Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mark Teppo's Codex of Souls Seeks the Light

I began writing this blog the first weekend in September, but incoming projects and deadlines prohibited me from finishing the blog post at that time. So, what follows is what I initially wrote, and then I will continue on from there.

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On Tuesday I delivered the final edited manuscript for Mark Teppo's novel Heartland: The Second Book of the Codex of Souls to publisher Night Shade Books. The due date for delivery of the edited manuscript was that day, September 1, but the manuscript had in fact been completed a few days prior. I told Mark that I would sit on it until the 1st just in case he or I came up with any thoughts, issues, or last minute edits. Neither of us did, which is always a good sign.

Just as a point of information, the
"Codex of Souls" is a planned ten-book series, though I believe only the first three titles, so far, have a home at Night Shade Books. Personally, I have no doubt that all ten books will assuredly see publication. Book one, Lightbreaker, was published this past June, and Heartland will be forthcoming in early 2010. Each book contains a teaser for the next title in the series; book 3, Angel Tongue, is scheduled for publication in 2011.

I've been working on Heartland for most of this past month. I read through the author's manuscript twice: making notes and minor edits the first time, then I gave the manuscript an intensive editing review the second time around -- sending the author an email as each question/concern arose. At this stage I was working on hardcopy -- I only edit on hardcopy! Once the editing and review was complete, I then keyed in all the edits and notes directly into the author's manuscript file using MS Word's "change tracking." Without "change tracking" I would be forced to deal with hardcopy from start to finish: I would have had to photocopy the marked-up pages and mail them to the author. However, "change tracking" negates the need for all of that. For those unfamiliar with "change tracking": My initial edits/changes are entered in a red font; the author's follow-up edits/changes are entered in blue. So it is easy to keep track of who entered what. Plus, anything deleted is automatically moved into a box in the right margin so one can view deletes as well as adds. And, of course, any change can be rejected by either person. Comments can also be added anywhere, when necessary, to explain edits, to ask questions/clarifications, etc. A great little tool. How did we survive without this years ago? Yeah, I know, photocopy and mail.

So far Mark and I have churned out at least 165 Heartland-related emails discussing the finer (and not so finer) points in the manuscript.

Before I proceed any further, I would like to include an excerpt here from Heartland -- just one paragraph from the hundreds of paragraphs and more than 132,000 words -- with Mark Teppo's permission, of course:

It's a funny way to remember someone: as a sensory phantom haunting you when they are gone. They become a collection of elusive details; you cannot remember them completely, and the more you struggle to put the puzzle together, the more you obsess about the gaps between the pieces. But, when you find these people again, when you crush them to you and inhale their smell, when you hear their voice, when you feel their touch, the pieces arrange themselves and you can’t fathom how you didn't see the whole picture before.

When I read words strung together into sentences to form a paragraph like this one -- well, all is right with the world. (What? You were expecting a quote of some heinous deed, or of some magickal display of power? -- Ahh, but I'm a romantic at heart.)

If the Codex of Souls series had to be classified/boxed/labeled, then I would be forced to say it is Urban Fantasy (with a strong male protagonist). But this series is so much more than that. I don't read much contemporary fantasy these days, as the stories are so overrun with romantic supernatural vamipiric zombies, but you won't find any of that in the Codex of Souls. Blue Tyson, in his
mini review, called Lightbreaker "An urban fantasy novel that is a lot more Hellblazer, Mage and Highlander than it is high heels, hot pants and horizontal vampire mambo. There's even a Watcher society and sword fighting." Lupa, at Pagan Book Reviews, writes: "Teppo's story is based on Western Occultism, particularly Qabalah and other forms of ceremonial magic. To be sure, there's a lot of fantasy element to it -- souls shoving each other out of bodies with visible results, qlipothic spirits zapping rival mages -- but the author knows his stuff as far as basic Western magical theory goes."

Recently, I was
interviewed by Charles Tan for his Bibliophile Stalker blog. In that interview I mention one summer during college in which I had read Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road – all in succession. If Lightbreaker had been published at that point of time in my life, the book would have fit in quite perfectly between Castaneda and Kesey. How about that for a summer's beach-reading experience!

