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Cesar is the author of the standalone novel “The 13 Secret Cities” the book series "How to Kill a Superhero" (under the pen name Pablo Grene). He is also the creator and publisher of Solar Six Books.

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How A Sci-fi Novel Introduced Me to a Bloodthirsty Aztec God


The Aztec God Xipe Totec and his multiple names

Note from Cesar Torres

Today marks the celebration of Independence Day in Mexico, when the Mexican people liberated themselves from colonial Spanish rule in 1810. It’s an auspicious date, because it also marks the beginning of the new mini-series Caught Up In The Coil here on my site. The series amplifies the concepts of how Aztec thought and religion impacted not just the people of Mexico, but the fictional sci-fi universe I have generated with the two first volumes of my Coil series. My connections to Mexico run deep as roots inside me, and it's a perfect day today to kick things off.

This summer, I launched an apprenticeship program, and young author Michael Evans worked with me for several weeks to learn journalism and writing skills. He dove deep into my Coil book series and he explored many of its mysteries. As a result, he has written several new posts that take a fresh perspective on the novels. Michael is part of generation Z, and he’s also a self-published prodigy. He has not even entered university yet (he’s taking a gap year), but he’s already published Control Freakz, a series of paperback sci fi thrillers that have made a huge impact on readers of young adult fiction. I will be publishing a new post from Michael week by week, and I think you will be astounded at the way in which he approached the characters, stories and themes of my book series. Enjoy. —Cesar Torres, Chicago

How A Sci-fi Novel Introduced Me to a Bloodthirsty Aztec God

By Michael Evans

Before reading 9 Lords of Night by Cesar Torres I wouldn’t have known the difference between Xipe Totec, who is an Aztec deity, and almost any other Aztec god or goddess. Cesar Torres’ novel  9 Lords of Night immediately grabbed me into the story with its exciting thriller-like pace, sci-fi world building, and most of all, the mysterious murder of Marlene Grue that is suspected to be in connection with the movie 9 Lords of Night (this is a fictional movie but should really be a real thing) in which I was introduced into the Mexica or Aztec culture and religion.

Being an author of science fiction novels, and someone who naturally tends to read about nanobots, brain computer interfaces, and the perils of climate change, ancient Aztec mythology and traditions were a totally foreign land to me. If I’m honest, in many ways they still are. The more I learn about this beautiful culture, the more I understand how wonderfully complex it is, and how simple my understanding of it is. Nevertheless, although the science fiction and thriller elements of 9 Lords of Night drew me into the book (I’m always a sucker for that combination) it was the elements of Aztec mythology, specifically that of Xipe Totec, that kept me reading and wanting to explore deeper into the world of Aztec culture upon finishing. 

If the word Aztec rings a bell from a middle school or high school world history class, you are definitely thinking about the right civilization. In the case of the Aztecs, they were the great civilization of Central America with Tenochitlan, a floating island city of 200,000 people (bigger than any city in Europe at the time), as the capital of their empire. Upon the conquest of the Spanish, specifically Hernan Cortes, the Aztec empire fell, and the Spaniards killed the majority of the Aztec people. Many others died of disease. Despite this genocide, 1.5 million people speak the Aztec language of Nahuatl in Central Mexico today and through thousands of drawings, archaeological artifacts and temples, Aztec mythology, culture, and history lives on. 

Aztec religion differs in some crucial and insightful areas from the more traditional religious ideologies that most of us are exposed to in the Western Judeo-Christian tradition. Aztec mythology is composed of at least 200 gods (similar to Greek mythology) of which Xipe Totec or the “Flayed One” is the god of spring, agricultural renewal, fertility, is the patron god of goldsmiths and gemstone workers, and was said to cure many diseases, specifically eye illnesses. Xipe Totec is one of the four children of Ometeotl, the first Aztec god which created itself and is both male and female so it can reproduce on its own. The four children of Ometeotl all represent different directions with the Aztec empire at the center of the universe and Xipe Totec symbolizing the direction north. The four children also happen to be major forces present in Cesar Torres’ first novel in the Coil, 13 Secret Cities, which I happened to read before 9 Lords of Night and also highly recommend as well.

