Yay! I’m so glad you picked today to stop by the Heart”wings” blog. Every day is a good day to visit us here, of course, but today is a little extra special because I’m introducing Brett Armstrong, an author that I met through my publisher. I hope you enjoy his interview as much as I did.
Be sure to stick around all the way to the end of the interview. Brett is hosting a giveaway for our readers, and you won’t want to miss out!
Brett Armstrong, author of the award-winning novel, Destitutio Quod Remissio, started writing stories at age nine, penning a tale set in the last days of the Aztec Empire. Twenty years later, he is still telling stories though his philosophy has deepened with his Christian faith and a master’s degree in creative writing. His goal with every work is to be a brush in the Master artist’s hand, and his hope is the finished composition reflects God’s design. Brett feels writing should be engaging, immersive, entertaining, and always purposeful. He enjoys drawing, gardening, and playing with his beautiful wife and son.
What a beautiful way to put it! A brush in the Master artist’s hand… Since we’re talking about that, why don’t you tell me what led you to the ministry of writing?
It was really a slow process, but one I could’ve seen if I just had cared to. I wrote my first short story at nine. It was set in the last days of the Aztec Empire and told a story that kind of surprises me for its complexity when I look back on it. In high school, the teacher in my lone semester of creative writing told me I shouldn’t let go of it. That it was something I should pursue. I, of course, ignored that and went my own way for a few years of my undergraduate time, before I took a creative writing class for fun.
I decided I could indulge one more time and then it would have to be done. The moment things changed for me I remember very clearly. I was walking back to my car in the evening after my writing class and the whole way (a twenty minute ride+walk), I was bouncing between a story I didn’t want to stop writing and how I couldn’t believe the semester was coming to an end and the things my peers had said about my writing.
About two dozen yards from my car, I stopped on the hillside and felt like I’d struck a wall. Writing had always been something I had done and felt was a part of me, but at that moment there was this kind of shift. Like I saw writing for the first time as something more than what I could do, but as something I should do.
Ever since then I’ve pursued it as more of a calling than a hobby or even second job. Doing so certainly isn’t always easy because it takes so much time, so much energy, and drive. Along the way, I’ve had discouragements and thought I might have gotten it wrong that day.
Every time I do, invariably God presents me with something to remind me to keep going. A stranger will e-mail me and say God told them to pass on some words of encouragement about my writing, a reader will tell me she gave my book to someone because she thought it would help them through a tough time, and so on. DQR winning the contest with CrossBooks that got it published was certainly a major encouragement.
Growing up, I really wanted God to call me to something for Him. People told me they thought I should go into ministry or be a missionary and I just never felt like I had that moment where God grabbed me and put me on that road. But I can honestly say, in writing, I think I’ve found the road He has for me.
What a beautiful testimony of God’s work in your life. He didn’t just call you to the ministry of writing on that particular day. He has continued to call you, to encourage you, and to lift you up in that area of your life. So often we get too easily discouraged. As a friend of mine would say – we forget in the dark what God has shown us in the light. When we are in that dark place, though, God doesn’t abandon us there. He sends His light – often through other believers – to help us find the path again. Amen!
Now that we’ve talked ministry, though, tell me – why this book? Why Destitutio Quod Remissio?
That is a little bit complicated, but Destitutio Quod Remissio, which I refer to as DQR for ease, started as a short story assignment for a creative writing class. It was open ended, but around that time I was thinking about Colossians 3:13, that is what it would mean to be forgiving in the same way Christ was, looking forward to, down from, and after the cross on people He knew would betray, deny, hate, and reject Him.
Forgiving us does not keep us from hurting Him still nor did forgiving those at the crucifixion keep them from continuing His torturous execution. It only stoked the flames of their hate higher and seems to do the same in many today. So, I knew I wanted to write a story that was a meditation on that kind of forgiveness.
