random notes: the differences between horror, dark fantasy, and the grimdark

This is one of those posts. You know, the ones I write so I can just post a link rather than say the same thing over and over again and again and again ... ad nauseam.

My opinion will probably change at some point, because I'm flexible like that, but for now I'm venturing into the grimdark/horror arena for a reason. Yes, yes, I know all about Warhammer 40K "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war ..." so if you comment about Warhammer 40K, I'm going to assume you just shot down to the comments to tell me about Warhammer 40K without reading the actual post.

I'm not trying to invalidate the Warhammer 40K definition. "In the grim darkness of the far future ..." was the beginning. Anyone who says that the grimdark was born of this statement isn't wrong; however, while Warhammer 40K might be the root of the grimdark phenomenon, the branches of that vine have extended to encompass a lot of things outside of Warhammer 40K, and so here we all are ...

What follows is my personal definition. If you need something that cites several articles, look anywhere but here, because I don't have time to chase citations right now. The quick and dirty way I differentiate horror, dark fantasy, and grimdark is simply this:

Horror is a story where the protagonist is helpless in the face of a supernatural threat. It is an ordinary person against a much more powerful supernatural adversary. The protagonist seeks to destroy the supernatural threat in order to save themselves or others, but only when they are forced into a confrontation. The horror elements in the story are culled from the protagonist's increasing helplessness in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Dark fantasy is similar to horror in that it is a story where the protagonist is helpless in the face of a supernatural threat. In some cases a dark fantasy protagonist also has supernatural powers; however the individual is still against a much more powerful supernatural adversary. The protagonist seeks to destroy the supernatural threat in order to save themselves or others. Unlike horror, dark fantasy tends to have a thread of hope running through the story. While at times being helpless, the protagonist generally wins in the end; although the cost (loss of friends/family or even their own innocence) will be great.

Grimdark is a story where the protagonist faces a supernatural threat, but s/he isn't helpless against their adversary. Rather than run from the supernatural threat, the grimdark protagonist actively seeks to subvert or control it. In grimdark, the characters exhibit amoral [read: darker] tendencies, which replace the element of helplessness as the primary focus of the dread/horror.

There are supernatural elements in all three, but they are utilized in very different ways. What separates them is the protagonist and how that individual deals with the supernatural threat.

If you've got a different definition, drop it in the comments. I'm always open to consider other viewpoints, but for now, that's how I'm defining the two.

In 2018, I'm joining Pitch Wars as a mentor

Recently, a friend of mine told me about Pitch Wars--you could say he pitched the idea to me ...

*coughs*

Last one of those I promise.

Anyway, after looking over Michael's email, I realized this was a way for me to give back to the writing community that had so generously supported me over the last nine years. So I applied to be a 2018 Pitch Wars mentor for adult fiction.

Weirdly enough, they accepted me. That's about all I can say about being a mentor right now. There will soon be blog hops and scores of announcements, and I'll keep you in the loop as best I can.

This is Poe and the adult mentor badge.

This is Poe and the adult mentor badge.

Meanwhile, watch the header on this page. I'll be posting important dates for those of you who would like to follow along.

You'll know it's a Pitch Wars post when you see the Pitch Wars mascot Poe.

A few links for you:

If you're new to Pitch Wars, here is a good starting place: New? Start here. You can also follow Pitch Wars on Twitter at @PitchWars. Check out the Twitter hashtags for #Pitchwars and #PWPoePrompts as well. 

Once the blog hop begins, you'll see the mentors' wish lists and we'll give you an idea of the genres and types of works different mentors want to see. You might find I'm not the right fit for you or your work. For that reason, I suggest you check out this post on the Pitch Wars website. Mentors are categorized under MG, YA, and New Adult and/or Adult, so you can have time to read their blogs and get to know them.

For those of you who are brand new to me and my blog: if you want to get a feel for my writing style, you can check out my free stories. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page and you'll find a Los Nefilim vignette, a piece of flash fiction "Comes the Night," and a short story "La Santisima."

That's about it for now. I'll have another post later this week to bring you up to speed on what's happening with Where Oblivion Lives and the next book in the series, Carved from Stone and Dream.

