In Devil Music, the debut novel of Carly Orosz ’07, demons are friendly fellows, hiding their long tails down their pant legs and their stubby horns in masses of messy hair. They munch on the raw flesh of the random pigeon and rat and rock out to hair metal music.
The hero of Carly’s occult urban fantasy, Cain, is one such demon, enslaved by a cruel human master, but on temporary reprieve from his enslavement while completing a mission for said master. He is to retrieve a reluctant girl for his master’s unenticing son, but instead, finds himself falling in love with the girl, Michelle, while becoming the lead singer for a rock band called Pseudomantis. What young rebel girl can resist a rock star who sets her fervent televangelist father on edge? Luckily, she finds his scaly demonic identity sexy.
“The idea for the novel germinated during my senior year at K,” Carly says. “I was looking for something to read while taking a plane trip.”
What caught Carly’s eye during her search for reading material was a book by sociologist Jeffrey S. Victor, Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend. She settled into its pages, during the plane ride and after landing, and was drawn into its world.
“I was surprised to find this bizarre time in recent history, in the 1980s and early 90s, when hundreds of people across the United States—religious leaders, mental health professionals, police—believed in these satanic cults that were supposedly kidnapping and abusing children and doing horrible things, like playing in rock bands. I was fascinated to learn about the psychology of witch hunts, why people come to fear something they don’t understand.”
An English major at Kalamazoo College, and later earning an MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College, Carly’s interests also included anthropology and sociology. Her Senior Individualized Project was a series of poems inspired by anthropology. Researching this time period when people created cults out of rock musicians (and perceived cults where there were none) appealed to Carly’s sociological and anthropological interests to the degree that she found herself working on a manuscript.
“After I read Victor’s book, I watched a lot of old horror movies and I researched the war on demons,” she says. “I found a dictionary of demons in a Chicago bookstore and read about the folklore of demonology. I latched onto this idea in western society about demons doing your bidding and becoming the slaves of humans.”
It was clear to Carly that her fantasy novel would be set in the 1980s. She created Cain as a sympathetic, even soft-hearted, demon, misunderstood by most, treated harshly by some, taken advantage by others, idolized by still others. He finds solace in his rock music (with demonic special effects on stage), and the band that shapes around him is a colorful group of misfits, each with some super power, not always used for good. Cain is accused of turning youth to satanic worship, harassed by a caricature of a televangelist, but in fact he takes on a redeeming key role in solving mysterious murders that draw ever closer to him and his mates. A battle of good versus evil brings the story to a satisfying end.
When the novel was completed, Carly turned to others for first reads and opinions. What was first “a simple love story with an open ending that would allow for a sequel,” would go through a series of rewrites and cuts.
“My dad read the early manuscript and made suggestions,” Carly nods. “I talked to a couple of professors at Sarah Lawrence, and they were very intrigued. I had a connection with a Random House editor who suggested I cut the original manuscript from its 250,000 words to 150,000.”
Carly landed somewhere in between with her cuts, but one idea held. She felt her novel had a market, but she wanted to keep control over its marketing and decided to self-publish. LogSine Labs, LLC, was born and she published her book under its auspices in April 2014. A website corresponded with the novel, and featured on the website is a comic with Cain, his band, and various other characters from the novel.
“I call it a webcomic, because right now it’s only on the web,” she says. “Before I started writing Devil Music, I had visualized it as a graphic novel. I publish one webcomic per week, and it fills the time period between this novel and the coming sequel. I write the script and send it to the artist in California to add the graphic images.”
Another unique marketing concept Carly has developed together with her husband, Stephen Robbins ’05, is what they call “traveling books.”
“I intend to bring a few copies along to each book signing I do, where I can then hand them out, free of charge, to people who seem interested in the book but might be reluctant to buy from an unknown author. The traveling books are accompanied by a note encouraging people who read the book to leave their reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, so they would have a dual benefit.”
In writing Devil Music, Carly’s hope has been to look at the mythology surrounding the 1980s hair metal rock bands and offer a different perspective. “It’s a misunderstood culture,” she says. “The message of the novel is to be a little more open-minded – welcome the stranger.”
Carly credits Kalamazoo College writer-in-residence, Diane Seuss, with early encouragement to develop her imagination and writing skills.
“She was very good at teaching me to reign in my creativity,” Carly says. “The first day of creative writing class, teachers usually just tell you to just ‘write a poem.’ But she gave us much more structure and discipline, and I’m grateful for that.”