Before I introduce Nat Russo to you, I’d like to point out that Nat was the very first writer I followed back in November when I started my author platform, and the first one to answer my newbie questions. Although he was not published then, I was humbled by how accessible he was even though he already had over 30,000 Twitter followers (almost doubled now).
Six months later…
Nat Russo is the bestselling author of “Necromancer Awakening”, the first installment of a series titled “The Mukhtaar Chronicles”. Since its release on April 9, 2014, “Necromancer Awakening” has shot up the bestseller lists, making its way to the top 5 on Amazon’s Dark Fantasy Bestseller list, top 5 on Amazon’s Sword and Sorcery Bestseller list, top 5 on Amazon’s Metaphysical Fantasy Bestseller list, and top 50 on Amazon’s Horror Bestseller list.
Nat mentors up-and-coming writers around the world through his popular Twitter feed, as well as a blog dedicated to learning and improving the craft of writing.
Nat, thank you for coming and congratulations on your Necromancer’s success! Tell us more about your life outside writing.
I’m a software engineer by day and a fantasy writer by night. I was born in New York City, raised in Arizona, and I’ve lived just about everywhere in between. Though I’m now married with a family of my own, I once studied to be a Catholic priest in a Benedictine monastery for several years. This gave me a deep, abiding love of Philosophy and Theology, both of which are expressed in various ways in my work. My Bachelor’s degree, in fact, is in Philosophy.
My seminary days were not all bright. Before I had the great privilege of studying under the Benedictine monks, I had the misfortune of experiencing life in a religious order called The Legionaries of Christ. I witnessed extreme abuses of religious authority during my time with them, and this too is expressed in my work. I tend to write about the consequences and implications of allowing either Faith or Reason to overshadow the other, and the problems inherent in considering any person “Holy”.
Can you give us an idea on your current WIP?
I’m currently working on the sequel to “Necromancer Awakening”, titled “Necromancer Falling”. I’m in the story-boarding stage of this project, and I’m very happy with the direction it’s going. I’ll be introducing two new key characters that I’m extremely excited about. Readers of “Necromancer Awakening” will tell you the Three Kingdoms aren’t out of danger yet, and “Necromancer Falling” makes that painfully clear. This isn’t the “happy ending” fantasy tale that many people are accustomed to, as I’m sure you inferred from the title.
In addition to “Necromancer Falling”, I’m currently in the first-draft phase of “The Road to Dar Rodon”, which is a short story set in the “Necromancer Awakening” universe. You don’t have to read “Necromancer Awakening” to appreciate this story, however. But, if you have read the book, you’ll probably find some “Easter eggs” in the short story that will amuse you.
That will be a treat for your fans! Are you happy with the pace of your work? Do you aim at a specific word count each day?
I’ve learned not to beat myself up too much. There are days when the work flows from my fingertips, and days when I sit staring at the screen. I believe both types of days are valuable. It often takes the subconscious a while to percolate over a problem. If I force it, then I usually end up with sub-par work that I have to rewrite anyway. When I have those days, I step away from the keyboard and take my mind off it. I’ve found that when I return to the keyboard after a break, the words flow once more.
I’ve tried setting word count goals for myself on a daily basis, but I quickly abandoned that. It works for many writers, but any number I came up with just seemed rather arbitrary to me. So rather than specify a specific count, I just follow the spirit in which word count goals were created: try to write every day.
Plotter, pantser or both?
Definitely both. I begin every novel-length work with a detailed outline that includes scene descriptions. These scene descriptions, however, are little more than a scene goal, an outcome, and the POV in which the scene will be written. I create a story framework (usually some variation on Three Act Structure/7-point Story Structure) and stick to that pretty rigorously.
However, when it comes time to write the actual prose, I go into “discovery writing” mode. I have little more than the scene description, and maybe one or two key events/quotes per scene that I know I want to include. I use my story framework to help me steer the improvisational writing that takes place when I’m actually writing the story.
What’s your worst enemy in getting that first draft finished?
I spend too much time questioning myself and trying to “get it right”. One lesson I’ve learned: I’ll never be 100% satisfied with my work, so I don’t strive for perfection anymore. Instead, I strive to be the best I can right now. I’ll always improve, but I haven’t yet learned the lessons that will elevate my craft to that hypothetical future state, so I had to learn to stop beating myself up and just finish the draft.
The first one million words are the hardest, they say… Have you experienced “writer’s block” and how do you overcome it?
I have, and I found several different ways to approach the problem. When I’m struggling over where to go next in a story, I’ve found the best way to solve an immediate problem is to inject tension and conflict. One way I do this is through the “Yes, but… / No, and…” principle. Every scene has a goal, and every scene goal has an outcome. For the vast majority of a story, the protagonist shouldn’t be succeeding. Or, if they succeed, it should come at a price. When I write a scene goal on my virtual scene “cards”, I follow it with this question: “Success?” The answer to that question is always either “Yes, but…” or “No, and…” In other words, “Yes, but the price of success is…” or “No, and the situation is even worse than they thought.” As long as I set the main character back, I’m on the right track. Until the end, of course.
