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Guest Post | Teresa Frohock Throws Down the Gauntlet to Herself

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Guest Post | Teresa Frohock Throws Down the Gauntlet to Herself

Miserere: An Autumn Tale was one of the most unexpected delights of 2011. I called it one of the five best debuts of 2011, and I stand by that ranking. It's a beautiful book of redemption and loss, hope and forgiveness. I can't recommend it enough, even for those readers perhaps skeptical of a fantasy novel couched in Christian myth.

Looking forward, I was surprised to learn that Frohock's contract didn't call for a second novel, at least not immediately. Instead, she began work on an unrelated work titled The Garden that seems to play on a similar premise of holy and not. Although unconnected to Miserere, I can't wait to read it. I'll be posting the first chapter later today, and I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I did.

In the meantime though, let's hear what Teresa Frohock has to say about writing her second novel...


I’ve always been a bit ambitious when it comes to my work. In college, I took a world history class; our assignment was simple, we were to write a seven page paper, no more, no less. Seven was to be the number of pages, and the number of pages was to be seven. Period. We were allowed to pick our own topic, and the topic had to be approved by the instructor.

I titled my paper: “Christian Dogma from the Classical Period through the Reformation: Paving the Way to Christian Apathy during the Holocaust.”

My instructor looked at the topic and to this day I swear he smirked, just a little. He said, “Go ahead. I want to see you pull that off in seven pages.”

The gauntlet was thrown, and I love nothing better than a challenge.

I spent an entire semester buried in research. The hard part, of course, was not the research. The difficulty rested in presenting the information in a linear tale of the often acrimonious split between the Jews and Christians. I traced the theological and political dividing lines between the two groups, discussed the writings of Justin Martyr, then tracked the Christian split from Judaism to Martin Luther and from Martin Luther to the Nazi ascent, and I did it in seven pages, seven was the number of pages. No more, no less.

So what does that have to do with writing a novel? Let me tell you something: writing the first novel is hard. Writing the second novel is like cramming over a thousand years of history into seven pages. Over-confidence abounds and it’s very easy to bite off more than you can chew.

When I wrote Miserere, I kept the story so tight that at times I felt like I was in a straightjacket; however, given my tendency to overreach, it was an excellent experience for me. Early on, a few of my critique partners cautioned me about too much back-story in the novel. I wanted to prove that back-story provided layers to both characterization and storytelling. Regardless of what others think, I believe Miserere was a success on that level.

My current work in progress is tentatively entitled The Garden, and it has been a little like that college paper on Christian apathy toward the Jews. There have been times when I felt like I was drowning.

The primary difference between Miserere and The Garden is the story. Miserere was about very complex people but the story itself was simple. Lucian made a terrible mistake when he was young, and in Miserere, he seeks to make amends. In the process, he finds there is a lot more to making amends that just saying, "I'm sorry."

The Garden, on the other hand, is my attempt at a very complex story in addition to complex characters. Like that college paper, the research itself was daunting (if you need sources on Medieval Iberian military practices, I'm your woman). The setting bounces between Jerusalem and Aragon and encompasses two different time periods. In all this world-building/magio-technobabble (thank Courtney Schafer for that cool word), I don't want to lose the most important part of the story, the characters.

Numerous times, I've wanted to delete the entire manuscript and abandon it altogether. My agent and some awesome beta readers have saved this novel on more than one occasion. I've almost finished the second draft now.

I've learned a couple of things about my own writing process with this novel. I think the most important of which is to go where the story leads you. I wasted a lot of time trying to ramrod the events into the pattern I imagined for it. Once I let go and gave the characters their heads, the story began to mesh, the theme emerged, and I was able to do my job ... write it.

The other important lesson was simply this: don't shy away from painful subjects, either in your reading or in your writing. I give my characters great pain and huge hurdles, but they're also gifted with the capacity to grow. One of the hardest aspects of characterization is the ability to weave hope from despair in your characters' thoughts and ideas. It's only when your characters question their motives, their ideas, that they have the opportunity to grow, and sometimes, if you're lucky, you find yourself growing along with them.