Watch for me ...

The Tale of Two Covers: Where Oblivion Lives

Where Oblivion Lives will be published February 2019, but you don't have to wait until then to add it to your Goodreads list. You may also pre-order at Amazon, B&N, and HarperCollins.


This is the tale of two covers: one that worked fine and one that blew my mind.

The first cover was nice. It was a man with a Peaky Blinders look and an air of confidence about him. Two angels faced one another behind his back. They were subtly shaded, one slightly darker than the other. The background was done in muted tones. Overall it was a very acceptable cover, but as my agent pointed out to me, the imagery didn't indicate anything specific about the story in a very dynamic way.

Usually authors don't have a lot of input on their cover art, but Harper Voyager is somewhat different in this respect. David [Pomerico] and I discussed the issues with the first comp, and he said they would come up with something different. 

Meanwhile, I was working feverishly through his editorial notes on Where Oblivion Lives. David told me to go darker with the story if I wanted to, and on that final rewrite, I did. It all started with a comment David placed in one scene, and his sentence made me realize that I had missed a major opportunity with the story.

[Note to reader: this is why experienced editors are so wonderful. They point you in the right direction without telling you how to drive.]

We like to think of our heroes as being infallible, especially the supernatural ones. In some fiction, they go to war and return without any discernible trauma, while other stories deal very realistically with their characters and PTSD. Both ways of tackling this problem are as unique as the authors writing them.

So what if, I wondered after reading David's notes, what if Diago suffered from PTSD? And what if someone used his refusal to deal with his trauma as a weapon against him? 

And while those thoughts aren't necessarily original, the way the whole concept played out in Los Nefilim's magic system, which relies on song and sound, came off splendidly.

So I expanded some scenes and strengthened others, adding roughly ten thousand words to the manuscript. I am exceptionally pleased with how the story finally emerged. I sent the manuscript back to David, and after I did, the good people at Harper Voyager came up with new cover art.

WhereOblivionLives_Revised.jpg

And I love it! It captures the surreal effect of Diago's nightmares, which are an on-going theme throughout the story. Here is the striking imagery that the first cover lacked, and it encompasses angels and broken nefilim and the dark sounds that follow them all.

Here is the blurb:

A lyrical historical fantasy adventure, set in 1932 Spain and Germany, that brings to life the world of the novellas collected in Los Nefilim: Spanish Nephilim battling daimons in a supernatural war to save humankind.

Born of daimon and angel, Diago Alvarez is a being unlike all others. The embodiment of dark and light, he has witnessed the good and the horror of this world and those beyond. In the supernatural war between angels and daimons that will determine humankind’s future, Diago has chosen Los Nefilim, the sons and daughters of angels who possess the power to harness music and light.

As the forces of evil gather, Diago must locate the Key, the special chord that will unite the nefilim’s voices, giving them the power to avert the coming civil war between the Republicans and Franco’s Nationalists. Finding the Key will save Spain from plunging into darkness.

And for Diago, it will resurrect the anguish caused by a tragedy he experienced in a past life.

But someone—or something—is determined to stop Diago in his quest and will use his history to destroy him and the nefilim. Hearing his stolen Stradivarius played through the night, Diago is tormented by nightmares about his past life. Each incarnation strengthens the ties shared by the nefilim, whether those bonds are of love or hate ... or even betrayal.

To retrieve the violin, Diago must journey into enemy territory ... and face an old nemesis and a fallen angel bent on revenge.

I'll be talking more about the novel as we get closer to our publication date, because I'm excited about this book and series. [I know, I know ... you can't tell, can you?]

For those of you who loved the novellas:

Miquel, Rafael, Guillermo, and Ysabel are all back, as well. We also get to meet Guillermo's brother Jordi and his lover Nico.

In related news, I'm hard at work on the next book in the series: Carved from Stone and Dream

I'm also lining up events for late 2018 and 2019. If you want to see where I'm going to be, you can check out my Events page at the website. It's not complete yet, so I'll be adding more as we get closer to 2019. I look forward to meeting some of you in real life.

Meanwhile, I hope you all have great summer.

Watch for me,

T

Where I have been and where I am going ...

