I was asked to participate in the “Writer’s Process Blog Tour” by a wonderful friend (and #1 bestselling author!) Nicholas Rossis, author of the Pearseus epic fantasy series. When you get a chance, take a moment to visit him at http://www.nicholasrossis.com/.
Thanks, also, to JL Morse for including me in the tour!
The Writer’s Process Blog Tour requires that I answer 4 questions about my process and works. In today’s post, I’ll take a stab at those 4 questions in the hope of shedding some light on the rusty innards of my mind.
What Am I Working On?
I’m currently working on a short story, titled “The Road To Dar Rodon”, which is part of my “Tales of the Mukhtaar Lords” collection of stories and novellas. Those of you who have read Necromancer Awakening
are aware of the Mukhtaar Lords and their place in the world of Erindor. These characters are rich in history, philosophy, and mysticism, and I couldn’t possibly include all that they are in a single book or trilogy. So I take them on adventures (both of the body and mind) in the “Tales of the Mukhtaar Lords” collection. The collection isn’t meant to be read in any particular order, and you don’t have to have read Necromancer Awakening
to understand and appreciate these stories! It’s my hope that those of you who don’t like to read book-length works will take a look at the shorter stories and become as immersed in Erindor as I and my readers have become.
I’m also in the process of story-boarding the sequel to Necromancer Awakening
, which should be published around this time next year (2015). I have two other “Tales of the Mukhtaar Lords” stories queued up after that.
How Does My Work Differ From Others Of Its Genre?
I think at the end of the day we’re all in this to tell a good story. If my readers close the book at the end and walk away feeling satisfied and entertained, then I have done my job.
On a deeper level, however, I grapple with issues of abuse of religious authority due to my unique experiences as a Catholic seminarian back in the 1990’s. I bring to my stories an undercurrent of philosophy, mysticism, and theology that you don’t often find in fantasy. I do this to shed some light on common beliefs and thought patterns in our own world in an effort to continually reevaluate what we hold to be true and self-evident.
In other words, I’m a firm believer that if we can’t defend what we think/believe, then we should either learn how, or we should take a position that’s defensible. Even if that defense boils down to “I’m taking a leap of faith”, I think we need to recognize that and be honest with ourselves. It avoids misunderstandings. Misunderstandings with other people, and misunderstandings in our own internal dialogue. And this works both ways, in my opinion. If we know that our position is logical, reasonable, then we should be able to employ logic and reason to defend it. If, on the other hand, we know our position is a leap of faith, then we won’t be dissuaded when someone points out that we cannot defend it with logic.
I explore all of these things in my work, and I like to see what happens when the wrong people are placed in positions of moral authority. More importantly, I like to see how good people rise up and overcome.
Why Do I Write What I Do?
Oh boy. This is a can of worms. Fasten your seat belt…
I’ve seen some things.
Anyone who spent time studying for the priesthood will tell you the same. If not, then they weren’t paying attention, or they chose to look the other way so as not to jeopardize their vocation.
Let me set the record straight. I have truly fond memories of my days in the seminary. I cherish the days I spent in the halls of St. Meinrad Archabbey, as do the friends I made there whose friendships last to this day. The Benedictine monks were among the finest, most spiritually uplifting people I have ever had the great privilege of being around. The lessons I learned from those monks inform a great deal of my writing, and, indeed, my life.
On my About
page, I mention a group called the Legionaries of Christ
. This is a Catholic religious order that I had considered joining prior to my days at St. Meinrad, and I spent about 6 months with them. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was a foul group of individuals
who had no business going anywhere near
a person’s soul. There, I said it. Entertain yourself and Google them. You won’t be disappointed. Pop some popcorn first.
I’ll summarize by saying I witnessed profound abuse of religious authority at their hands. I myself was a victim of various forms of psychological abuse, before I finally saw it for what it was and got the hell out of there. Flash forward 25 years to the present day. Their founder was discovered living a secret life with multiple mistresses and offspring, forcing the Pope to “banish” him from the order. The order bilked wealthy patrons out of millions, using guilt-ridden strong-arm tactics to force them into turning over their estates rather than distributing their wealth to their families. Their primary tactic among seminarians was to cut the young men off from their families, supervising the extremely rare phone conversations we were grudgingly allowed, and reading all correspondence coming in and going out of the institution. Sometimes letters wouldn’t make it. I know this first hand. Could the post office have lost my letters? Sure. Whatever.
And, of course, there was the sex abuse. There always is, isn’t there? I was spared this particular atrocity, but the order’s founder (and several of the order’s superiors) used their religious authority to manipulate young men into having sex with them.
Oh, and the best part? Their founder…the banished dude with multiple mistresses and a thing for young seminarians…made them all take a secret oath to never speak against their religious superior. How convenient.
Ok. Deep breath.
There’s a danger implicit in turning over our powers of critical thinking to another person. When we allow someone else…anyone else…to do our thinking for us, we can no longer assume that the result is going to be in our best interest.