I love history and I’m not the first to see in our present culture the sort of specter of ancient Rome. So when I imagined the first scene, of a man coming upon his home and finding it ablaze and knowing that everything of this world he had valued was suddenly gone, I had to find out more. Who was he? Why was this done? Will he forgive the way Christ did and can he do so having suffered such things?
At the same time, I’ve always been in awe of the martyrs throughout history. The Apostles, early church fathers, and so on. I really long to have their kind of zeal and faith—probably why I really like the song Jesus Freak by dC Talk. Two things occurred to me several years ago. One was that there are Christians suffering as violently as First Century believers and that really gets only a fraction of the attention it should. Second, within my brief lifetime, I’ve seen the collapse of the church in Western culture’s public estimation. I watched almost everyone I grew up with walk away from it. Some have viscerally rejected it. If we are honest, there lies on the horizon, however far off, a day when the sort of horrible stories we hear abroad will be here. I wrote this book to be an encouragement as time slips towards that date and even after. It’s really part of why I love writing historical fiction so much. You can tell a story set in the past, that resonates with the reader today, and can help that reader face tomorrow. That’s really special to me.
And because I’m sure this will be a question on people’s minds: The title of the book is in Latin (though the book isn’t) and means “destitution that is of/from forgiveness.” It sounds puzzling at first, but it harkens back to Colossians 3:13. It’s that kind of forgiveness that persists even when forgiving will beget more suffering for the forgiver. I picked it as the title of the short story years ago in a “fit of artfulness”. This was before I realized people using web browsers would need to be able to find it and that even my own mom would have difficulty pronouncing it when telling others about it. So not the wisest choice from a marketing standpoint, but writing for me has always been about imparting beauty and meaning to the reader, so I never have been able to part with the title.
Growing up, I never thought of writing as art, but once I started writing seriously, I realized just how true that is. (Granted, writing is pretty much the only area of my life in which I have even an iota of artistry. I’m tempted to say cooking too, but the smoke detector would debate that point.) Tapping into my writerly artistic side, though, I can see the beauty in DQR’s title. It evokes reaction. I can *feel* the truth of that title on a soul-deep level. Even though it makes marketing tricky and you find that you have to explain the title a lot, I’m glad you stuck with it!
Since we’re on the subject of writing, why don’t you share with us about your writing process. What works for you? Are you a plotter, a panster, or something else entirely?
I would say I fall into a bit of both categories. Without fail, there always has to be an initial image that captures my imagination and really anchors me to the world of the story. For instance, in Destitutio Quod Remissio it was Marcus coming upon his home on fire. For my other published book, Day Moon, it was a teen standing under the old stone portico of an English hall and looking across a rainy campus at a bright and modern library. From that one scene I begin asking questions and the answers only beget more questions. By the time I’ve accepted that I have to write a story, I have a general idea of its arc. I feel like I have to have a sense going into it of how the novel will feel. What kind of messages and themes will be embedded in it.
After I have things in mind, things shift. I believe writing a novel is a bit like a trek through the mountains. You can see the ridge tops in the distance (major plot points), but there is so much that you can discover when you descend into the valleys. Things that force you to change your approach, beautiful rivers and forests you couldn’t have guessed at, begin to rise up. I believe God guides us in writing Christian fiction to tell the story He has in mind, and I feel the most out of control and carried along, much like a reader, in those valleys. My hope is always that the novels I write start with characters and this big plot, this series of events that are beyond them, and over the course of the story, as the plot shapes the characters and they develop, the characters soon begin to shape events. They shape the plot in kind. That leads to all sorts of really great surprises and I think is where I become a bit of a pantser. I always want to be open to be led where I wouldn’t have trekked, because God sees the lay of the land better than I do, and I know He will lead to the best paths.
Amen to that! Whether it’s in our writing, our daily life, or our relationships – God always leads us to the best paths. Speaking of relationships (we were…sort of), I understand that you met your wife in interesting and unusual way. Do you mind sharing?
