Declan Finn is a New York based writer of vampire stories and other fantasy. He is an interesting guy. We talked Catholicism and fantasy as well as life as a full time writer, what symbolism means to him, how he got involved with Silver Empire publishing, and so many other things. Enjoy!
- Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from and what was it like for you to grow up? Were you always creative and interested in writing? Has your family been supportive of your path or do they wish you would “get a real job?”
I was born and raised in New York City my entire life. Keep in mind, this is New York City, with five boroughs and everything. Manhattan is not the end all and be all of New York, no matter what the Manhattan dwellers may think. It was an interesting experience. Growing up, I was not only the nerdy fat kid, I was also the Catholic conservative – I was that naturally, actually. I always thought that conservatism and Catholicism were just common sense. To a large degree, I still think that way, but I’ve also learned that common sense is highly uncommon.
I wouldn’t say I was always creative. I didn’t start writing until I was 16, and it didn’t occur to me to even start writing until my father told me to write down what I had in my head. I didn’t realize I might have something until I was 4,000 pages and six books into a space opera. And that all started as fan fiction, until it turned into something completely different.
Also, my family understands that writing is a real job, with a lot of real work and effort put into it.
- Talk a little about how you got into writing and how it impacts your life now.
When I was 16, I started writing Babylon 5 fan fiction. It’s all well and good until my original characters wouldn’t shut up, and I discovered that I had to write. It had become an addiction.
Right now, it impacts every facet of my life. I get up, I go to the computer, and either I’m generating new content, editing to be published content, or promoting published works. My social life consists of conventions or people I meet at conventions. For the most part, I spend my days working from the moment I open my eyes until I fall asleep.
- Do writers need to have something to say, a message perhaps? Or is it enough to just want to tell a good story? Do you think writers will say something whether they intend to or not?
No. They don’t have to. Unless they’re op-ed columnists.
Writers of story need a plot, engaging characters, and something to keep the readers entertained. If they want a message in there, it can be carried by the story, but to send a message, I recommend Western Union.
Look at my work to date, and you’ll find very little in the way of a message.
Codename: Winterborn – evil politicians blow the cover of a SpecOps team for profit and political gain, getting them killed. The survivor goes on a killing spree. Message? If you can get one out of that, you could possibly get that “people in entrenched positions of power have a lot of freedom to get away with whatever they want.” But that’s only half the novel. The other half might boil down to “People form communities.” Even the sequel, Codename: UnSub, is a serial killer novel.
Set to Kill and It Was Only on Stun! are both murder mysteries. I don’t remember a lot of message fiction in Agatha Christie. At best, you might be able to distill a message that “ideology kills,” but that’s about it.
My Dragon Award and Sad Puppies 4 nominated novel, Honor at Stake and its sequel, Murphy’s Law of Vampires are about … well, vampires. Granted, I use a lot of natural law philosophy and theology in there, with a dash of Nicomachean Ethics thrown in as part of the development process. I guess you could say that if there’s a message, it’s that there’s black and white and shades of gray, but using shades of gray as an excuse is a really bad idea. But that’s about the extent of any message even I can get out of it. You can try otherwise and correct me if I’m wrong.
The only work of mine that ever came close to having a message might be the books that will soon be rereleased from Silver Empire, my Pius trilogy. And my only “message” was educating people about some historical facts that have been lied about in the popular consciousness for so long, I figured, “Hey, if people can learn BS from Dan Brown, perhaps we can teach people facts through fiction, too.” But that’s about it. It’s the historian in me. I hate lies.
You could say that The Pius Trilogy is driven by a message … though I’m not shooting for a message. I’m just trying to show both sides of a case, and letting the reader decide.
- How deeply do you work metaphor and symbolism into your writing, and do you like to see that symbolism recognized by readers or do you prefer it when they have to reach for meaning?
I don’t. No, really, my books are about as shallow as I am. When my villains are ideologically driven, they’ll happily spout their ideologies … because how many ideologues have ever been able to keep their trap shut about what they think?
I’ll give you an example: my most subtle “message” in the Codename: Winterborn series comes from the “Forsaken.” They’re your standard cult, but they have a lot of rhetoric lifted about “community” and all about “them” … if I made it any more obvious that it was lifted from the communist party, I would have labeled it. And I made the cult leader a former English professor. If you want to take that as a shot at somebody, go right ahead. I don’t.
- Tell me about your process. What routines and habits have you picked up over the years that you believe make you a better writer?
I write every day. I don’t care if it’s a chapter a page or a press release. I have to write. That’s pretty much the only habit I ever needed.
- How did you get involved with Silver Empire publishers? Did you just send in your material or had you previously known the team there? Did an agent get your work read?
I’ve had two agents in my life. I had them for nearly 6 years. Then I went into self publishing. I think that’s all the commentary you need right there.
I more or less ran into Russell Newquist on social media. He ran a little contest between me and Brian Niemeier, reviewed and liked my novel A Pius Man, and at one point I just flat out asked him if he wanted to read the whole trilogy for publication. He said sure, and I sent it to him. About a month or two later, there was a contract.
