Our Great Abbess by C.L. Holmes

Our Great Abbess by C.L. Holmes
Our Great Abbess by C.L. Holmes

In the interest of full disclosure, I was fortunate to read an early draft of C.L. Holmes’s Our Great Abbess, and I enjoyed it so much, I asked if I could publish it. Read more about Abbess below, or go get it here.

Our Great Abbess blends historical fiction and religious horror to tell a compelling tale of cloistered nuns in a secluded mountain abbey, under siege by starvation, disease, marauders, and internal sabotage.

The young nuns of St. Agnes Convent face starvation, and there is no money in the treasury because the former prioress went mad and gave it all away. (Mad Reverend Mother Oxtierna has been banished to the abbey’s dungeon.) The Governing Mothers reach out to Baron Jack for help, but he denies them. A plague has wiped out much of the population of Europe, and war with a neighboring kingdom is imminent. The Baron can’t spare any resources for the Sisters unless he gets something in return: he wants one of the young nuns to serve as a sex slave for his army.

Shocked and disgusted the Mothers reject the Baron’s offer. But things go from bad to worse. The villagers think the woods surrounding the abbey are haunted by vengeful spirits and refuse to help. Friars from a brother are friendly, but also destitute. Scouting parties sent out for help have never returned.

Prioress-by-default Tabitha musters the courage to accept the Baron’s offer. She will sacrifice herself to the Baron’s savages so that the rest of the nuns can survive. But the Baron’s offer has changed. Now he wants all the nuns in the Abby as sex slaves, though Tabitha can spare one girl.

Our Great Abbess traverses some dark waters and doesn’t pull punches. Nightly rapes by masked marauders are just the beginning of the horrors the sisters of St. Agnes Convent must endure. But the novel ultimately empowers women rather than objectifies them.

Abbess is a book filled with powerful women who rise up no matter how desperate the situation or unrightous the indignity. Tabitha kicks ass, outwitting her male suppressors to keep the Abbey going at all cost.

“As Tabitha saw it, the convent was a transition point between the world and heaven.”

Tabitha is joined by a cast of equally strong and memorable women. Wicked and mad Oxtierna. The naïve but not-so-innocent Marta. Suspicious and conniving Isadore. Our Great Abbess is a big, sprawling novel, but the pacing is strong throughout, buoyed by a driving narrative, interesting sub-plots, and beautiful language.

The male supporting cast gets some of the books best lines, like these from a maudlin Baron Jack:

“It is inevitable. Life is just our fattening ourselves for the dirt maw, standing precariously on its lip, then it’s in we go.”

And Tabitha’s faithful servant Clovis contemplates the nature of suffering and God’s plan for each of us.

“There are no ‘supposed to be’s.’ God gives us what we are, and changes his mind on occasion, and we’re left to deal with the reality of it.”

Our Great Abbess reads as if John Jakes penned a round robin novel with George R.R. Martin, Clive Barker and Umberto Eco. The novel bristles with historical intrigue, authentic dialogue, genuine suspense and no-holds-barred horrors.

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Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n Roll, and Tentacles! or Why My Debut Novel Sucks

Hangman's Jam: A Symphony of Terror by Rob Errera.
My debut novel, Hangman’s Jam: A Symphony of Terror.

Hey, I wrote a novel. It’s called Hangman’s Jam, and it’s awesome, probably the best book ever written, and definitely the best book you will ever read.

It’s packed with love, sex, death, murder, music, mayhem, and cosmic monsters. Check it out for yourself.

But first, let me tell you what blows about my debut novel.

Hangman’s Jam is a rock ‘n roll horror novel about a haunted song that gets passed along through the musical generations. It winds up in the hands of a New Jersey bar band, which rides it to worldwide success…and global destruction.

Hangman’s Jam may not be my greatest creative achievement, but it’s certainly one I’ve put a lot of time and effort into.

But it could’ve been better.

Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind 

Since my novel is about music, specifically rock music, I incorporated many classic rock lyrics into the text. This gave the work an extra credibility, like my haunted song had always existed alongside these classic tunes. It showcased how music and life are interwoven. I packed my novel with all sorts of musical quotes, some subtle, some overt. I polished that draft until it was pretty good. I polished it until it sang.

Then I began researching the legal ramifications of using song lyrics in literary works, and quickly realized I was in deep doo-doo.

You can use song titles as much as you like, but using lyrics without permission and compensation is a big legal no-no.

A friend of mine was writing a follow-up to her bestselling cat story (Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper). Her cat is named Prudence, and one of her characters invites the stray tabby to “come out and play.”

What Cooper found when she ran her manuscript by the Beatles estate was it would cost a couple thousand dollars to use two lines from “Dear Prudence,” plus three cents per copy sold in perpetuity.

I’m sure Paul and Ringo don’t need to make a few hundred dollars off a struggling writer. But evidently their lawyers think otherwise, as do the majority of music publishing attorneys.

Lawyers Can’t Dance

As a songwriter, I understand the reason for this legal protection. You can’t have people stealing your lyrics.

But all art builds on the art that came before it. Why can’t I use a piece of another artist’s creation to illustrate my own? Hip-hop producers do it all the time!

If I wrote a book called Attack Of The 50-Foot Steve Buscemi, Steve Buscemi could rightfully say I was using his name and likeness for financial gain. Still, somehow Being John Malkovich got made. It’s possible, but in the case of my work—a novel that was liberally sprinkled with musical quotations—it wasn’t financially feasible to get all the rights and permissions I needed to write the book I wanted to write.

So I rewrote the novel, and took all the musical quotes out.

It irritates me. Why can’t one confused character say to another, “There will be an answer. Let it be”? Well, you might get away with it in a mystery or romance novel, but in the context of musical fiction it’s asking for legal trouble. As a result, my characters now say, “We’ll let the music speak for itself,” instead of, “We’ll let the music do the talkin'” for fear of being sued by Aerosmith’s attorneys.

The final published draft of Hangman’s Jam is still pretty strong. I hope you’ll check it out and see for yourself (you can find both print and digital editions on Amazon, Barnes&Noble.com, iTunes, etc.) Maybe if enough people buy it, I’ll have the means to publish a revised edition with the music put back in.

Until then, jam on!

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, January 2013