In some cases, I learned that writer’s block can occur when my subconscious mind is still working on a problem. When that happens, the best thing I can do is get out of its way and let it do its job. Sometimes this means taking a short break (a day or more). After these short breaks, the block is usually gone.
Could we take a look at your workspace? Is there a particular place you find inspiring?
The answer to the question “What do I find inspiring about this space?” has two answers. First, I’ll give you the literary answer. My characters are nearly always in a position where success or failure is based on how well they can grasp and hold onto the things that matter most in life. My writing space is the main living room in my house. This is where my family “hangs out”. There’s always activity, whether someone is cooking in the adjacent kitchen, or watching television. Family life is what matters most to me, and I find it inspiring.
Now the pragmatic answer: My office has been taken over by my 13-year old son, and between his computer and musical instruments, there’s no space left for me! Also, Toby [seen in the picture] has very strict requirements for a work space. He needs his papasan chair or he gets writer’s block.
Toby is the second canine featured in a workspace! He’ll now keep company to Wallace, Marjory McGinn’s partner in writing, in my Featured Writers’ Workspace Board. Apart from Word and Google, do you use any other writing or research tools and apps?
I avoid Word like the plague. I had used it for many years until another writer introduced me to Scrivener. I’ve used Scrivener for about a year and a half now, and I’m a devout convert. It’s written by writers, for writers. And best of all, it stays out of your way. When I used Word, it seemed as if every day was a battle with my own tools. Making the switch was a freeing experience.
Aside from Scrivener, I use Scapple (by the makers of Scrivener) to quickly jot notes and make connections between ideas. I’ve only started using this, though, so the jury is out on whether I’ll continue. So far so good, though.
I use Campaign Cartographer 3 to produce high quality maps. As a Fantasy author, maps are essential.
I also use a web service called IFTTT (“If This Then That”). This service allows me to send a quick email to myself, and, based on a rule set that I specify, it will append story ideas to a Google Drive document. This way, if an idea strikes me when I’m nowhere near a notepad or computer, I can send a quick email to myself with my phone and know that my idea will be recorded in a central location on Google Drive.
Lots of solutions for writers there! Thanks for sharing! How do you intend to celebrate writing “The End” on your draft?
I usually celebrate by immediately plunging in to plotting future work. If I do non-creative things, I find my mind drifting back to the work I just finished, which doesn’t allow me to get the sort of distance from the work that I need in order to go back for the first read-through. By starting follow-up work, however, I’m exercising the same creative muscles, so they don’t have time to grapple with the work I just set aside.
Which book publishing processes are you going to outsource and which are you confident enough to undertake yourself?
I’ve outsourced cover design, and I highly recommend this to other authors. Unless you’re a professional designer, you’re just not going to produce professional-quality covers. I’ve seen too many writers get this wrong to not call in a professional for my own cover.
Had I not been working with various beta readers for more than 2 years on this project, I would have also outsourced the editing. I didn’t do that this time around, but I have a high level of confidence because of how much revision it has been through, as well as my own personal skill sets (I had a professional editor tell me that in 20 years of publishing it was the cleanest manuscript he’d ever seen come across his desk). Time will tell, I suppose. I may outsource the next just to get a handle on what the experience is like and whether it is necessary. But I’ve seen many “professionally edited” self-published books with horrible editing. The sad thing is I know how much they paid to have it done.
Do you have any marketing tips or favorite promotional sites you’d like to share?
There’s one truism in publishing: no one knows how to sell books. Sounds funny, but it’s true. The only thing we know for certain is that word-of-mouth sells a book far better than any marketing campaign.
That being said, self-publishers need to be in it for the long haul. It takes time for a story to find its audience, and there is no magic web site you can use or amount of money you can spend that will change this. I occasionally post marketing materials on Twitter and Facebook, but I don’t believe this is going to have a large impact on book sales (and I recommend keeping these to a bare minimum!).
My advice to self-publishers is this: be a contributor. Be a content provider, first and foremost, and people will seek out your fiction. As my blog (which focuses on the craft of writing) began to take off, people started asking me where they could find my books. Give people something of value and they will want more of you.
That’s the advice I keep reading from many, but it looks like only a few heed it. Is fantasy the genre you will brand yourself with or do you see yourself branching out in the future?
Fantasy is a great comfort zone of mine. I’ve always gravitated toward it in both reading and writing. In fact, Fantasy is the primary reason I became an avid reader to begin with. However, Fantasy and Science Fiction are cut from the same cloth. Both accomplish the same thing: each conveys a set of truths about the world. Fantasy conveys these truths through a world that will never be possible. Science Fiction conveys these truths through a world that simply isn’t possible yet. I consider myself a Speculative Fiction author, and I can see myself writing Science Fiction in the future as well as Fantasy.
Would you like to share with us links where we can find you and your work?
My bestselling novel, Necromancer Awakening, was published on April 09, 2014, in digital and print editions through Amazon and CreateSpace. If you’re interested, you can read some of it and/or buy a copy here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JLVOU0U/
Some other places you can find me…
Thank you, Nat, and best of luck with your Necromancer Falling and The Road to Dar Rodon!