(I should add that I've read Miserere and enjoyed it greatly - I review it HERE)
1. Teresa Frohock - or 'The T' as I like to call you, safe in the knowledge that a thousand miles and more lie between us - tell me about this here book of yours. Miserere, how do you even say it? My mouth isn't sure what to do at the end...
‘The T’ works for me. My friends over here call me T, my enemies call me things that shouldn’t be put online—those kind of words scare the children.
The title Miserere (mee-seh-reh-reh) is taken from the 50th Psalm of the Vulgate and simply means: have mercy.
Miserere is about Lucian Negru, a knight who had to make a choice between his duty to his family and the woman he loved. He chose wrong. Everyone lives in a world that is like Eden gone rancid, a place called Woerld, where demons are real and the angels are far away. But the story, the real story, is about how Lucian returns to Rachael and attempts to free her from the demon he unleashed on her soul.
And there are angels and demons and Cerberus, a very special demon. I’ve thrown in sword fights and psalms and swirled it all together to weave a dark tale for adults.
I’m in your genre, making it bleed.
2. Very nice cover. Did you have any input? Do the characters look as you imagined?
I had no input whatsoever, but yes, the characters look exactly as I imagined they would have looked when they were younger.
I loved it from the first moment that I saw it. Both of the women are in realistic armor, and I really appreciated how Michael C. Hayes gave Catarina flashier plate armor than Rachael’s chain mail. If you look closely at Rachael’s face, her eye is on Lucian. Michael juxtaposed the light and dark behind Rachael and Catarina beautifully to show that neither woman is wholly good or evil. Most of all, I loved the way that instead of Lucian standing and the women kneeling, he is on his knees between them.
Those two women could bring any man to his knees.
3. Your publisher, Night Shade Books, a decent sized concern with a reputation for finding new authors, imploded not long after your debut was published. I'm guessing this didn't help you find your audience?
Not particularly, no.
There were a lot of factors in that situation, though, and I’ve fairly analyzed it to death. It’s all really quite moot now, but my poor book didn’t receive a lot of marketing, and unfortunately, my marketing skills were somewhat dismal at the time. I learned on the job, so to speak.
Book bloggers saved Miserere from being pulped. I stand in eternal gratitude to all of the wonderful reviewers out there who saw Miserere for what it was and said such nice things about it online. If it hadn’t been for bloggers, then I think Miserere would have sunk like stone and disappeared within a year, because no one knew how to market it.
I remember reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón saying something about his novel, The Shadow of the Wind. I’m paraphrasing from memory, so double-check my facts, but either his publisher or his agent said that his novel would have a very sad life because no one quite knew how to classify it.
I knew exactly what he meant.
So I taught myself how to publicize and market my own book. I have made a lot of mistakes and I will make many more, but I have learned quite a bit.
Miserere is fantasy with a dash of horror—like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—two great things that go great together.
Have your scary bits with your fantasy.
4. Having chapters from a child's point of view doesn't make a book Young Adult fiction. For the sake of those who haven't read A Game of Thrones, discuss:
Oh, for Heaven’s sakes. I think that goes back to marketing with a heavy dash of societal attitudes.
Some of the first reviewers didn’t quite know what to do with Miserere. I have several gems, but I haven’t trotted this one out for a while:
“… [Miserere] occasionally venture[s] into territory that bordered on dark fantasy and horror—torture, rape, the Simulacrum, demonic possession, the Sacra Rosa, profanity, etc.—which jarred uncomfortably with the book’s YA sensibilities.”
I’m not picking on this reviewer, because he was NOT the only one who made this type of assessment. As a matter of fact, I had more WOMEN who mistook the novel for YA than men.
You want to talk about WTF moments. I had them.
That was my initial indoctrination into how women are marketed differently than men. If George Martin had been Georgiana Martin, Game of Thrones would have had a cover that depicted a triangle between Arya, Joffery, and that whiny Stark girl, the one whose name I can never remember, and it would have been shelved in the YA section.
I had demons.
Demons = horror.
Nobody got that for some reason.
Marketing fail? Probably.
So I sat down and tried to figure out why I was getting the hand-wringing “is it YA or not” vibes. I compared the reviews for male authors against reviews for female authors who wrote the same type of books. No one said that Abercrombie’s plain prose led the reviewers to believe The Blade Itself was YA.
I know that people don’t consciously say to themselves, “Huh, a female author and a child character, therefore it must be YA.” Okay. Maybe some people do, but not all of them.
We’re conditioned by society and by our respective cultures to think of women as writing about children in a nurturing way. And before everyone jumps in and talks about how YA literature addresses issues such as rape, misogyny, bullying, etc., I know all of that. However, those YA book are designed to tell stories that help young people to work through these traumatic issues, and that is a form of nurturing.
Writing nurturing books is not evil or bad and there is nothing wrong with it. A lot of women do write YA and write it well.
I’m not one of those women.
I’m not maternal. Ask my daughter.
I write dark fantasy and horror.
Get used to it.
5: Female authors do write dark-as-you-like fantasy, discuss:
For the record, I didn’t think Miserere was that dark. As a matter of fact, I billed it as horror-lite. You know: the kinder, gentler style of horror where everyone doesn’t die and there is a possibility for a happy ending.
Oh, sure. There is creepy stuff, but I mean there aren’t people staggering around, stumbling over their intestines. We’re not talking about splatter-punk here. This is fantasy.
