Fieldnotes: pink lists and the pink triangle

A few short notes on why I chose to use male protagonists and antagonists in my Los Nefilim series, and maybe a few historical facts that not many people know. There are women in the novel, as well, and I adore writing them, because they’re all so vicious (Carme, Sofia, and the Corvo twins to name a few).

The thing is, though, the books originally started with Guillermo as the protagonist. As I became more involved with different people online, I realized that my novel with Guillermo, Diago, and Miquel followed every terrible trope out there. In my case, multiple rejections became a second chance.

I considered flipping the genders and making them all women. Then I spent some time studying the various time periods. As I did, I found that laws against homosexuality were generally written against men, going back to the Visigothic Code, which specifically addressed sodomy and no other form of same-sex love. The code itself states that anyone accused of sodomy “not only suffer emasculation, but also the penalty prescribed by ecclesiastical decree for such offences.” [1] Ecclesiastical decrees during the 13th century dictated the death penalty for sodomy. [2]

Women, on the other hand, were (and quite often still are) seen under the false assumptions that they are either: a) naturally affectionate or b) not in control of their own desires. There is the added perspective that, seen through the male gaze, f/f copulation can be arousing to males, and therefore less likely to be seen as a punishable offence.

Regardless of the reasoning, as time moved on, the persecution against gay men remained in place. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that both psychologists and physicians began to study sex and gender associations more openly. One of the most renowned was Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a German physician who founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, which pioneered “the first advocacy for homosexual and transgender rights.” [3]

Hirschfeld believed that "homosexuality was part of the plan of nature and creation" like other forms of love and affection. In 1919, he co-wrote and acted in the film Anders als die Andern ("Different From the Others"). Conrad Veidt, a prominent German actor who makes a cameo in Where Oblivion Lives, played one of the first homosexual characters ever written for cinema in this film. Because of this, he is Rudi Grier’s hero.

Hirschfeld, for his part, uses his role to play himself and makes an attempt to educate his audience. A portion of the film is devoted to Hirschfeld testifying in court that “the persecution of homosexuals belongs to the same sad chapter of history in which the persecutions of witches and heretics is inscribed."

Unfortunately, Hirschfeld became a Nazi target in the early 1930s. He escaped arrest only because he was on a book tour when the library at Hirschfeld's Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute of Sexology) was raided on 10 May 1933. The Nazis burned thousands of books.

In Spain, France, and Germany (where the majority of the Los Nefilim series takes place), police kept lists of known homosexuals. Pierre Seel, a young Frenchman, frequented Steinbach Square in Alsace, which was a place where men went to meet for sexual encounters. Unfortunately for him, he one day lost a treasured watch to a thief. He went to a police station to report the theft and found himself on the receiving end of a lecture from the detective. Seel didn’t know for certain, but based on later action by the Gestapo, he realized the detective must have placed his name on a list of known homosexuals. [4]

In Germany, these were known as "Pink Lists." When the Nazis seized power, they rounded up these men and told them to report to Gestapo headquarters. Seventeen year old Pierre Seel was likewise summoned by the Gestapo to be interred in a concentration camp.

After the murder of Ernst Röhm, the laws against homosexuality (women were still exempt) became stricter. The obsessively homophobic Heinrich Himmler had the Gestapo step up their raids. In 1937, he told SS leaders that “it was regrettable that gay men could not be killed, but at least they could be detained.” [5]

According to Richard Plant, in his book, The Pink Triangle, between the years 1933-1944 between 50,000 to 63,000 men, 4,000 of whom were juveniles, were convicted of homosexuality under Germany’s infamous Paragraph 175. [6] Forced to wear a pink triangle, these men were detained in the concentration camps and suffered harsh treatment from both the guards and the inmates.

While German law required consent for castration, several gay men were castrated against their will. In order to “cure” the men of their homosexuality, men wearing the pink triangle were forced into particularly hard labor. They were often isolated in separate barracks, where they were forced to sleep with the lights on and their hands above the blankets at all times.

At the end of World War II, gay men were prohibited from seeking reparations for their time in the concentration camps, because homosexuality was still against the law. The laws in most countries didn't change until the mid- to late-60s. Even then many men were too ashamed to come forward. Where the Nazis failed to kill them, society turned them into pariahs. Some, such as Pierre Seel, married and forced themselves into heterosexual marriages. (Seel's ended in divorce.)

In spite of numerous books and studies of the holocaust, I was able to find only three or four books devoted entirely to the men who wore the pink triangle (these are just the ones that I’ve read):

  • Herger, Heinz [trans. by David Fernbach]. The men with the pink triangle: the true, life-and-death story of homosexuals in the Nazi death camps. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 1980.

  • Plant, Richard. The pink triangle: the Nazi war against homosexuals. New York: Henry Holt, 1988.

  • Seel, Pierre. I, Pierre Seel, deported homosexual. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

So what does all of this have to do with Los Nefilim?

