Meet Author Paul DeBlassie, III, PhD, a psychologist and writer living in his native New Mexico. A member of the Depth Psychology Alliance, the Trans-personal Psychology Association, and the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, he has for over thirty years treated survivors of the dark side of religion.
As a psychologist I've been writing about life, love, and spirituality for over thirty years. There's nothing like being a husband, father, and grandfather to keep a serious writer grounded! Thrillers set in the mystic land of Aztlan are my forte. The Unholy is an award winning novel exploring the dark side of religion and the human potential for spiritual freedom, love, and transformation.
A young curandera, a medicine woman, intent on uncovering the secrets of her past is forced into a life-and-death battle against an evil Archbishop. Set in the mystic land of Aztlan, "The Unholy" is a novel of destiny as healer and slayer. Native lore of dreams and visions, shape changing, and natural magic work to spin a neo-gothic web in which sadness and mystery lure the unsuspecting into a twilight realm of discovery and decision.
Accolades and Reviews:
"Paul DeBlassie III has brought us a richly imagined supernatural thriller, set in the high mountain desert of Aztlan, where Claire Sanchez, an herbalist and medicine woman, has come to reclaim her healing heritage and uncover the secrets of her mother’s death. The book digs deep into legend, folklore, and the author’s own imagination to paint a stirring picture of a traditional curanderismo pitted against the oppressive forces of institutional religious power. Make sure you have lots of time; once you start reading this book, it will be hard to put down."
-- Stephan V. Beyer, author of Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon
“The Unholy, an excellent novel by Paul DeBlassie III, keeps the reader engaged throughout in mystery, suspense, and church politics. In addition to vividly depicting the beautiful landscape and culture of New Mexico, it exposes and strengthens the traditional work of the medicine women of the Southwest. I am looking forward to Dr. DeBlassie's next book.”
—Eliseo "Cheo” Torres, author of Curandero: A Life In Mexican Folk Healing, professor, and university administrator
Nothing like a good religious oppression to create fanatics that follow their religious authorities to the extremes. In this very entertaining novel, Paul treats this theme with mastery.
-- Roberto Mattos, blogger at Books and Movies Reviews
“Paul DeBlassie III has captured the energy and challenges of shamanic healing practices in a book that will keep people reading long into the night. Many speak or write about shamanic experiences or skills with no real understanding; Paul, on the other hand, is the real deal. Enjoy a great read!”
—Jim Graywolf Petruzzi, author of White Man, Red Road, Five Colors
Q & A
- Background of the book: The story comes out of over thirty years of treating patients in psychotherapy who are survivors of the dark side of religion…have been used and abused and cast to the side. I’ve seen that when this happens people, those around the victim, to include family and friends, often turn a blind eye and deny what has happened. Rather than writing a self help book I decided to approach this realm of human suffering in fiction. To tell a story moves the reader into a deep and unconscious dimension that bypasses conscious defenses, leaving us open to truths that otherwise would be blocked. So, dramatizing the dark side of religion, pulling what can be the most vile and evil, and pivoting it against an innocent and sincerely searching soul leaves the reader on edge, hopeful, but unsure as to what will happen and who in the end will survive…a truth conveyed symbolically and dramatically. To have written out a list of what to do or not to do in the midst of religious abuse might have helped some individuals, but would have left many people stone cold because there is no emotion is such guidance. In The Unholy, the story is pure emotion, fear and rage and hope and challenge, that inspires and frightens and causes us to stay up late at night in order to finish the story. Dream and chronic nightmares plagues people who’ve gone through the horror of being abused within a religious system. It could be emotional, spiritual, physical, or sexual torment---or all of the above---a true encounter with the unholy---that people undergo during childhood or adolescence or adulthood. They become anxious, depressed, or suffer a terrible emotional breakdown. I’ve treated them, helped them, and they helped to inspire the story of The Unholy!
- Balancing life and writing; It’s a matter of listening to the energy coming from self, family, and friends so that nothing tips more one way than the other and the creative juices stay flowing rather than being depleted by excessive writing and are therefore constantly in a state of being replenished. I had a music teacher who once told me to practice or play up to the point that I feel bored, that the energy for it has been spent, and then to stop for the day. That’s what I do with writing. I stay with it, hit the page running each day, and go for as long and with as much intensity as I have for the scene that I’m writing. Then, I stop. And, if I don’t stop I’ll have nightmare that night that I’m being seduced and used by the muse and that such a thing could lead to utter ruination. There are horror stories about this. Writers in the stories feel the tug to write, the muse senses that someone is taking the bait and then the writer is hooked and reeled in. So, if I let myself be hooked and reeled in then I lose my balance. There is something to being hooked and reeled of course, but the true and balanced thing of it happens when it comes from a hook and a reeling that is my own and not one that causes me to be possessed by something other than my own common sense. After all, what matters is the living of life, and living a good one to the best of one’s ability, writing only a part of that.