I haven't been around for awhile, because things have been very busy on my end. I got my edits for Where Oblivion Lives and was hard at work on them all through the month of May and June. Thanks to David's [Pomerico] guidance, the novel is much, much stronger now. I finished the final tweaks this morning and sent them back to Harper Voyager.

I'm super excited about the book now.

Downtime fun stuff included seeing Coco [an absolute delight] and Thor: Ragnarok [I can't recall the last time I had that much fun with a movie].

I also took some time to tweak the website a bit. This is my version of coloring. I personally don't think it makes a hoot of difference to most folks, but I enjoy playing with colors and backgrounds and so ... ta-da!

I'm lining up dates and schedules for upcoming events. I'll be at World Fantasy Con in November. This will be my first World Fantasy Con, so I am greatly looking forward to it. For added fun, I'm taking the train to Baltimore--a first for me and something that I have longed to do.

In February 2019, I'm thrilled to be going to my first MystiCon. I've heard some wonderful things from my friends about the event.

I'm not currently scheduled to be on panels at either place, but we're a bit too far out for that right now. If anything changes, I'll post it here and on my events page.

Now I'm back to work on the next Los Nefilim book in the series. I'll pop back in with some Fieldnotes if I find something of interest while researching for the next book. I'll also swing by to discuss any movies or books of interest that I come across.

Otherwise, I'm going to be hard at work on the next book.

Summer on and stay cool!

Privacy Policy

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A Quiet Place: a review from the deaf perspective

I loved this movie. I want to get that out of the way from the beginning. Yes, there were a few plot holes, but A Quiet Place was about the one thing I love: the characters. Rather than a shoot-em-up, run-around-and-get-slashed horror movie, John Krasinski gives us a very intense human drama. 

A_Quiet_Place_film_poster.png

The horror of A Quiet Place isn't the actual violence, but the constant threat of violence the family endures as they try to survive.

Each of the actors brought a superb level of talent to their roles. I loved Emily Blunt as the Evelyn Abbott. Her subtle facial expressions spoke volumes. Millicent Simmonds is a fine young actress, and I hope Hollywood finds many more roles for her. Likewise, Noah Jupe and Krasinski were excellent.

I was so caught up in the family's survival that the story's few plot holes didn't ruin my enjoyment of the film. Although to be honest, the rigged cochlear processor bothered me in that a cochlear processor doesn't emit sound the same way a hearing aid does. A hearing aid amplifies sound and can often give feedback. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged portion of the ear to directly stimulate the auditory nerve. So these two things are not the same.

However, since it was a tricked-up processor in A Quiet Place, I was willing to suspend belief and shush my ridiculous mind every time it bleeped: BUT HEY, THAT'S NOT HOW HOW A PROCESSOR WORKS. Meanwhile another part of my brain was going: THAT IS THE COOLEST LOOKING PROCESSOR AND COIL AND THAT I'VE EVER SEEN AND I WANT ONE.

Frankly, I gushed about the movie all the way home.

What made me squeal: My daughter and both squealed out loud when the camera zoomed in on Regan's cochlear implant. Cyborgs save the world!

What jarred me: When the subtitles suddenly dropped off the screen during the few spoken parts.

That was the one big downer of the film for me. Fortunately, between my own cochlear implant and my ability to lipread*, I was able to put together the gist of the conversations. Someone who is born deaf might not be able to do the same thing, which brings me to my biggest issue with A Quiet Place: the scenes with ASL** are captioned for the hearing audience, but the spoken scenes were not captioned for the deaf audience.

Given all of the other stellar points of the movie, this seems like something to nitpick, but it's not. A few hearing people have pointed out that they found it jarring when the captions suddenly stopped. For those of us who rely on those captions to understand the dialogue, it was like someone suddenly shut off the sound.

Their lips moved but we couldn't understand what they were saying.

So let's use it as a teaching moment of what ableism looks like in practice. Given the efforts made to promote this movie based the family's use of ASL to communicate with one another and having Simmonds as the lead, I can only see the lack of captioning during the speaking parts as an oversight--one that detracted from the overall theater experience for me.

