Meet Nat Russo, bestselling author of The Mukhtaar Chronicles! Thanks for sitting down with me and sharing a bit about yourself and your fantastic books.
- Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
- It’s a long and twisted story! I’ve probably had more careers than the average person, having worked as a radio announcer, a pizza maker, a police officer, and ultimately a software engineer. For a time in the early 90’s, I studied to be a Catholic priest under the Benedictine monks of St. Meinrad Archabbey. It was a wonderful experience that led to me receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy. The common thread throughout all of these endeavors, however, was writing. I can’t recall a time I wasn’t working on one manuscript or another.
- What are three of your favorite things?
- Dogs, computer games, and playing the drums.
- When did you start writing?
- I began somewhere around my sophomore or junior year in High School. I wrote some horrific heist story that I thought was “edgy” because I used a swear word in it.
- What are some of your favorite words from your books?
- I write primarily in the Erindor universe, the setting for my trilogy The Mukhtaar Chronicles, so most of my favorite words are invented words that have meaning in the context of that world. “Namocea”, for example, is the process by which a necromancer lives the entire life (or, at least, all of the key moments) of the person they’re resurrecting in the span of a single moment. “Necropotency” is the source of power that allows necromancers to cast their spells.
- Tell us a little about Necromancer Awakening. What is it about and what compelled you to begin telling this story?
- Necromancer Awakening tells the story of a college student, Nicolas Murray, who finds himself drawn into a mysterious portal on the day of his father’s funeral. On the other side, he discovers a latent power that, if mastered, could determine the fate of the strange new world he finds himself in. It’s my humble attempt to explore issues such as abuse of authority, particularly of the religious variety. I imagine a society in which most everyone turns over their faculties of critical thought to the religious authority and what some of the potential consequences of that are.
- If your writing could have an impact on the lives of your readers (besides entertainment), how would you hope it would impact them?
- I would hope it helps them to see the subtle ways in which they’re manipulated throughout their lives by various people and to find the courage to stand up and say, “this isn’t right and you can’t make me do it.”
- Is there a book or story that has had a profound impact on you at any time in your life? What was it and how did it impact you?
- Magician, by Raymond E. Feist opened my eyes to what is possible for someone with a penchant for creativity. And, it took a 12-year old boy who spent most of time playing with Star Wars toys and turned him into a voracious reader of speculative fiction. Beyond that, I credit Douglas Adams, specifically Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for showing me that it is possible to offer a meaningful critique of society through the medium of comedy and satire.
- Why do you choose to write in this genre?
- Speculative fiction allows a writer to point a finger at certain aspects of society in a very non-threatening, subtle way. Shining a light on the more negative aspects of civilization is often met with more resistance than desire for change if that light shines too directly. Creating a fantasy world and civilization allows a writer to address issues and societal norms in a way that draws a reader in, as opposed to pushing them away by coming across as “too political” or “preachy”.
- You’ve created such a complex and politically-charged world. Where do your ideas come from?
- I draw much of what you see from my time in the seminary and my intimate glimpse behind the curtain of Religion. I’ve had the great privilege of knowing (and being mentored by) some very holy men who I have no doubt are living saints. On the other hand, I’ve also felt the hand of oppression by men who became clergy to either escape some reality they weren’t comfortable with, or because they felt as if rising through the hierarchy of the church was their one shot at true power.
- Other than your main character Nicolas Murray, do you have a favorite character you’ve created?
- Without a doubt, Mujahid Lord Mukhtaar is one of my favorite characters to write. But then, Mujahid has been a living, breathing person to me since 1999 when I first created him within the world of EverQuest, a popular online role-playing game at the time. Mujahid represents many of the struggles I’ve gone through in my own life. He’s constantly in a position of having to walk the line between religious political correctness and his own inner demons. Mujahid is also the vehicle through which I get to exercise my Philosophy degree. I enjoy few things more than setting up a healthy philosophical debate between Mujahid and some other unsuspecting character. One of the most enjoyable times I’ve had writing him was in The Road To Dar Rodon, when he finally met his philosophical match in the form of Father Dominic, a fellow pilgrim on his way to the shrine of Shealynd.
- What are the hardest types of scenes for you to write?
- Romance scenes don’t come naturally to me. In fact, I had originally written a long, drawn out romance arc between two characters in Necromancer Falling only to discover I had written just about every romance cliché in the book. I scrapped that character arc and never looked back. If I ever attempt it again, I’ll have to spend some time with a real romance writer and learn the basics.
- What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
- I’m an avid gamer (PC games, mostly RPGs), and I love playing the drums. I’ve been an on-again/off-again musician throughout my life. But, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally realized I was a drummer and not a guitar player. Something just clicked with the instrument, and I’ve been improving by leaps and bounds. Musically, I speak in rhythm more than melody, so the drums are a natural fit.
- What is something people wouldn’t be able to guess about you just by looking at you?
