With Carved From Stone And Dream (paperback, Kindle), writer T. Frohock is presenting the second of three novels in her Los Nefilim series of stand-alone urban fantasy horror novels. In the following email interview, she explains the origins of this series and how this new book fits into this world.
Let’s start with a quick overview. What is the Los Nefilim series about, and when and where is it set?
The Los Nefilim series is combination of urban fantasy and horror inspired by the old radio series, The Shadow. I’ve always been fascinated with creating new twists on mythology, so the general premise is that the angels are actually invaders from another dimension. They fought the daimons, the old Earth gods, for control of the mortal realm, and when the two groups almost destroyed the mortals with the flood, the daimons capitulated.
Now that the angels rule, they formed an Inner Guard Of Nephilim that possess the power to harness music and light to form sigils from the sound waves, which they use for protection. The Inner Guard’s job is to patrol the mortal realm and enforce the treaties between the angels and daimons. The Spanish division is called Los Nefilim.
Say it like “the mob” and you’ve got the right idea.
It’s kind of a John Wick assassin world with the members of Los Nefilim hiding in plain sight among the mortals. The members of the Inner Guard are structured like a central intelligence organization. But there are also rogue Nephilim that operate with their own codes of conduct, which varies from country to country.
This particular segment of stories is centered around a very special member of Los Nefilim, Diago Alvarez. He is the direct descendant of an angelic mother and a daimon-born Nephil, and this blending of auras gives him a unique vocal structure. He is trying to compose a song called the Key that will enable to the Nephilim to move the realms as the angels do.
The story begins in Catalonia and moves through France and Germany between the years 1931 and 1944, which roughly encompasses the beginning of the Spanish Civil War through World War II.
And then what is Carved From Stone And Dream about and how does it connect to the first book, Where Oblivion Lives, and the three novellas in the Los Nefilim Omnibus: In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light Or Guide, and The Second Death?
The Los Nefilim novels are all stand-alones, but the series focuses on the same characters throughout. The novellas introduce the world of Los Nefilim and Diago’s character, his found family, and Guillermo’s family. In those stories, Diago discovers that he has a six-year-old son, Rafael. In order to protect Rafael from their daimonic kin, Diago formally joins the angel-born nefilim of Los Nefilim. Where Oblivion Lives chronicles Diago’s second year as a member of Los Nefilim when he is struggling to find his place, both as a father and a member of Los Nefilim, alongside his husband, Miquel. Where Oblivion Lives is important, because it shows Diago and Guillermo discovering the first movement to the Key.
Carved From Stone And Dream is the second novel in the series, and I’ve started describing it as John Wick meets Band Of Brothers, because that sums up the action. Having sided with the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, the members of Los Nefilim are in retreat along with the mortal population. Assassins have been sent after the leader of Los Nefilim, Guillermo Ramírez.
Guillermo leads the assassins into the Pyrenees with a small group that includes Diago. When a notebook of Los Nefilim’s undercover operatives falls into a traitor’s hands, Diago and Guillermo risk their lives to track it down. Meanwhile, Guillermo’s daughter, Ysabel, is learning the intricacies of ruling in exile, and she finds that keeping the peace is more difficult than she imagined, especially when Diago’s teenage son, Rafael, takes matters of espionage into his own hands.
So in Carved From Stone And Dream, Diago has found his place both in Los Nefilim and in escaping the emotional damage of his past. Now it is his turn to save and nurture his husband, Miquel, who has been tortured by Nationalist forces. As the series progresses, we’re seeing his character grow and become more confident of his own abilities while still having lots of adventures.
When in relation to writing Where Oblivion Lives and the novellas did you come up with the idea for Carved From Stone And Dream, and how did that idea change as you wrote this second novel?
The initial idea for Carved From Stone And Dream originated in a very brief pitch that I wrote for the series proposal. As a bare bones sketch, it included how Diago discovered the second movement of the Key, but not much more. I’d wanted to go more into the daimonic world in Carved From Stone, but the story kept taking weird turns and stalling.
With a deadline bearing down on me and still no story, I took a unique (for me, anyway) approach. Instead of writing the novel chronologically, I wrote the scenes as they came to me. The most powerful images were of Miquel after his capture by Nationalist forces, so I wrote those first and then went back and filled in the necessary portions of the first quarter of the novel.
It was patchwork writing, and while it’s not my favorite way to write a story, it worked for this particular novel. The scope moved away from the daimons and stayed with the angel-born nefilim, but I’m still pleased with the result. The third book, A Song With Teeth, is definitely moving in favor of a daimonic story line, so we’ll get to see how they operate in the third book.
Carved From Stone And Dream and the other stories in the Los Nefilim series sound like they’re dark fantasy tales. Is that how you see them or are there other genres at work in these stories as well?
I see them more as Gothic horror than dark fantasy, especially Where Oblivion Lives with its haunted mansion and the sexual undercurrents running through the story. I won’t argue with the dark fantasy label, though. Some readers have called them romance, and others have called them grimdark, urban fantasy, thrillers, and I’ll take those labels, as well.
I think people see different genres, because the stories are so character focused. Rather than seeing a novel about a subject or a genre, readers are seeing people entangled in difficult situations and surviving. Then they formulate the genre based on their own perceptions and reading experiences.
Carved From Stone And Dream is set in 1939. Why did you decide to set it then as opposed to 1989 or 2019 or 2299?