At first glance it may seem as if Xipe Totec is a peaceful god who picks flowers during the day time, but this deity, which first originated in the Olmec and Yope peoples (these peoples preceded the rise of the Aztec empire), is also disturbingly dark in his character. He wears the skin of sacrificed humans as clothing over his body, and he’s often depicted with perforated ears, red lips, and elaborate ornamentation.

The Aztec people paid tribute to Xipe Totec, so they would have a good harvest next spring. They did so by staging gladiator battles called Tlahuahuanaliztli. These battles, which took place during the Festival of Tlacaxipehualiztli or Snake Festival, which was a forty-day long festival dedicated to Xipe Totec, had one warrior with no weapons (or a sword of feathers), and the other warrior had a sword of obsidian and yeah you can picture the rest… the one without weapons is killed real fast in a duel to the death. 

After these gladiator battles, the reason they call Xipe Totec the Flayed One becomes obvious—it is his desire for human flesh and blood. That’s why after killing the people (often they were war captives or a priest who dressed up in red feathers and golden jewelry for the forty-day festival) the Aztecs skinned the bodies, disgorged the hearts, and then dyed the skin yellow. Then the dried, yellow, dead human skin would be draped over an Aztec priest and worn by them in a ritualistic ceremony called Tozoztontl, or the skin would be put on the backs of young men who were forced to go around begging until the skin rotted. 

Although, Xipe Totec was often depicted as a terrifying figure covered in dead human skin all over its body, including its hands, and a creepy, gaping mouth, Xipe Totec doesn’t just desire human flesh because he is some evil mythological god. He desires it because the flaying of the skin off one’s body is akin to the germination of the skin around maize as it matures, the principal crop of all Central American civilizations, and thus this act is meant to symbolize a plentiful harvest and the continued survival of the Aztec civilization. 

After discovering all of this about Xipe Totec, I was at first taken aback. For someone who loves to read thriller novels like me, this sacrificial ritual seemed particularly brutal, albeit fascinating to imagine. But I couldn’t help but notice how the sacrificial rituals of the ancient Aztec peoples and Xipe Totec himself have some valuable lessons to draw from. The beautifully deadly nature of Xipe Totec is very similar to the wickedly awesome forces that govern all of humanity—our very own nature. Xipe Totec is a god of contradictions, a being who at the surface longs for human blood, but upon deeper inspection his true purpose is to enrich the Aztecs by providing them with a fertile growing season and plentiful harvest. 

Xipe Totec, just like this world is often misunderstood. He is a god literally covered in the flesh of human bodies, but the true story of Xipe Totec is much more beautiful and complex than his seemingly deadly nature.

9 Lords of Night introduced me to the bloodthirsty god Xipe Totec and the fascinating nature of Aztec religion. My whole life I have always been used to hearing stories from the Old Testament or the New Testament (I grew up in a Catholic home) in which good and evil are often separated into two separate forces, like heaven and hell. However, that world view has been thrown upside down in my mind by the thrilling novel 9 Lords of Night and the presence of the skin-wearing, fertile-soil bearing god of Xipe Totec in it. Xipe Totec showed me that nothing is black and white in this world. He showed me that everything deserves a deeper look to be fully understood, and that something that may appear to just be violence and bloodshed on the outside is actually beautiful upon closer inspection.

About contributor Michael Evans

Michael Evans is the author of the Control Freakz Series, a Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic Thriller series set in a near-future United States and the Main Coordinator of YEW Clubs for the Young Eager Writers Association. He is currently taking a gap year from his studies in Charleston, South Carolina, but is originally from Long Island, New York. Some of his hobbies include hiking, running, urban exploring, going to the beach, watching and taking artsy pictures of sunsets (it’s honestly a very enlightening activity to partake in), and walking his ginormous, fluffy golden doodle underneath the stars. He is also fascinated with the environment and neuroscience, and his true passion is learning about how the wonders of the human mind and the environment we live in will change with time. He is currently working on the novel Deadwave, the first book in the Conspiracy Chronicles. To find out more about him or his work you are welcome to visit here:

What It Felt Like to Quit My Dream Job


Photo by Rob Lundskow, 2018

Photo by Rob Lundskow, 2018

From 2014 to 2016, I worked in what I thought was my dream job. I was managing editor at Wirecutter, which was one of the coolest startups in the world of journalism for consumer products. I had an apartment in the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and the city of New York embraced me with all its energy. I had self-published my first four novels during this time period, and I felt special for having a side hustle to accompany my day job.

