Interview with Brett Armstrong
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I’m excited to have Brett Armstrong, author of Destitutio Quod Remissio visiting with me. If you haven’t yet entered the giveaway for this great historical, Christian fiction book, be sure to follow that link to enter.
Without futher ado, let me (atr) introduce my guest (ba).
atr: Welcome, Brett! I’m so happy to have you visit. May I get you some of your favorite beverage and dessert?
ba: Ah, tough question. Actually this is a tough one for me, mostly because I’m a bit embarrassed. I’m totally uninteresting when it comes to what I drink. I almost exclusively drink water and break out orange juice for colds. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really a writer because I don’t have a tea or coffee addiction and there are memes out there that definitively prove there’s a correlation.
Dessert is easier. Without a doubt it’s my wife’s zucchini brownies. There are no other brownies. Plus they’re about as healthy as you can get a dessert to be.
atr: That sounds quite healthy. I’m mostly a water and tea drinker myself.
What are your hobbies?
ba: My dad got my wife and me into gardening. He’s been raising them since he was ten or so. His garden is much bigger, but every year we raise a patch that is about 20 x 20 and grow some of our favorite things and staples: onions, peppers, zucchini, pumpkins, peas, potatoes, broccoli, and usually one or two other wild cards. This year we’re experimenting with acorn squash and the “three sisters” technique.
It’s not something I get to do very often anymore, but I really enjoy drawing. I’ve been doing some quick doodles around a work-in-progress that I post to Twitter. It’s fun and keeps me engaged with the story. As a tradition, I try to do some more focused projects around important occasions and give them to my wife. It began when we first started dating, she was a senior in high school and I was freshman in college three hours away. I wanted to get her something for our first Valentine’s Day as a couple. She told me she didn’t like getting flowers because they die and I had zero clue at the time how to arrange a florist’s delivery from school, so I drew some tiger lilies (her favorite flower) and sent them to her. Ever since I draw her a few pictures each year. Famous couples, animals that pair for life, and some cartoonish versions of us and now our little boy.
atr: Wow! So I bet you grow extra zucchini each year so your wife “has” to make you more brownies! Very clever. I love the romantic way you use your drawing skills, too. I do love getting flowers but especially appreciate the very personal kind of gifts you give your wife.
Do you have a hidden talent?
ba: It would probably surprise some people who know me to find out I can cook (and do most of the cooking at home). My wife really likes my from scratch Cajun Chicken Alfredo. I also dabble in making theme music for my book trailers. Which would really surprise those who know me because I have zero rhythm. Fortunately the Garage Band app is very forgiving.
atr: Yum! That sounds really good! I just may have to get the recipe from you.
My husband also loves to dabble with music. He hasn’t done much lately, but sounds like he might enjoy Garage Band. . .
What kind of books do you like to read? Do you have a favorite book or author other than the Bible?
ba: I read a fairly wide selection. Lately it’s been young adult speculative fiction. My last novel and my upcoming novel are both in that market, so I’ve been trying to orient myself to what people are reading right now. Most recently, in Christian fiction, I read some of Dare, book one in Tricia Mingerink’s Blades of Acktar series. For secular reads, I enjoyed Fonda Lee’s Exo.
Though for a good fall back read, anything by CS Lewis is like a fine dessert. I was skeptical about the Chronicles of Narnia series and didn’t read most of them till a year or two ago. In particular, I was dubious about The Silver Chair. I thought with a title like that, it had to be over the top kiddish. Wow. I. Was. Wrong. That book is allegorical apologetics poetry.
atr: I love The Chronicles of Narnia! I think I’ve read them at least a dozen times. I like your comparison between Lewis and John’s Gospel. I’m going to have to mull over that one.
How do you go about researching your books? Do you prefer online research or physical books?
ba: I do some of each. Online is kind of like the dark side in Star Wars: “quicker easier, more seductive.” It’s always a risk to use it solely, but when I’m writing, sometimes I like to make sure a passage isn’t going deep into anachronistic waters. Later on, I’ll consult some books on the topic. Though in some instances, the story comes because of my non-fiction reading (I really enjoy reading about history).
My first novel, Destitutio Quod Remissio, benefitted from previous studies and since I was working on the early chapters as an undergraduate capstone project, I also took a course in the history of the Mediterranean. One thing that is special about DQR is its time period. There actually isn’t a huge amount of texts centered on that time period, fiction and non-fiction. People tend to gloss over it because it’s situated in between a period of major instability in the 3rd Century and Constantine’s reign. That made finding information on that particular point in Rome a bit of a challenge. But it just fit. The more I continue to learn about that period, the more I feel certain of it.
atr: Nice. I didn’t think about the dangers inherent in doing that type of research online, but it makes sense.