Yes, there are dark moments and a sense of dread in places, but the tension is more in the sentence structure. I dislike gore immensely, and I do believe that any writer, male or female, can easily cross a line that would make the work too dark to be called fantasy.
Can women write dark fantasy? I could reel off many names. I’ll give you my personal favorite.
Tanith Lee is my hero. I love her work. She can build the mood with a sentence and carry the reader along tenderly, right up until the moment that her prose drives a dagger through your heart, and you never see the world in the same light again. She can do it without shedding a drop of blood.
Well … okay.
Maybe she sheds a drop or two.
You get the idea.
6: In Miserere real world religions play significant roles. This doesn't mean it's a religious book, but perhaps you could hammer that point home for us?
I studied Buddhism and Taoism when I was young (along with several other Eastern religions), and it seemed that a lot of modern fantasy authors used those themes in their novels. I wanted to do something different, so I looked at Middle Eastern religions.
The concept for Miserere was actually conceived during a college course on the Old Testament. However, I like the iconography used by Christianity; although, I didn’t know that much about Christianity when I started Miserere. I read histories of Christianity to get a more solid feel for the religion. The history of the different sects is fascinating. I read about the Cathars, and the Gnostics, and the early sects that had no names.
In the quotations of Psalms and other verses, I consulted three different translations of the Bible: the Vulgate; an Oxford University translation; and the King James Version. Lindsay’s prayer through the Barren was from the King James Version, which in terms of accurate translations is probably one of the worst, but the King James Version scores a big hit on the sheer poetry of the Psalms. I also considered that since Lindsay was from North Carolina, she would most likely be more familiar with that translation.
Katharoi is Greek and simply means “pure ones”—I didn’t make that up.
I just tried to make this giant mash-up of various Christian sects. The cross in the Citadel is a resurrection cross, which is a Protestant symbol. Some of the greetings that they use within the Citadel come from Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures, early Christian texts that didn’t make it into the Bible. I cut a couple of scenes that used early Christian rites, those scenes will probably find their way into sequels.
The strange thing is: I didn’t do anything special or different. Judith Tarr used Christianity in The Hound and the Falcon (a collection of three books that she wrote in the 1980s). I’ve read other fantasy authors who’ve used various interpretations of Christianity in their works (Ken Scholes comes immediately to mind) and people don’t wonk themselves over the heads and go OMFG CHRISTIANS, WHY?
So frankly, I don’t know how to ram it home any more efficiently than I already have. Anyone who reads Miserere expecting Christian fiction is going to be sorely disappointed. Christian fiction, by definition, projects a particular belief system.
Miserere does not.
Nor do I.
End of discussion.
7: Give me three great books that helped form you as an author, three great books you've read in 2013, and three books that if people liked them they might also like Miserere. You can overlap!
Hmmm, that is a tough one, because that answer often changes depending on my mood. And my memory.
Three great books that helped form me as an author are actually four:
- The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip;
- The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle;
- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco; and
- The Shining by Stephen King.
Three great books that I read in 2013. Hmm. Oddly enough, this one is harder for me, because I’ve read so many great books in 2013, but most were research-related non-fiction. I have very little reading time available to me. I’m going to split the difference here and give at least one work of fiction:
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn just blew my mind. Stylistically, structurally, and storywise.
- The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars’ Rebellion Against the Inquisition 1290-1329 by René Weis reads like a drama.
- The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Ghengis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford is research for my current work in progress. For a non-fiction work, Weatherford approaches the material very poetically.
Three books that if people like Miserere, then they would like these? I totally suck at this.
When people ask me, I totally go with God’s Demon by Wayne Barlow. That is a great book, by the way. If you haven’t read it, you should. Superb mix of fantasy and horror.
Otherwise, I’m going to go with what some reviewers have said:
- Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman (this is really a horror novel, but the use of religious iconography in Miserere made someone think of this book).
- Paladin of Souls by Lois Bujold, because of Miserere’s use of older protagonists.
- Felicia Day recommended it to C.S. Friedman and Sarah Monette fans, and I’ll go with that too just to give people an idea of the darker overtones in the story.
- Ilona Andrews compared it to Ladyhawk—I know that’s a movie and not a book, but that is a great comparison. Okay, it just feeds my ego, but she said it so I’m telling you.
8. What's next for Teresa Frohock? Writing something good?
Right now, I have a short story, “Naked the Night Sings,” in the urban fantasy anthology Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann, Angelic Knight Press, 2013.
In terms of longer works: I’m working on a novel that is tentatively entitled Cygnet Moon. This is a dark fairy tale that is about a young prince who is caught between his parents’ rivalries. Makar’s mother, Agata, attempts to assassinate him in order to prevent him from usurping her rule, and his father wants to use Makar to assassinate Agata. Makar has his own plans, and he intends to outwit them both. Think Curse of the Golden Flower but with no incest, fewer sons, a lot more animosity, and a likeable protagonist.
Once Cygnet Moon is finished, then I would like to revisit Woerld and work on Miserere’s sequel, Dolorosa. While Miserere was primarily from Lucian’s point-of-view, Dolorosa will Rachael’s story. I love Rachael. She is bad-ass. Majorly so. I can’t wait to start work on that one, because we’re going to Hell.
Bradley P Beaulieu
Jason M Hough