Well, it all sort of goes back to my decision to do things differently with the original story. You see, Guillermo started as the protagonist for the Los Nefilim world, but the more I wrote, the more I realized this was Diago’s story. If I changed his gender, then I cheated him of his story, one that has been little more than a footnote in most history books.

Writing Los Nefilim from a woman's point of view would have drastically changed the characters' perception of the rapidly changing world. By keeping the male point of view in these books, I can balance Miquel’s hope for a more tolerant world with Diago’s pragmatism. Later, in Where Oblivion Lives, Diago's actions with a young German man take on more poignancy because both must remain hidden from the other for different reasons.

More than anything, I want to show you what Hirschfeld wanted to show his audience with Anders als die Andern ("Different From the Others"). That is why my cast is predominantly male.

If you're looking for kick-ass women, I can direct you to a ton of good books, but I'm keeping my boys, because they have a story to tell, too. It begins in 1931 in Barcelona, in a novella called In Midnight’s Silence …
__________
[1] FLAVIUS EGICA, KING. Book III, Title V, Section VI. Concerning Sodomy, and the Manner in which the Law should be Enforced.

[2] Michael Goodrich Ph.D. (1976) Sodomy in Medieval Secular Law, Journal of Homosexuality, 1:3, 295-302.

[3] Goltz, Dustin. "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Movements", In Lind, Amy; Brzuzy, Stephanie (eds.). Battleground: Women, Gender, and Sexuality: Volume 2. Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport, CT, 2008.

[4] Seel, Pierre. I, Pierre Seel, deported homosexual. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

[5] Wachsmann, Nikolaus. KL: a history of the Nazi concentration camps. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

[6] Plant also notes that six lesbians were arrested, which is considered a "bewildering statistic, since sex between women was not against the law."

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

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

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

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

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

Scuppernong Books HarperCollins | IndieBound

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

I've got news: MystiCon, Greensboro Bound, and ConCarolinas

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Time got away from me during the final half of 2018. I had so many things happen—some were quite wonderful and others not so much. The upshot of it is that I simply didn’t have a lot of time to blog. The next Los Nefilim novel was due on February 8, 2019, and due to many circumstances beyond my control, I was woefully behind in writing it. Likewise, the deadlines for helping my Pitch Wars mentee, Elvin Bala, were also falling roughly into that time frame. Working with Elvin took no time at all … the novel, Carved from Stone and Dream, almost killed me.

Emerson inspecting early copies of where oblivion lives and she gives them black cat approval.

Emerson inspecting early copies of where oblivion lives and she gives them black cat approval.

So I essentially dropped everything that wasn’t novel or Pitch Wars related and disappeared to get ‘er done, and I did, we did, everything worked out, and I took this past weekend off and died ded and rested. Now I’m back to tell you about Where Oblivion Lives and gear up for promo and cons in 2019.

I spent a little time tweaking the webpage to make things easier to find. You can see a list of categories in the righthand sidebar.

I’m working on an interview for the Fantasy Hive and a couple of guest posts this week. In preparation for upcoming conventions, I’m devising panel topics to submit. Speaking of conventions, I’m also getting geared up to hit the con trail in 2019.

Cons and festivals

On February 22-24, I’ll be attending MystiCon in Roanoke, Virginia (you can find my full schedule here), and on April 5-7, I’ll be at RavenCon in Williamsburg, Virginia

May is going to be a busy month. I’m very excited that I will be attending Greensboro Bound (May 16-19), a local literary festival in Greensboro, North Carolina. Then I will be at ConCarolinas, which is hosting Deep South Con 57 (May 31-June 2) in Charlotte, North Carolina.

November 22-24 will find me back in sweet Charleston, South Carolina for AtomaCon. I lived in Charleston during the mid-to-late 1980s and haven’t visited the city in my years, so I’m greatly looking forward to heading south again.

So that’s it for now. There will be a lot more in the coming weeks.

Watch for me …

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be around.

Watch for me …

a poem, a title, and how all this works in publishing

A very quick note on book titles. When I pitched the Los Nefilim series, I wrote a proposal that consisted of the first ten thousand words of the first book, a three-page synopsis (roughly … okay, three and a quarter, so what?), and two very brief proposals, meaning a paragraph each, for the how I envisioned the next two books in the series to play out.

As part of the proposal, I gave titles to all three books. That is because this is usually how proposals are submitted, although I’m sure some authors list Book #2 and Book #3, as well, who knows? I’m just speaking from my own experience.

Ask any author, and they will most often tell you that they hate coming up with a title for their books. It’s serious torture. We’re trying to think of something unique enough to stand out while remaining brief enough for readers to remember. It’s a lot like writing poetry, except you only get to write one line and it can’t be too many words, because it has to fit on the cover of a book, and it also has to essentially capture the essence of your story and SURE THAT’S EASY! NOT!

