can easily become another person's divinity. Then, this morning, while half-awake and semi-delusional myself, I'm surfing through the "news" and come across this little gem where one of the American presidential candidates, Ben Carson, holds forth with his theory on the pyramids:

"My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain," Carson said.
"Now all the archeologists [sic] think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don't think it'd just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain."
Carson added: "And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they'd have to be that way for various reasons. And various of scientists have said, 'Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that's how, you know, it doesn't require an alien being when God is with you."

Because, aliens ... I guess.

I have no idea what Carson is even talking about here. It's like he lives in another world--not even a parallel world ... just this strange alternate plane of existence where whatever the hell pours out of his mouth is reality. Frankly, this wouldn't be a problem except that he (and to be fair, other presidential candidates, as well) expects everyone else to buy into these delusions.

Now this particular theory probably wouldn't have bothered me as much had it been posited by someone with an elementary school education. Nor would it have bothered me if someone who got their entire worldview from Fox News said these things, or even if it had been someone who had never left the county in which s/he had been born, meaning someone too ignorant to know better, but Ben Carson is a neurosurgeon. This indicates to me that he did, at one time, attend an institution of higher learning. Of course, his delusions prove a long-standing theory of my own: that acquiring a college education does not make one smarter, it simply teaches one how to better utilize the intelligence already within one's grasp.

So what does all of this have to do with a dead-undead cat and delusions that become reality?

The problem with Ben Carson, and the other presidential candidates for that matter, is that they can pass themselves off as credible. Nowadays, no matter what kind of half-dead, mewling ideology a person espouses, when that individual speaks authoritatively to an issue, others simply accept the premise as true.

[And yes, I will pause our little discussion in order to point out that I do, in fact, see the irony in that I am presenting my own crackpot theory here, but hey ... I've always wanted my own cult. My cult is intentional--that is my delusion.]

The Dead-Undead Cat is my new metaphor for these crackpot theories, or delusions. The cult arises when other people start to follow the Dead-Undead Cat, proclaim its divinity, and attempt to protect the premise from all who challenge it. The adherents of the Cult repeat their theories ad nauseam, breed even stranger theories, which are, in turn, followed by more beggars, because everyone seems to think that repetition breeds reality.

Don't get me wrong, faith and belief are wonderful things and give many people much comfort; however, if we want strong leaders and good government, we need people who are not afraid of facts. We should accept nothing less than leaders who are strong enough to critically examine problems, who understand compromise, and can motivate others to arrive at workable solutions.

It would also help if these leaders understood that the Egyptians didn't store grain with dead bodies in pyramids, because, aliens.

While faith and belief are important aspects of character, we should never, never, allow faith and belief to be the sole basis for our realities, or our delusions, or our presidential candidates. Otherwise, our political system and the freedoms that system gives us will truly be beyond redemption, and we may not be able to resurrect it.

Comments are off ... I'm on a deadline. Go read a book.