You can find Teresa Frohock on her website and Twitter. Be sure to visit the former to learn more about The Garden. Frohock in her spare time (you know, like 9-5) is a librarian. She's also writers reviews for her library.

Come back later today for an excerpt from The Garden!

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At July 23, 2012 at 7:06 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Hi, and thanks Teresa.

I knew The Garden was set in a more modern setting, but didn't quite realize the challenge you had set.

Here's a question I haven't asked you yet, mainly because I've not read the Garden, but I am the Garden set in the past of the Earth of Miserere (even if it is set on Earth and not Woerld)? Why couldn't it be, if it is (or is that a spoiler)?

At July 23, 2012 at 7:15 AM , Anonymous Mark Lawrence said...

Nice post. I very much enjoyed Miserere and I'll be getting The Garden with blind faith that the time to read it will materialise from the ether!

I too find letting the story lead me to be the most enjoyable part of writing. That can be scary though if you require that it lead you somewhere good rather than jost hope it will (i.e. the difference between writing for contract/pay than entirely for fun).

At July 23, 2012 at 7:26 AM , Blogger Teresa said...

Hey, Paul! The Garden is completely different from Miserere; they don’t relate in any way. The cosmology in Miserere is strictly based on New Testament, Koran, and Talmud sources. In The Garden, I have put my own spin on a lot of those legends and created a new cosmology based on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, namely the Testament of Solomon.

They are two very distinct works.

However, I can definitely see how someone would ask a question such as yours. The answer simply is that I have all this angel-info crawling through my brain, and I need to spill it out somewhere. ;-)

At July 23, 2012 at 7:30 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At July 23, 2012 at 7:31 AM , Anonymous Kendra said...

I'm glad you didn't abandon the manuscript! : )

At July 23, 2012 at 7:32 AM , Blogger Teresa said...

Thanks, Mark! I totally understand the lack of time for reading for pleasure. Your vote of confidence it enough. ;-)

And yeah, I know what you mean now with writing for contract/pay rather than just for fun. It is a huge difference.

At July 23, 2012 at 7:33 AM , Blogger Teresa said...

Not yet, Kendra! ;-) I'm wrangling through those last chapters today.

At July 23, 2012 at 8:19 AM , Anonymous Courtney Schafer said...

"There have been times when I felt like I was drowning"...oh gosh yes (and I didn't even have the challenge of historical research!). Like Kendra said, I'm so glad you persevered. I loved those first few chapters of The Garden I got to read - really looking forward to reading the rest of the book (hopefully soon! :).

At July 23, 2012 at 8:29 AM , Blogger Teresa said...

Good to know I'm not alone, Courtney! I'm becoming excited about it again. I hope to finish the second draft today. I'm so looking forward to Tainted City! I love your boys. ;-)

At July 23, 2012 at 9:07 AM , Blogger Mazarkis Williams said...

Great post. I love what you said about not resisting painful subjects.

At July 23, 2012 at 9:07 AM , Blogger Mazarkis Williams said...

P.S. I hope you still have that 7-page paper.

At July 23, 2012 at 9:42 AM , Blogger Teresa said...

Thank for that, Maz (on not resisting painful subjects). SFF was how I learned to deal with a lot of issues when I was young. I was able to distance myself from the immediate pain and examine life through the lens of a story. It often felt safer that way.

Regarding the paper: Yes, I do still have it ... somewhere. I have an e-version, but because so many papers wind up pirated, I don't post my old research online. Maybe someday ... in a perfect world. ;-)

At July 23, 2012 at 9:44 AM , Blogger Joel said...

Is there any plan for another book in the world of Miserere? I admit I was a bit surprised to learn The Garden is a standalone. Not that I mind, but series/trilogies are certainly the popular thing these days, and Nightshade especially seems to love them.

At July 23, 2012 at 10:13 AM , Blogger Teresa said...

