It should be the title of a reality show.
The episodes would be variously subtitled:
– “Are you crazy? Seriously?”,
– “Just look at how many books you’re going to have to read first,”
… and – the for the knockout stage: ” You know that there’s nine separate versions of who’s an Archangel and who isn’t, don’t you? And NONE of them agree!”
So, you want to write about angels? Be prepared for a lot of reading, a lot of head scratching and a LOT of names ending in –iel.
Let’s not even start on the fact that half of these angels have more than one name, or are only sometimes who you think they are.
Imagine my joy on having waded through all the possible combinations of Archangels, only to discover that sometimes (on Tuesdays, Thursdays and bank holidays, presumably) Zerachiel is also Araqael; Raphael occasionally goes by the names Ruhiel, Ruagel and Ruahel… and Sidriel apparently job-shares the Archangel role with Pazriel.
I can only imagine the number of coffee mugs they must keep in their office kitchen.
I shouldn’t whine. It was all my own fault. I could have played it safe and stuck with the more traditional stories and mythos – the Nephilim, for a start. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to do something that was mine. Like I said: all my own fault.
The problem with angels is that they come with baggage. We’ve seen them before and we know who and what they are, what they’re capable of. You either accept this, or you have to be prepared to put in the effort to do something else – and that means doing some research.
I made a conscious decision to stop reading other angel-related fiction while I was working on Blood and Feathers. I’d read a few books before that – largely because I was interested in angels – but they tended to be YA paranormal books and luckily were very different to the book I wanted to write. Realising Supernatural was introducing angels was a pain: I’d devoured the first couple of seasons on DVD… but the second Castiel popped up, I had to put that on hiatus too, at least until I’d finished that first book. The problem there was that I knew we’d be doing the same kind of thing: I’d fallen in love with the early seasons of the show because it felt like it had been written just for me. It matched my inside of my head so perfectly that I genuinely wondered whether someone had been following me when I spent all that time in the Folklore library at university, reading books on demonology.
What? Like you wouldn’t, if you realized your university had a “Demonology” section?
I started looking for angels who didn’t come with much baggage. The heavy-hitters were unavoidable – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael do all turn up in my books, and to a certain degree they’re pretty much who you’d expect them to be. Mallory, arguably the most prominent of the angels in the story of either Blood and Feathers or Rebellion was completely mine, even down to his name.
Most of the others, though, I went looking for.
While I did some research online, most of it came down to books – one in particular: A Dictionary of Angels, compiled by Gustav Davidson. Not only does it list thousands (literally) of angels, it also helps pin down all the variant spellings of their names, their attributes and a bewildering list of alternate titles. “Angel of the 6th Heaven, ministering to the officialdom of the West and South” anyone? All jokes aside, this book has been utterly invaluable. My copy’s filled with post-its and bookmarks and annotations and I’d be completely lost without it.
Vhnori, for instance, is one of the two angels connected to the star sign of Sagittarius. That’s all the book tells you about him, which was perfect for me – and Vhnori became Vin, a major character in the books. (If you’re interested in this sort of thing, the other Sagittarian angel is Saritiel… who became Vin’s on-off-it’s-complicated girlfriend.)
When I wanted a new Archangel, I found Zadkiel. Traditionally one of the “chieftains” of the angels – whatever that means – he’s connected to mercy and to memory. It was natural, then, that he became the Archangel responsible for keeping the war between the angels and the Fallen hidden from the world, and was able to see into the minds of others. Logical, too, that he would become Michael’s lieutenant: his tendency towards mercy keeping Michael’s “burn first, ask questions later” approach in check.
The same is true of the Fallen. As much as possible, I’ve tried to use only names already attributed to fallen angels for my own take on them. Take Xaphan: the book lists him as a demon of the “second rank”, who joined the rebel angels in the Fall, and was welcomed for his inventive, creative mind. True to form, he became one of Lucifer’s generals and the Fallen’s resident inventor, doing everything in his lab from coming up with torture devices to keeping the hellmouths open and even making mobile phones work underground. He’s a tricky one, Xaph, and I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.
So I shouldn’t complain. At all. Not even a bit. Yes, if you want to build a mythology from the ground up (or the sky down…), there’s a lot of reading to do, and you need to be prepared to do it. But once you start, it’ll pay back the effort a hundredfold. And you might even start to have fun. I did. I still am.
Blood and Feathers and Blood and Feathers: Rebellion are both out now from Solaris.
Lou’s blog is here and well worth reading.
Here’s a Goodreads group for the first book.
The angelic cookies in the photo above were made by Madnad aka The Mutherfudger. The baker of choice for British genre fiction she can be found here.