The reaction to the teasers and posts about Children – the first book in my new Ten Worlds series – has been great so far. The readers of Storytellers in particular have made it clear that they can’t wait. It’s the most wonderful compliment I could dream of. It also makes me somewhat uncomfortable, because this book is… different.
I have rewritten Children 28 times, compared to Storytellers’ 21. The plot never really changed. I gradually pushed the book further and further onto the dark side without even realising I was doing it. Only when I saw it through a reader’s eyes again I realised what I’ve done. She read the book twice – a much earlier version a few months ago, then the 28th draft last week. Faced with the (hopefully) final version she first told me that she needed a Scotch and some rest, then quoted a bit and said, “I literally had to get up and walk away from the screen for a while.” Neither of those passages were disgusting. I just worked and worked until I felt I’ve found the right words to describe the characters’ feelings. It seems to have worked. It’s just that those characters are not happy.
Once I was finished with the last rewrite and sent it to my editor, I jumped at Debbie Young’s Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series and devoured six books in… four days? I’m the one who wrote Children and I still needed an escape from the place that I discovered existed somewhere deep inside me.
The second to last section of this post contains a list of trigger/content warnings, some of which are spoilers.
The original idea was to take (some of) the Norse myths, turn them into one long story, then present them through the eyes of, well, the children of the Gods. The myths were/are just short stories, heavy on action, not quite so much on character development. Some of them contradict each other, some can’t be placed on any sensible timeline. I expected that putting them together in a coherent way would prove very difficult, if even possible. It turned out to be the easiest part. The problem was that I couldn’t get the book to sound the way I wanted it to. I kept digging into the characters’ minds, their pasts, personalities, trying to understand them, writing their backstories. One of the pivotal scenes only came to me during that final, 28th rewrite. Perfectionism aside, the book finally felt right.
Except for the fact that I intended to write something completely different.
When I went to my Goodreads to update my TBR list and statistics, I coincidentally saw a few consecutive reviews for Viking-themed epic fantasy novels. As I read those reviews, I gulped. Whatever I have written was clearly not epic fantasy, or possibly fantasy at all. With each subsequent revision I moved further away from what I thought I was writing, ending up with this dark queer psychological-political literary fiction that has Norse Gods, myths, worlds, and magic in it. Apparently this might be a genre called ‘grimheart’, where bad things happen to good people – which sounds about right, even if I didn’t know grimheart existed.
I don’t post about my political views on Twitter… much. I either amplify/RT posts of others (I don’t think the world needs my hot takes on Black or trans people’s experiences, for instance) or links to articles that moved me.
Sometime last year I suddenly remembered that the children that the US government put in cages were still in those cages, only the media got bored and moved on. I felt the urge to write something – what? a blog post? tweets? a Facebook rant? – until it struck me. Children already had a scene where a child taken away from its parents was put in a cage “for its own good”. As I wrote it, I somehow managed not to see the connection. The Gods’ world is an allegory for the sheltered lives of the super rich. Some of the peoples are seen as less valuable than others. It’s not one very long rant pretending to be a novel, but if you’re searching for an escape, you won’t find it here.
It’s also a very queer book. I don’t think about myself as “queer” – I’m too old and boring for that, I’m just gay – but this book is queer, like the Norse lore itself. The first two chapters are a retelling of the myth in which Thor, clad in a beautiful wedding gown and jewellery travels to marry (sort of) a jötunn king. On this journey Thor is accompanied by a maid, i.e. Loki, who is genderfluid and when she is a maid, she definitely is a she. One out of the two titular children is gay, the other – asexual and aromantic. It’s neither political nor any other sort of a statement. I haven’t attempted to represent anything or anyone. The myths and the Gods are what they are, my added characters are who they are. There is a certain very vocal subset of ‘heathens’ who will not enjoy any of that.
Originally the book was called Children and I never stopped referring to it this way, but at some point I began to doubt myself. A book called Children that is only suitable for adult audience might cause certain confusion. The title doesn’t suggest any genre at all. So, with heavy heart, I changed the title to Children of the Gods. A title that very clearly said “mythic fantasy” and nothing else.
Enter: alien BDSM vampires.
(I didn’t see this coming either.)
A friend sent me a screenshot of an ad for a 43-book (so far) series of paranormal vampire BDSM romances, Children of the Gods. ‘Twilight meets Ancient Aliens with the sizzle of Fifty Shades’, declared the ad. I carefully peeked at the Amazon page the ad led to. The reviews that weren’t generic purchased five-star ones pointed out that around book four out of 43 the series gets both homophobic and delves into insane aIt-right conspiracy theories.
The creator of those books has a giant advertising budget, big enough to gain them Amazon’s All-Star Bonuses, i.e. massive payouts for most pages read on Kindle Unlimited within one month. I can’t compete with that, because I don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on ads, therefore if you were to enter ‘children of the gods’ into the search box, my book would never appear above position 44. To make things even worse, while titles can’t be copyrighted, I really wouldn’t like to receive a cease and desist letter from someone who can actually afford a lawyer.
The silver lining is that this book was meant to be called Children anyway. The ‘of the Gods’ addition felt forced and I never really saw it as more than a subtitle. When it comes to confusing branding, a 43-part series of paranormal vampires sizzling with 50 Shades is worse than anything I could think of – mine is more of ‘Norse Mythology meets CNN News with the sizzle of DSM-V’. Children: a Ten Worlds novel it is.
Every time I see the question ‘what do you think about trigger/content warnings on books?’ my automatic response is ‘I don’t like that’, because it feels like putting spoilers where you can’t miss them. Then I remember that I have no wish to read a book featuring animal abuse or child abuse without being at the very least warned it’s coming.
Unedited excerpt from chapter 6
I have already mentioned sex with someone unable to express consent. It’s absolutely not graphic, but reading it will make you feel like it was (tested on readers). What is very graphic is the violence. There is hunger (see above), gaslighting, blackmail, mental illness(es), drug addiction, an entire population wiped out by mysterious ‘plague’, a caged child… Some of the readers called Storytellers dark. Children will make it look like a light beach read. At the same time, because no matter what I’m writing I can’t switch off the funny, there are bright stars on that dark sky… and Thor looked fabulous in his wedding gown, even though he keeps telling me this never happened and it’s all lies spread by his enemies.
Now that I did everything in my power to deter you from reading, the next post will introduce you to Maya, one of the two main characters in Children.