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Okay, I'm back to the present day. As I said, I turned in the final edited manuscript of Heartland on September 1 to Night Shade Books. Using this ms. file, Ross Lockhart did the page layout; he then mailed me a hardcopy (435 pages, including the book three teaser) and emailed me a PDF of the layout file itself. I copyedited and proofed the page layouts through most of last week. I then sent my list of copyedits to the author, and I am now awaiting his review and input. The page proof edits need to be delivered by October 6, and Mark and I are on track to meet that deadline.

[As an aside: Author Scott Berkun has posted a very helpful blog piece -- "
How copyediting looks and feels" -- in which he details the relationship between the copyeditor and the author. Though his emphasis is on nonfiction books, the relationship remains the same in fiction as well. It's amazing how much fact-checking is required in a novel such as Lightbreaker or Heartland. As a copyeditor, I gained some insight from Scott's perspective on copyediting. If you're an author, you'll find Scott's essay worthwhile because he explains his responsibilities as the author in the copyediting process.]

Now, how this project all came about: I was contacted by Night Shade Books in early 2008 about editing a new novel by Mark Teppo. At the time I was unfamiliar with the author's previous work and I don't recall if I was even informed that this novel was the first in a series. (I was contacted via telephone so, unlike email, I have no record of that conversation.)

When I acquire a book for publication, I am usually familiar with the author's work, and I've already read, at least once, the novel I'm acquiring. In the case of a collection, I may have read some of the submitted stories two or three times in order to find that overall vision of what this collection can be. But in the case of Lightbreaker, I didn't quite know what to expect. I had to hope that Night Shade had me specifically in mind for this project, that because they knew of my previous work, they felt that Mark, Lightbreaker, and I would be a good fit.

The manuscript was handed to me, so to speak, with a firm publication deadline already set; I was provided the author's contact information and given permission to communicate directly with him. I sent Mark a lengthy email on 4 April 2008 in which I introduced myself. [Note: Not all publishers grant permission for a freelance editor to contact an author directly; occasionally, I don't want to have anything to do with contacting a particular author directly!]

Mark Teppo is the first author in my ten years in this business to provide me with a "style guide." Now a style guide can be many things. I create one for every book that I edit: I break it down by chapters (and even sections, if necessary), listing the characters that appear in each chapter, where the characters are physically, any special places, items, etc. that are introduced in that chapter, and so on. So if a character, who hasn't appeared in the story for a number of chapters, shows up in a chapter at a certain time/place, I can look back through my style guide and see where he was at his previous appearance. This is how I find inconsistencies in the story arc, holes in the plot, inadvertent swapping of character names, and so on. For Heartland, Mark's style guide listed the eight ranks of the Watchers (and necessary details, like the number of levels in a given rank and the number of Watchers allowed at the higher ranks), the names (both real and assigned) of the nine Architects (the second highest rank, under the one Hierarch), the ten spheres of the Tree of Sephiroth, a listing of all other proper names (historical and fictional) and place names, and a section entitled "Foreign Words and Other Outlandish Entries."

There is quite a lot of Latin phrases spoken throughout the Codex of Souls series, but Mark does a solid job of letting the reader know what is being said, so I never felt lost or left out, so to speak, by not having an understanding of Latin.

So what makes the Codex of Souls such a unique series -- other than what you have read so far in this blog entry? The protagonist is Landis Michael Markham; typically he just goes by Markham, occasionally Michael, but rarely Landis. The source of his power -- his magick (with a "k") -- comes from the Chorus: a composite of all the soul energy, or spirit light, that he has taken from others. Thus his name: Lightbreaker. The focal point of the Chorus is in the white braid of hair that Markham "wears" around his neck -- a token of love from a witch. In an email dated 29 April, Mark Teppo explained this token to me: "The braid of hair is Reija's, and it still contains part of her essence. It's her gift to him, and it grounds him enough that the Chorus couldn't dominate him completely. So, in a way, it holds the Chorus in, more than holding them as in a receptacle. Over time, it has become bonded to his skin and has become a part of him (but not noticeably so, it's just one of those things that looks like a tight choker until you try to get it off). It's a symbol, really, of the fact that someone loved him once, even though he had become a monster, and so, like the dark egg in his belly, it has become the white crown (albeit slipped) that also defines him."