On paper, I had what they call “Living your best life.”

But it wasn’t. At that time, I suffered from sciatica, a type of lower back pain which travels down one or two legs. That condition rendered me unable to walk more than two blocks without having to sit down on the sidewalk and clench my teeth to bear the electric jolts of pain. I also just looked like shit. I was bloated and pale, and my body looked really unhealthy, despite my regular habit of running three times a week and going to the gym every other day.

Like many people who work for startups, I thrived on the energy of my work environment, and I was committed to helping the growth of the team and serving the mission of the organization. But, the results I delivered were becoming uneven, and I couldn’t grasp why it was that some work days churned my stomach with dread, and other days didn’t.

In the summer of 2016, I decided to let go of my apartment, which in New York, is a big deal. Once people find a place, they do not let go for any reason. But I had an ambitious and somewhat unusual approach. I decided to work away New York for a few months. Once that time had passed and I felt better, I would come back to New York and find an all new apartment, so I could in effect turn a new leaf. I could do this thanks to the startup life. After all, our company was remote, and it was Slack, email and Zoom that connected us, not real office space. I sold most of my things, packed my clothes and laptop, and I said goodbye to Manhattan. When I landed in Chicago that June, I felt sick, and spent. Within a few days, I could see in my face just how hollowed out my eyes were. I knew then that I had to quit.

I let my manager know that I needed to step away and focus on my own writing, and more than anything, myself.

You would imagine that this moment when I quit my job would have been drenched in glory, but it wasn’t. It felt miserable. Like a mistake of sorts. It was so scary. It felt like being scraped from the inside with a cheese grater. It tasted of failure.

But I did it. I did it because I was going through a big change inside of me. I no longer fit in with my daily surroundings or with the teammates around me. This is not as simple as saying I hated my job, because that’s not the full story. I am also not going to bullshit you and describe a utopia of where I worked. All jobs are full of inept leadership, structural problems, racism, sexism, homophobia, and bozos, in various combinations. Ineptitude can happen in almost any job. My struggle really wasn't’ about the particulars of the environment that I was in. I was often perceived by the team I managed, my peers and my managers, as someone who is nice, intellectually strong, and a “giver,” which doesn’t actually tell the full story of what I’m like. I knew that there were other aspects of my skills and leadership that had nothing to do with being nice, or helpful to a fault. And though I could have worked on exhibiting those other qualities in this team, I wasn’t going to erase the solid image of how I was perceived.

That is, until I quit. Then it became evident that there were more dimensions to my character than what was at the surface.

You see, I was developing as an adult, and that particular job, despite being a dream job, was not going to help me do it. Nothing against them, because I had my own problems to solve. My journey required a new degree of solitude in which I could really discover my own depths, and in which I could make more provocative and risky choices. The chance to make these choices is what every leader, entrepreneur and artist dreams of.

By the time I had quit my job, I had already published four of my own books. You may think I am naive, but I didn’t think that this was such a big deal to have done this. I just saw it as my side hustle, and something that my heart compelled me to do. But the answer to my struggles was right there, in my books. You see, I had poured many types of energy into those novels: twenty five years of writing experiences as a journalist and fiction writing. I also threw in my expertise and tech and design. I wrote those novels using my understanding of human nature to describe characters who are flawed, and are always discovering who they are. And what’s even more important, I was channeling my entrepreneurial spirit into publishing those books. I was learning how to run my own business.

What I understand now in 2018, two years after that life-changing summer when I quit that job, is that I did well to listen to my artistic and business instincts and step the fuck away. Today, I am successfully running Solar Six, my own company, which publishes all my books. My sciatica has also resolved and has not returned. I am currently working on audiobooks of my novels, and I have expanded my editorial output to short documentaries and short films, which are funded via my Patreon account. I also launched LED Queens, a clothing line that I design and market. I have agency, and I have my own small team of designers, illustrators and creatives who help me make my readers, customers and fans happy. And most of all, I am not perceived as a “nice guy” and a “giver’ in this new role. Now I am described by others as as a queer punk, someone who is not afraid to be himself. Someone who takes charge and execute on ideas, works of art and design products that no one else can pull off.