- Where do ideas come from? Ideas come from the deep repository of the collective unconscious mind that inspires images and symbols during the fantasies of waking life and during dreams and nightmares. Mainly, it’s the nightmare stuff that bodes best for writing psychological thrillers and dark fantasy such as is in The Unholy. When I wake up in a cold sweat with the characters of the novels threatening me (I remember when Archbishop William Anarch, sinister prelate in The Unholy tormented me for nights on end, demanding that I not write the story) that’s when I know that real inspiration is flowing and that to listen to it and follow the images and symbols that emerge from my deep, unconscious mind during sleep and during the reverie of writing the story will end up in the development of spine tingling realities that jettison both me as the writer and the reader into phantasmagoric realms that have a way of shaking up conscious mindsets and get our heads blown out in a very, very unsettling but ultimately useful way. My writing, in other words, comes from an inner place of torment that needs to be let out so it can be set right. When mind stuff is set right inside me I can feel it by sensing a quality of being at peace, that I’ve written to the best of my ability and been true to the deep, archetypal energies swirling through my mind during the narrative. It really is a trip to listen to ideas, let them become images, and suddenly have them take over a page. It’s like the pages catch fire and everyone has come to life and things become disorderly, fraught with conflict, and danger looms.
- Advice for writers; If you’re feeling the impulse to write it’s because you have writing in you so do not stop no matter what inner or outer critics have to say because it’s not about going down a dead end road and then giving up so much as taking turns in the road as they present themselves. Write and never stop. I read a famous horror writer state that each writer needs to know when they should just give up. Completely, totally, and utterly I disagree. There is no giving up for the authentic writer, one inspired, called by the gods. Writing is matter of sanity and life. To not write for a writer is no more possible than to not breathe. Writers everywhere keep on writing. Never has there been more opportunity to write and be published. Even being published is secondary. Write and never stop because at some point and in some way you’re going to hit a stride that will catch a publishers eye and they’ll want to take you on. So, as far as advice for writers, stay with it, never ever give up, catch your stride and without question you will one day meet up with your publisher and audience. Lastly, when despair comes over you as a writer, take it as a good thing since usually behind all things shadowy there is a truck load of potential. That potential eventually reaches consciousness providing that despair is understood as a fallow time and nothing more or less than that. It’s not a dead end. It’s a turn in the road or redirection of sorts that sends the writer deeper so she or he can listen with greater sensitivity and ultimately discover fresh inspiration.
- Writing tips; Go with the flow and don’t overthink since it’s the over thinking that blocks the creative streams from running their course. Whenever I want to set things up in a rigid way and have definite structure and discipline and hard core ideas about how I should write, when I should write, and what a given story is about, then the trickster in my own psyche emerges and turns everything upside down and inside out. The creative process only respects sensitivity so as to listen and to follow the flow of what is felt, no dictation in terms of the ego telling the deep resources of the mind what to do, no cookbooks or formulas allowed. You can have technically correct but soulless writing. It’s not real stuff, its contrived verbiage, a cut out story with no mojo. When the only writing tip that we follow and that I follow is to hit the page running and catch a good stride, staying with the energy of the scene or character then al is indeed well and authentic in the world of the professional writer. Of course, reading a great deal figures into this since we absorb, by psychological osmosis, the experience and style and juju of those that we read. Each generation of writers builds on the one before it. We get tips, whether we realize it or not, from those that we are reading, their voice coming through into the head of the writer and effecting the very next word they write.
- Character creation; The stronger the character in terms of capacity for both love and rage the more compelling they are and it is in this that the true character is birthed. Love and rage are in essence the nests in which the characters are cared for and nourished and then allowed to fly free. I find that I must dip into my own capacity for primal feelings of love and rage in order to discover that aspect of myself that is like the character, has been like or felt like the character feels in the situation. It’s critical to always allow this to move the story forward and not get stuck by over thinking the character, to just hit and go into the emotional life of the character and let the character then tell me what he or she wants to express. The rage in particular can be horrifying because of our human capacity to inflict injury on others or society. To then express this on the page leaves me feeling vulnerable yet also true to myself within this dimension of storytelling. It’s mind boggling for me to experience the rage of the character and what the character like Archbishop William Anarch in The Unholy wants to do and does to innocent human beings. Claire Sanchez, the medicine woman, on the other hand needs to find rage, a healthy aggression, that has gone awry in Anarch, and only by doing this, if she can, will she potentially be able to discover the strength to fight the powerful archbishop.
- Researching tips; What you need to know about your story is often presenting itself to you during the course of daily life by what happens, what you read, and what you want to avoid, so listen, take internal notes and then hit the page. I find that I am always doing research, the newspaper article that I’m reading in the morning before starting to write, something my wife tells me at the breakfast table, a casual remark by a friend all act to inform my writing of the day. Research takes on a synchronous quality because I really believe in the meeting of the inner and outer worlds so that what we are writing about is swirling about us in our daily life, information constantly coming our way that will guide us in the development of the story. In The Unholy I was confronted with one priest after another, one zen master, one protestant minister, bishops, popes, ministers, all on the news. They and their antics fed right into what I sensed I needed to write about. I was familiar with all of this through my work in psychotherapy, but the more I wrote the more started hitting the press. Right before publication of The Unholy, the Vatican, various ashrams, and eastern cults were blasted over the news media. My pr people were jazzed about the coincidence, something that I feel is more synchronous a meeting of outer facts and inner realities informing and confirming the story, The Unholy. Research is always happening, during conversation, sleep, wakefulness and fantasy!
- 5-10 musts every story in your genre should have: Scary, mean, dark, compelling, transformational potential, and hope but not too much hope for the future. If there is too much hope then we run the risk of selling our soul out to an angel. Selling out to an angel is a terrible possibility because that trivializes the human condition, takes what is complex and looks only at the surface and ready made answers that seem to provide immediate relief from suffering. Scary and mean and dark and compelling set the stage for dark forces infringing on human hope and potential with no guarantees. We have to remain on the edge our seat, waiting to see what’s going to happen. Claire, in The Unholy, is a young woman haunted and intimated by a life-threatening figure, a man robed in black. He haunts her dreams, comes in nightmares, terrifying remembrances of things past. This deep fear from childhood trauma so laces The Unholy with compelling imagery and emotion that the reader is flung forward into the narrative desperate to find out not only what will happen but how it will happen, how a young woman could possible handle the power of a misogynistic religious male patriarchy. Archbishop William Anarch hates women and Claire Sanchez, curandera, is a young and vulnerable women. When a man carries the sanction of society, particularly of a huge religious organization, and mixes it with his own sordid inclinations so as to empower himself then we’ve got one of the building blocks of good set against evil. Innocence is the other building block, Claire Sanchez, and when she confronts face to face the worst thing in her life…we’ve got action and thrills. Scary, mean, dark, compelling with the potential for hope and transformation are the building blocks for good psychological thrillers and dark fantasy!
- 10 things most people don't know about you: Those ten things will remain ten things that most people don’t know about me. But, the other ten things that I’m willing to share concern The Unholy itself, the fact that it was a story twenty years in the making. It’s held up over such a long period of time because every time I wanted to put it away my wife would encourage me. It was rejected well over one hundred times…so there’s one hundred things people didn’t know. If it wasn’t my wife, then my dreams would say not to give up on it, even though I had shelved it and moved on to other novels. People don’t know about the dreams about The Unholy that I had. They said to leave it in the kiln, to be fired some more, and then one day when I least expected it would be ready to be removed from the kiln. That’s when Jim White from Sunstone Press and I met up and he was on fire for the story. This is stuff people don’t know about me. Years, and despair, and patience, a plethora of dreams and nightmares, struggles, encouragement from my wife and family, and synchronistically meeting the right people went into publishing of The Unholy…dreams, nightmares, patience, despair, my wife, my family, encouragement, the phantasmagoric kiln, Jim White and Sunstone Press…all things some people know but many people do not. So, these ten things are hidden emotions and relational encounters and The Unholy and how it was woven into the fabric of my life for twenty years before publication in 2013.
- Lessons I learned from my hero (heroine/villain). Claire Sanchez, 25 year old medicine woman, curandera, is a young woman who has lost her mother when she was five years old, witnessed her murder at the hands of a black robed man. She is a woman of tremendous courage and resolve. Fear tries to get her by the throat and squeeze the life out of her. There are so many times that she fought not to give up, to surrender to despair. I find her so human here, the draw to give up and make oneself disappear when confronted with evil. Evil, the real thing, can be so overwhelming, big and mysterious, and appear to be way out of our influence or control. She is one person, a very young and inexperienced person at that, up against a veritable force not only of society but of nature gone bad. To feel the odds stacked against you and yet know that you can’t be true to yourself, to your life, and to go on with life without getting answers and doing what you need to do to find those answers, no matter what, is sheer inspiration. Courage is courage only when it is face to face with one bad ass enemy…Archbishop William Anarch! If she dies then she knows that she has done what she has needed to do. Death is a real possibility for her. She knows this and yet has to risk it in order to be true to herself as a woman. To risk everything, life itself, in order to be true to self…that is courage and this is a lesson to be learned.
