Peeps, as you know, a short while ago I decided I wouldn’t run interviews on Tartitude. But when Ms. Teresa Frohock went and got herself published by Nightshade Books with her dark fantasy Miserere: an Autumn Tale, I had to break my fast. It was worth it.
T and I have history. It’s not particularly long. We’ve never met. But in the way some people know a good melon when they tap it, I know her to be a person of solidity and depth. I wasn’t particularly surprised, therefore, to find those same qualities in her fiction.
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.
[Miserere] will completely immerse the reader with its compelling and striking visuals, fascinating details and thrilling plot turns. […] almost impossible to put down…
Teresa joins us for her interview from a small town in North Carolina where she works as library cateloger by day and a storyteller by night — a nice way of saying she lies.
Jan: Teresa, welcome! As you know, I don’t read horror and have a limited exposure to dark fantasy, so I was startled by how much your themes spoke to me. For instance, that people can awaken after losing years to destructive behavior and still be worthy of redemption and forgiveness. Why are these concepts important to you? Did you write with your themes in mind or discover them through your characters?
Teresa: Thank you so much for having me here, Jan.
I always start my novels with two things: a character that intrigues me and a theme, and Lucian’s theme was redemption from the beginning. I think we all love pulling for someone who is trying desperately to change. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives where we stood on precipice, living in the same dreadful set of circumstances, knowing it’s bad for us, but afraid to do something different because change is scary. We remain in stasis, killing ourselves spiritually and physically until some event, some outside force, motivates us to take that empty-handed leap into the void of a new life.
That’s where Lucian is at the beginning of Miserere.
I think there is a common misconception about fantasy that it’s all about magic and world-building, but fantasy readers crave full-dimensional characters with complex stories. I think that is why George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series is so captivating. He has taken a historical event and warped it into a fantasy setting, but he has also created a vibrant cast of characters.
Likewise, my characters may live in a fantastical world, but that doesn’t mean they are any less genuine or that their pain is any less heartbreaking than characters in a contemporary novel. I just threw in a lot of angels and demons and hell to keep it interesting for me.
Let’s talk a bit about Lindsay. A child caught in the middle of the battle between Lucian and Catarina, she allows you to explore another theme: that some of us can muster heroism for a child’s sake when we’ve failed ourselves or other adults. Can you speak to that?
One of the most profound experiences of my life was when I became a parent. I suddenly found myself examining my behavior, especially when I would find my daughter unconsciously mimicking my poorer character traits. What I saw scared me. So I started changing my behavior.
That experience was foremost in my mind when I started working on Miserere. I knew I wanted something that would jettison Lucian out of his complacency and self-absorption. Lindsay was a part of Miserere from the beginning, but her role changed from being an annoying brat into being the catalyst for Lucian. He’s not alone anymore; if something happens to him, he knows Lindsay will be killed; so he musters the courage he needs to secure her safety, and as they travel together, he realizes that he is the only example she has of a Katharos, so he tries to model the type of behavior that he hopes she will endeavor to learn.
Then, somewhere along the line, he stops doing living for her and starts living for himself. It’s a subtle progression, but a necessary one, especially for someone like Lucian.
You examine the concept of duty, about responsibilities to found-families versus family-of-origin. Do your beliefs match those of Lucian by book’s end?
Oh, I don’t know. We grow up, especially in the southeastern U.S., with grand ideas about family and loyalty, but the more people I meet from different cultures and places, the more I realize that we’re no different from any other place in the world.
I think we have a duty to be the best brother/sister/son/daughter that we can be; however, I’ve seen families devastated by greed, torn apart by infidelity, and any number of vices. It’s terrible to watch someone you love turn on you. I can’t think of anything more horrible.
With Catarina and Lucian, I wanted to explore how addiction can tear a family apart, especially when one member has spent his entire life trying to placate the addict only to find that instead of healing, she has grown worse, more violent, more depraved. By the time Lucian realizes he never had any control over Catarina, she has turned on him.
And sometimes it takes a person removed from the immediate situation, someone outside of the family, to help another see clearly. That was the case with Rachael.