Today my memories of quitting that job remain the same: they are painful memories, emotional burns that scorch and induce tears. But you know what? Quitting was the best thing I ever did. Because I found my actual purpose as a writer, designer and leader. I had to leave something behind, to let a part of me die, so another could be born from the carcass. If you have ever felt like quitting your job, and you don’t understand why you are doing it, this story will resonate with you. Although I don’t suffer fools gladly, and I encountered a few charlatans and sociopathic team members, I can’t say that I personally had an enemy or adversaries in that job of any kind. But I had an obstruction, and that obstruction was me. It wasn’t until I dealt with myself head on that I was able to become the person I am meant to be. And that journey continues. There’s still a lot more to learn, and as long as I am alive, I know to listen to my intuition. It is intuition that can be a powerful component for any leader and entrepreneur.

New York Publishers Rejected My Book Featuring a Trans Detective


I have been an indie author for more than six years. I have seven published books: one short story collection and 6 novels. The life of an indie author is not easy, and I don’t play victim. I like to work hard, and bring stories to my readers that they have never experienced before. This is not a hobby, it’s a job.

Before I was published, I spent most of my late twenties and early thirties pitching my manuscripts to the big dogs: the agents and publishers that are considered the Big Five. Their feedback to those early manuscripts was fairly similar. They liked my writing and characters, but they were not sure they could market the book. I have a stack of more than two hundred rejection letters from that time in my life.

In 2014, I self published my first book, and I treated the project seriously. I hired an editor, a book cover designer. I made a marketing plan. And thanks to the success of that first experiment, I self published the rest of my catalog. Thanks to my efforts in marketing via digital channels and at cons and places where readers gather, I published another one, and another. People bought the books, and I was on my way. I am currently working on two full-fledged series under my name and a pen name. I have a loyal readership for both of my series, and I talk to my readers everyday. They don’t care who published the book, or what the business model runs their financing. They come back to my books because they like the writing and above all, my characters.

9 Lords of Night, my latest novel in my Coil series, is the second volume in a near-future dystopian world where an authoritarian government encroaches, while Aztec gods enter from another dimension. My main characters are queer men, women, trans men. I also wrote How to Kill a Superhero, a series of 4 erotic thrillers that feature a very queer main character who develops superpowers and who is aided in his journey by gay men and a very powerful trans woman.

I am lucky to work full time as an author and to make a living from these books thanks to my own will and resolve to get these books into hands of readers. But I gave up on big publishers years ago.

In late 2016, when 9 Lords was still in one of many drafts, I pitched the concept to a top agent, and also a well known publicist. I did this not because I expected those publishers to pick up my book, but because I wanted to test the market trends of big publishing, to see if their attitude toward new authors and provocative new ideas had changed since the early days when I used to still send query letters.

The responses from the agent and publicist were eye-opening, but not surprising. The agent read my manuscript and asked me to make my trans main character more palatable, less cranky, less embittered by the prejudices set against him. He also acted very confused when he learned the character had dated women all his life but has a sexual encounter with a man in the novel. “I don’t think a trans person would do this,” the agent said. I asked him if he was trans. He said that no, he was cisgender and straight. “Do you have a lot of people who are trans in your life?” I asked, and he couldn’t answer the question. You see, I do have trans people in my life, including close relatives, and none of my trans beta readers bristled over my trans character the way this agent did. He wanted his ideas of what trans people should be to shoehorned into the novel. What I understood then is  And that’s a compromise I would never make in the stories I tell.

The publicist who I queried gave me a different answer. She had no interest at all in the gender identity of my characters, and instead took the time to explain that she could not take on indie authors, because there is pressure from the big 5 to support the efforts of more traditionally published authors. She did caution too, that it would be “easier to publicize the book if you had a few more straight characters in there.”

That’s what they said. You can draw your own conclusions.