Hi, Joel, thanks for stopping in and asking about the sequels.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. I do have other books planned for the world of Miserere: there were to be four novels, one to encompass each season. Dolorosa: A Winter's Dream is next and it is Rachael's story. I want very much to write it.

Right now I am evaluating the situation. Miserere has over 10K illegal downloads, and not near that much in sales. Unfortunately, publishers look at Bookscan numbers (sales), not illegal downloads when they decide on purchasing a book.

Obviously, the only people who profit from the marketing afforded by pirated books are NYTimes Bestselling authors. Those of us in the rank and file end up dying from all that "marketing."

I know that's not really an answer to your question, and I'm not trying to be evasive. I work full-time and writing takes up an enormous amount of my spare time. I can't see investing my time in writing something that no one wants to read or something that will not sell.

So for now, I'm focusing on one book at a time until I establish a clear read on what will sell.

At July 23, 2012 at 10:54 AM , Blogger Joel said...

Thank you for the candid response. That's certainly unfortunate -- I would wager that a lot of those illegal downloaders don't realize just how much those downloads hurt a small press title. In the bookstore, it seems like all releases are created equal.

I, for one, wasn't able to pass up that great cover once I saw it on the shelves. Nightshade always does great work in that regard.

I hope your next book has more luck and gives you the ability to write more of what you want to write.

At July 23, 2012 at 11:10 AM , Blogger Mazarkis Williams said...

While it remains unknown how many pirates would have bought a book if the pirated version were unavailable, I remain convinced that illegal downloads are taking huge bites out of publishing. It affects all publishers equally but small presses (and their authors) can ill afford it.

At July 23, 2012 at 11:17 AM , Blogger Teresa said...

Thanks, Joel, and one thing I didn't mention above is that Night Shade is awesome about those take-down notices. I think that is all we did for those first few months.

Michael C. Hayes did the cover art for Miserere, and I was delighted with his work.

Maz, Everything you said ... dead on.

At July 23, 2012 at 5:03 PM , Anonymous Kristen said...

I also love what you said about not shying away from painful subjects.

It makes me very sad to hear that there are so many more illegal downloads of Miserere than purchased copies. :( It's such a great book!

At July 23, 2012 at 5:32 PM , Blogger Teresa said...

Hey, Kristen,

Everything is going to work out. I really, really want to write Dolorosa. The worldbuilding for Miserere is really fun and gives me a lot of opportunities to explore some of those uncomfortable topics. I never say never. ;-)

At July 23, 2012 at 6:20 PM , Anonymous Kristen said...

Glad to hear it since I really, really want to read Dolorosa. :) I do love that setting!

At July 23, 2012 at 8:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I am going to have to be that guy...this is coming from one of your fans...not a writer or a book blogger....I first want to state that I bought your book at for my kindle. I love their business model with $6.00 ebooks and no drm with auto download to my kindle. As a first time novelist your biggest fear should be obscurity not piracy. It really saddens me to hear that you spent the first few months your book out chasing torrents and download sites instead of further promoting and getting yourself all over the internet to make sure that people even knew you existed. This is especially true for someone with a day job and limited "author" time. A great example of debut author getting out and making sure everybody knew who he was is Myke Cole. When his book "Control Point" came out he was everywhere...all of the scifi/fantasy blogs and podcasts. He literally saturated the airwaves with who he was and got a huge portion of the reader community excited about his book. I wasn't even into the subject matter of his book, but because he was everywhere and so involved with the genre community I downloaded a sample of his book and liked it enough to buy it.....I am sorry that Nightshade is not interested in continuing your series, but have you thought of self-publishing the next books in the series? I enjoyed your book and would gladly purchase more in the same series, but if you keep starting new unrelated series out of frustration about piracy or hoping to hit it big...I am not sure your ever going to build a fanbase that can eventually sustain a career. Don't waste your limited time on chasing "lost sales" But what the hell do I know I'm just the guy that bought your book.

At July 23, 2012 at 9:07 PM , Blogger Kathryn Purdie said...

