The poster for the 1978 blockbuster “Superman: The Movie” starring Christopher Reeve boldly boasted to theater audiences: “You’ll believe a man can fly!”
The captivating first book in August Arrea’s fantasy-adventure “Tales of the Nephilim Brotherhood” series could come with a similar prediction declaring, quite rightfully: “You’ll believe angels exist!”
In the aptly titled “The Crossing Point,” Arrea takes his readers on a unique and quite unexpected journey through a hidden gate leading to an otherworld paradise where a teenaged boy named Jacob Parrish is confronted not only by the very real realization that angels do, in fact, exist (in his case, in the form of a fallen angel named Gotham), but that he, himself, is an unwitting member of a fraternity comprised of the offspring of these winged beings. It is, from the first sentence, the start of a smartly written and beguiling tale, rich with memorable characters readers would be hard-pressed to keep from not only leaping straight at them from off the pages, but pounce upon them in the process.
Arrea’s unhurried pace, character development and attention to detail is sure to earn him a legion of fans; fans who would be quite surprised to learn that “The Crossing Point” nearly never came to be because the journalist-turned-author doubted he had the skills to properly tell the story. He discusses the inspiration behind his promising series, the conversations he has regularly with his characters, and how singer Stevie Nicks ended up lending her voice to a pivotal scene in the story.
Question: First, the most obvious question: Do you believe in the existence of angels?
August Arrea: When I was about 8 or 9, I was a member of the Cub Scouts, and one weekend the troop I was in went up to the mountains on a trip. At one point during that trip, I wandered off by myself to go explore the woods and this nearby river. I had no business going off by myself, especially to go fool around near this river which was running dangerously full and, not surprisingly, I ended up slipping and falling into it. I felt the power of the water immediately as it instantly swept me up and it put the fear of God in me. Long story short, right before I was about to be taken into the section of river where the water was rough and really moving, and all hope for me to get out would have been lost, I floated underneath this large tree limb that had fallen across a portion of the river but was a good foot or two out of my reach overhead. I made a desperate reach for it and, hand to God, I felt something lift me upward just enough to where I could grab hold of the branch and pull myself to safety. Even then I knew something divine had intervened on my behalf. So to answer the question: absolutely, I most definitely believe in angels. And, yes, I also think they are bad asses exactly like Gotham.
Q: How did the idea for your Tales of the Nephilim Brotherhood series come about?
AA: The seed first planted itself in my consciousness about 25 years ago. I was watching TV late one night and there was a documentary, I believe on the History channel, about angels. There was a mention of Nephilim — not the kind like Jacob, but the giant, monster-like creations referred to in the Bible — and my attention just sort of diverted itself and a crude nugget that would eventually become the crux of “The Crossing Point” just dropped itself inside my head from out of nowhere. Yet despite thinking ‘hmm, this could have the makings of a pretty good and entertaining story,” it was a story I really had no interest in telling.
Q: How so?
AA: At the time, I was also just starting out as a reporter for a small newspaper on the West Coast where I wrote about real life people and events. And even though I was quite good at my job, and even won a few awards for my work, writing a full-blown book, and a fantasy one at that, was a whole other animal. I had never so much as written a short story. So the idea that I could just sit down and create a story that wouldn’t result in instant ridicule wasn’t something I really entertained with much seriousness. Eventually, though, my imagination started generating other story ideas. Curiosity got the better of me, and I took a stab at trying my hand at writing a thriller. Why a thriller and not the Nephilim story idea I had conjured up, you may be asking yourself? Because at the time thrillers, and vampires, were all the rage and in my thinking it was better to go with something that was popular with readers. So I cut my teeth by adding to the mix my own offering to the genre involving a serial killer and reincarnation, and that was my first big mistake. As intriguing a storyline as I believed I had come up with, my characters had no pulse. And the reason why they had no pulse, I came to realize, was because I wasn’t connecting to them. That became my first really important lesson when it came to writing: The story you wish to tell is only as good as how deeply invested you are to it, otherwise your characters are going to flatline no matter how hard you try to pump life into them.
Q: What finally changed your mind about writing “The Crossing Point”?
