It’s our pleasure to welcome T. Frohock to the Asylum. She is the author of Miserere as well as the Historical Fantasy series, Los Nefilim. You can find our reviews of Los Nefilim, Where Oblivion Lives, Carved from Stone and Dream and A Song With Teeth on these links. The latter which is also the last book of the series will be released on February 9th. We assure you, you don’t want to miss out on this series. But let us chat with the author herself and see if we can persuade you further.
T. Frohock has turned a love of history and dark fantasy into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. A real-life cyborg, T. has a cochlear implant, meaning she can turn you on or off with the flick of a switch. Make of that what you will. She currently lives in North Carolina, where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.
Welcome to the Asylum, Teresa! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
I’m really quite boring and live most of my life in my head, which is a dark and scary place, sort of like a bad neighborhood. Out in the rural hinterlands from which I hail, there isn’t much ever going on, and that is very nice. I love the quiet and daily routines. Those are my favorite things.
*sips coffee as dark and bitter as her heart*
For excitement, I write dark historical fantasy and horror.
I mean, horror and fantasy provide a fine excitement. I’m sure many of us would agree on that. You mention liking the quiet. How about during writing? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil? What inspires you?
People, actually. My stories always begin with a character—most often it’s someone nice and ordinary, and then I build a story around the person, making the individual more neurotic with every sweep of the prose until I have broken them. Once I have thoroughly hurt a perfectly likable person, I then construct a story that allows them to redeem themselves.
As to my agreement with the Devil, it’s subject to a Non-Disclosure Agreement, so I can’t really discuss it. However, I can say that if things don’t progress more quickly during this coming year, we’ll find ourselves in arbitration.
*sips coffee as dark and bitter as her heart*
*stares hard at Devil*
I… ugh… I’ll leave you guys to your staring match. Let me know if it’s safe enough to return. Oh you know what, let me invite Arina over, I’m sure she’d have a few questions for the Devil, just don’t let her get too excited otherwise we’ll be here for days.
*a few days later, the Devil hides in a corner wishing to be left alone finally*
Right, um, where were we? Ah, yes, interview. Books. History. It’s something that’s absolutely up my alley, as yours it might seem. The Los Nefilim series has real historical events as a backdrop, such as the Spanish Civil War or the Second World War. Can you tell me about the process of how you decided on placing your story in this particular time and place? I imagine it required quite a lot of research. Are there any interesting facts/stories from this time that really stands out to you?
As to the first question, it’s a matter of winnowing. The first thing I usually do is pick a date, let’s say 1938, or in the case of Carved from Stone and Dream, an event, such as the end of the Spanish Civil War. Using my trusty history books, I research the events around the dates/events. In the case of Carved from Stone and Dream, I knew several things before I began my research:
- that the Spanish Republicans fled Franco’s forces by retreating over the Pyrenees and into France;
- this retreat was called La Retirada and the Spanish intended to regroup and return to Spain to continue the war;
- the French interned the Spanish in concentration camps and relieved the Spanish soldiers of their weapons while politicians turned their backs on the Republicans;
- MEANWHILE, in Germany, A company named Temmler refined methamphetamine into a drug they marketed as Pervitin.
Using these facts and narrowing down my dates, I began Carved from Stone and Dream during La Retirada and used Pervitin to move events forward.
I did the same with A Song with Teeth by focusing first on the dates and events I wanted to use and then working the plot from the angle of the French Resistance’s spy rings. Using spies and their various agents played a huge role in creating Ysabel’s story.
As to interesting facts/stories: There were so many dynamic women involved in the French Resistance, it’s really hard to pick just one. Virginia Hall was an American, who established her own line of Resistance agents in France. Hall eventually became one of the Nazi’s most wanted, and she was known as the limping woman, because she had an artificial foot.
She nicknamed her prosthesis “Cuthbert.” During a daring escape across the Pyrenees during the winter, she radioed London and complained that Cuthbert was giving her trouble. Her handler radioed back: “Eliminate him.”
There were numerous other brave women who helped win the war. Another was Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, known as “Hedgehog.” She kept her intelligence network of 3,000 agents active to the end of the war. The most well-known is Odette Sansom, known by her code-name, Lise. Sansom worked for the SOE (Britain’s Special Operations Executive) essentially as a terrorist and was responsible for gathering intelligence as well as sabotage.