Neither of these two anecdotes can be generalized to the whole industry. I am not naive enough to think that all agents and publicists are this risk-averse and cowardly. But I need you to know that if you are an author that wants to see your books reach the market place, traditional publishing is one of the least interesting places to attempt to do so nowadays.

I’m not gonna mince words. Stop querying the big publishers and agents. They don’t want you. And I am not telling you that they are rejecting you based on your sexual or gender identity or race (though that is also possinl). What I mean is that if your books don’t fit their current formula for revenue generation in the next two years, no matter how good your writing is, they are going to pass. You don’t fit into their plan for revenue generation, but that doesn’t mean your books can’t succeed.

There’s a lot of talk nowadays in traditional publishing circles about “diversity” and “inclusivity”, but the fact is that the New York agents and editors are part of these corporate publishers, and they are focused on making money. If these professionals tell you they care about stories featuring gay, queer or trans characters, it’s because those novels map to potential revenue streams. The individual politics and viewpoints of individual agents, editors and publishers will vary, and I don’t dispute that. But the industry is not taking on bold new stories. The evidence is right there in the titles that sell best. There more blandness and literary corrupt fiction up on those best-selled lists than you and I care to think about.

I am telling you this because if you are an upcoming writer, I don’t want you to get your hopes up that the big publishers will take a chance on stories of LGBTQ people, your characters of color, or those that don’t fit a certain mold. When agents and publishers represent and purchase a manuscript, they are betting on the book’s chances of succeeding in market forces. And trust me, your ideas of taking a chance on new ideas is not the same as theirs.

Start looking around, look at the tech and startup world, and start thinking of your own books as your startup. And by all means, start hanging out with other startup owners and entrepreneurs. The answers are going to be there.

In my case, Patreon and crowd-funding helped get my books to market as a supplementary means of financing. I am lucky enough to have experimented with Patreon since a few years ago, and what I found is that there are people who definitely believe in new stories. In my case, they want science fiction that includes people of color, trans cops, queer academics, and a host of other characters who you simply don’t see in the best-seller lists today.

Book publishing is a business. Stop telling yourself it is not. But what I am saying is that you can find a market for your books, even if at the start they feel like micro-niches. If you invest the time in marketing and developing your catalog, readers do come to your online storefront, be it iTunes, Kindle, YouTube and Stitcher (in the case of audiobooks), and your own web site’s e-commerce platform.

And yes, I know I excluded brick-and-mortar stores from the list of storefronts. Those stores are not in the position to help you in the long term, and I’ll write a future blog post about how digital, machine learning and the Internet will continue to make it tough for bookstores to really launch your career as an author.

Look around at all creative industries. Look hard. The music business has been hollowed out by the rise of music downloads and streams, and labels lately are even trying to take profits off merch and touring from artists, because the business model has changed. Hollywood only makes a certain type of movie (as I glance at superhero genre films as a main example), and instead,  Netflix, YouTube, Kickstarter and Patreon are the real places where filmmaking is taking bold steps forward. The studios don’t take chances on new or transgressive filmmakers and screenwriters.

You see the pattern here? If you believe in your work, you must put on an entrepreneur hat and build your artistic vision and book catalog in new ways. If you write cookie-cutter thrillers, then please, by all means go ahead and query New York so you can become the next thriller writer to fill airport bookshelves. But most writers are not those kind of writers. I never want to be that kind of writer.

Get ready to work hard. Get ready to suffer setbacks and disappointments. But when you self publish, crowdfund and collaborate with other indie authors and small businesses, you will find your readers. And based on market data, you will probably out-earn your traditionally published peers. I know I do.

Stop pretending like things are like they were in the “good old days of publishing.” Being a writer today involves discipline, hard work and talent, but getting your book published and thriving takes something more. It takes courage to step away from the way things have always been done.

Start breaking the rules.

Beyond Built: A short documentary


This past winter, I asked Dave De Young, if I could make a short documentary (under 10 minutes) about Quads , the legendary gym located in Chicago, which Dave founded. his gym and how he runs his business. I am happy to say that the project is now in the editing stages and will release in late May or June to my YouTube channel.  

If you would like to contribute to this project, please consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. Thank you. For any questions regarding the project, please email me at editor at