Recently, I was approached by the ambassador of the Paranormal community on Wattpad to do a short interview pertaining to Malus Domestica, which I posted on the site in the hopes of attracting agent attention.
In the few short weeks it's been up, the book has already garnered 17,000 reads.
For the last three years, a young woman has been traveling America filming a YouTube series. It’s not a travelogue, at least not strictly—it’s about her quest to kill every witch in the country. When she was a teenager, a coven of witches turned her mother into Malus domestica—a common apple tree. They’re using the tree to suck the life force out of the town of Blackfield and turn it into apples. And today Robin came home to avenge Mom.
When I started writing the Outlaw King series, I thought the majority of my fans would be geeky men, especially ones already hooked on The Dark Tower. But to my surprise, most of my initial fans turned out to be young women. So that’s my target audience now, and who I consider my “Constant Reader”, as Stephen King calls his imaginary, singular target audience.
Why? To be honest, I’m not sure. It may have to do with females being the larger portion of the overall book demographic. There are a lot of women reading books. This somewhat affected my choice of protagonist for Malus Domestica, but largely that decision grew organically out of the story itself—the star of the book (and by extension, the series) was always a woman.
There are a great deal of paranormal elements in this book: witches, demons, out-of-body experiences, clairvoyance, magic, voodoo zombies, even ghosts. The main thread, though, or perhaps the two main threads, are witches and magic.
Now, these aren’t the Harry Potter kind of witches, or the bubble-bubble-toil-and-trouble witches, but more like the “liche” - undead sorcerers that have been around for hundreds of years, looking for ways to prolong their lives through supernatural means. They use something called a “nag shi”, also referred to as a “dryad”, to siphon the life-force out of a town or city and convert it into youth-restoring fruit. This only affects their outward appearance, though—inside their unwrinkled skin they are still a walking corpse.
The kind of magic they do is different as well. The witches of Malus Domestica derive raw paranormal energy from a central point, the Mesopotamian goddess of death Ereshkigal. This energy is filtered into many discrete disciplines: clairvoyance, telekinesis, flight, pyromancy, transfiguration, and others.
Some witches are better at certain disciplines than others. For instance, the witch Theresa LaQuices can change herself with the gift of Transfiguration, as she does at the end of the second act when she transforms into a giant hog-monster to attack Robin and her friend Wayne.
It’s handled a little more realistically than your average magic, function-wise. Theresa’s transformation is very visual and painful, and even after she changes, the tattoos on her body remain—even though they’re stretched out. To channel and focus the energy as it emerges from them, the witches often have to perform specific alchemic rituals—for instance, a witch with the gift of Clairvoyance can see via the eyes of cats. In order to use this “gift”, they must take a hallucinogen and experience something catlike during their trance (such as eating cat food) to trigger the mental transferrence.
“Voodoo zombies” is perhaps a simplistic way to describe how the witches make their “familiars”, their crazed minions. Cats are servants of the death-goddess Ereshkigal, her agents here on Earth, and they are completely obedient to witches. And when a witch sacrifices a cat, the witch can infect a nearby human with the cat’s soul, basically turning that person into a cat-brained human, a clawing-hissing-climbing zombie totally under their control.
I’ll let you find out about the ghosts and demons yourself. The demons in particular are too awesome to spoil for you here.
There’s a heavy thread of urban fantasy, and the book is written a lot like a fantasy novel with the same lyricism and the alternating points-of-view, according to some of the reviews. Like I said, magic plays a huge part in the story, especially in the third act when a secret organization of magicians show up in town to help Robin handle the witches. They can use the same gifts the witches have, and they even derive their power from the same origin—one of the magicians can project hallucinations into your mind, and uses it to create horrific monsters based on your worst fears.
But I won’t spoil it for you as to how they obtained this ability.
Well, they usually start as a realization out of the blue while I’m doing something else, and evolve into a “what if” question—what if I got sucked into a fantasy world? What if I could turn people into chickens with an old conductor’s baton I bought at a thrift shop? I could be checking the mail, and I’d get a mental picture of tiny little eggs clinging to the outside of boxes and envelopes in the mailman’s truck. What if the mailman is unwittingly infecting the entire neighborhood with spiders that attack you while you’re sleeping and wrap you in silk?
From there, I take the seed idea and apply it to the first range of characters that pop into my head. In the case of the spider eggs, I think of a small suburban family, a man and wife with a couple of boys, maybe a neighbor girl in the mix. You know what? This would make a good Goonies-style kids’ adventure story. Then I sit down with a word processor and start rewinding from the spiders to the best starting point. No, not the day they receive the spiders in the mail—go back a day, or start that morning. Let’s establish the characters first, let the reader get to know them before we get them in trouble. That’s where I start writing.
From there it’s just the usual—write write write, edit edit edit, send off to the beta readers, edit edit edit, publish or query.
Not really. I mean, I’ve been battling depression for a long time, and sometimes I get into a really dark funk and I feel like crap, and I can’t manage to produce good work. It’ll last for a couple of days or a week, and then I crawl out of it and get my head on straight again. But for the most part, it’s been a really cathartic, productive experience.
While I only got better by producing more and more work. I credit a lot of the talent I already had to playing text-based roleplaying games a lot when I was a teenager. These were multiplayer interactive-fiction games where you created a character and then inhabited a world full of characters being played by other people, and acted in scenes with them by collaboratively writing stories. It was a bit like writing in a novel. I probably wrote hundreds of thousands of words alone in those games.
I take pride in the quality of my work just out of general craftsmanship and because I feel like I’d be cheating my few readers with bad writing, but writing well means nothing if you’re aiming for “success”. Longevity, yes. Consistency over a long period of time, yes. Initial success, no. I am living proof of that. Many of us are living proof of that.
I guess it depends on your definition of “success”. Writing well and prolificacy are necessary to sustain a long-term literary career—no one is going to keep reading your books if they are ALL bad, or if you only write a couple of books—but quality and innovation are not necessary for initial success. In fact, they’re a bit of a hindrance if you’re querying literary agents in traditional-publishing, and they make you hard to access for readers in the self-publishing industry.
Success demands visibility. Look at the Amazon rank of the first book in my original series, The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree—compare that with its Amazon reviews, Wattpad comments and readcount, and check out how many cheesybad books are ranked higher just because more people know about them. Look at Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian—do you have any idea who Linda B. Buck or Sally Ride are? Linda won a Nobel Prize, and Sally Ride was the first woman in space. But stop any random person on the street and ask them who Kim Kardashian and Sally Ride are, and I bet I can guess what they’ll say.
Getting that big break is all about two things: who you know, and how visible you can get. You have to get in front of people’s eyes, and you need help to get there. That’s how you get success. Keeping success is where the effort and quality comes in.
I think I might have, actually. I saw the silhouette of a horned human head in my bedroom window when I was in middle-school. But my town and the surrounding county are a hotbed of paranormal legends and phenomena. When you get a free moment, Google “Corpsewood” and check out the stuff about the castle that was built up in the mountains and the two men that were murdered up there. It’s fascinating stuff. Someone should write a book about it. 📕