What is the most fun thing you did in the name of researching one of your books?
ba: My wife and I went to Orlando for our honeymoon a few years ago. There’s a book I had completed a first draft for that is centered heavily in the Apalachicola area and mentions Port St. Joe’s. On our way back home, my wife agreed to driving through Port St. Joe’s and stopping at a restaurant mentioned in the novel. We ate what the characters had. I took a ridiculous number of pictures. It was pretty great getting to experience a place I had written about but only seen through online research. I’m actually in the midst of rewriting that book right now. It’s nice thing being able to write into it some of what I experienced there. Hopefully now that the place is all the more real to me, it will be to readers too.
atr: Now you’ll get to laugh at my next question. It’s almost like you were reading my mind!
Have you ever visited any of the places you write about?
ba: : ) Apart from Port St. Joe’s and Apalachicola, there aren’t any real world places I’ve been to, though in my second novel, Day Moon, there are a number of fictitious settings that are heavily drawn from real places. There’s a cemetery and town that figure prominently. The cemetery is an amalgamation of cemeteries from both sides of my family and the city is based on the one my mother grew up in.
atr: Sounds like a fun way to research.
Destitutio Quod Remissio has a strong theme of the importance of sharing your faith. How did that become the message of the book? Do you find it a challenge to share your faith?
ba: In a lot of ways, Marcus at the beginning is how I see myself. Pretty timid. I’m very open about my faith, but I definitely struggle with knowing when to speak up actively. Marcus’s journey is one from fear to genuine faith.
When I started drafting the first version of DQR (it was a short story for a college class initially), I was imagining the opening scene. The fire and a man who is watching it, having lost everything. What would he do about that if he had the abilities to get revenge, but knows that’s not the right path? The theme that gave the book its title is Colossians 3:13. Paraphrasing, “Forgive as Christ forgave you.” So DQR became exploring what that looks like lived out. Christ’s forgiveness is that of looking from the cross, knowing that in spite of offering forgiveness many would still reject Him. Marcus faces the same thing. Even if he chooses to forgive his enemies they won’t stop hurting him. In fact, he’s pretty sure it will get worse. DQR,“destitution that is from forgiveness.”
Add to that I deeply admire and am fascinated by the martyrs throughout the ages and the persecuted church. Living authentic faith in the face of losing things that we tend to build our lives around in safer countries. So, together the story is about moving past what seems to matter now to the real substance of life. Forgiving like Christ and when you arrive there, everyone needs to hear. Telling others just becomes a natural outgrowth. You have “good news”, the cure for everything in life that weighs us down and you have to share.
I’m really glad the missionary tone came through, because people everywhere need to hear, whatever the cost.
atr: I may have heard the missionary message because each time I saw how Marcus struggled with the fact he hadn’t shared the Gospel with his wife, I had this pang of regret that I have fought with fear about sharing my faith when nothing but rejection is on the line. I needed to be reminded of the importance of sharing with others.
What message or messages do you want your readers to take away from DQR?
ba: Forgive as Christ forgave. Live in Christ boldly. At the beginning Marcus is terrified over what he’s lost and what he thinks he stands to lose. By the end, his focus is on what he’s gained. That transition is so important, because the world is changing. There are believers in persecution the world over and the West, the seeming safe haven for sending missionaries out, is less and less interested in tolerating the core beliefs of Christianity. One day believers here may face the same hard choices Marcus faced. I hope through reading this book that both now and in the future, whatever readers face, they will not lose hope and will not waver in following the Lord Jesus.
atr: You don’t go for the easy messages at all, do you? 🙂
What are you writing right now?
ba: So many things! I’m finishing up a prequel novella that goes with my upcoming high fantasy novel (Quest of Fire: The Gathering Dark). If anyone goes on to read the novel, reading the novella adds so many layers to everything about the novel, but really stands alone (I say this because writing it has been surprising and rewarding beyond anything I expected).
There’s also a companion novella for DQR that’s almost ready for readers, I call it A Light Undimmed and it features some of the marginal characters and gives a fuller picture of DQR’s major villain and his schemes. Whereas Marcus is able to approach much of what’s going on with an understanding of what’s happening A Light Undimmed features characters who don’t have the benefit of having been senators. They’re average people. A new father. A traitor. And Maximus the Magistrate, who was in over his head and didn’t know it.
My dystopian sci-fi series, Tomorrow’s Edge, has its second installment nearing the first draft finish line as well. The fun thing about that is I’ve gotten so much feedback on the first that I can work into making that book, Veiled Sun, even better.
Recently, the book I mentioned earlier set partially in Apalachicola, has grabbed my attention. It’s historical and speculative fiction. With some major rewrites, I think the world may soon get to see how two men from different eras, a modern archaeologist and a Spanish conquistador, have their stories intersect. It pulls details from some major myths in history and weaves them together. It’s also about finding hope in the midst of terrible suffering, in each character’s case self-inflicted. I call it The Fire and the Fount.
Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Brett. It has been a pleasure.
Readers, be sure to come back next Saturday to hear from Luke from Destitutio Quod Remissio. I’m excited to have a chance to talk with this young man.