Teresa Frohock’s Miserere is one of Night Shade Books New Voices project, and has been receiving a good deal of attention and praise around the blogosphere and elsewhere. I recently picked up a copy, and asked Teresa if she would be interested in answering some questions. Read on for more about her novel, writing, and The Zombie Prince of Prague (I apologise for my hand in that…).
Let’s start off with your debut novel, Miserere. The premise seems really interesting, drawing on supernatural and biblical themes and imagery. How would you introduce it to a new reader?
Miserere is an adult fantasy about Lucian Negru, a man who betrays his lover in order to save his sister Catarina. He is banned from the Citadel, the Christian bastion against the Fallen Angels, and lives as Catarina’s hostage in the town of Hadra where she has solidified her political influence and serves the Fallen. When Lucian finds that his lover Rachael is dying, he overcomes his fear of Catarina so that he can find Rachael and destroy the demon he unleashed on her soul.
That’s the official run of it.
Who likes it and why? The story seems to be finding a home across the board. Some readers have categorized it as “dark and grim,” but I’m finding the “dark and grim” category is a matter of preference that varies from reader to reader.
I write a mix of fantasy and horror and my stories will always be, to some extent, grim. I enjoy exploring the dynamics of relationships between people. I mean, let’s face it: No one wants to read about emotionally healthy relationships, because as wonderful as those are in real-life, they don’t make entertaining stories. The geek in me loves throwing the supernatural into the mix; and I ramp up the creep-factor so I can have some fun.
I’m really a morbid creature.
Without giving too much away, where do you see the series going in the future?
That’s a tough one. I can tell you that there are parallel plot-lines that will play out: a war between the Katharoi and the Fallen and the relationship between Lucian, Rachael, and Catarina, which is a reflection of the bigger picture.
Oh, and we’re going to Hell, probably more than once, both Hell as a physical place and the hell in their heads. Rachael will be dealing with the aftereffects of the Wyrm’s presence; she believes she has slipped over the edge into insanity. Lucian wonders if he made the right decision in returning to the Citadel, and we’ll get to meet the new Seraph for the Fallen, a real sweetheart named Malachi, who is a necromancer (can you see where this is going?), because you know that even though they die on Woerld, they do not die.
What inspired you to write the series?
You’ll laugh, but it all started as a dream. I had this really cool dream where a tall, Slavic man in medieval garb talked to a boy dressed in modern clothing. Then there was a dark forest (you know how the dream-thing goes… bang you’re here, then you’re there) and in the forest was a sign nailed to a tree that read: “Jesus Saves.” Beneath the sign was a fender from an older model car and on the fender was the bumper sticker: “Nobody Saves You More Than Winn Dixie.”
That juxtaposition of the religious and the secular intrigued me, because we see it every day and it infiltrates our lives. I thought about ways to work with those concepts within the realms of my favorite genres of fantasy and horror. Miserere slowly evolved out of that initial framework.
Then, as I got into the story and the world-building, I knew I had only one part of the story. I want the series to be four books, one for each season and each season will encompass a different character’s journey. I’ve got a general idea of how things are going to happen, but the characters sometimes whisk it away from me. We’ll see.
And who or what would you say are your greatest influences?
Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Patricia McKillip, Vonda McIntyre, Peter S. Beagle, and Toni Morrison (Beloved is one of the greatest ghost stories ever told). Lots more, but those are the ones that popped into my head today. Those are the authors whose novels I read, not just because I enjoy their writing, but to study their storytelling techniques.
It’s been interesting. The whole industry has changed so much since the ’80s when I first started writing that I’ve had to relearn how to do everything from query letters to submissions. I’ve just been extremely lucky to have connected with some fabulous writers and bloggers who have eased the transition for me.
I’m enjoying the opportunity to be a part of Night Shade Books New Voices program, especially as I read the novels published by the other Night Shade debut authors. They are all stellar writers and really cool people to boot. Just reading about their experiences or touching base with them via email has helped me tremendously.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I have to be careful about research, because it’s my favorite part of writing, and there are two traps that are equally dangerous for me: 1) researching and forgetting to write; and 2) that desire to share all the wonderful things I learned with my reader.
When I do research, I am looking for the essence and the attitude of a religion or culture. So I always try to immerse myself in works that would reflect a character’s attitude. For example: In Miserere, I studied a lot of Eastern Orthodox texts and read about Slavic vampirism, mainly to fixate my mind on how Lucian would speak and think about the world.
I’m currently reading about Judaism in anticipation of Dolorosa, Miserere’s sequel. One character that was mentioned in Miserere, Adam Zimmer, who is the Inquisitor for the Rabbinate, will be showing up in Dolorosa. I’m also working in Kabalistic themes in my current work in progress, The Garden.
For The Garden, I’ve spent a lot of time reading, not just history of the Iberian Peninsula, but also novels and movies by Spanish authors. Magical realism infiltrates Spanish literature, because somehow magic seems more acceptable, a fact of life not unlike the sky is blue and the wind blows. The Iberian Peninsula was also a very violent place during this time period and finding the balancing point between the religiosity and the violence has been incredibly difficult.
After the research, I have to manage the trick of entwining what I learn into a story so that it feels organic to the reader. That is the hardest part. I hate novels that sound like a history lesson, but when an author manipulates the information in such as way as to facilitate understanding and move the story forward, then I’m hooked.
Insofar as writing practices: I write in my every spare moment, and I work on my laptop, which means I have no constrictions on time or space. I keep paper and pen with me to jot random thoughts that pop into my head and that’s it.
