Nat Russo is the bestselling author of Necromancer Awakening and The Road to Dar Rodon.
He has also done a wide variety of other things, but we’ll get to those below…
Thanks for meeting with me, Nat. So, you trained as priest, worked as a police officer, gained a degree in philosophy, then got a job in IT and worked your way up to software engineer – that’s quite a journey! At what point did you decide you wanted to write? Was it something that you’d always wanted to do?
I’ve been writing, on and off, since my mid-teens. I’d open up a notebook, and later a word processor, and see where the story would take me. I found it always took me to a dead end, so I’d convinced myself I wasn’t a writer. I’d set the work aside until the next failed attempt. It wasn’t until I read “Plot & Structure”, by James Scott Bell, that I decided to get serious about my writing. In “Plot & Structure”, Bell talks about something he calls “The Big Lie”. It’s the notion that writers are born, not made. When I learned that I could become a writer with dedication and hard work, I threw all of my passion into it.
That issue of ‘born vs made’ comes up time and again with all types of creative endeavours. (Especially stand-up comedy, even though people like Eddie Izzard, who you mention in one of your blog posts, admits that he certainly didn’t start off as a ‘born’ comedian..!)
So what does your process look like? Do you spend time outlining, or do you still enjoy seeing where the story takes you?
My process is somewhat eclectic. I do a lot of outlining up front. I’ve discovered through the years that I can’t successfully start a novel-length work of fiction unless I know where it’s going ahead of time. But my outlines are very bare. They typically only include the major plot points. They work as “road signs” for me along the way, so my writing doesn’t veer to much off course. When I actually sit down to write the prose, it’s all discovery writing. I steer the story in the general direction of my “road signs”, but allow my characters to live and breathe however they wish. And I never allow myself to become a slave to my outline. If a better idea strikes me along the way, I run with it to see where it leads.
I like that approach, it’s kind of the best of both worlds really as you have an outline so you know what beats to hit, but are still open to see where the story leads.
Your books – Necromancer Awakening and The Road To Dar Rodon – are both doing really well in both the fantasy and metaphysical genre, which is great to see. Where did the ideas for those books and the world they both inhabit come from?
Coming up with story ideas is a bit of a process for me. I’ve found that, for me at least, story ideas rarely spring into mind fully formed. I usually have a seed or two of an idea, mostly parallel thoughts that I don’t even recognize as being related. Then some spark happens where I begin to see connections and relationships between ideas. This was very true for Necromancer Awakening. The character Mujahid Mukhtaar is a character I’ve lived and breathed since the late 90’s. I created him for an online video game called EverQuest. He was very much a “dark lord” personality type during that game. As time passed, into the 2000s, there was a television show—the name slips my mind—where the main character travelled through time, usually not by plan, and went on various adventures. Another seed formed. I asked myself “what would it be like to create a character that was repeatedly yanked from one world to another?” That idea eventually evolved into Necromancer Awakening. Since Mujahid Mukhtaar was, in my mind, already a master of his craft, I relegated him to a minor role where he serves as my protagonist’s advisor and mentor. He’s also far less “dark” and more “noble”, though he has some obvious darkness that he taps into from time to time.
After Necromancer Awakening was published, Mujahid Mukhtaar quickly became a “fan favourite” character. Readers really wanted to see more of him. So, I dug into his past and wrote the story that shows the circumstances under which he received his infamous prophecy of “He Who Walks Between Worlds”. That story became The Road To Dar Rodon.
As far as the world of Erindor itself is concerned, it all began with a map. I started sketching the rough outline of a continent, placing some cities and rivers, etc., and asking the magic question “what if?”
That’s really cool. Most of my stories are set in and around London – or, at least, other major cities – so I’d find it a real challenge trying to create an entire continent!
So do you have ideas for other, standalone stories, or are you looking at creating a series of Erindor books?
I do have a list of story ideas that I can’t wait to tackle, including an attempt at satire. I’ve never written straight satire before, but I feel as if I have it in me. I’m also outlining a couple of non-fiction books dealing with various aspects of the craft of writing. But my first priority is finishing The Mukhtaar Chronicles trilogy.
So how are you finding the whole marketing side of being an author? Do you use a particular strategy, or are things constantly evolving?
There’s a famous saying about marketing that I’m fond of: “We know that 50% of marketing works. We just don’t know which 50%.” This is certainly true with regard to selling books. The truth is that unless a book has mass appeal, which is something we can’t predict before we write it, we really don’t know how to sell books. There’s one exception: word of mouth. Word of mouth will sell books faster than any marketing campaign you can think of. And, as far as most of us can tell, the only way to really generate word of mouth is to write compelling stories with characters people can sympathize with. That’s a lot of hand waving, I know, but marking books with predictable results is a form of black magic.
I decided several years ago to focus on content creation. For me, that involves three things: 1) producing books, 2) producing blog articles of interest to other writers, and 3) making prodigious use of social media. I use social media to drive people to my blog. Then, I use my blog to drive people to my books’ sales pages. So far this strategy has been working for me.
Yes, I love that saying about the 50% – mainly because it’s so frustratingly true…
So, what advice would you give to anyone out there who has an idea for a novel but doesn’t know how to go about writing it?
There are two pieces of advice I would offer.
First, be tireless in your efforts to learn the craft. Like any other craft, learning and mastery come through repetition. But only if you’re repeating the right techniques. Fortunately, there is an ocean of books that help you teach yourself the craft. I would recommend beginning with “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell. That book was a game changer for me!
Second, know right from the beginning that your writing is going to…well…suck, to be blunt about it. This is natural. The important thing is to give yourself permission to suck. Many would-be writers never progress beyond this stage because they think their early writing is an indicator of whether or not they have “it”, whatever “it” is. Hogwash. Only in the rarest of circumstances is someone a master of the craft right out of the gate. No, your writing is probably going to be horrible at worst and lousy at best. The good news is that you will improve over time.
That’s good advice, and kudos on getting the word ‘hogwash’ in there too… 😉
So, lastly, what has been the most unexpected part of publishing your work so far? Or has is all gone as you’d expected?
The most unexpected part of this journey has been how incredibly warm and welcoming the writer community is. When you embark on a new endeavour, it’s easy to feel as if you’re in over your head. Incompetent. I had expected to be viewed as some sort of hack. I was even afraid, for quite some time, to refer to myself as a “writer”. Other writers helped changed that. They encouraged me with stories about how horrible their own writing was when they first started. It was a very pleasant surprise.
That’s really great to hear. And I completely agree with you about the writer community and how friendly everybody is.
Well thank you again for agreeing to the interview Nat, it’s been really interesting and I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
You’re very welcome, Angelo. And thank you so much for taking the time to do this!
You can find Nat and his books at: