Welcome to the inaugural post of what I intend to become an ongoing series. Several authors I respect and admire have an ongoing blog series where authors can come and talk about their books. John Scalzi has The Big Idea, Mary Robinette Kowal has My Favorite Bit, and Chuck Wendig has 5 Things I learned. I wanted to do something different, and since authors are so often asked “where do your ideas come from” I decided my contribution (or rather theirs) would be how the story of their book came about.
But I’ve taken up enough space talking about other people. For the very first A Story is Born I invited T. Frohock to talk about her book, Where Oblivion Lives. She did one better and talked about how her Los Nefilim series came about.
In the beginning …
King Solomon was dying. That was how the first incarnation of Los Nefilim began. It went something like this:
In the garden beyond my window, a night bird cried a sublime song while in the distance, a guard called the watch. Otherwise, the palace slept as I, Solomon, third King of all Israel, lay dying with only an angel at my side.
She was a small creature, this angel of mine who cradled my hand, her wings folded demurely at her back. When I was a young man, the tip of her head barely reached my collarbone. Now she towered over my deathbed. She seemed larger somehow; an illusion amplified by the darkness and my fear of the dark.
Except that book didn’t sell. It was too much story in such a short space of words. There were angelic and daimonic wars, and multiple incarnations, and the narrative moved between Solomon’s first person account of the events in the past and the third person account of the events on the Iberian Peninsula in 1348. It was a huge tale that probably should have spanned multiple novels, but I wrote it like one book and it failed to win an editor’s eye.
That happens sometimes. We spend a lot of time and energy on our prose, and though it might feel emotionally devastating when something doesn’t sell, often it just means a particular work isn’t ready for publication. Sometimes, the story needs time to settle … ferment, if you will.
With that thought in mind, I tucked the novel into the metaphorical trunk that is a computer’s memory, and then I moved on to other stories. None of them sold, either.
I was ready to quit writing. Not out of petulance—okay, maybe a little, but once my hurt feelings passed, I took a quick inventory and realized that if my work wasn’t being published, then it was probably something wrong with my writing. Maybe … just maybe … it might be an idea to start back at the beginning. I considered taking some classes, honing my craft a little more before trying for publication again. In other words, it was time for a break.
Meanwhile, the novella market was opening up and a friend suggested that I try writing one. At something of a loss for what to do, I decided to make the novella a gauntlet challenge: if the novella was rejected, then I would quit writing for a while.
As I turned ideas over in my head, I remembered my Solomon story, which is really the backstory for Guillermo, Diago, and Miquel. That backstory went something like this:
You see, the Psalms of the Old Testament were written by several people: David, Solomon, and someone called Asaph. I thought it odd that there was so much literature about David and Solomon and the other members of their respective courts, but this guy named Asaph gets a byline and then pretty much drops out of sight forever. I’m sure Biblical scholars know more about him, but I couldn’t find anything. So I made up a story about how Asaph and Solomon were great friends, but they had a falling out, one so severe that Solomon banished Asaph from his court and imprisoned him with a half-mad angel, but Solomon still loved Asaph too much to erase him from existence entirely, so he left his name on the Psalms they composed. The end.
Then I kept the components of the original story that worked: Solomon/Guillermo, who in his arrogance caused the fall of the Nephilim; his best-friend and betrayer, Asaph/Diago; and the commander of one of Solomon’s army divisions and Asaph’s lover, Benaiah/Miquel.
For everything else, I essentially started from scratch. I eliminated the shape changing and as I reworked the story, I discovered that it wasn’t really about Guillermo. The story of the nefilim was about Diago. So I trimmed the details down to their very essence for the first novella, and since they all had Spanish names, I kept the setting in Spain.
Rather than stick with epic fantasy, I moved the story forward to the turbulent years leading up to the Spanish Civil War. The novellas (In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death) all serve as an introduction into the world of Los Nefilim, as well as forming the basis for discovering the Key—the song that will enable the nefilim to open the realms as the angels do. The novels, which begin with Where Oblivion Lives, concern Diago’s actual composition of the Key. Somewhat like an opera in three parts, the stories follow the crucial points that lead our heroes to the next act of the movement.
The newest novel, Carved from Stone and Dream, will be published February 2020 and is something akin to Band of Brothers meets John Wick. It takes place at the end of the Spanish Civil War. I spend some time talking about the Spanish retreat and how the French treated the refugees fleeing Franco’s armies.
It’s been an amazing journey with these three guys and their adventures. As I work on the third novel, A Song with Teeth, I’m bringing this portion of their story to a close and realizing that theirs is the journey of three men moving away from the toxic masculinity of their firstborn lives to learn to nurture one another in an emotionally healthy relationship.
After reviewing this very long post, I guess my message to authors is a simple one. You never know which incarnation of a story might sell, so stick with the process you’ve developed for yourself and keep trying, keep writing. More than anything, don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles.
Write on … I will watch for you.
T. Frohock has turned a love of history and dark fantasy into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. A real-life cyborg, T. has a cochlear implant, meaning she can turn you on or off with the flick of a switch. Make of that what you will. She currently lives in North Carolina, where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.
You can find her in a lot of places online, but she is most often at her website or lurking on Twitter.
Great to learn more about your fab series. You have rather glossed over one of the most important and inspired parts though: ‘I moved the story forward to the turbulent years leading up to the Spanish Civil War.’ In one sentence you have rather glossed over this brilliant idea which I wish I had come up – especially as I have been reading about the period. So, how come you just ‘moved’ it forward?
I could have left it as epic fantasy and stuck with the 1348 time period, but at that time, I was bored with epic fantasy and wanted to jump into the early twentieth century. The events leading up to the Spanish Civil War gave me the political instability that I needed to show the nefilim’s place in the mortal world.
Even so, I have to be careful with the Spanish Civil War, because I’m published primarily in America, where people aren’t as educated about that particular conflict as they are about World War II. If I mention the Battle of the Ebro to Americans, they have no idea what I’m talking about, but if I say D-Day, they’ve got a clear image of where and when.
Meanwhile, my readers in the UK are especially enamored with and knowledgeable about the Spanish Civil War, so I think the series has won a great deal of readers over there for that reason alone. I’m still waiting for the U.S. to catch up, but we won’t be far behind now that Spain has opened its archives to historians.
Even so, the body of work (compared to the numerous books about World War II) are only now being written and published. So I’m doing two things with the Los Nefilim novels: 1) making them entertaining; while at the same time, 2) I have to find ways to educate my audience without boring them (see #1).