Under no circumstances do I want to disparage the sincere effort that was made to bring Simmonds into the project so as to make Regan's experience as authentic as possible. At the same time, I don't feel it's inappropriate to point out ways that the movie could have been better, and of course, more inclusive. The most obvious way is by captioning the entire movie.

I hope captioning movies is something future filmmakers will consider. Since box office numbers are so valuable, I just want to point out that I, and many other deaf people, would go to more movies if captioning was available for the entire film. Just pretend that deaf people speak a different language (we do) and then caption appropriately. Otherwise, we'll be waiting for the DVD, which will come with subtitles.

[Note: this is not the place to inform me about assistive devices theaters use to provide captioning. Not all theaters have them and according to many deaf people, the captioning boxes don't always work correctly. So no. I'll wait for the DVD.]

Meanwhile, A Quiet Place is, in many ways, as important to the horror genre as Get Out. Please go see the movie. Even knowing what I know now, I highly recommend A Quiet Place to everyone.

At the same time, please don't stop advocating for captioning on all movies as well. 

__________
*I am a late-deafened adult. I began to lose my hearing around age twelve and over time, I became completely deaf. Because no one in my family used ASL, I had to develop other coping mechanisms in order to communicate. I now have a cochlear implant in my right ear, which gives me around 62% speech discrimination (at the date this article was written—as of 2019, I have 82% speech discrimination with my processor). Without my processor, I have 0% speech discrimination and rely on lipreading. I am in the process of learning ASL.

**Some folks have noted that the shots made some of the ASL difficult to understand, too. However, these scenes were also fully captioned.


WhereOblivionLives.jpg

Frohock has intricately woven a unique reinterpretation of history. Eloquent prose accompanies a lyrical theme amid prewar tensions, enriching this imaginative historical fantasy. –starred review, Publishers Weekly

Where Oblivion Lives is available at Scuppernong Books | HarperCollins | IndieBound. You can find links to Amazon and B&N at the HarperCollins link. If you're an audiobook fan, we've got you covered: the audiobook is narrated by the talented Vikas Adam and is available from Audible.

A few people have asked if you have to read the novellas first in order to enjoy Where Oblivion Lives. The answer is no, BUT if you want to read them, you can find the Los Nefilim omnibus at HarperCollins, as well as links to the individual novellas right here.

Fieldnotes: Juan Pujol Garcia, code name GARBO

This week's Fieldnotes pays tribute to an unsung Catalan hero of World War II, who does not feature in any of the Los Nefilim novels, but his whole story is so weird and unusual that I absolutely cannot forgo bringing him to your attention. My original search was for Spanish spies who were famous for their work either during the Spanish Civil War or World War II. While I found many worthy spies, the one who snagged my attention was Juan Pujol García (14 February 1912 - 10 October 1988).

Be forewarned that all of my information in this post comes from Wikipedia, which I always advocate as a cool starting point, but I usually caution people to back that information with other sources. Since neither Pujol nor his adventures feature in my novel, and since my research is already clogged with things I must know, I haven't taken the time to delve deeper into Pujol's history.

Also, I am leaving out a lot with this post. If you want to read more about his adventures and life, I do recommend the Wikipedia article (linked above) because there is a brief bibliography at the end.

With those caveats in mind, we begin:

Pujol came from a wealthy family, his father owned a dye factory and he endeavored to send his son to school in Barcelona. Unfortunately, by the age sixteen, Pujol got into an argument with one of his teachers, decided to leave school, and took up an apprenticeship in a hardware store.

But he didn't stay there.

Juan hated the military.

Juan hated the military.

With retail not being in his blood, he decided to study animal husbandry at the Royal Poultry School in Arenys de Mar. His father died in 1931 but left the family well-provided for through the income generated by the family's dye factory. Also in 1931, Pujol was conscripted into service. He served in the 7th Regiment of Light Artillery in the cavalry unit in order to fulfill his six month compulsory service to the Republic.

Don't let that happy face fool you. Pujol hated horseback riding and claimed that he lacked the "essential qualities of loyalty, generosity, and honor" to be a good soldier. So as soon as his very brief stint in the cavalry ended, he turned to poultry farming, and if wars had not set the world on fire, most likely Pujol's story might have ended here.

