A relative newcomer to the writing world, Joseph Nassise has hit the ground running. From his first published works to his new Templar Chronicles series, he sets a tone for realistic gritty horror that strike the readers where it counts the most: Their souls. His latest release, Heretic, is a religious-themed thriller with enough twists and turns to keep horror fans satisfied. And he’s managed to grab a few extraordinary fans along the way. Not bad for a fellow who’s only been writing for around five years.
Scott Johnson: From the release of your first novel, Riverwatch, in 2003 to the upcoming More Than Life Itself (2006), how has your writing process evolved?
Joseph Nassise: Riverwatch was written on a dare in college. I wrote the entire novel long hand on legal pads in between classes and while working a late night security shift. I had no outline, no character notes, and no clue what on earth I was doing. I just wrote what I wanted, when I wanted, and stitched it all together in the end.
Now, I write primarily from an outline. My pen and legal pad have gone the way of the Dodo, unless I’m stuck on an airplane with no room for the laptop. I still write out of sequence (meaning I write whatever chapter I feel compelled to write that day, rather than chapter one followed by chapter two, etc) but the outline keeps everything much better organized and connected, saving me considerable effort in the editing process.
I’ve also recently stopped editing as I write. Instead, I simply barrel along, intent on getting the entire work down and on paper before going back and fixing things. This keeps my momentum at its highest throughout the entire project.
SJ: Give us your best, non-spoiler, synopsis of your current release, Heretic.
JN: The Templar Chronicles (of which Heretic is Book One) is a series revolving around the idea that the Templar Knights have been resurrected by the Vatican and now operate as a secret combat arm of the Church, charged with defending mankind from the supernatural.
The star of the series is Knight Commander Cade Williams, who was irrevocably changed by an encounter with a supernatural entity known as the Adversary some years before. That event left Cade with certain unnatural abilities of his own, abilities the Church would certainly frown upon, like being able to walk between this world and the next in a purgatory-like realm that Cade calls The Beyond and the gift of psychometry, the ability to see the past through his sense of touch. The fact that he is blessed, or cursed, in this way has earned him some suspicion and distrust within the Order along with the nickname the Heretic.
As the book opens, Cade and his special operations unit known as the Echo Team are called in to investigate mysterious assaults on Templar strongholds by an unknown enemy.
SJ: With the release of Heretic, you’ve opened up the Templar Chronicles series. What can readers expect from future adventures?
JN: Book Two is called A Scream of Angels. In it, the Echo Team is called out to investigate the mysterious occurrences at an experimental research facility called Eden.
In Book Three, The Other Side of Darkness, Cade and his men are forced to confront an enemy from their past; an enemy that knows their methods, their secrets, and their fears. An enemy to whom they were all once as close as brothers.
SJ: From where do you draw inspiration, particularly for the Templar Chronicles? What type of research went into writing Heretic?
JN: I’d wanted to write a military thriller in the vein of Matthew Riley’s Ice Station for some time, yet knew I enjoyed writing most when there was a supernatural element involved in my tales. Combining those two desires led me to a third interest – the Order of the Knights Templar. I wondered what had happened to the Order and its vast treasury following their disappearance on the night the Order’s Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was seized by the combined forces of the Pope and the King of France in 1347. I wondered what it would take to reconcile the Order and the Church and how that new entity would operate in the world today.
Eventually, those wonderings turned into the concept that the Order was accepted back into the fold to help combat the occult practices of the Nazis during World War II. At the close of the war, the Order was reintegrated into the Church as a secret combat arm of the Vatican.
I did a tremendous amount of research into the structure and methods of the historical Order, so that I could extrapolate forward in time with some legitimacy. Critics first major issue would likely be the reconciliation of the Order and the Church itself, but stranger things have happened between enemies historically and I was content with the reasoning I had come up with. I also did a good deal of research into how modern SWAT units and Special Forces units operate, so that the combat scenes involving the Echo Team would be realistic.
SJ: Your work is full of religious symbolism and overtones. From the spear of Longinus to the Templar Knights themselves, what is it that makes these icons that interests you?
JN: I have a deep faith and I believe in the power of good over the power of evil. I think stories with supernatural overtones are a wonderful medium to explore what we do and don’t know about ourselves and the world around us, including that epic struggle. Religion and faith are themselves supernatural in nature and as such as perfect fodder for my tales.
SJ: How long have you been writing? Was Riverwatch your first attempt at a novel?
JN: I’ve only been writing since 2001, aside from that short span of three months during my junior year of college. I never thought much of being a novelist until inspired to give it a shot at my wife’s urging. I’ve very glad to have done so, as I have found a career and an activity that I love. Riverwatch was not only my first attempt at a novel, but my first attempt at writing anything of real substance.
My joint short story collection with Drew Williams, Specters and Darkness, was actually my second publication. A small press version of my debut novel Riverwatch came out before that in 2001.
Aside from that crazy three month experience back in college where the rough draft of Riverwatch was written, I’ve only been writing since January 2001.
SJ: Do you consider yourself a “Horror” writer? Why that genre?
JN: In most ways, yes. I write more than horror though, so I guess a better term would be a speculative fiction writer or a genre writer. I like horror because it is the genre of the unexplained and the unexpected. It allows me to examine the things that make us afraid, as well as the things that help us conquer that fear.