AA: When I was in the midst of writing my serial killer story, 9/11 happened, and like most other people it instantaneously made me see the world in a whole new light, only there wasn’t a lot of light being reflected back. Worse still, I soon after received news one night that my best friend who was more a brother to me had died tragically and it completely and utterly devastated my world. Any light that I still managed to see in the world completely extinguished itself right then and there and I went into a full-blown depression; so bad, in fact, that I began to fear that if I didn’t pull myself out of the darkness that had wrapped itself around me it would end up claiming me. I ended up turning to the only thing I could think of that might serve as a therapeutic life preserver which was writing. The first thing I did was put the serial killer story out of its misery and I took everything I had written and tossed it into the fireplace and it made for a nice fire. Not to knock serial killer or vampire books, but for me at the time — I just came to the conclusion going forward that if I was going to put anything out into the ether it was going to be something that drew people toward the light and not the dark, beginning most importantly with myself. And that’s when I decided to revisit the idea of the Nephilim series. And I’m so glad I did because the first book, especially, has been a surprisingly cathartic experience I wasn’t expecting as I found myself going on the same journey as some of the characters I was writing who have been touched by death and struggling to find answers and hope. That, in itself, has been worth more than anything else I could ever wish of getting in return for writing this series,.
Q: You officially began writing “The Crossing Point” on January 1, 2008. Why did it take until now for you to release it?
AA: I wanted to be certain that if I was going to ask readers to invest themselves in the worlds and the characters I wanted to introduce them to that I had what it took to produce the goods to make it worth their while. I wasn’t just writing one book but a series, and I wanted to know I was capable enough to captain this ship for the long journey ahead and not leave my readers suddenly discovering they had boarded the Titanic. Once I wrote the first book book, I felt like, “Ok, I think I might actually be able to do this.” Now that I have the second and third done, I feel this bottle of wine is ready to be uncorked and tasted.
Q: Which chapter and character in “The Crossing Point” is your favorite?
AA: One of my favorite chapters is when Jacob and Gotham arrive at Akdamar Island and meet Johiel. When I began writing this story, I didn’t want it to begin with ‘poof’ we’re in a completely fabricated world. When you write about angels—and to a larger extent Nephilim—you’re already fighting an uphill battle with some readers in really crafting a story that is believable and engaging enough to lose one’s self in, fantasy or not. I wanted my characters to be living beings straddling real places and moments in history so that the reader is left riding a seesaw where, maybe, every now and then he is forced to stop reading and do a quick Google search to determine what is actually reality and what is fantasy. Is there really a lake named Van Gölü? What about the Spear of Destiny? I feel the chapter where Johiel is introduced as the caretaker of the church on Akdamar island is a good example of where the tendrils of reality and fantasy in the book come together and entangle themselves with one another. Choosing who my favorite character, on the other hand, is almost impossible because I have come to have an unexpected affinity for several of them, and Johiel would most certainly be at the top of the list. But I will say this: I did not expect Jacob’s grandmother—the opera legend Ava Delacroux—to have the lasting impression that she would ultimately come to have on me. I found her to be a pretty fascinating and tough woman, and when I was in the midst of writing her I was completely engrossed by her tragic, yet heart-warming story. In many respects, it felt as though I was the reader who was learning the details of her life for the first time, even as I was the one who was moving her mouth. Her role in [The Crossing Point] isn’t very long but it’s pivotal, and when I knew the time I got to spend with her was nearing an end I had become so captivated by her I was, I have to say, a bit resistant in moving along and leaving her behind. Thankfully, I knew I would be visiting with her again later in the series.
Q: What did you find to be the most difficult in writing “The Crossing Point”?
AA: I think one would be hard-pressed to call [the series] a religious story. Yes, there are moments when religion and spirituality are touched upon; I am, after all, writing about angels and biblical lore, so how could it not? But I am also very much aware that people who possess them are very protective of their religious beliefs, myself included. So when I went into this I was extremely mindful throughout the process of steering clear of even the appearance that I was fiddling with or rewriting established canon when it comes to religion. I did not want this book to be a pulpit for preaching to my readers. Do my characters struggle with questions that we all do concerning the divine and spirituality? Absolutely. But at the end of the day what I ultimately wanted this story to be was an engaging coming-of-age story with characters who just happened to possess wings, and who, every now and then, wax philosophical.
Q: How did Stevie Nicks come to inspire your story?
AA: Being a long-time fan of both Fleetwood Mac and her as a solo artist, I have a ridiculously huge library of unreleased demos and early versions of songs she’s done throughout her career. One of those demos, entitled “Sanctuary,” I heard for the first time right around the time the idea for this series made itself known to me and it completely blew me away. I mean I had that song — in all it’s demo versions — on repeat mode for the longest time, and whenever I listened to it this sweet image always managed to flash inside my head of a young boy and girl dancing together. When I eventually began writing the book that song and image stayed with me and I knew it would need to find its way into the story. The lyrics to the song mirror perfectly not only the circumstances of the budding relationship Jacob has with Wray just as he comes to learn this unbelievable secret concerning himself, but the evolution their relationship will take as the series unfolds. And let’s be honest: who better to offer cosmic wisdom about love between a young woman and a teenaged Nephilim boy than the Gold Dust Woman herself, am I right?
Q: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing this book?
AA: I was a bit taken aback by how tight of a bond an author can forge with the characters he or she creates. There’s a movie that tells the story of Charles Dickens when he wrote ‘A Christmas Story’ called ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas.’ In it was a scene where his characters one-by-one began to come forth and introduce themselves to Dickens, and, well, let’s just say it was a very relatable thing to see. I definitely have a relationship with my characters that extend far beyond the pages where the words shape their existence, and that I’m sure would prove quite intriguing to a psychiatrist if I were seeing one. These characters of mine each have a heartbeat, and a unique voice, both of which have met my ears on numerous occasions. I can’t tell you the insightful conversations I have with them about themselves and certain aspects of the story I’ve placed them in, particularly when I go out at night with my pup for a stroll around the neighborhood.
Q: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
AA: Both! There are days I can’t wait to sit down at my laptop and get my fingers to tapping. I enjoy being with my characters and tagging along with them like a fly-on-the-wall observer on their journeys. The hours fly by when I’m in that zone and when it’s time to step away it’s almost always with a weight of resistance and I can’t wait for the sun to spin back around the earth so I can get back to that other world. That said, I am also, more often than not, a slow writer. Even though I may know intimately the scene I am trying to write from beginning to end, finding the exact combination of words to string together in order to shape it can sometimes be a torturous and maddening experience. I can write page after page with little pause, and then there are times I can spend literally an entire day anguishing over the jumble of words I am attempting to knit together and have nothing more than a single paragraph to show for my efforts.
Q: How many books have you written and which is your favorite?
AA: The first three books of the series are finished, and I have already started on the fourth. I’m looking at releasing the second book [“The Seventh Grace”] hopefully before the year’s end, and the third book [“The Beloved Exiles”] sometime in the first half of next year. Having to choose which is my favorite would be a bit like trying to answer which of one’s children do you like best. But I will say there’s something about “The Beloved Exiles” that while writing it took a surprising turn with me. And I’ll leave it at that.
Q: What advice would you give other authors just starting out?
AA: Believe in yourself and in the story you wish to tell. I wish I had had more confidence in my ability to tell this story when it first germinated inside my brain. The thing with writing, like most art, is, it’s a very personal thing. In many ways, you are revealing a glimpse into your soul for all the world to see and, even more so, to judge. It can be a less than pleasant experience and, unfortunately, the one hurdle you can’t sidestep.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
AA: There’s a scene in a chapter in [“The Crossing Point”] where Jacob shares something quite personal with Johiel while looking out over the waters of the Van Gölü from the shore of Akdamar Island and Johiel tells him: “Even in the grimmest of tragedies, Light, if you choose to see it, glimmers.” I began this book when I was in the darkest chapter of my own life and it helped draw me back towards the light; truly! Today, we are all of us living in what is undoubtedly grim and dark times on so many fronts. I’m hoping this series does for those who choose to read it the same thing the dawn of movies did for folks during the Great Depression or during World War II by transporting them to a place where their troubles, if only briefly, are forgotten. And Light, if you choose to see it, does still glimmer.