But it didn't.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. The family dye factory was taken over by the workers. At one point, Pujol's immediate family members, including his mother, were taken by Republican forces and charged with being counter-revolutionaries. Another of their relatives, who happened to be in a trade union, arranged the family's release; however, by this point the damage was done.

Because the Republicans treated his family so shabbily, Pujol wasn't eager to fight for them when they called him into service for the war. So he hid at his girlfriend's house rather than enlist. Of course, the police found him, because we all know the first place they look for you is at your girlfriend's house, and Pujol spent a week in jail. He was eventually freed by members in the Traditionalist resistance group Socorro Blanco. They hid him and helped him produce fake identity papers, which showed him as being too old for service.

Pujol learned to be sneaky.

Although at this time, he wasn't interested in spycraft. Instead he managed a poultry farm. He soon found that farming by committee was not economically feasible, and this in turn soured him on communism, which led him to produce MORE false papers so he could re-join the Republican army.

Because now he had a plan.

He intended to join the Republican army and desert as soon as possible. In an effort to reach the Nationalist side, he volunteered to lay telegraph cables near the front lines. During the Battle of the Ebro, Pujol managed to sneak across the lines and join the Nationalists.

This worked spectacularly UNTIL ...

One day Pujol expressed sympathy for the monarchy. This attitude didn't sit well with a colonel, who struck Pujol, and then to add insult to injury, he had Pujol imprisoned. By the time his service with the Nationalists ended, Pujol decided that fascism was as repugnant to him as communism.

However, he did learn valuable skills in subterfuge, which would eventually help him in his career as a spy. This being the part I'm sure you're all here for.

So now we'll talk about how Pujol became Garbo.

During the early days of World War II, Germany's main adversary was Britain. Since Franco supported Germany, and Pujol hated Franco, Pujol offered to spy for Britain. He offered on three different occasions.

But alas, M-15 did not want Pujol as a spy.

Being something of a self-starter, Pujol took it upon himself to start spying on his own. He created the character of a Spanish official, who was fervently pro-Nazi, and who could travel to London on official business. Using the skills he learned during the Spanish Civil War, he procured documentation for this new identity, and contacted Friedrich Knappe-Ratey, an Abwehr agent in Madrid.

Unlike the British, the Nazis were thrilled to have Pujol on board. They gave him the code name Alaric Arabel and a crash course in espionage, cryptology, and (I'm not making this up) "a bottle of invisible ink, a codebook, and £600 for expenses." The Nazis wanted him to move to London and recruit a network of British spies.

Pujol was finally in the spy business.

So he moved to Lisbon.

Which is not in Britain.

Lisbon is in Portugal.

In order to make the Nazis think he was in London, Pujol used a tourist's guide to Britain, reference books and magazines from the Lisbon Public Library, and newsreel reports from the cinemas to create credible reports for the Germans. He also created an extensive network of "sub-agents," who "lived" in different parts of the UK. By the time it was all over, Pujol had created a total of 27 fictitious identities, or sub-agents (there is a great chart over at Wikipedia that lists them all).

Then, using these various identities or "sub-agents", Pujol began feeding the Germans misinformation.

Pujol reached M-15's attention when he reported a non-existent convoy to the Kriegsmarine (Nazi Germany's navy), which resulted in the Germans wasting considerable resources hunting down something that didn't exist. Someone in M-15 finally decided that Pujol had some serious potential here, so they brought him to London, gave him a security check, and turned him over to Tomás (Tommy) Harris, an M-15 agent who spoke fluent Spanish.

Because Pujol was such a marvelous actor, his code name was Garbo. Pujol, along with his handler Harris, worked together and produced 315 letters, which were essentially a mix of complete fiction, genuine information of little military value, and valuable military intelligence artificially delayed. For example:

Garbo's agent on the River Clyde reported that a convoy of troopships and warships had left port, painted in Mediterranean camouflage. The letter was postmarked before the landings and sent via airmail, but was artificially delayed by British Intelligence in order to arrive too late to be useful. Pujol received a reply stating "we are sorry they arrived too late but your last reports were magnificent."

