Clearing the mist: My African Immortals in Blood Prophecy

Recently, I heard Terry McMillan read from Getting to Happy, this fall’s forthcoming sequel to Waiting to Exhale—and she mentioned that she had to re-read her watershed novel to research the new one.  After all, we forget our characters’ voices, occupations and quirks.  (Heck, sometimes we forget their names!)

Writing Blood Prophecy is a particular challenge in that regard because it is the fourth book in my African Immortals series that began with My Soul to Keep in 1997.  The series follows the lives of mortals and immortals who have contact with Living Blood that can heal any ailment almost instantly, examining issues of life, loss and mortality.

What would it be like if we could live forever?

My Soul to Keep was followed by The Living Blood in 2001 and, finally, Blood Colony in 2008.  (OK, so it was a long wait.  I didn’t know the series was going to continue!)

Each novel is intended as a stand-alone novel for new readers, but as the author I have to continually check in to make sure I know who’s who and what’s what.  Just to make it interesting this time around, I’ve added a pop star named Phoenix I introduced in a completely unrelated novel entitled Joplin’s Ghost.

My African Immortals novels always challenge me because of the fantasy aspect, historical research and character quirks related to their incredible longevity. I’m also asking questions about human nature.

This time around, I’m also realizing that I have a bit more to learn about my African Immortals themselves.  The premise of My Soul to Keep was that 59 Ethiopian immortals live in an underground colony in Lalibela, Ethiopia.  They were mostly off-stage during the first book, but I actually took my characters to the colony in The Living Blood.

Even so, I’m realizing that I have a lot to learn about them.  I try never to retread old ground in a new book, which means I’m having to open up my world a bit.

And while much of the series has focused on a reader favorite named Dawit, he has dozens of Life Brothers I’m still learning about as I go.  With advice from my husband and soulmate, Steven Barnes, I’m now writing an essay to fill in some of the foggy aspects of who these men are and what makes them tick. I’ll be writing a similar essay about my antagonist, who was introduced in Blood Prophecy.

What is their history?  What are their desires?  How can I humanize them?  My essays will be very similar to the writing exercises I assign my MFA students and coaching clients.  And why not?

The longer I write, the more I have to learn.

Blood Prophecy will be published in 2011.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Clearing the mist: My African Immortals in Blood Prophecy

  1. Love hearing the journey of a writer. Awesome!

  2. Lucia Rossi

    Wow, Tananarive,
    You should publish your essays, and drafts for your grateful followers. I myself love to hear all the inside info into one of my all time favorite stories.
    : )

  3. I don’t think I’ll ever read 32 CANDLES again. I find it hard to re-read my own work for anything outside of editing, b/c I get too frustrated about things I might have changed or written differently. I just finished my rough draft of my second women’s fiction novel and I couldn’t bring myself to re-read 32, though two of the characters in it become major characters in the second novel. This really has me wondering how many authors re-read their on own work. I wish we could take a poll…

    • Ernessa–I feel you, I feel you, I feel you. It’s hard to look at the typos. It’s hard to read the awkward phrases. Steve is exactly like you, but I’ll tell you the truth: I like re-reading my books, sometimes even when I’m not researching. I can’t lie. Deep down, I guess I always felt like I was writing them for me…and I’m still surprised that I get to share them with other people. I have to delve into THE LIVING BLOOD now, and I’m looking forward to it…despite some feelings I’ll have about passages that needed pruning. (That manuscript was 700-plus pages long! I would never dream of turning in a book that size now. It’s hard to imagine, anyway.) I want to let enough time pass and then read THE GOOD HOUSE again–which will be tough, since it spent so much time in screenplay development. But if I wait long enough, I forget plenty.

  4. Carmen Maness

    I got your book My Soul to Keep in 2007 as a gift. I was depressed at the time. My friend gave it to me thinking it was a religious book. I started read ing it and couldn’t put it down. I read the next book right after. Waited next year for the last. I am so intrigued by your facts, with fiction. I cried when they entered the colony and saw the picture of Jesus. I was so glad to see it, I always wondered how they could portray him as scrauny man, being a perfect human born of the holy spirit. I want to see these books brought to life. Have you ever pitched Tyler Perry or someone? HBO, maybe to do it. If they read it they couldn’t refuse Looking foward to the next book. You beat out Twilight,TRue Blood and Spartcus on a bad day. LOVE YOU>I’m about to red Joplin’s Ghost.

  5. Mrs.Bell

    The first book I read was Blood Colony maybe a year back by a chance pick in the library. I couldn’t put it down it was unlike anything I have ever read and I devour paranormal romance. By the way paranormal romance is looking really weak after reading your books now. However after reading Blood Colony and doing some research to find that it is actually a part of a series, as a matter of fact the last part, the bookworm in me became depressed. I didn’t know if you would ever write the next African Immortals book. I tried to go back to my other authors but again in the library I eventually made my way back finding The Good House and in a month I have read that, Black Rose, My Soul to Keep, Joplins Ghost, and the first Tennyson Hardwich novel. I am so excited to have read this blog (a little late) and see that you are working on a fourth African Immortals novel. I don’t know what I am going to do when I have read all of your work. There is nothing as satisfying out there, at least not that I have found. Thank you.

  6. Ebony

    Mrs.Due
    I am seriously on pins and needles waiting for the blood prophecy. I just wanted to let you know how much your creativity and skill in story telling is appreciated in a time were entertainment has become saturated with junk. You have truly become one of my favorites.
    Ebony

  7. Ebony

    You’ve just made my week!
    I actually got use to calling it Blood Prophecy but, the truth is you could call it Blood Boogie and I would still by 10 copies to give at Christmas. Congratulations
    Ebony

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