So, yes. My attitudes do mirror Lucian’s by the end of Miserere.
I’m in love with the concept of the Rosa, which acts like the prickled hedge in Sleeping Beauty, except in reverse where all may enter, but the unworthy daren’t leave. I won’t spoil the story for our readers, but what was the inspiration behind this fantasy element? Was it as fun to write about as it is to read?
I just love this question.
I’m not sure exactly when the idea of an enchanted rose bush actually came to me, but I kept notes of random ideas that I had about Woerld, its legends and its realities.
I had jotted down a legend of Ierusal, the last city to fall during the Woerld’s War of the Great Schism. In that legend, I saw four Katharoi led by a woman, and they turned the tide of the battle by giving themselves body and soul to drive the Fallen back to Hell. They station themselves, one at each of the city’s gates, and they use their power to consign themselves to the earth so that they become a living shield in the form of an enchanted rose bush. Now instead of four swords, they have hundreds of swords in the form of limbs and thorns, which they use to defeat the Fallen and their armies.
I thought that was kind of cool, because, hey … I’m a geek.
In the original legend, the roses were dark red, almost black. But as I researched Christian symbolism, I realized the roses would be white—in my way of thinking, such a sacrifice would require a martyr’s purity of soul.
Rather than the prickly rose in Sleeping Beauty, I thought about the story that Ofelia tells her unborn brother in the movie Pan’s Labyrinth. She tells him of a rose that grants immortality, but it is guarded by a treacherous mountain and poison thorns. The rose is withering because people are so afraid of danger, they never risk a chance to grasp the rose and immortality. In other words, they are so afraid of failure, they fail before they try. It was just so poetic and made me think of Lucian.
The other thing that greatly inspired an aspect of the Rosa was (and this is almost funny now) the 1960 movie Little Shop of Horrors. I will never forget watching it as a child and just getting chills when the plant bloomed at the end.
Believe it or not, it was one of the more difficult passages to write. I always knew what I wanted the Rosa to do and how I wanted it to accomplish its goal, but working Lucian, Lindsay, Caleb, and Rachael into that configuration took four or five different drafts before it emerged as it is now; however, I was exceptionally pleased with the final version.
Lastly, what are you working on now?
I’m currently working on the synopsis for the sequel to Miserere, which is entitled Dolorosa. Dolorosa is essentially going to pick up where Miserere left off, and if anyone thinks Miserere ended on a positive note, well, you might never have endured a relationship quite like this one.
I’m almost at the mid-point of a new novel, currently entitled The Garden. The Garden is set on the Iberian Peninsula during the summer of 1348, and once more we have a hero, Guillermo Ramírez, a blacksmith conscripted into the King’s army. He takes refuge in the ruined garden of an abandoned monastery only to find himself among magical creatures. An ancient daimon has trapped other men in the garden and forces them to build a temple from which she draws strength. She will break the barrier between her land of fey and the world of men unless Guillermo can solve the mystery of his past so he can forge the key that will lock Urraca from humanity forever.
[Insert author’s evil laughter during any point of the blurb.]
I’m having fun with this novel. It’s also about relationships, our perceptions of others, and of course, our perception of gods and our beliefs, but in a whole different way from Miserere. It’s also much darker than Miserere, so I’ve really had to struggle through parts of it. I don’t want my reader to lose hope, and I want them to pull just as hard for Guillermo as everyone seems to be pulling for Lucian.
I’m writing. Telling stories. I do a lot of that in my spare time. And visiting friends. Thanks so much for having me here, Jan!
Thank you for being here, T. Best of luck cultivating that evil laugh.
And now, guys, Teresa has an autographed copy of Miserere to give away to a commenter who is chosen by the RNG, lives in continental North America, and possesses excellent taste in reading. To qualify for more than one entry, link to this post on Twitter, Facebook, your blog or comparable, then make a note in a SEPARATE comment below. You may enter up to four times. Entries must be received by 0800 MST July 26, 2011.
To catch up with Teresa, you can find her 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 her Facebook author page.