This is just the introduction, but there might be a couple potential spoilers if you haven’t read the books yet. Also, there is now an ongoing TRIGGER WARNING for the commentary (I will be touching on topics such as violence and suggested assault in the course of this commentary).
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Well this is going to be a doozy of a commentary. I’ve been trying to figure out how to start this damn introduction for the past few days. Everything about this book was an uphill struggle, so I suppose it’s only fitting the introduction will be as well. Haunted by the Keres was a somewhat traumatic experience from beginning to end. It started with my having to toss out a 400+ page rough draft that proved to be completely unusable. For the first three books, I worked from drafts I had written years ago. They were unreadable as novels, but actually not horrible for rough drafts. There was just enough in them to give me a clear idea of what needed to happen in the novel and how to get there.
This was not the case with book four. I had to start over. Completely. From scratch. At first, it was fucking terrifying. Once I got into the swing of things, it proved to be strangely liberating. I was also reassured that I had an editor lined up for when I was done.
I wound up writing ahead of my outline, which required me to adjust my plan for the book somewhat. While I was writing this novel, I was still working on marketing the other three books and attending conventions. I somehow managed to finish book four and sent it off to my editor.
And then proceeded to hear nothing as deadlines came and went. For months. I started to become a complete nervous wreck as the book’s release date rapidly approached.
Then, my beloved dog, Lucy, fell ill. Over the course of a few weeks, it felt like my life completely fell apart as I cared for my dog. She died in September (I eventually wrote a memorial, found here), a week after my book’s original release date and I still heard nothing from my editor.
Shortly after Lucy passed away, my editor eventually got back to me and told me she wouldn’t have time to edit the novel. I was a month behind schedule and now I had no editor (after that happened, I had a couple friends recommend reliable editors so I wouldn’t find myself in a similar situation again). It was much too late to find another editor, so I would have to do the thing I was dreading: release another book that hadn’t been professionally edited. My thoughts at the time: Fuck! Fuck! Fuckity fuck!
I had a little more than a month to whip the book into shape on my own (my brother helped a bit, but only had the time to proofread the book). I was still lost in grief and frustration, but I had to finish this book. I wouldn’t let it beat me. I managed to release it on October 31st and get a few copies for my last convention of the year. And then, because the universe wasn’t done fucking with me, I realized at the convention that there had been some kind of printing malfunction. As a result, half the books I had had faded lines towards the top of the pages. I didn’t know whether to laugh like a maniac or just sob. I settled on quiet seething anger.
This novel is dedicated to Lucy. Who was a light in the darkest of places.
Originally, this book was all about redemption. I had planned to take a similar route when starting from scratch. However, I’m not one to do simplistic themes. I decided to add in the idea of being haunted by the past. Then, when I was going through it one last time, I used this novel as an outlet for my own grief. Exploring grief proved to be somewhat cathartic. I come from a family where grieving is something you do in private and you’re expected to bounce right back. I believe everyone grieves and heals differently, at different rates.
In this book, there’s a tragedy that happens early on and it affects a lot of the characters. I was particularly interested in exploring how experiments reacted to grief. They don’t experience grief and are only familiar with it from a strategic standpoint (it’s useful in that it can be a distraction). Coop and Jack are content to give the normals their space to heal. Blitz is really only thinking about how the Big Bad is going to use grief against the protectors.
In designing the cover, my brother put Blitz’s sais on the back, but without the blood and more shiny. He said it’s because she’s no longer a merciless killer. I told him that wasn’t exactly true: she has learned to hide her more violent impulses for the time being, which is kind of more concerning. Blitz will always be a killer and there will always be a very destructive side to her. The 2nd Man even tells her that she has to find a balance between the two sides of her personality (the experiment/living weapon/killer and the protector the normals need) if she wants to defeat the Big Bad.
Coming up with a title proved to be a massive headache. I went through countless myths and poems looking for anything. Nothing jumped out and I was often brought to the edge of a panic attack with my inability to come up with a title for this book. I wound up making a list of myths that might fit with the themes and overall feel of the book: Eurydice, Pandora, and Pirithous (who I felt was somewhat similar to Dane’s situation).
One day, I was researching death spirits and I happened across this page on the Keres, from Ancient Greece. The Keres were these demonic spirits who were in charge of cruel death. Pretty much everything about them was just nasty (they almost sound like vampires). A couple things really intrigued me: the description of them hanging out in battlefields like vultures and the fact that the gods could defend their favorites against these spirits. Unlike the Fates, the Olympians could stop the Keres if they desired (or speed them along their course).
When I read a theory about them having originated in Pandora’s Jar and reading about how they descended on men in the battlefield, I began thinking about the experiments and what they did while at the Corporation. Their pasts are soaked in blood. That violence will follow them for the rest of their lives. I often find myself thinking of the Grenich laboratories as Pandora’s Jar, which is possibly where the Keres originated.
Everyone who comes into contact with Grenich is haunted by it to varying degrees. Hence the title: violence follows them and, for the normals, it haunts their dreams.
(POTENTIALLY TRIGGERING MATERIAL TO FOLLOW)
I once did a panel with an author, who shall remain nameless, on strong women in literature. One audience member brought up Lisbeth Salander (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) as being a strong woman. I agreed with this assessment. The author, who was a woman, looked at me with distaste and declared, “I have a rule my co-panelist doesn’t share: no rape. I refuse to read books that have rape in them.”
I agree that rape is very often overused (and often in disturbingly flippant ways. I’m really uncomfortable with it being used as a simple plot device, for example), I could not bring myself to agree with this individual, who had already proven to be a most unpleasant woman (earlier, she suggested that I wouldn’t be harassed so much if I had just gone the traditional publishing route. I don’t hate many people but I fucking loathed and despised that woman). Rape is a very real problem and while I myself could never write a scene of graphic sexual violence, I think completely ignoring it can be just as damaging. Not only that, it silences the victims. Playing “if I don’t see it, it’s no longer a problem” is a very dangerous game.
While I would never write a graphic scene of sexual violence, I don’t have a problem writing a character who had survived such an experience. While I personally don’t picture the experiments having been violated in that way, I wouldn’t mind if a survivor read them that way. I wrote a novella a few years ago where one of the main characters is an pre-experiment (she’s too young to have undergone full experimentation, including the injections that would make her eyes glow). Though it’s not explicitly stated, I wrote her as being a survivor of sexual assault. It doesn’t define her as a character, but the effects of it aren’t ignored either.
There is one character in this series who I did write as being a survivor of sexual violence: the doctor. As I was revising this book, I introduced a new villain who is an unapologetic sadist and his mere name terrifies the doctor. Too many narratives cast the woman as the survivor of such an assault to the point where it has become rather cliche. While it’s true that women are more often the victim of such an assault, it is by no means a completely gendered experience. I wanted to explore how a man would deal with such a trauma. It clearly still affects him, even though it happened years ago. The only one who knows what happened is the 2nd Man (though the experiments are able to deduce what happened by the doctor’s reactions to the name of his assailant).
I think that’s about all the introduction readers need. Seasonal Affective Disorder is kicking my ass, so I’m a bit foggy at the moment. Apologies.
I’m going to try and update every other day (I’m dividing my time between this, the Asexual Artists blog, and hopefully outlining book five. My S.A.D has been a lot more intense than usual this year, so there may be the occasional wait between chapters).
Convention season is going to be picking up soon. Check out my appearances page to see where I’ll be 🙂
Thank you, dear reader for sticking with me. I’ll try to upload commentary on chapter one either tomorrow or Saturday.
Until then . . .