SJ: You’ve also brought comic books to life (Veil of Night) and worked on role-playing game modules (The Sentinel’s Bible). Do you prefer long fiction, short fiction, comic books or game modules as your medium of choice?
JN: Novels are my first love. I think short fiction is my least favorite, as it often takes me long to write a decent short story than it does to write a 300 page novel. In my youth I was an avid role-playing gamer, so getting the opportunity to write for several different companions in this market space felt a bit like coming home. Working in the comic arena is new to me, but I’m enjoying it quite a bit.
SJ: Coming up next, in 2006, is the novella More Than Life Itself. Give us a brief rundown of the plot.
JN: The back cover copy to MTLI says it best: On a bright June morning, Sam Dalton’s world suddenly crumbles as he learns that his four-year-old daughter, Jessica, has contracted a mysterious disease. Thanks to some kind of new viral infection, her internal organs are slowly shutting down, one by one, and her doctors are unable to even pinpoint the cause, never mind find a cure. With weary shakes of their heads, they give her less than a month to live.
Life has not been kind to Sam; two years previous, a drunk driver took his beautiful wife from him in a shower of crumpled steel and broken glass. Now the capricious hand of fate had reached out again, threatening to take his baby girl away from him, and with her, his only reason for living. He vows he will not let that happen.
Later that night, he is given a chance to fulfill that vow…
SJ: Who do you consider to be most influential in your writing style? Who do you consider to be real masters of the craft?
JN: My three major influences were Robert McCammon, Charles Grant, and Clive Barker. Their fiction still thrills and encourages me to this day. I would certainly say all three of them should be considered masters of the craft, despite their widely diverging styles. Other contemporary writers that I consider well worth the time would be Peter Straub, Caitlin Kiernan, John Connolly, Tim Lebbon, Glenn Hirschberg, Lucius Shepard, and Chris Golden, among others.
SJ: What attracts you to being a writer?
JN: I love the sense of taking people on an adventure, of giving them the opportunity to experience things that they might never experience in their everyday lives. I’ve always been a storyteller and writing simply gives me a professional output for the talents with which I’ve been blessed.
SJ: Any advice for aspiring writers?
JN: Ignore all the useless rules. Write what you want to write. Don’t worry about whether it will sell until after it is finished. Don’t give your work away for free in exchange for some dubious idea of exposure. Treat your writing professionally at all times, regardless of whether you’ve sold something before. Don’t give up on the dream.
Many people will tell you to start with short fiction and then write a novel. If I had done that, I never would have written anything, as writing short fiction is very difficult for me. Write what you want, regardless of length, and you’ll be far happier. And perhaps more successful as well.
SJ: Do you watch many horror movies? Name some of your favorites.
JN: I watch a fair number of horror films, but can get very bored with Hollywood’s penchant for endless remakes, especially when the original material was only mediocre to begin with. Some horror-related films that I have enjoyed in the last several years have been The Brotherhood of the Wolf, Event Horizon, 28 Days, Alien, Dog Soldiers, and In the Mouth of Madness.
SJ: You’re quite acclaimed in the horror genre, and you’ve been the president of the Horror Writers Association. How does your family react to the whole “horror guy” thing?
JN: My family is an incredible support to me, regardless of what I choose to write. They believe in me and in my work, which has been a special help when I’ve gone through periods when something I really value hasn’t sold to a particular market or two. I wouldn’t still be at this if I didn’t have their support.
SJ: What is your own personal cure for “writer’s block?”
JN: I’ve never experienced it, so I don’t know. I always write whatever scene I feel compelled to write that day, so I rarely get stuck trying to work through a scene I don’t feel excited to write.
In Riverwatch one of the characters is a writer. He uses an old trick, copying names out of a phone book, to jolt his mind into wanting to write. (The idea being that copying names is so boring the mind will wander to more interesting fare, including whatever story he is currently working on. I’ve never tried it myself, so I can’t vouch for it in any way.)
SJ: Hollywood has been sorely lacking in original ideas for a while. Let’s say the movie rights to Heretic got picked up. Who would you cast?
JN: Viggo Mortenson as Cade Williams
Djimon Hounsou as Matthew Riley
Sean Pertwy as Nick Olsen
Paul Walker as Sean Duncan
Jennifer Connolly as Gabrielle Williams.
I’m undecided as to Simon Logan, the Necromancer, though I’m certainly open to suggestions. Hey, a guy can dream, right?
SJ: Assume Heretic sells a billion copies, has a movie made, and makes you rich. What would you do if you no longer had to worry about money?
JN: I’d write more books. And I’d continue my life and creativity coaching business, as it is a wonderful thing to be able to help people chase their dreams.
Other than that, I’d continue what I am doing today – spending time with my family and enjoying the unexpected in each and every day.
SJ: Have you had any “surreal fan” moments?
JN: Getting emails from Peter Straub and Clive Barker telling me how much they enjoyed Heretic. Considering how long I’ve admired their work, it was a very surreal experience.
SJ: What one thing do you want the world to know about Joseph Nassise?
JN: Um…that I’m really just his evil twin?
Thanks to Joseph for taking the time to chat with us! To learn more about Mr. Nassise, his books and other projects he has on the burner, be sure to visit his official site right here!
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