On Being Daniel Boone – Brett Armstrong
Today I’m excited to welcome author Brett Armstrong who finds creative ways to compare authors and the writing process to Daniel Boone and–well, just read on.
The most elegant piece of insight into writing novels I try to relate when asked is, for an author, writing a novel is a bit like being Daniel Boone. An author stands atop a ridge in a mountain range and can generally see a number of peaks in the distance. What lies between those peaks—the dales and glens, rivers, forests, and other features that distinguish one mountain landscape from another—aren’t viewable at the onset. This is what I experience when I write a novel. Very early on, I can see the peaks looming in the distance. These are the distinct plot points (sometimes called beats) within the story. The beginning, a twist here and there, the climax, and—if perhaps a bit indistinct for the distance to cover—the end.
Knowing key high points in the narrative arc upfront doesn’t mean the process of writing a novel is something that is rigidly planned and structured. Much like the pioneer I mentioned, setting out with the intentions to get from Point A to Point B is rarely so direct, and being from West Virginia, I can tell you no mountain road follows the principle of the shortest path being a straight line. This is where the artistry and intrigue of the writing process lives. As the writer sets out into the story, leaving behind those high points, entering the vale below, all manner of things can happen the writer never intended or expected at the onset. Some would attribute characters taking on a life of their own to the subconscious. Personally, I believe God guides us into the depths of the story to tell it how it must be told. To quote JRR Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Not all who wander are lost.”
At times an element of the story will present itself, an irresistible realization totally defying your expectation. Rather than go over the next mountain directly, you may have to follow a winding riverbed around the base and then climb up the next peak by a means you hadn’t intended at the onset. I think the most startling example of this for me came while writing a fantasy novel I have yet to publish. One of the protagonists dies towards the end of the book and I did not see that coming when I started, but it was like a fixed feature of the landscape and I could not ignore it or navigate around it.
This can be true of any part of a novel, even the title. When I gave my debut novel, Destitutio Quod Remissio its title, it was an artistic choice and I admittedly used an internet translator as my source of Latin. I thought it meant, “Forgiveness that is from destitution.” It doesn’t. Shortly before publication I found it actually loosely means “Destitution that is of/from forgiveness.” And while it is the reverse of my intention, it better reinforces the central theme than I could have ever hoped. The whole novel is a meditation on Colossians 3:13, in short, “forgive as Christ forgave you.” Destitution that comes from forgiveness, then sounds very much like the forgiveness Christ showed from the cross. Choosing to love and offer forgiveness to mankind, knowing it would lead to hurt and suffering from those who hated Him. Such a thing is the beauty you find on the journey from Point A to Point B, which an author never sees at the outset.
* What genre(s) do you write in and why?
I generally answer this with historical fiction, because I believe real history lives within every fiction story in some capacity. A more conventional answer is I write any genre in which a compelling story resides. For instance, I disavowed writing horror for a long time, because I felt like it can be a shallow genre at times. Then, not long ago, I started imagining all these scenes between a couple of characters who could only live within that genre and suddenly this novel that deals with skepticism, belief, and how cultures handle history and legend coalesced for me and I felt like the Lord was subtly showing me there is no genre in which He cannot use me to tell a really meaningful story if I will just let Him.
* Tell us about your next book & when is it being published? Why do you write the kind of books you do?
Harkening back to what I said about genre and finding meaningful stories, Desitutio Quod Remissio is an adult novel set in 4th Century AD Rome and my upcoming book, Day Moon, is set a young adult novel set in AD 2039 Appalachia. In Day Moon, a prodigious seventeen year old, Elliott, is assigned to work on a global software initiative his deceased grandfather helped found. Project Alexandria is intended to provide the entire world secure and equal access to all accumulated human knowledge. All forms of print are destroyed in good faith, to ensure everyone has equal footing, and Elliott knows he must soon part with his final treasure: a book of Shakespeare’s complete works gifted him by his grandfather. Before it is destroyed, Elliott notices something is amiss with the book, or rather Project Alexandria. The two do not match, including an extra sonnet titled “Day Moon”. When Elliott investigates, he uncovers far more than he bargained for. There are sinister forces backing Project Alexandria who have no intention of using it for its public purpose. Elliott soon finds himself on the run from federal authorities and facing betrayals and deceit from those closest to him. Following clues left by his grandfather, with agents close at hand, Elliott desperately hopes to find a way to stop Project Alexandria. All of history past and yet to be depend on it. As most people I talk to about it say, it is a timely story, but it is also a very deep one. It’s about our relationship with reality, truth, freedom, security, and it’s wrapped in this really fantastic story that also deals with first love, finding your place in the world, and reconciling the legacy and conflicts of your family.
* How has being published changed your life? If you aren’t published yet, how do you think being published will change your life?
Being published hasn’t changed my life too drastically in how it is structured, but more of my outlook. I think it has been a very good teacher in humility for me. It forced me to look at the thousands of other writers out there and realize if the Lord blesses me with a story, that’s something special, because He could use literally anyone out there if He chose. Also, just about everyone positive turn in my published writing has come with the least effort from me. That’s not to say I don’t work hard on every aspect of writing, but that work doesn’t necessarily translate to the kind of incredible privileges I’ve had like talking to room full of writing teachers and reading lovers at the library I grew up visiting or hearing from a reader that she gave a copy of Destitutio Quod Remissio to a loved one who was going through a hard time, because she thought it could help their loved one. Those are incredible blessings and not something I could have brought about just by my efforts.
Brett Armstrong started writing at age nine by penning a tale of revenge and ambition set in the last days of the Aztec Empire. Twenty years later, he is still telling stories though admittedly his philosophy has deepened with his Christian faith and a master’s degree in creative writing. His goal is to be like a brush in the Master Artist’s hand. He also enjoys drawing, gardening, and playing with his beautiful wife and son.
Barnes and Noble Paperback: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/destitutio-quod-remissio-brett-armstrong/1120709573?ean=9781490889849
I can give away a free e-book for Destitutio Quod Remissio
PAGE 1 – Destitutio Quod Remissio
I Fire and Rain
The grisly, grey swirls churned up before Marcus, a thin mask to the merciless heat. Dimly he could perceive the fiery furor’s warmth caressing his cheeks in an increasingly unpleasant way. His thoughts were not of himself at that moment, nor even of the fire consuming all his possessions in this world. Instead, his eyes, stung by the acrid mixture his tears made when suffused with the smoke’s tendrils, looked beyond the ravaged home he had returned to. To a point, beyond the scope of simple sight, to where his love was lost. He could not know how many hours late he had arrived. Be it many or few, for the fi re seemed so hot, so vicious, it could have lapped up the palatial estate in its searing maw with mere minutes.
He had stood there for close to an hour now. Incapable of moving. Incapable of speaking. Incapable of perceiving the destruction wrought upon him, in full. Within the interior of the blaze, increasingly obscured by the serpentine coils of smoke, he could make out the form of the structure itself, those portions still standing. Without fully realizing he was doing so, he traced the lines up, into where they were lost in the smoke, and the smoke into the obsidian sky above.
Steady rumbling sounds echoed across the landscape, like the heavy footfalls of band of soldiers. How brutish had they been in handling the things he had cherished? As they clomped across the ivory and ebony swirls of his home’s marble floors, did they slow? Did they admire their surroundings when they lit torches with wicked flames and condemned him with a flippant toss? Were they merciful in the execution of his beloved wife?