A great introductory book on the subject is D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose. Rose gives a great overview of the women involved in driving the Germans from France.
That’s pretty fascinating. And I think I can see how the stories of these women might have inspired some parts of the Los Nefilim series – especially Ysa’s storyline. Didn’t you consider choosing a female MC instead of Diago? Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love him, but historical events are rarely shown through a female protagonist’s eyes so that probably would have been an interesting choice. So, why Diago?
There are a lot of great stories with women already out there. Kate Quinn writes historical novels, and she has several with a balanced cast. Her novel, The Huntress, combines a lot of dynamic women, including a Nazi, a Russian pilot who was a Night Witch, and a young American photographer. Pam Jenoff’s The Kommandant’s Girl is another. For a fantasy rendition of the Night Witches, check out Claire Eliza Bartlett’s We Rule the Night. And those are just the first three that come to the top of my head.
[Pausing here to note that the Night Witches were the most badass Russian pilots ever to fly the skies. The only women more feared was the Russian squad of female snipers. The Night Witches had the Nazis so terrified that German soldiers were awarded an Iron Cross—the highest honor—for shooting one down.]
Now back to your question: why Diago and not a female nefil? The first thing is that for a series, it’s Diago’s story arc from In Midnight’s Silence through A Song with Teeth, but there is a second factor that people aren’t picking up on: this is a story told through the LGBTQ point of view.
Okay, and some people might feel that portions of this answer are spoilery, so please feel free to skip it if you haven’t read Where Oblivion Lives. But here goes:
Diago, Rafael, and Ysabel are all bisexual; Miquel, Nico, and Jordi are gay; and that’s not counting numerous secondary characters, who are also LGBTQ. As a matter of fact, the number of LGBTQ characters outnumber the cis characters throughout all three books.
A lot of reviewers haven’t picked up on the subtext in Where Oblivion Lives with Diago and Rudi Grier. Rudi is gay; he was caught by the authorities, sentenced to a psychiatric ward, which was common for young men whose parents had money; however, money couldn’t keep his name off the police department’s Pink List. That means if he is caught violating Germany’s Paragraph 175 again, he goes to prison, and this is the threat that Karl holds over him to keep him compliant. Diago suspects this—that’s why he doesn’t pressure Rudi to leave with him. Diago knows he has safety in Los Nefilim, a security that young mortals like Rudi can never have.
Jumping ahead to A Song with Teeth, it’s important to understand the Nazis were particularly brutal toward gay men during the war, and it didn’t matter if the men were Germans or not. If they were on a Pink List or caught and sentenced under Paragraph 175, they were brutalized and sent to the camps, where even greater horrors awaited them. When the war ended, men who had been sentenced under Paragraph 175 weren’t given release or reparations. Instead, they were forced to complete their prison sentences. Those who had been freed before the end of the war lived in terror of being found out.
Two men, Pierre Seel and Heinz Heger, wrote accounts about being sentenced under Paragraph 175 after the Nazis took France: I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual and The Men with the Pink Triangle respectively. A third book by Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle, is the only comprehensive account of homosexual men in the camps that I was able to find.
So stories of gay men during World War II are almost nonexistent. It’s not a time period many would want to relive.
Going back to Los Nefilim: I wanted the novels to show healthy LGBTQ relationships, at the same time, I couldn’t look away from the time period. When Miquel and Diago are in public, they resort to signals that only they know the meaning of, such as Miquel pointing at Diago’s heart as a sign of his love, or brushing his fingers against the back of Diago’s hand. Miquel pushing societal boundaries in Where Oblivion Lives by brushing his lips against Diago’s cheek in the train station freaks Diago out—he’s shoulder-checking and upset until he realizes no one has noticed. Later on, he and Miquel have stories already prepared that Rafael is Diago’s son and Miquel is his uncle. They memorize a thousand little lies that they’re ready to deliver on a moment’s notice. In private, they can be themselves and relax, but in public, they are always looking over their shoulders.
All these things run as undercurrents in the stories. They’re there if you know to look for them, and I believe telling the story of gay men during that time period is important, too.
Frankly, I don’t believe there are enough stories about the brave LGBTQ men and women who helped win the war. Many gay men served as soldiers, spies, and saboteurs. Their stories are just now coming to light, so I’m hoping to see more books written about their exploits.
