Teresa Frohock turned her fascination with two-headed Carnival chickens into a writing career. Long accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying, her debut novel, Miserere, is out from Night Shade Books and tells the tale of an exiled exorcist who deserted his lover in Hell to save his sister´s soul. The catch: She doesn´t want salvation. Complications ensue. It´s book 1 of a trilogy. And got a starred review from Library Journal. A current resident of the Carolinas, Teresa can be found on Twitter as @TeresaFrohock, on Facebook, or via her website at http://www.teresafrohock.com/.
SFFWRTCHT: Where´d your interest in SFF come from?
Teresa Frohock: My first fantasy was Patricia McKillip’s The Forgotten Beast of Eld and I fell in love with her writing. You could almost say I was born a geek, though. I loved anything with swords and knights and monsters since I can remember.
TF: I started writing when I was in my late teens, but I didn’t become published until recently. It was a long road. And mostly novels, I’ve not had much success with short stories. That is an art I’ve yet to master.
SFFWRTCHT: What is it about short stories that you struggle with?
TF: Squishing characterization and plot into a short story. I like spending time developing characters.
SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up?
TF: McKillip, of course, Vonda McIntyre, Anne McCaffrey, Gene Wolfe. I was an eclectic reader even then. Vonda’s work gave me female characters that I could relate to when I was young. I loved Dream Snake. I read in the genre from the 70s-90s, then moved to mysteries for a while, then bounced back.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the most unusual or atypical thing you’ve read?
TF: I enjoyed The Monk and am currently reading The Manuscript Found in Saragossa.
SFFWRTCHT: How did you get your start as a writer?
TF: Going to cons, actually! I met some great people took writing workshops. I just loved it.
SFFWRTCHT: What was your inspiration for Miserere and this series? Any books that specifically influenced you?
TF: The idea came from a dream. I was in an college class on the Old Testament and the instructor mentioned the veil between the Ark and man. I just loved the idea and the Old Testament provided the backdrop for Woerld. I wanted an exorcist, because I wanted demons. I envision each member of the Citadel as having specific talents. Lucian was always an exorcist and a healer from the beginning. It just fit his personality.
SFFWRTCHT: What drew you to write dark fantasy as opposed to other subgenres of fantasy?
TF: I love love horror and dark fantasy contains elements of horror and fantasy. It’s the best of both worlds for me. I’ve also loved fairytales, and I think that dark fantasy moves closer to the dark themes in fairytales. I love The Torturer’s Apprentice. Some call Grendel literature, but I always thought of it as dark fantasy.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you define dark fantasy?
TF: That’s a tough, moving target. I define dark fantasy has dealing with mature, darker themes.
TF: Miserere took about two to two-and-a-half years, but I was learning. I did plan four novels from the beginning. One book for each season.
SFFWRTCHT: Miserere takes a risk in using real religions and religious themes. What kind of response has that gotten? Why did you make that choice?
TF: Well that’s been interesting. A lot of people have shied away from it because they think it’s fantasy disguised as Christian fiction, and it is not. It’s taken a bit of time for it to catch on, but it seems to getting read now.
SFFWRTCHT: How closely does mythology in the book stick to real world belief?
TF: I mix it up. I try to stick very close to the real thing, but it’s a very liberal read on all the religions. I read an article somewhere about how the danger was not religion but fundamentalism. That is the attitude on Woerld.
SFFWRTCHT: I get the same thing and I think my religious context was more direct than yours. And mine was SF. I think the multiple “paths to God” syncretism in Woerld definitely moves Miserere out of being Christian Fiction. You were inspired by an Old Testament class, as you said. Is that why you chose those themes? Could you have built the world without it? Do you think if you’d manufactured religions there would have been less hesitancy?
TF: Yes. However I don’t believe that the story would have had the same resonance. It’s a mash-up of Old Testament, New Testament, and the Pseudipigraphia. I also used the Gospel of Thomas. I had a blog post on why Lucian was a Christian: the short answer is because he came from East Europe. When I built Woerld, I built it around Lucian’s character. I don’t understand the issue. Judith Tarr used Christianity in some of her novels. As for manufacturing a religion, possibly, but I like history and wanted people to see what we could be if we stuck closer to our roots.