When did you realise you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I’ve always loved to read, and I was in my late teens when I was directed to a creative writing course at the local community college. From that point forward, I was in love with storytelling. My first agent was James Allen of the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency, and he was just marvelous. Unfortunately, I was hardheaded and kept whining about my art rather than take his good advice, so he was never able to sell my work.
My first novel lies at the bottom of a trunk, and it was a wonderful exercise for me. I loved that book and the fabulous ladies who guided me through it. It will never be published unless I completely rewrite it. Someday I might, but here’s the thing: I wrote that novel when I was in my twenties. Now that I’m in my forties, my outlook and perception of the world around has changed dramatically.
When I was young, I saw things very much in shades of black and white – people were good or bad, there wasn’t much in-between. I claimed tolerance with my mouth but was always highly critical of others, especially when other people’s behavior did not meet my standards. Now that I’m older, I realize that people act the way they do for all sorts of reasons – not because they are inherently stupid or evil. Rather than pass fast, righteous judgment, I try to stand back and see the world from the other person’s eyes. By making an attempt to understand those nuances of character, I’ve become a better writer and a better person.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I love the way fantasy has expanded with so many options for readers today. Back in the ’80s, a lot of fantasy was geared toward Tolkien-esque type stories. I remember being fond of Thieves’ World because it introduced a grimmer version of the tale. Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks totally rocked my world, and there was this new guy, Gaiman, I think his name was, and he had a novel called Neverwhere that I loved.
Then I kind of burned out for a while. I tend to get hooked on a different genre, then I read nothing but certain authors and novels like a glutton. One day, I returned to my first love – fantasy. I think I’m back to stay. So much has happened since I dropped away in the ’90s, and I love the variety that is available now. If I’m in the mood for a fairytale, I can find a novel that fits my taste; or if I want something dark – a story that bites – I can find a novel in that category too. It’s wonderful.
I’m not sure exactly where my work will eventually fit into the genre. I would classify it as dark fantasy, but I also think that is something for the readers to determine. I’ve just been having a blast reading the various comments about Miserere. It’s so amazing to write a story then see the different things that people find in it. I’m quite content with that.
Do you have any other projects currently in the pipeline?
I’m working on a novel that is tentatively entitled The Garden and begins in Aragón in 1348. It’s kind of a Beauty and the Beast tale flipped on its head. We’ll see if it all comes out all right in the end.
I’m also roughing in the plot for Dolorosa, Miserere’s sequel. I want each of the novels to be complete in themselves so that a reader can pick one up and feel like they’ve seen the whole story.
I’m a novelist and don’t often dabble in short stories, which I don’t do well. That’s an art form I’m still learning; I admire anyone who writes short stories. However, I did joke on Twitter one day that I would write a short story entitled “The Zombie Prince of Prague.” I don’t know what possessed me to do that, but now that the idea is stuck in my head, I think I may give it a shot.
Who are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
Right now, I’m reading two different books:
Fiction: Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery. Research: The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences, edited by Joseph Dan.
Don’t try that at home, by the way. You can get a real bad case of literary whiplash bouncing between those two books.
How were you introduced to speculative fiction?
My first foray into speculative fiction happened at the Reidsville Public Library. My father used to take us to that library every Saturday morning. We could pick out as many books as we wanted. I came across a novel called The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip and fell in love with the idea of living among magical beasts. I was hooked on the genre after that novel.
I never missed an episode of the original Star Trek or any movie with a science fiction or fantasy theme. I collected sodas for recycling (a nickel a can) so I could save enough money to see Star Wars five different times. My parents thought I’d lost my mind, but they never discouraged me from reading anything I wanted to read.
What is your favourite literary/reading/book-related story or memory?
My parents were very tolerant of my reading habits, but they did have a great deal of say in which movies I watched. They didn’t want me to see The Omen, and since I was under seventeen, I couldn’t go without their permission.
Imagine my delight when I found The Omen at the public library. I remember reading The Omen under the covers one night until 3:00 a.m. When I hit the line about the jackal in the grave, I actually shuddered and put the book away for the night. David Seltzer had built the mood to that moment with such care, I don’t know how anyone could read that scene and not be affected.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I think a lot of people believe I’m new to the writing scene, but I’ve actually done all this before. I was represented by James Allen of the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency back in the ’80s along with Lisa Cantrell and Theresa Gladden. We used to joke that Jim was “God,” because what he said was usually laid down as The Law. So, as a gag one year, we had t-shirts made up. Jim’s said GOD, and ours said GOD’S SQUAD. That is what the t-shirt reference is about in the acknowledgments of Miserere.
What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
Cons. I enjoy them so much, and I’m in the process of making arrangements to attend several more science fiction and fantasy cons in 2012. I’m also looking forward to finishing The Garden and seeing it go out on submission while I begin work on Dolorosa. I’m looking forward to going back to Woerld and picking up where I left off in Miserere.
Thank you so much for having me here, Stefan! I enjoyed your questions and I always enjoy your blog.
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Raised in a small town, Teresa Frohock learned to escape to other worlds through the fiction collection of her local library. She eventually moved away from Reidsville and lived in Virginia and South Carolina before returning to North Carolina, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter.
Teresa has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying. Miserere: An Autumn Tale is her debut novel.
Teresa can be found most often at her blog and website. Every now and then, she heads over to Tumblr and sends out Dark Thoughts, links to movies and reviews that catch her eye. You can also follow Teresa on Twitter and join her author page on Facebook.
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Miserere: An Autumn Tale
Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina's soul, but Catarina doesn't want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell.
When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina’s wrath isn’t so easy to escape. In the end, she will force him once more to choose between losing Rachael or opening the Hell Gates so the Fallen's hordes may overrun Earth, their last obstacle before reaching Heaven's Gates.
Read the first four chapters of Miserere FREE HERE