Pujol's "spy network" was so efficient and expansive that the Germans didn't bother recruiting anymore British spies. Which made Operation Fortitude South much easier for the British to handle.

What was Operation Fortitude?

Operation Fortitude South* was the military misinformation campaign utilized to distract the Germans from the actual location of Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the Battle of Normandy. Operation Overlord was launched by Operation Neptune, which is more commonly known as D-Day.

I think you can see where this is going.

Here Pujol played a major role in deception. His job was to convince the Germans that Allied forces would be landing at Pas de Calais, rather than on the beaches of Normandy. They couldn't blow Garbo's credibility with the Germans, so they decided to forewarn the Germans with some of the actual details of the Normandy invasion. The key was to send the information too late for the Germans to act on it.

Pujol told German radio operators that sometime during the night of June 5 or the early hours of June 6, 1944, a sub-agent was about to arrive with important information. The Germans were supposed to be standing by. Garbo made the call at 3:00 a.m., but no reply was received from the German operators until 8:00 a.m.

Turning this piece of bad luck on its head, GARBO was able to add more operational details to the message when finally sent and thus increase his standing with the Germans. GARBO told his German contacts that he was disgusted that his first message was missed, saying "I cannot accept excuses or negligence. Were it not for my ideals I would abandon the work."
This is an inflatable Sherman tank. great fun at the beach but a bit large for the local pool.

This is an inflatable Sherman tank. great fun at the beach but a bit large for the local pool.

On 9 June (three days after D-day), Garbo sent missives that were passed to Hitler and his High Command. Garbo convinced the Germans of a fictitious order of battle. The Allies supported the deception with "fake planes, inflatable tanks, and vans travelling about the area transmitting bogus radio chatter."

Garbo told the Germans that the first landing at Normandy should be considered a diversion and that the Allies would be pushing the main body of their forces through the Strait of Dover toward Pas de Calais. The German High Command accepted Garbo's reports so completely that they kept armored and infantry divisions in the Pas de Calais and waited for a second invasion throughout July and August 1944. The German Commander-in-Chief in the west refused to allow General Rommel to move these divisions to Normandy, where the actual invasion was taking place.

Pujol's career as Garbo came to an end in late June 1944. The Germans wanted him to report on V-1 flying bombs. Unable to give them false information without blowing his cover, and unwilling to give them correct information that would endanger the operations, Garbo's handler, Tommy Harris, arranged for him to be "arrested."

A few days later, Pujol notified the Germans of the arrest and claimed he had to leave London.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Pujol received two awards as the result of his service:

  • The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from King George VI for his service as Garbo.
  • An Iron Cross Second Class for his service as Alaric Arabel (his German code name)

Fearing Nazi reprisals, M-15 helped Pujol travel to Angola, where he faked his death from malaria in 1949. After he "died," he moved to Venezuela, where he ran a bookstore and gift shop.

And that, my dear readers, is the story of Juan Pujol García.

_______
*Operation Fortitude was divided into two sub-plans with Operation Fortitude South creating a diversion at the Strait of Dover and Operation Fortitude North directed its phantom army toward Norway.

Thoughts on Silence

I know these long theological screeds aren't winning me either fans or brownie points with the world in general, so if you're just here for the fantasy and science fiction, move on and skip this post. Trust me, I understand.

However, thoughts simmer in my brain and won't let me go until I put them down in some form. Given that none of these thoughts are pertinent to my stories, I'm going to use my long-neglected blog to hold forth on opinions that are mine and mine alone.

On a road that I drive on everyday is a church with a sign, and on this sign the members of this church post phrases designed to inspire their members and anyone else who happens to be passing along. Often the words on this sign are misspelled, which worries me because it denotes a lack of care in their message.

Since Easter is coming--that annual religious holiday when Christians all over the state make an annual pilgrimage to the beach--I suppose the members of the church wanted an Easter theme. This week's sign states that people's sins drove Jesus to the cross, a theological point that intimates Jesus had no choice in his sacrifice, which in turn robs the Crucifixion of meaning by implying that his death was not an offering but instead a murder. This, likewise, worries me, because it is probably an unintentional but very strange twist on Christianity's theme of sacrifice and redemption.