- And sticking with the theme of agents for a moment, what do you think is the evolving role of the agent in independent publishing? Are agents just for major celeb-writers or do you think they can and will still play a role as publishing goes more indie/self-published?
For independent publishing … the role of agents should be to act as contacts. They hear about a project like an anthology or a media tie-in, and then get it to the author best suited for it.
But I’ve never had an agent do a single thing for me except suggest I start a blog.
- Your website mentions, not infrequently, that you are of the Catholic faith. And you write about vampires. Do you find any pushback from either the Catholic community for writing about monsters or the SFF community for being (I’m assuming based on what you have on your blog) a practicing Catholic?
I’ve gotten very little pushback, except from certain numbskulls among the Catholic community, and even that’s an exceedingly small sample size. These are mostly people who didn’t bother to read how I executed vampires (no pun intended) and were basically holier-than-thou holy rollers who knew better than the Pope about anything – Pope Francis, JPII or Benedict.
I have yet to get the pushback for being Catholic. Not yet anyway. I’ve gotten pushback for making fun of the SFF community, especially in regards to the Hugos and the Puppy movements, but that’s about it. It’s also a long story.
But they haven’t come after me for being Catholic yet. Give it time, I’m sure it will come.
- On your site you call yourself “The anti-Dan Brown” is this because you do not approve of his interpretations of the Catholic faith and the Church, or is it more of a comment on style and subject?
Can I go for all of the above?
Dan Brown gets everything wrong. His history and theology are outright mistaken, if not just straight up lies. His plots stretch credulity past the breaking point. His protagonists are cardboard cutouts, while his villains seem to be the only people with backstory. And his message fiction, good Lord … just don’t get me started. He pretends to be an expert in fields he has no training in, and he’s a snob about it. I saw a more savvy plotline in the film Batman And Robin.
- Do you consider yourself particularly political? You’ve published about the political opinions of Superheroes before, so it seems that you would be interested in politics. And what are some of the major issues you see in the political sphere right now?
My interest in politics is mostly in self defense. I would love – just love – to ignore politics, but I can’t. The economy helps or hurts my sales. And, sadly, my most political novels – The Pius Trilogy – were the ones people wanted first.
My most political posts were probably in the series Sad Puppies Bite Back, though they were satire set around the Sad Puppies “controversy” and the Hugos. They were the most popular posts I’ve done to date, they have gained me thousands of followers, and shot my sales up through the roof. They were so popular, I even gave in to demands that I publish them in book form.
So, sadly, I can’t escape politics. And I’ve tried.
The superhero politics posts were jokes. I just thought they were funny. I didn’t expect one of them to be one of the top posts on the entire blog. To this date, it’s still the most viewed post I’ve ever done.
As for my major issues in the political sphere: identity politics, terrorism, and the right to life.
Identity politics are being stressed to the point where I’m just waiting for the race riot and let’s get it over with. Then again, I live in Queens, where we’re so integrated, if we had a race riot, everyone would be very confused, very fast.
As far as the right to life, I’m not even discussing the option of having an abortion. No. My concern is drawing a line before some concepts become wide spread. There are insurance companies in Colorado that will cover your medically assisted suicide, but will not cover a heart transplant. There are the actual conversations going on about whether or not people should be allowed to live if they have the wrong genetic markers – because obviously, science can do eugenics so much better now, right? If you want nightmares, look at some of the crap Europe is doing. That will keep you up at night.
If you think this is random scare mongering, please read the book Culture of Death.
Do I even need to discuss terrorism? Jihads? ISIS? I will if you think it needs elaboration.
- Give us the Cliff’s Notes version of your Pius Trilogy series, and tell us a little bit about it. What did you love about writing it? What would you do differently if you had just started today?
The Pius Trilogy is … a very long story.
The original book came out of a graduate paper, way back during my MA. I came across Pope Pius XII – the Pontiff of World War II – and saw just how much fabricated crap had been manufactured around the Pope, and got angry. The Trilogy is the end result.
It, of course, has a conspiracy, a cast of characters as international as the ones who took out Dracula, and a buildup to an epic conclusion that I hadn’t planned for.
Book one, A Pius Man explores the history around Pius XII, as well as the development of several mythologies that emerged around him … and why are people being murdered over it?
Book two deals a lot with putting the Catholic church on trial – literally.
And book three … well, I decided the phrase “war on God” was just too good not to take literally.
If I started it today, I’d have to put it on the back burner. I have too many other projects right now to start it over from scratch. Keep in mind, the original book was A Pius Man, written when I had time on my hands in graduate school. It was a single, 200,000 word novel that I pounded out in three or four months. The Trilogy proper took me several more years to edit into segments, and expand into a trilogy. Book two, A Pius Legacy, had been about sixty pages of the original one-volume version, and I turned it into its own novel.
And if I did it today, I’m not sure what I’d do with some of the choices I made. I’m relatively certain that the cast wouldn’t be half as large as it turned into. A Pius Man was supposed to be the end of a dozen novels, where I introduced each and every member of the cast as supporting cast in the previous novels. Instead, it was the second book I’d ever published. Lucky me, huh?
- Did you ever get into any other sort of writing, like journalism, copywriting or writing op-ed pieces? You are one of the more prolific writers I’ve interviewed it seems, so I’m wondering where all the energy goes!