Markham also carries with him an excessive amount of baggage (and I'm not talking about carry-on luggage, either, though he does travel -- from the Pacific Northwest in Lightbreaker, to Paris in Heartland, and there are hints of travels to the Far East and elsewhere in these stories). An incident in a wooded area more than ten years ago had a devastating effect on him: his heart was metaphorically ripped from his chest, and the resulting "hole" in his body -- and psyche -- allowed the qliphoth (that "dark egg in his belly" to which Mark refers) to enter. In a 9 April email, Mark defined the "qliphoth" as "Demons, essentially. The shells left behind by the divine light." And he pointed me to the
Wikipedia qliphoth entry, particularly Israel Regardie's interpretation. I'll leave you to pursue this on your own should you so choose.

I don't want to write anything further on Markham, or the Chorus, or of the qliphoth, because I don't want readers to accuse me of giving away (too many) spoilers in either novel. But if a literate Urban Fantasy novel, with Western occult magick at its core, intrigues you, then I strongly encourage you to read Lightbreaker. (And I'm not simply recommending this book because I edited it.) This novel is an original paperback, so even at its retail price, you're looking at only $7.99 (plus tax, if applicable).

Before concluding, I'd like to quote from two additional reviews just to give you more of the flavor of the Codex of Souls series. From author Tim Pratt's review of Lightbreaker in the September 2009 issue of Locus: "Though the piling-up of occult details does make this world's magical system seem intricate and believable, Markham's ruminations and visions can go on too long, and aren't nearly as much fun as the various set pieces involving electrified iron maidens, booksellers transformed into Milton-quoting oracles, brutal magical duels, shambling soulless zombie hordes, and scenes of truly impressive magical devastation. Still, Teppo's preoccupation with profound questions of human purpose and potential make this deeper and more thought-provoking than your average urban fantasy." However, what Pratt seems critical of -- "Markham's ruminations and visions can go on too long" -- are what I find to be some of the most compelling aspects of the novel, and what differentiates this novel from other, more typical, fantasies (urban or otherwise). As the editor, I will be the first to admit that occasionally Markham's cogitations tend to be a bit over the top (I even stated this specifically to Mark in an email dated 16 April 2008), but Markham is a true scholar of the occult -- as well as being a loner -- and he is solidly in character during these periods. In fact, it is fascinating to watch his mind, and his spirit, at work, deconstructing the obstacles he encounters.

And from Rick Kleffel's
The Agony Column for 06-01-09: "...Teppo's Markham is no average supernatural crime-solver, and Lightbreaker is a book awash not just in the surreal, but also in the deeply researched field of magick. Yes, that's right, magick with a 'k.' Aleister Crowley, Iron Maidens and the stolen souls of lots of people, and I mean lots of people. Think of all that energy, all the power there. You could pull off something really nasty." And you'll just have to read the book (if you haven't done so already) to find out just what that "something really nasty" is.

But in the meantime, there is the novella "Wolves, In Darkness," which Mark Teppo has published online, and is available for free. This novella is a good introduction to the world of Lightbreaker, but it can also be read after this first novel because the events in "Wolves" are referenced at length in Heartland. In a Night Shade interview on 13 June 2009, Mark Teppo explained: "I wrote 'Wolves, In Darkness' to try to do two things: one, introduce the back history between Antoine [Briande] and Markham a bit, as it may seem a bit oblique in Lightbreaker (neither of them really wants to talk about it). It doesn't contain any spoilers for Lightbreaker, really, but it'll give you a better understanding of why those two are pissed at each other. And two, it is back story that introduces some of the major players in Heartland."

This interview also sheds a wee bit of light (no pun intended) on the other volumes in the Codex of Souls series.

All in a day's work.


The cover illustrations for both Lightbreaker and Heartland are by the inestimable
Chris McGrath. The cover shown for Heartland is only a preliminary design, and will undoubtedly change to some degree before the book is published in early 2010.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Mark Teppo for allowing me to quote from his texts and our email communications in this blog entry. Since April 2008, Mark and I have amassed more than 400 emails in the process of working on these two novels. It's been a pure joy (and intellectual challenge) for me, and I look forward to the next book, Angel Tongue, which I assume he will begin writing shortly. (Hint! Hint!) Mark and I have never met in person, and that will hopefully be remedied at the end of October when we both attend the
2009 World Fantasy Convention in San Jose, California.

And lastly, I couldn't resist (Sorry, Mark!) including a photo of the author in his more formal attire. You'll find a complete explanation of the bunny suit on his website:

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Update: Thursday, October 15:

As I had previously mentioned, the cover for Heartland has been finalized, and since it is so much sweeter than the preliminary cover pictured above, I wanted to include it here -- especially since it matches the Lightbreaker cover so well.

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