I have to tell this story, because it’s kind of funny and ironic and I feel like I’ve been a little heavy and deep so far.
It was Friday night in the early fall and a friend of mine talked me into going to my high school’s football game that night. I was a senior, and it was the last home game of the season, so I agreed. Since the cool thing for students to do was to stand along the fence line encircling the playing field I was standing there watching our team get destroyed when my friend, who was on my left, gave me a shove. Not a little nudge, like an audition to join the football team type hit that sent me crashing into a girl who had been standing a foot or two away.
When I hit her I half caught myself, so at least I didn’t knock her down, but she looked pretty annoyed when I caught a glimpse of her expression. I hadn’t really noticed her there and knew I had seen her around school, but she wasn’t in my grade. I tried to apologize and explain my friend was insane, but she just turned around and started watching the game again. That was in mid-apology, leading me to think, “Okay…well, I guess I’m never talking to her again.”
The game ended, I left, and, when I got home, I got online. A few minutes later I received an instant message from “sahsangel247”. It was the girl from the game. As it turned out, I had been used as a projectile by my friend in an interesting courtship ritual he engaged in with her. Apparently pushing her or pushing others into her was his way of flirting. She was about as big on that idea as me. As it turned out, we lived about a five minute walk away from one another and had for years, though we’d never met.
We kept talking and talking and talking. Days, weeks, and months went by and I got to know the girl by the fence. Even when I went away to college and she stayed behind to finish her senior year, we kept talking. I had always found talking to girls inevitably ended in me becoming pretentious or feeling like there was an invisible wall between me and understanding/relating to them. But this girl was different. There was no wall. We went out on our first date a little more than a year after we first encountered each other. I took her for a walk around a nearby neighborhood in subfreezing temperatures—I was not very good at the dating thing. For reasons unfathomable to me, she said she had fun and wanted to keep dating. We did and no wall ever came up.
In an irresistible nod to irony, my friend who “introduced” us was my best man at the wedding. I’m not sure he remembers that he was the one who did so, but I’m very thankful for the shove I needed. My wife (who I thought I’d never speak to again) and I still spend most of our free time together and talk so much it makes other couples we know wonder about us.
It might be unconventional, but it sounds like you and your wife got off to the perfect start. As you said earlier, God leads us to the best paths. That applies even when He uses a friend to shove us onto a specific path. Although I have to admit, knowing how your friend’s bizarre courtship ritual worked out for you, I’m awfully curious about whether it not it ever paid off for him. 🙂
Now that we’ve covered why you write, what led you to this story, and how all the pieces of writing and life come together for you, let’s talk about Destitutio Quod Remissio. I’d love to know more about the story.
For decades, Roman Senator Marcus Servius labored to become a wealthy and admired patrician man. But now, his world is shattered. After he is exposed as a Christian during a time of intense persecution, his home, wealth, and prestige are stripped from him. The most painful loss of all is that of his beloved wife, Cassandra. Destitute and wary, Marcus prays he will be delivered from his enemies’ hands as he struggles to realize a new path.
After the leader of a hidden church offers aid, Marcus’s life finds needed direction. Yet, the more he helps the church through persecutions, the closer he comes to finding who betrayed him. Caught in a maelstrom of intrigue and deception, should Marcus discover the awful truth of who caused his fall, he must choose between vengeance and forgiveness—a decision that will affect the fate of all the believers in Rome.
Click to find Destitutio Quod Remissio at
If you’ve enjoyed getting to know Brett and would like to see what else he’s written – or just generally keep up with him – you can find him at these virtual locations:
Giveaway time! One commenter will be randomly selected to receive an e-book copy of DQR. You can enter by commenting below and answering this question:
One of the themes of DQR is that we can trust God to bring good into our lives out of the most painful of circumstances. So tell me, have you ever had something good come of something that seemed bad at the time?
**The winner has been selected. Becky Smith, you will be contacted by Brett with your prize.**