I’ve taken on a little of all of the above. I used to write for Examiner.com … then it closed.
I used to write for The American Journal … then it closed.
I used to write for CatholicMom.com – it hasn’t closed yet, but I mostly reviewed video games, which ate up time I no longer had.
Lately, when I have the time, I help other authors with their work. My cover artist, Dawn Witzke, wants to work on a series of fantasy novels, with me as a coauthor, so I’m working on that. I have another author asking if I’d like to coauthor a book with him, when he has the time. And I have two other authors asking me to look through their works in progress.
At the moment, a lot of the energy is going to promoting my work here, there, and everywhere. I’m a workaholic. I enjoy working. I almost miss a 9-to-5 job, because back then, I at least knew when to start and when to stop. When I’m my own boss, I don’t know when, or how, to stop.
Oh, and I run a radio show, The Catholic Geek on blog talk radio. Because I don’t have enough to do.
- These days it seems like half the population has a chapter or two of a novel on their hard-drive. What is the difference between those who persist to the end and become writers, and those for whom that chapter or two is just sitting at the bottom of the “to do” list?
It’s the difference between the people who “want” to write a novel and those people who “have” to write a novel.
I have to write. Must. I am unable to not write. I call writing “legal schizophrenia,” because the voices in my head only want me to write stuff down. The characters are living, breathing people who don’t want to go away. They want me to take them off the shelf and play with them. So, of course, I tend to beat them up and put them back, just to teach them a lesson. Heh.
Those people who “want” to write? I don’t know if they realize just how much of a commitment it is, or how much work is involved. Or how much of their lives it will eat up. Perhaps they do realize it, which is why they only have a few chapters written. Keep in mind, if someone only wrote a page a day, they’d have a full novel at the end of a year, so it’s technically not “that” hard. If they don’t put in the time, they don’t want to be writers, they just have a hobby.
Yes, I may be a snob. But I spend hours a day chained to a computer, so I think I’ve earned it.
Frankly, my advice to people who want to be writers: DON’T. If they have to be writers, then they should put in the effort. I love what I do, but it may kill me.
- To you, what is the biggest stumbling block when it comes to taking a story from that kernel of an idea through to completion?
Finding the time. I don’t have problems with writing. I don’t really do blocks. Writing blocks happen to me when I’m so bone tired, I have problems even seeing the next page. That happens so rarely, I can’t even tell you the last time it happened.
One of the major problems with being a self-published author: you have to do everything. Sure, you can farm out editing to friends (only if they’re merciless), and covers to artists (if you have the cash … or the friends with Photoshop), and maybe even pay people to do promotional work. But it’s all on you.
- How do you keep organized while writing? I know a lot of writers use sticky notes or 3×5 note cards, do you have a similar strategy or is your process more like organized chaos?
What is this thing you call “organization?”
Usually, I don’t really have a problem with organization when I’m writing flat out. Everything just ties neatly together in my head. For the last dozen books I’ve done, I think I’ve done an outline for four of them: The Pius books, and only a little bit for Set to Kill – I need to know who the murderer is in advance.
- You mention that you are heavily influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas, what is it about his writing that has impacted you the most? What draws you to him?
Thomas is perfectly direct. Everything connects and builds upon what came before. And honestly, if you make the language a little less dry, most people on the street will be able to follow it. There is no “are we sure that there’s a reality outside of us” BS that you get with Descartes, or some of the other modern philosophies. Reality exists, get over it. This is not The Matrix. If it were, children with no concept of gravity would fly every time they put on a red towel and called themselves Superman.
Aquinas is straightforward, and adapts to new information. It’s as close to common sense as I can find in philosophy.
- What inspires you?
What inspires my writing, you mean? Anything and everything. I walk down the street trying to place snipers nests. I go to a convention and contemplate blowing it up. I read books and watch TV shows, and I rewrite them. Sometimes, I like my endings better.
Remember what I said about the hobbyists versus the writers? The hobbyist will dabble, but the writer sees story all around them. Just look over my books: my Pius books came from a history paper.
Easiest example is of the last year or so. With Sad Puppies Bite Back, I saw the caricatures certain authors had built up around themselves: Larry Correia, the International Lord of Hate, who made puppies cry, worships guns, something like that. There were Space Princesses, living brains in jars, a Supreme Dark lord. They sounded like a comic book
Around the same time, SWATting became more common. It’s the idea where someone dials up 911, reports the targeted enemy as waving around a gun, and hoping the SWAT team bashes down someone’s door. Fun, huh?
Sad Puppies Bite Back was imagining what would happen if the Puppy caricatures were SWATted.
A few months later, when I had people asking I do a sequel to It Was Only on Stun! (my murder mystery at a science fiction convention), someone else joked – just joked – that I have my hero from Stun! merge with my Sad Puppies Bite Back universe.
And now you know the entire process behind Set to Kill.
Inspiration is as easy as that. It’s like the old saw that “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” If you’re an accountant, math is the solution to everything. If you’re a carpenter, hammering looks like a great solution.
If you’re a writer, everything looks like a story.