SFFWRTCHT: In the book, Lindsay, a contemporary girl is taken into Woerld as a foundling and meets Lucian. Where´d you get the idea of foundlings?
TF: I wanted different people from different periods and parts of Earth. I had to figure a way to get them into Woerld. When I originally conceived Woerld, I had them moving between Earth and Woerld. But as I did my worldbuilding, I realized I couldn’t do that without opening too many weird threads. Sometimes writing a tight story means you can’t have everything you want. I do think people get a negative idea of Christianity. I tried to cover that with Lindsay. What does a kid, whose only exposure to Christianity is the nightly news, going to think of Woerld? Not a lot. I wanted her skepticism. I think that’s why Miserere had such a slow start. I don’t want to push any belief on the reader, but I do want to broaden people’s perspective and make them say, ‘ah! But what if?’
SFFWRTCHT: Lucian has the power to manipulate the gates to Hell. Tell us about your magic system please.
TF: We talk about Gates of Heaven and Gates of Hell, so I wondered what if they’re really physical gates? I tried to figure how they would work magic, and we were studying the Psalms in class. There are psalms for healing, psalms for cursing, and they started to read like magic spells to me. So I used the Psalms as the “magic words.” I want to use something different for the Muslims, but it will be based on the Koran. Later in the trilogy, we’ll be going to Hell and see how the Fallen live. They will have different magic.
TF: There is a Mosque, a Rabbinate, Hindus and Taoists are represented too. Angels are described as being made of fire, so I thought, what if fire equals electricity? I saw the “charge” given off by the Fallen angels as being disruptive to electronics. Since electronics are disrupted, then they absorb the Fallen’s energy and that energy is twisted into something evil.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you outline or pants it? How much planning do you do before you write and what?
TF: I’m working on the synopsis for Dolorosa (Miserere’s sequel) while I’m finishing up The Garden. I do most of work on the front end, charcter sketches, synopsis, but I give myself a great deal of leeway to deviate. Characters are the most important to me, so I spend a lot of time on the biographies.
SFFWRTCHT: How much and what type of research do you typically do before writing or as you write?
TF: I do quite a bit of research. The Garden has taken several months of that because it’s set in 1348 in Aragon right after a real battle.
SFFWRTCHT: When will that come out?
TF: When I finish writing it and we find a publisher. I’m not under contract for anything right now. We were all cautious about the religion in Miserere, so I decided I would go with something different in case Miserere didn’t do well.
SFFWRTCHT: How does your Southern upbringing impact your fiction and your view of storytelling?
TF: I was surrounded by storytellers. I think southerners especially have a tendency to spin yarns. My father was a school teacher. He taught history to his students by telling the history as stories. They loved him.
SFFWRTCHT: What´s your writing time look like? Planned time? Grab it when you can?
TF: I work full-time and write in my spare time. I keep a strict 8-11 evening writing schedule and also write on weekends.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you use any special software or music playlist?
TF: I use plain old Word. For music, I used Loreena McKennitt for Miserere, and I’m using Dead Can Dance for The Garden.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you deal with writer´s block?
TF: I don’t have time for it. Usually I look at character motivation and conflict to make sure the story isn’t lagging. I just keep writing and beat my way through it. I just had a Point Of View issue that I dealt with tonight.
SFFWRTCHT: What´s the best writing advice you have to offer new writers who ask?
TF: I tell people the same thing: stay teachable and learn from other authors.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you use writing groups or beta readers?
TF: I have beta readers and a small critique group that I work with. They are awesome and catch a lot of errors for me.
SFFWRTCHT: It’s been mentioned several times now. Please tell us about The Garden.
TF: The Garden is more of a twist on Beauty and the Beast. It begins in Aragon, but quickly moves into magical realism.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you have any specific author mentors?
TF: I’ve learned from every author that I’ve come into contact with. They are really a friendly group of people. I also learned a lot by interviewing authors when I ran the blog helluo librorum.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.