Wow, Theresa. I'm fascinated by your determination and the tough subject matter you tackle. Good luck with wrestling/editing through your last chapters of THE GARDEN, and thanks for the inspiring post!

At July 24, 2012 at 1:14 AM , Anonymous Mark Lawrence said...

Myke's a great guy with a great book & he _has_ done 'the internet' right _but_ you have to remember that Ace is much bigger than Night Shade. Ace is Penguin! Also having a friend like Peter V Brett in your corner helps get that initial notice. I've benefitted from the PVB effect myself so I can attest! So in short, yes, but no. Big publishers put you on the shelf everywhere and that's a huge advantage. Night Shade on the other hand have had some distribution nightmares this year.

I do agree though that chasing pirates individually is the sandcastle vs the tide scenario & authors have better uses for their time. It should be a government activity.

That said ... I got a pirate to take down the page stealing my audio book last night by putting a link in the comments section showing them who they were stealing from.

At July 24, 2012 at 3:32 AM , Blogger Teresa said...

Thanks, Mark, for elaborating on that!

For anonymous:

First of all, thanks for buying my book. You are awesome for that alone. I hope you don’t take offense at what I’m about to say, but I do want to address some of your points (some to clarify and others just to express my point of view. We may have to agree to disagree on certain points, but that’s okay too.).

First, I want to point out that NSB asked for an option on the next two novels. I (me, the writer person) am looking the hardest at sales. No one at NSB has offered or declined on any future novels in the series at this date.

Mark is right on all points. Especially the distribution issues and having someone like Peter Brett in your corner. I have been a lot luckier than other authors coming up out of the blue. Alex Bledsoe gave me face-time on his blog, and I’ve had support from other top-notch authors.

Marketing is 99.9% of the game, and the bigger publishers (like Ace) are able to put more marketing and distribution behind their authors. This isn’t to say that marketing is 100% behind every good author. Myke and Peter are excellent writers who achieved success not just by working hard via promotion; they did something far more important, they wrote books that people enjoy and talk about.

(Just a general observation that I made by correlating Bookscan numbers with certain events: I watched my Bookscan numbers and sales slide to nothing when Miserere slipped from the shelves at bookstores like Barnes & Noble.)

You are absolutely right on all the things one needs to do to promote online, and again, for the record, I did all of the things you describe: blog posts, interviews, blog tours, you name it. I get up at 5:30 in the morning to answer emails and write and promote (like I’m doing right now). I spend my lunch hour writing and promoting online—every evening, I give time for online promotion while trying to write the next novel.

Fortunately, I never had to chase a single torrent site; Google kindly drops them in my email box every single day and from there it is a matter of cut and paste.

The “obscurity argument” that you bring up cuts both ways: if no publisher buys any future books because previous novels didn’t sell, then obscurity is mine for taking.

I think the other thing about the obscurity argument that bothers me is that it implies that I should be grateful to those torrent sites. (I don’t think that is what you were saying, but that is the implication a lot of authors perceive from those kinds of statements.)

These torrent sites aren’t doing anyone a public service by posting novels for free. The owners of these sites make quite a bit of money from advertisements. Essentially that means that torrent sites are using my work (and name) to draw traffic to their sites so they can make money off my work. Meanwhile my sales founder so that no publisher will touch my future works. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time with that reasoning.

At July 24, 2012 at 3:33 AM , Blogger Teresa said...

Hey, Kathryn! Thanks so much for stopping in! ;-)

At July 24, 2012 at 6:27 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

I mean this with love--I think you would make an awesome GM for the quasi Gnostic RPG horror game KULT. Not that you are likely wired that way. :)

At July 24, 2012 at 6:49 AM , Blogger Teresa said...

You know, I take that as the ultimate compliment!

I've never been a GM, I've always had way too much fun playing RPGs. I didn't know they horror RPGs. I could really get in touch with my inner sadist with one of those! ;-)

At July 24, 2012 at 6:54 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Oh they most definitely do...and there are even ones (like KULT) that have nothing to do with Cthulhu (although there are a whole raft of horror RPGS based on Lovecraft)


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