Wow. This actually makes me speechless, because I have to admit, I never really stopped to consider all this, but now that it’s front of me, it’s quite clear. And I’m glad you choose to tell Diago’s story after all. Which is about coming to an end. The Los Nefilim series consists of 3 novellas and 3 novels. The last in the series, A Song with Teeth drops on February 9th. What was the most challenging about writing the conclusion?
There isn’t an easy way to do this without being spoilery, so I’ll just say that pulling all the various story threads together was the hardest. I didn’t want to leave any of the characters hanging, so it was imperative to me to wrap up the many threads.
The most challenging part of completing the books was leaving the characters not where I wanted them, but where they belonged. Ysabel’s fate was especially hard to come to grips with, but in the end, I think it was perfect for her character.
Yeah, I see where you are coming from. As a reader sometimes we also know what we would want for the characters, but sometimes, that’s not how things play out. I admit I was surprised by that turn of events, but it was a pretty smart move.
Talking about belonging. My favorite aspect of the Los Nefilim series is the relationships of the characters and the message of acceptance. What is the one thing you’d like readers to take away from these books?
The one thing a lot of people miss about the books is the relationship between Diago and Guillermo, which is that of a nurturing friendship. I wanted the books to illustrate and showcase men who weren’t afraid to cry in front of one another, men who comforted one another, and supported each other’s emotional growth. In short, I wanted to circumvent the toxic-masculinity seen so often in film and books to show men in a healthy relationship with one another.
Even though Miquel and Diago have a very close relationship, they’re also spouses, and spouses should look after one another. However, with Guillermo and Diago, we have two characters who could not possibly be more different, and yet they strive to understand and support one another in a friendship that has undergone numerous breaks and the test of time.
So while all the other aspects of the novels that readers love are definitely there, it’s lack of toxic masculinity that I think a lot of people miss.
I absolutely loved their friendship and their banter and how they cared about each other. I think all of that comes through clearly. As for the lack of toxic masculinity, it was quite refreshing. You mentioned at the beginning of the interview that people inspire you. What about yourself? Which character of your book do you identify with the most and why?
Definitely Diago, probably because as an adoptee, I never really feel like I’m a part of any particular group. No matter where I go, or how much acceptance I receive, I always feel like an outlier. It’s something within me that’s broken, and I recognize that, though I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to fix it. It’s just a part of my nature that I’ve come to accept.
I’m not going to say I understand how you must feel as I have a very different background, but I do understand how it feels like to be different, to not being able to fit in. I think that’s one of the reasons I connected with Diago from the beginning. And also probably the reason so many people will be able to connect with him as well.
So, if you were a character in your book, how would you be described? Would you be angel-born or daimon-born?
Hmm … that’s a hard one. I think it would go something like this:
She is an older nefil with a scar on one cheek and hair that is neither silver nor brown nor blonde but instead a mixture of the three. A slight limp accompanies her step. Hazel eyes absorb the darkness and change color given her moods. She is daimon-born … old and wise and terrible.
Ha! I had a feeling you would describe yourself as daimon-born.
Well … we’re not all evil, you know … okay, maybe a little bit.
Oh, I know! *glances sideways at the Devil still hiding the corner*
Now that the Los Nefilim series comes to an end, what are your future plans? Are you working on something now?
I’m working on a Gothic horror novel right now. I don’t really have a lot to report about it, because I’m still in the planning stages. I tend to work on getting the first five to ten thousand words down to get a feel for characterization, and from there, the story usually begins to take shape.
I’m also working on some Los Nefilim vignettes for the blog. People tend to enjoy reading the quiet moments between the characters that didn’t make it into the books, and they’re easier for me than blogging some days.
I hear you on that. And I’m looking forward to whatever you have coming next! Speaking of… While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
First of all, you’ll never lock me in here for eternity, and second, each time I’m asked this question, I add another book to my virtual library. This time it will be Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I adore that book and have read it several times. It’s due up for a reread.
You sure about that? Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
*sips coffee as dark and bitter as her heart*
*stares hard at Devil*
Now about our agreement …
*the Devil sobs quietly*
If you’d like to get in contact with T. Frohock, you can find her on social media: