Meet Stephen Morris.
“I first became interested in the occult and magic when I was very VERY young and saw The Wizard of Oz on television for the first and second times. The first time, my mom says I was terrified of the Wicked Witch’s appearance in Munchkin Land amidst smoke and flames and ran straight to bed! (I must have been 5 years old or so.) The next year I began watching the movie again and made myself stick with it past the appearance of the Witch and after that — I was hooked!
“As Chair of the CORE Executive of Inter-Disciplinary.net, I also organized annual conferences on aspects of the supernatural, evil and wickedness, and related subjects.”
With degrees in medieval history and theology from Yale and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Academy, Stephen Morris brings his extensive knowledge and meticulous research in medieval magical practices to his terrifying historical-urban fantasy novels, set in Prague, Estonia, and Waterford, Ireland. In each of his novels, the magical and fantastic elements are all drawn from authentic occult beliefs and practices from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance or from local legends and folklore.
A former priest, he served as the Eastern Orthodox chaplain at Columbia University. His previous academic writing has dealt primarily with Late Antiquity and Byzantine church life.
Stephen, a Seattle native, is now a long-time New York resident and currently lives in Manhattan with his partner, Elliot.
Guest Post – Listening… to Character Clues
I served as parish priest for a small Eastern Orthodox congregation on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and at Columbia University for many years. I celebrated services, preached sermons, performed marriages and funerals. I counseled the confused and the despairing, taught those with questions, rejoiced with the joyful. I read. I shared what I had discovered on my own journey. Most importantly, I listened. Most people already knew the answers to their own questions; they just needed someone to help them listen to themselves.
Hopefully, that listening and sharing is reflected in my writing. I listen to the characters and help them to discover who they are and what journeys they are on. I share aspects of myself with each of them and they share themselves with me; if I am quiet and listen, I can share not only their joys and frustrations and despair myself but communicate their experience to my readers.
One of the best guides to good preaching that I discovered while in seminary contained a warning that I have taken to heart: I must not let my ignorance of a subject gratuitously offend someone who actually knows something about the subject I am writing or talking about. That means I might have to spend weeks researching a small—even tiny—point that many might not even notice in the novel but that will stand out like the sorest of sore thumbs if I get it wrong and one of my readers knows what I am referring to. A reader will allow a writer tremendous poetic license and willingly suspend their disbelief if they trust the storyteller but that trust will be completely destroyed if I say that the house on the corner of such-and-such a street in Prague is red when the reader knows in fact that it is blue. Likewise with my grammar. If I use a period or a comma and the reader knows that it should be semi-colon there, then I have insulted a reader and lost them for no good reason. No author can afford to be so cavalier with a reader willing to invest the time and energy to read what I have struggled to write.
Another suggestion from that guide to preaching describes the art of preaching as the art of storytelling and urges the preacher to preach to himself while allowing the congregation to eavesdrop. A good preacher is a good storyteller and when I was preaching, I was telling the story of the Divine Other that I needed to hear that week while allowing the parish to listen in – as I also provided a “hook” for each listener to hear their own stories in that retelling, as well.
My paranormal-historical mysteries and thrillers are shaped by the folklore, legends, and history of the places where they are set. My characters interact with those authentic pre-modern beliefs and practices, retelling and reshaping them for modern audiences. I introduce characters to each other that might not have met in their original settings but that have stories and experiences to share with each other. By sharing their experiences, they enrich each other and the readers who can eavesdrop on their conversations or thoughts.
Priesthood is primarily a way of being, of bridge-building. In writing, I try to be my truest self and attempt to build bridges between cultures and histories, practices and experiences, characters and readers.