- I’m middle-age with the belly to prove it, but I actually hold a 1st degree black belt in Tang Soo Do.
- If you had a genie that could grant you three wishes, what would you wish for?
- Financial independence (just keep the roof over my head and food on the table, nothing fancy), better health, and let’s drastically increase the lifespan of dogs. Dogs are among the few things that make this world tolerable, but they’re not with us long enough.
- What can we expect from you in the future?
- I’m currently outlining the final book of The Mukhtaar Chronicles trilogy, called Necromancer Ascending. Given my previous history, I suspect it will take 18 months to two years to go from outline to some semblance of publishable quality.
- How can readers get more information about you and your work?
- I maintain a blog at https://www.erindorpress.com where I mentor up-and-coming writers and share interesting news about the publishing industry. I’m also very visible (and approachable!) on social media. You can find me on Twitter (@NatRusso), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/NatRussoAuthor), and Instagram (@natrusso_author).
- Bestselling author of Cinder and Scarlet
We met at a Barnes and Noble author event in October where I picked up a copy of Cinder. I became an instant fan! With the launch of her sequel Scarlet due out next month, I was able to get Marissa to sit down for a few moments before her next book tour to share her thoughts.
What first inspired you to write Cinder?
I’d been trying to write a novel since I was sixteen, but had never found an idea that I could stick with to the end—I always got bored of the stories I was working on. Then at one point I wrote a short story that was a futuristic retelling of the fairy tale “Puss in Boots” – it was so much fun that I wanted to try to write a longer futuristic fairy tale retelling, maybe even a whole series of them! A few months after I had that idea, the vision of a cyborg Cinderella popped into my head and immediately began to fill me with ideas for her world and story. I knew as soon as I started writing it that it would be the first novel I finished.
Why fairy tales?
I’ve always loved fairy tales—since those first Disney movies when I was a kid. There’s something very universal about them. We all know the stories, we can all relate to their underlying themes, and yet they still offer so much potential for twisting and re-imagining them. I don’t think we, as a species, will ever grow tired of fairy tales.
Tell us how you came to create your world of New Beijing.
I chose to set Cinder in futuristic China because I wanted to pay homage to the original Cinderella story, which was written by a 9th-century Chinese scholar. But as I wasn’t able to travel to the real Beijing for research, it allowed me more flexibility to create a made-up city, so I decided that our current Beijing was destroyed in a horrific war, and New Beijing was built to replace it. I had a lot of fun envisioning what that new city would be like—full of high-technology, towering skyscrapers, and lots of flashing advertisements and experimental architecture. But at the same time, I figured the people of the new Eastern Commonwealth would want to embrace their history, so there are also traditional zen gardens, sculptures, and art everywhere.
Are your characters molded after particular individuals? If so, who?
Nope—they’re all straight from my imagination.
Tell us a little about Cinder and what her conflicts are.
16-year-old Cinder is part-human and part-machine, making her a cyborg. Unfortunately, she lives in a society in which cyborgs aren’t largely trusted or understood, so she’s considered a second-class citizen and a piece of property to her adoptive stepmother. This obviously creates a lot of problems for her in general—questions of her worth and freedom—but it’s further complicated when she meets and begins to fall in love with Prince Kai, who has no idea she’s cyborg.
Your next book, Scarlet, is a twist on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood right? What’s next after that? How many books in this series?
That’s right! There will be four books in total. Book 3: Cress will be based on Rapunzel and Book 4: Winter will be based on Snow White, but Cinder will continue to be a main character throughout all four books.
Your writing is extremely tight with no slow moments or extraneous passages. Tell us about your editing team and how they molded your revisions to come up with this beautifully written book.
Thank you! While I did have a copyeditor who graciously caught a number of typos and consistency issues, I don’t really have a team that focuses on the writing like you’re talking about. That’s just my voice, I guess. Although I do at least one editing round, when a manuscript is almost completely final, where I’m only looking for unnecessary words or phrases. I often cut anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 words during this round, and don’t lose a single bit of the plot.
Could you share with other aspiring writers your story of how you navigated your journey from concept to publication?
The first step, of course, was to write the best book I could. Cinder took almost two full years to write, revise, and edit. After that, though, my path to publication went very quickly. I queried about a dozen literary agents and two months later signed with the first agent I’d queried. She and I worked together for a couple weeks to compile the submission package, including summaries for all four books in The Lunar Chronicles. She then sent it to editors on a Friday and we had our first offer the following Monday. It was all very dizzying! But again—the important part of this story is all that time I spent upfront trying to craft a strong, engaging story.
Who are your personal heroes? Why do they inspire you?
J.K. Rowling—because she’s J.K. Rowling! Her story of hardship and persistence is so encouraging, and I admire her so much for how well she knows the world she created. She is an absolute genius.
What’s next for Marissa Meyer? Please plug any of your upcoming events or marketing here so that we can get the word out! Please also give me the website and facebook (and twitter) address that you want me to plug for you.