In my case, the original titles that I proposed for the Los Nefilim novels were: Where Oblivion Dwells; Carved from Stone and Dream; and A Song with Teeth. These are the titles that wound up in the contract, for yea, this is how contracts are written—with titles, because publishers and agents and writers and editors and lawyers love details, because legal and binding and all that.

Of the three titles, I’m only going to talk about the first book for the purposes of this post. I got the title from a poem by Luis Cernuda entitled: “Donde Habite el Olvido.” I’ve seen the title translated to both “Where Oblivion Dwells” and “Where Oblivion Lives,” depending on the translator.

For those who are unfamiliar with Cernuda’s work, the poem is:

I

Forbidden Pleasures: Luis Cernuda New Selected Poems [1924-1949] , translated by Stephen Kessler. Boston: Black Widow Press, 2015.

Forbidden Pleasures: Luis Cernuda New Selected Poems [1924-1949], translated by Stephen Kessler. Boston: Black Widow Press, 2015.

Where oblivion lives,
In the vast gardens of darkness;
Where I will be no more
Than the memory of a stone lost in spiky weeds
Where the wind goes to escape its insomnia.

Where my name leaves
Its body destined for the arms of the centuries,
Where desire has ceased to exist.

In that great realm where I love, terrible angel,
Doesn’t slip its wing
Into my chest like a knifeblade,
Smiling airily as my torment grows.

Out there where this passion demands a master in its own image,
Submitting its life to another life,
With no more horizon than a face with other eyes.

Where sorrows and joys are nothing more than names,
Native land and sky around a memory;
Where at last I’ll be free without even knowing it,
Mist in the fog, an absence,
A light absence like a child’s flesh.

Out there, far away,
Where oblivion lives.

The imagery and themes Cernuda expressed in this poem simply ignited my imagination and heavily influenced some of the ideas in my novel. Which made this a rare time when choosing a title wasn’t difficult at all.

When I first read the poem, translated by a different individual, it was entitled “Where Oblivion Dwells.” I loved the sound of “dwells” and decided to go with that as my initial title: Where Oblivion Dwells. I did all the due diligence of running the title through Google, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble and I couldn’t find another similarly title novel in their databases. This proposal was submitted to and purchased by Harper Voyager in April of 2017.

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE, COMPLETELY UNBEKNOWNST TO ME, SOMETHING COMPLETELY SIMILAR WAS GOING ON:

So one fine day, I was busy checking my links and did a quick name search in Google to make sure a certain link was appearing correctly, when low and behold but what did my wondering eyes see: they’d listed me as the co-author of a completely different novel entitled Where Oblivion Dwells by Lorena Franco.

Of course, I’m all: wut?

It seems that Ms. Franco’s novel was originally published in Spanish and it was entitled … wait for it … Donde Habite el Olvido. The novel had recently been translated into English in May 2017 and given the title: Where Oblivion Dwells, about a month after I’d done all of my searches for books with that title.

Google’s algorithms apparently decided that since two women had written a book with and identical title, we must therefore be co-authors, because algorithms without human intervention are notoriously stupid. Out of curiosity, I looked at Franco's book, which is also Gothic and has supernatural elements. That put us in similar categories. However, other than the titles, our themes and stories are very distinct.

This next part of this saga is very important, because at the point I discovered this SNAFU of minor proportions—which was some time in the late summer of 2017, I think—we had put zero work into the cover art for my novel. Timelines in publishing can be tight, and you don’t want to make a title change that is going to affect the work of the cover artist, who has spent effort in coming up with the right design. Not to mention the fact that the title was already beginning to show up in online searches through Amazon, etc. and is probably what caused the initial algorithm co-author issues in Google books. Someone would have to go back and make any changes to those databases.

If we had gone even a month more into the process for my book, we couldn't have done what we did. As it was, we were drawing a tight line and creating more work for people, who are, like everyone else, maxed out to the max in their jobs, too.

Knowing this, I emailed my editor and agent and outlined my thoughts. I wanted to see if was too late to change the title to eliminate confusion. Fortunately, David was fine with it. We decided to go with Where Oblivion LIVES, as this would cause the least disruption to the title change, and which spellcheck sometimes calls Where Oblivion LIES just for shits and giggles, I guess—I don’t know; I’ve just learned to roll with these things.

So the thing with titles and the sheer number of books being published means there will be some, nay, maybe a lot of crossover in book titles. No matter how diligently you search for your novel’s title or series, someone else may be rolling in with the exact same title within days, months, or years of one another.

And it’s okay. The people who are going to buy Franco’s novel, are going to buy her books. Likewise, the people who are looking for Los Nefilim stories know where to find me. Neither of us are taking anything from the other.

As a matter of fact, if someone buys Franco’s novel, thinking that it’s mine, they might find themselves turned on to a new author they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. I think that’s a win a for all of us.