My Writing Process: A Blog Tour

Nat Russo Process, Writing 20 Comments

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.
 
[Edit: 2/19/2015] The Road To Dar Rodon is available now on Amazon!
 
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.
 
If you’d like to drop me a line, swing by my site – www.nicholasolivo.com

 

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About Nat Russo

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.

Comments 20

  1. It sounds as if you learned to own the title of “Writer”. Your answers are interesting. I’ve never heard of the Legionaries of Christ. It sounds as if it’s a cult. I’m a Christian, and I’m tired of so-called religions that make the rest of us look bad. People tend to dump believers in together, but we don’t necessarily hold the same beliefs.

    Love,
    Janie

    1. Thank you, Janie!

      I can absolutely confirm, in hindsight, that the Legionaries were nothing short of a cult. They have a “lay” movement called “Regnum Christi”, which in many ways is just as bad. They’re losing much of their power and influence, however, since they’ve now come to the attention of the Church at large.

  2. Thank you for participating Nat, and for your kind words!

    As a big fan of your work, I found the post offered me a fascinating insight into it. Interestingly enough, I, too, consider myself a devout Christian, albeit with an agnostic spin: I believe that, in the end, everything boils down to a leap of faith, therefore I have no right to judge anyone’s faith. I do condemn immoral behavior, however, and have learned to recognize it, regardless of the guise it hides under – politics, religion, teaching etc. Reason is the tool to use in this, which is why I consider it as one of God’s greatest gifts.

    Many thanks for your fascinatingly honest post!

    1. Thanks so much, Nicholas!

      I’m very thankful for the education I received at the hands of the Benedictines. Their lessons, in a nutshell: “Be a man of faith…but if what you’re being told to do doesn’t pass a basic sniff test, something’s probably wrong.”

      I definitely miss the philosophical debates we would have at the Abbey! Wonderful memories.

  3. I was interested in your work before; now I’m hooked. I’ve been intending to buy your book–just hadn’t gotten around to it. I’ll be bouncing over to Amazon to go ahead and purchase it right away now. 🙂

    1. Thank you for including me, JL! I’ve added a link to your segment of the tour in the intro to this post. If you’d like to be included at the end with a photo and bio, you can contact me at erindorpress@gmail.com. I’m at my day job, at the moment, so it may be a few hours before I get to it.

  4. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. One thing I love about Fantasy, is those writers that do take on philosophical and morality issues. Charles de Lint is one of my favorites… But I must say after reading this, I am definitely going to check out your work. And you have just been shared! And retweeted!!! Thanks for the excellent insight into your writing, your process and your thoughts!.

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  5. I have been lurking so I thought I should comment, even if I have to use my phone 😉 I love your blog and I want to read about the Legionaries of Christ. I find cults and religious dominant leaders very interesting. I run a Christian lifestyle blog but I also have had a lot of my own struggles with faith and the church. I’m really fascinated with your perspective!

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      Thanks so much for your comments, Stefanie!

      They’re an interesting group of individuals. Unfortunately not in a good way. Even after the reforms the Vatican put in place, they’re still up to many of their old tricks, including finding opportunities to laud the virtues of their founder, who was dismissed by the pope and stripped of much of his power and influence.

      I think many of our organized religions don’t go far enough in making sure the people placed in authority are the sort of people you want others to look up to.

  6. Interesting story, Nat. We share a similar background. I also was a seminarian and became a priest in 1987, (left in 1994), and like yourself, experienced the good, the bad and the ugly! I choose to remember the good, as I think you do. On the issue of writing, I believe that there is a difference between literature and ideology. When I write, I try not to put my hand “too much” on the story. That is, the story will develop its own life and character through the medium of the writer. If we handle it too much
    or “maul” it as I say, then we might as well write our own “mein kamfs”. As an example, I started to read Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass” and early on he wrote of “Pope John Calvin”. Immediately, I was put off by this: it sounded ideological to my mind. Would like to hear your comments on this. Have a blessed Christmas!

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      A fellow seminarian! And a priest, to boot! Welcome aboard.

      I haven’t read The Golden Compass, but I suspect I would have much the same reaction you did, given that choice of names. I agree with what you said about keeping your hand off the story. In early drafts, I allow the story to develop as it will, with little-to-no consideration for what my “message” is going to be. As far as I’m concerned, at that stage of the game I’m just trying to tell an entertaining story.

      As a writer, however, I understand that my “message” is going to come out one way or another, because the writing is coming from deep down inside. It’s not until later drafts that I understand the specifics of the theme, symbology, etc. In those drafts, I make a decision as to whether I should highlight or downplay some of the things that popped up subconsciously. At that point, it becomes a type of sculpting.

    2. I’m still figuring out much of this social media stuff, Nat. I didn’t see your comment til last night (8th Jan). Thanks for your input. Hope this year will be a blessing for you.

  7. Great set of questions in the process section. Outlining and story-boarding based on those important answers almost makes the story write itself, just as in essays and technical writing. Theme/message informs all the other questions, too, and maybe should be the first question. In academic papers, you boil that idea down to your thesis. In fiction or poetry, I often think of this question in terms of the “emotional core” of the story, and organizing the narrative around events which most embody and convey that emotional core. It helps determine which events will get time “on screen” as the narrative moves its camera through time and space.

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      I love what you say about finding the “emotional core” of the story. This is such a crucial element of the process! Without it, many fantasy books become little more than narrative versions of role-playing games.

      I often tell writers each scene should have a scene goal that you, as the writer, can fully articulate. If your goal is nothing more than “get from point A to point B”, ask yourself if that really needs screen time or if you can simply summarize it later.

    2. You have articulated the chief frustration my current work-in-progress is causing me. I will go over my outline for it and articulate the goal of each scene to act as my guide while scripting. Since large parts of the story are dialogue while getting from various Points A to Points B, this tip will help me clarify what other goal the scene has besides simply relocating characters.

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