Scarlet: Book Two of the Lunar Chronicles will hit bookstores on February 5 (and I’m so excited!!). I’ll be going on book tour (the schedule can be seen at http://www.marissameyer.com/blogtype/the-scarlet-tour-schedule-other-upcoming-events/) so I hope some of your readers can come out and see me! Besides that, I’ll be diligently plugging away on Books 3 and 4.
I can be followed at:
Blog & newsletter: http://www.marissameyer.com/blog
Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog, Mikko!
Award-Winning Author Amy Jarecki, author of Koicto and Chihuahua Mama sits down…
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share part of your writing journey with us, Amy! I have several questions for you, so let’s get started.
|Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?I was born a poor and helpless baby…Not that much?…Right. Let’s see, I made my fortune, meager as it is, working as a plant manager in the plastics industry. That’s a tough job for anyone, let alone a petite woman, but I enjoyed it for the most part. However, my real love is writing. I buried my first two novels in unmarked graves, and my third, Koicto, was published late last year. I’m very excited to report that my woman’s fiction/romance, Chihuahua Momma, will be coming out in July, 2013.What do you do when you are not writing?
Golfing, hiking, taking care of my Chihuahua’s, and my dad, and my kids (just about in that order, since the kids have all flown the nest).
Do you have a day job as well?
Nope. Kissed the day job goodbye a few months ago.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
Like most writers, I’ve written ever since I picked up a pencil in the first grade. In elementary school, I used to write stories and hand them in to the teacher just for her critique. I wrote my first full-length novel in 1999. It was really, really bad.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I write action adventure and romance. I love to read them both.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere! I am a people watcher, though. Once I was in an airport and overheard an argument between a husband and wife. It was so good, I wrote it down in my notebook and later used it in my manuscript. I also try to find things that I can use from my personal experience or something I can research.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Mikko – that’s a dirty word…it’s like saying “you shanked it” on the golf course. However, I don’t think I get writer’s block. I just get a burning desire to get to the end of my manuscript once I’m about two-thirds through, and I start paraphrasing…then I have to go back and fill in the gaps.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I’m an outliner. I don’t start writing until I know what the story’s going to be about…but things pop up during the creative process.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Wilbur Smith has been my greatest influence. I started reading his books in 1984.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Writing Koicto was far easier than getting it published. I started out by trying to find an agent, and no one even asked for a sample—I guess a historical Native American adventure novel didn’t have enough shelf appeal. Anyway, I ended up sending queries to independent publishers, and that’s when I found Sunstone Press in Santa Fe. They specialize in southwest and Native American books.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
I think I may have let it sit while I wrote a few more books and built a following.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I’ve used my blog, twitter, facebook, and online book blogs like bookbuzzed.com to spread the word, but the best bang for the buck was the giveaway I did on goodreads.com.
Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
My blurb for Chihuahua Momma: In the frenetic world of canine pageants like Westminster, where dog hair flies and personalities diverge, Rebecca Lee remains in a cocoon of loneliness. Widowed with two teenaged kids and a business to run, Rebecca would prefer to mow through five-hundred poodle cuts than think about dating. But when former quarterback, Matt Johnson, shows up to buy a Chihuahua, his irresistible grin rocks her world – until Matt’s ex decides she wants him back. Rebecca now has a choice – crawl back into her realm of dogs or fight for the powerful love that fills her soul.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
I use as much experience from real life that I can. It makes the story deeper, more compelling and believable.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
My favorite part is the proposal. It’s every woman’s dream.
How did you come up with the title?
The protagonist shows Chihuahuas and she’s a mom. Also, the book is light with humor weaved in, and I thought the title reflected the tone well.
What project are you working on now?
I’m writing a historical romance that takes place in 367 A.D. during the Barbarian Conspiracy along Hadrian’s Wall. My working title is Forbidden Wall ~ Forbidden Love. It’s a lot of fun. J
Will you have a new book coming out soon?
Well, I just got the contract for Chihuahua Momma, and I’ve got another that I’m trying to find a home for…We’ll see.
Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I’ve planned sequels to every one of my novels. I’ve decided to write a series on Forbidden Wall, though. I love all my characters, but the men always end up being my favorite.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
That’s hard. I’ve had a lot of both. Every rejection letter is tough—all authors can attest to that. My best compliment (I’d much rather talk about that)? I won the Utah League of Writer’s Award for Best Manuscript In Show (Koicto). It was my first award, and took me totally by surprise. There were hundreds of entries, and my novel was selected. It was like the writing community opened their arms and said that I was good enough to be a part of it.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
You’ve got to develop a thick skin and stick with it. They say that you have to write a million words to become proficient bestseller material. If your first novel doesn’t sell, put it aside and start on the next one, and the next. With perseverance you will succeed.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Thanks Amy for sharing your exciting news with us! I loved Koicto and am anxiously awaiting the release of Chihuahua Mama! Best of everything to you!