This is why I write what I write. If even a single person finds the strength to stand up and say “I’m not going to take this anymore, and I’m not going to allow you to do this to anyone else!” then everything I’ve written was well worth the effort. It doesn’t have to be in the context of religion! Religion is merely the vehicle I use, because I’m fluent in its language.
Like any human endeavor, however, Religion has a light and dark side. When we focus on one to the exclusion of the other, we do a disservice to humanity. So I try, wherever possible, to reveal the good as well as the bad.
I’m not anti-Religion. Far from it. I still consider myself Catholic. I still pray. What I am is against any person committing evil and using Religion as a shield, weapon, or excuse, regardless of whether that person is a priest, nun, or Pope.
How Does My Writing Process Work?
My writing process involves a lot of staring at the monitor with a blank expression on my face. And that’s after I’ve done all of my outlining and up-front planning!
I’ll back up.
I discovered, much to my surprise, that I’m an outliner. I denied it for many years. And for many years I never actually managed to complete a manuscript.
In order for anything I write to be successful, there are several things I absolutely must know before I sit down and begin the prose. In order of importance:
1. How does it end?
This is non-negotiable for me. If I don’t know going into the story how it’s going to end, I’m like a ship without a rudder. I need something to steer towards.
2. What causes my protagonist to care?
I need to know what pushes my protagonist over the edge to the point where they care enough to start plodding off toward the end of the story.
3. Why does the opposition care?
I’m not writing melodrama. I at least try to have an antagonist that isn’t one-dimensional. It’s up for debate whether or not I succeed, but at the very least it’s my goal.
4. How do my characters change?
This is about character arcs. My characters need to change in some way, even if those ways are subtle. I try to have at least 1 dramatic arc, where a character makes a complete 180. That arc doesn’t always belong to my protagonist.
5. At least 2 or 3 things I refer to as “plot points”.
These are 2 or 3 events that must be included in the story. They’re the framework upon which everything hangs, and they provide me with navigable points to steer towards.
6. Theme/Symbolism/”The Message”
I place this last for a reason. If I actively think about my “message”, I get in the way of the message. My message is going to reveal itself in my writing, because I am who I am. I write what I write because of the things I spoke about in the previous section. These things are an ever-present part of my life. I can’t not be writing with these things floating around in the back of my mind. They inevitably make their way to the surface. That being said, when I go back on revision and see them for what they are, I make a conscious decision to highlight some and downplay others.
On my “writing days” (I have to set aside special days for this, because I still have a day job), I begin by checking in on my social networks. This takes about an hour or so at the start of the day. After that, I fire up Scrivener and dig back into whatever work-in-progress I’ve got on my table.
Every 5-15 minutes, I purposefully distract myself. I’ve found that this dramatically reduces incidents of “writer’s block”, because it allows my subconscious mind a few minutes of catching up. When I return to Scrivener, whatever problem I was struggling with usually has a solution. I continue for as many hours as work and family allows.
So, enough about me already! I’d like to introduce you to three writers you may not be familiar with. I’m passing the torch of the blog tour over to them. Fear not! I know it’s in good hands!
First up to bat is my friend “Sharky”
Robert “Sharky” Pruneda, www.SharkbaitWrites.com
Robert Pruneda is author of the Amazon Kindle bestselling horror novel Devil’s Nightmare and contemporary family motor sports drama Pursuit of a Dream (Victory Lane: The Chronicles). He lives in south Texas and has called the Lone Star State his home all of his life. Pruneda is also very active in social media and an avid gamer who can often be found fighting side-by-side with his friends on his favorite first-person shooter . . . but he prefers survival horror.
Next up is a lovely writer and lady I met early in my Twitter days, Leslie Stella.
Leslie Stella is the author of the young adult novel Permanent Record (Skyscape, 2013), which was selected as the 2014-15 title for the Suburban Mosaic Teen Book of the Year and selected by Library Services for Youth in Custody for their 2014 “In the Margins” book award.
She was a founding editor of the legendary Chicago-based politics and satire magazine Lumpen, and her work has been published in The Mississippi Review,The Adirondack Review, Bust, Easy Listener, and anthologized in The Book of Zines: Readings from the Fringe (Henry Holt, 1997).
Leslie was nominated for a 2004 Pushcart Prize in short fiction. Visit her at: www.lesliestella.com.
Last up is my friend Nick Olivo.
My childhood consisted of way too many video games, comic books and 80’s cartoons. Add in a healthy appetite for Tolkien and Stephen King, and the end result was a geek who had visions of someday writing his own novels.
It was Terry Brooks’ Wishsong of Shannara that really got me excited about writing. But it wasn’t until years later, after reading Jim Butcher’s Storm Front, that I decided to take a crack at urban fantasy. After a month of Pepsi-and-Snickers-assisted brainstorming, Vincent Corinthos and the Caulborn were conceived. A year later I published the first Caulborn novel, Imperium.
I’ve lived my entire life in various New England states, and I’m fascinated by New England’s paranormal history. One thing I really enjoy is incorporating local paranormal events and urban legends into the books. Each Caulborn novel will include references to real-world supernatural occurrences, and explains how they fit into the Caulborn’s world.
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Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening.
Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing/gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun.
Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do.
He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.