Then, in a completely unrelated event, an individual, who I personally know identifies as a Christian, made a racist comment around me as casually as if she were commenting on the weather. Just a wee hate-filled bon mot thrown out there for the world to see.

Something in my gut clenched and I thought immediately of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis during World War II. Everyone remembers Bonhoeffer for his famous "First they came for the ..." speech, which reflected his belief system of putting Christian principles into action. He wrote extensively about Christianity's role in the secular world, and in doing so produced an essay entitled "Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace."

For those of you who don't know me, I was raised in Evangelical churches and I talk a little about that here. So I know that along with the prosperity gospel, the Evangelicals are also big on cheap grace. I simply never had a name for it until I read Bonhoeffer's works, but once I saw it I couldn't unsee it, so here we all are again.

Bonhoeffer describes cheap grace thus:

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. --Dietrich Bonhoeffer

That was what I was taught. If you sin, just ask for forgiveness and everything will be just hunky-dory. Boom. I did it, I'm sorry, it's over, bygones. Finis.

As I grew older, I found the Evangelical's philosophy of cheap grace to be highly empty--both from a theological and spiritual point of view. I received nothing from the experience of repentance, because no action was demanded from me.

The more I read, the more I found that there is much more to repentance than simply expressing remorse and moving on. Which brings me to Bonhoeffer's flip side of cheap grace. He believed that costly grace "is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."

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All of these thoughts were tumbling through my mind as I read Shūsaku Endō's novel Silence. Written in 1966, the story follows the 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priest Sebastian Rodrigues to Japan, roughly fifty years after the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637.

Rodrigues is searching for his mentor Cristóvão Ferreira, who has renounced his faith while on a mission in the country. When Rodrigues and his fellow priest Francisco Garrpe arrive, they find that the country's Christian population are being systematically exterminated. No matter how the Christians suffered, "... like the sea God was silent."

Of course, Rodrigues is eventually captured by the Japanese and is expected to renounce his religion. He meditates on the meaning of martyrdom and his faith in general. Quite a few lines of Endō's prose have stood out for me, but it is his clear definition of sin that remains closest to my heart. In Silence Endō has Rodrigues reflect that "Sin ... is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind."

I thought of the way people I know have suddenly decided that it is okay to walk brutally over other people's lives with their words and their actions. They seem to feel their belief shields them from the ramifications of their deeds. Maybe they interpret God's silence as an endorsement to their beliefs, but I have hard time believing that is true.

"... but our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent,
my life until this day would have spoken of Him."

With this quote, Bonhoeffer and Endō merge. Both of them speak very strongly regarding action, a duty to respond to injustice. Speech is a conscious act and words are important. In both of the examples I presented at the top of this post, neither the church nor the individual seem to put much stock into either their theology or their how their actions affect others.

Usually no one would say anything about these things, because both the church and the individual are simply voicing opinions ... right? 

Maybe. But should I respect opinions that are morally wrong? No. There is nothing that demands I remain silent in the face of such a case. As a matter of fact, I'm more inclined than ever to call them down, because my silence can be misinterpreted as tolerance.

In Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, the atheist Albert Camus admonished Christians in 1948 to "speak out loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today. The grouping we need is a grouping of men resolved to speak out clearly and pay up personally. When a Spanish bishop blesses public executions, he ceases to be a bishop, or a Christian, or even a man; he is a dog, just like the one who, backed by an ideology, orders that execution without doing the dirty work himself."

So I'm here to say loudly and clearly so that even the simplest person can understand: when you trample brutally on other people's lives with your words or your deeds, I'll be here to point out that what you're doing is wrong. You may wave Jesus in my face, or you can wave my admonishments off as "not a big deal." However, I will not be silent.

Furthermore, I do not want an apology. I want to see your restitution reflected in the way in which you live your life. To change one's behavior requires understanding costly grace, which avoids judgmental fear and is predicated on the hardest Christian principle of all to work in our lives: love for others.