Two reasons, actually: one was, quite simply, story continuity. The events of the previous novel took place in 1932, and while I could have outlined certain battles during the Spanish Civil War, those fights wouldn’t resonate with American readers. If I mention D-Day to Americans, they have an immediate fixation on both time and place, but if I say an event happened at the Battle Of The Ebro, I get nothing but blank looks. So I decided to fast-forward, so to speak, and pick up events at the end of the war.
The second reason was that once I began my research, I wanted to capture the horrors of La Retirada, the mass exodus of Republican civilians as they fled the encroaching Nationalist advance. People that were already traumatized by the war, losing their homes and everything they knew, and then crossing the Pyrenees in the dead of winter, reached France not to find a welcome, but concentration camps that were thrown together on a moment’s notice.
Also, is there a significance to the fact that the word Nefilim is not spelled Nephilim?
“Nefilim” is easily recognizable so people can immediately associate nefilim with Nephilim without having to jump through too many mental hoops. It’s derived from the Spanish spelling that I saw the most, primarily because Spanish doesn’t rely on the “ph” for the “f” sound in words. I liked the look of it, because it was distinctive and it gave me a little distance from the usual associations of the word, meaning humans with angel wings, because in Los Nefilim, the nefilim don’t look anything like angels.
In my novels, the distinction between mortals and nefilim come from the nefilim’s chromesthesia. They see color in sound and use these vibrations to form their sigils and magic. So I needed a slightly different name — nefilim was perfect.
You mentioned earlier that there was a third Los Nefilim novel in the work, A Song With Teeth. Do it, Where Oblivion Lives, and Carved From Stone And Dream form a trilogy, or is this an ongoing series and you’re just really good at planning ahead?
I think of it as more of an ongoing series. Although it also fits the definition of a trilogy in that I only planned a story arch for three books.
The one common arc in these stories is discovering the composition for the Key, that magical song that will enable the nefilim to move the realms as the angels do. However, the search for the Key plays out like a leitmotif, just a short, recurring musical phrase, that connects the stories. The essence of the story’s theme is conveyed through the various elements of the Key.
While that’s playing the background, we also have the more obvious mystery of the characters’ past lives and how those previous incarnations entwine with the current act. The main action usually centers around war or espionage.
As you know, some people wait until every book in a trilogy comes out before reading any of them, and some then read all three books in a row. And that will be especially true for these books since, as you say on your website, A Song With Teeth is supposed to be out in February of 2021. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
I think it’s totally up to the reader. The novellas and the books can be binged or read individually in no particular order. If readers wait and binge, then they’ll see some continuity and themes that run concurrently through the stories, but if they don’t, they won’t miss a thing.
I mean they are stand-alones, but I also include a very brief non-spoilery recap as a foreword in each of the books. So if you missed the novellas — which actually work as a prequel to the novels — you can still jump right into Where Oblivion Lives and get a full picture of who these people are and what their society is like. Then in Carved From Stone And Dream, I give a quick non-spoilery recap of Where Oblivion Lives. I’ll do the same for A Song With Teeth.
So, has there been any interest in adapting the Los Nefilim series into a movie, TV show, or video game?
No, there’s been no interest yet. I think the story is a bit too large for a movie, but it would work very well either as an on-going or limited series. (Are you listening, Netflix?)
As a video game, the stories would lend themselves well to a Call Of Cthulhu-type game, which is about solving a mystery through investigation but with horror elements. Instead of guns, the characters would shoot sigils. That would be fun.
And if Netflix did want to make it into a series, who do you think they should cast as Diago and the other major characters?
I’ve actually been asked this enough times to have formed the main cast for a movie or series:
I was struck by one of his lines in Wonder Woman, where he quipped that guys like him were never the leading man. However, the minute I saw him, I knew he was my Diago, especially after seeing his turn as the Elder.
Because we all want more Oscar Isaac.
Guillermo: Joaquin Cosio (Quantum Of Solace; Belzebuth)
Cosio simply commands the screen and is a very versatile performer. He has the size and the mannerisms that would be perfect for Guillermo.
Verdu is made is steel and if anyone could project dominance over this group of men, it’s a woman like her.
I’m still looking for my perfect Jordi and Nico. I’ll let everyone know when I find them.
Finally, if someone enjoys Carved From Stone And Dream and the other Los Nefilim stories, what urban fantasy horror novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for A Song With Teeth to come out?
There are several. Probably the closest books to Los Nefilim would be Ian Tregillis’ Milkweed Triptych: Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War, and Necessary Evil. It’s all British spies and warlocks, you’ll love it. Or maybe The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon. A British spy, who happens to be a werewolf, goes behind German lines to stop a secret weapon from being launched against the Allies.
If you’re looking for something more epic, I’d suggest The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang — mid-1900s China, war, and of course, magic. Although Los Nefilim tends to have more action, some reviewers have mentioned the historical aspects of the series in conjunction with The Golem And The Jinni by Helene Wecker. A golem, Chava, and a jinni, Ahmad, meet in mid-century New York City, where they discover what it means to be human.
It’s more urban fantasy than dark, but K.D. Edwards’ Tarot Sequence series (The Last Sun, The Hanged Man) is also a close pick. Edwards’ books have a lot more humor than you’ll find in Los Nefilim, but he doesn’t shy away from darker themes, and he is a master of fast-paced intrigue.