Fieldnotes: angels drinking from rivers of fire

Today's Fieldnotes will be brief, because I'm working on several things at the moment: beta reading a manuscript for a friend, reading another friend's series in order to blurb her book, and working on the next Los Nefilim novel due in February 2019. That's all in addition to life as we know it and all of the weird little things that happen on a day-to-day basis.

What I'm trying to do with this series is show you all the things that go into writing a novel. Some of it will bore you, other posts might enlighten you, and if you're an author too, a few might inspire you in your own creative endeavors. Today's post is in the latter category.

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I'm not even sure where I was going with all of that, but you can rest assured that none of this appears in Where Oblivion Lives. I seem to recall the line about angels drinking from rivers of fire comes from 1 Enoch but don't quote me on it. I just thought that angels drinking from rivers of fire was kind of badass:

The archangels Gabriel and Michael sidle up to the River of Fire for a drink.

Careful, Mike, last time we were here, you got drunk and wiped out Pompeii.

Shh, Michael says as he licks flames from his fingertips. I thought we agreed to blame the volcano for that.

Uh-huh. Gabriel sips sparks. And let's not forget Rome ...

Nero was a bastard. Michael belches. Fire and brimstone roll past his lips.

Chicago burns.

Gabriel stares in horror. Oh shit, not again.

Michael points at a cow. Kicked over a lantern, she did!

So now you know the intellectual thoughts that roll through my head while I'm conducting research.

Most of the time I'm looking for specific facts, but there are other times that I just read along and jot down points of interest. This seems to be one of those times.

See?

It's not all boring, boring, boring.

Fieldnotes: secret cults

Nothing is more fun than researching secret cults. Okay, seriously, there are a lot of things more fun than researching secret cults. However, a writer has to do what a writer must do, so in this second installment of Fieldnotes, I'm going to briefly talk about one aspect of secret cults that finally found it's way into Where Oblivion Lives.

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There are quite a few books on the Nazis and the occult, but the one most referenced is The occult roots of Nazism: secret Aryan cults and their influence on Nazi ideology by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. This book is simultaneously the most thorough and driest examination of the subject that you will find.

Dry.

Desert dry.

But thorough. Very thorough and very informative. Three pages of notes informative.

How much of this information made it into the novel? Probably a quarter of those notes actually landed in the story.

The practice of vehmgericht played a large role in the initial draft of Where Oblivion Lives. The idea of secret courts went hand-in-hand with my nefilim, who operate undercover within the mortal realm.

What is vehmgericht?

According to Goodrick-Clarke:

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The vehmgericht constituted the last of List's guilds and was supposed to have translated the holy Armanist gnosis into a 'kalic' form so that it might survive the Christian epoch. Since the vehmgericht really was a a secret institution, founded to administer law in the Holy Roman Empire between the early thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, it seemed a most effective agent for List's occult heritage. Vehmic law most probably originated in pre-Carolingian times, but it was not until the late twelfth century that it assumed historical significance. At this time the imperial jurisdiction was being usurped by the new territorial princes, who were striving to assume the political authority of the old feudal estates. To counter this modern tendency the Archbishop of Cologne placed himself at the head of a long-standing system of local courts, which were to pass capital sentences in the name of the Emperor. An old parochial institution thus assumed a new historical role. From their origin in Westphalia these vehmgerichts soon spread through the Empire wherever conservative men sought to hinder the power of princes.

That is the historical basis for vehmgericht. Due to the secretive nature of the proceedings, vehmgericht later slipped into the realm of Gothic novels written between 1780 and 1820, which redefined the vehmgericht to represent a powerful secret court that exercised justice against "local despots and their lackeys." Resurrecting this mysterious court for my own novel, I added a few twists, but maintained the name vehmgericht primarily due to the location of the novel's events, which are in Germany.

Like my Gothic predecessors, I kept the essential structure of vehmgericht, but reshaped other parts of the practice to meet my own story's needs. In the Los Nefilim series, vehmgericht are secret courts used by the nefilim to judge those members who betray the angels. The kings and queens of the nefilim's Inner Guards administer these courts, and they may pass capital sentences in the name of the Thrones, the angels who rule the celestial realms.

Vehmgericht.

Hold onto that word.