- My take on critique groups. In The Unholy it is religious groups that are the focus of the dark side of human nature and society. You get the feeling that, as in many groups, no one really thinks for themselves. There is no self. There is only the group. Archbishop William Anarch, the incarnation of evil, is in reality the spokesperson of the religious group complex. Due to his own psychological damage he has given himself over to the Great God Religion and in this found his pulpit, his twisted and destructive sense of self that takes as its nourishment not only acclaim by the religious organization but domination over women. Groups lose the feminine quality of sensitivity and caring in favor of power and control and manipulation. Claire is the divine feminine battling against the out-of-control group maniac Archbishop William Anarch, a misogynist, one who typifies masculine energy gone amuck as is true in power mongering groups that no longer serve the needs of the individual, have left the service of humanity, and exist only to serve their own power ridden ends. In general, groups are quite prone to be power ridden and antithetical to the growth of the individual. Claire Sanchez, symbol of the divine feminine within every man and woman, stands on her own. She will not abide by or tolerate immersion in the group. She stands apart and for this reason is a character to be reckoned with. Claire Sanchez, heroine within all men and women waiting to be discovered, is a veritable force of nature!
- One of the most terrifying things about being a writer: If I’m going to write a true story that resonates with my audience I have to live it out. It has to have been a part of my life. Since I write thrillers and dark fantasy, that means that dark forces that have been at play in my life or are presently in the works can be quite overwhelming. This is not a hands off enterprise. Writing cuts to the core of my life and life experience, relationships, profession, dream, and nightmares. If I could only research stuff from a distance and then write in a compelling way about that, that would be one thing; but as it is I have to live this out. The story is a living breathing thing within my life before it hits the page, and then once its on the page, and then on from there. The Unholy is about terrifying religious encounters. This is something that I was raised with, fought my own battles about, treated people for clinically, and finally found that I was smack dab in the middle of writing a story that could not be stopped. It had to come out. Frightening, very frightening to live this close to one’s work. There were times that it effected my family, and I had to wonder whether I should withdraw; but we all talked and I had their support. I have it now. The arms of creativity stretch long and influence oneself and others who are in the emotional and psychic vortex of one’s existence. The energy, the psychological amalgam, of this is so intense and persuasive that nothing short of challenging and amazing can be said to even faintly describe it.
- What kind of writer am I? Don’t tell anyone, but in the quiet moments of my day and in secret times of contemplation I admit to myself that I am a horror writer. I balls out write horror. I clean it up and say I write psychological thrillers and dark fantasy; but, rock bottom its horror. It’s my own kind of horror that is quite different in many ways from what is out there in the marketplace. I see huge volumes with convoluted tales. The old horror master, my true inspiration and guiding lights, wrote without ungainly complexities. There was good and there was evil and they were set at life threatening odds with one another so that the reader was scared to death because they had secretly wondered if something like this could ever be or ever happen and the old masters brought that dark wondering out of the cupboard and set it loose on the earth. That’s what I do, can’t clean up except when I feel compelled to in professional and academic societies of clinical psychology and psychoanalysis. But, more and more I’m making my way out of the closet and saying plain and simple that I’m a horror writer. Yikes…there…I said it…wasn’t bad…tooo...baaad…Yikes! You can see by my conflict how the only way for me to write is to unplug from this conflict and get down to the nitty gritty and be the horror man. This is what jazzes me and makes me write…pure, raw, human fear and horror..the stuff of this writer’s life.
- Secrets about your favorite genre. The greatest secret about the horror genre is that it is so multifarious and multiparadigmatic that it defies description. You get S. King with increasingly rich stories as he is ageing, a man who not only has lived and knows horror, but knows longing and love as is evident in his more mature stories written over the past few years especially Lisey’s Story. Then at the other end of the spectrum you get the rough and wild bad boy of horror, Edward Lee. The guy has some seriously demented characters that never ever can be redeemed. I mean what kind of character is the main character in Portrait of a Psychopath as a Young Woman? Horror is such a varied genre. In The Unholy you get more of a classic good guy and bad guy scenario but played out on a supernatural venue featuring the mythopoeic realm of Aztlan. This is a cultural realm with deep spiritual meaning for the mestizos of New Mexico. This is a story of church politics, culture, misogyny, and the struggle to find a sense of self within this multifarious and tormented drama. I don’t think anything short of a horror story (I won’t clean it up at this point by calling it a psychological thriller) could convey the terror of conflicting energies of culture, church, abandonment and the desperate need for courage in a world that seems like it has gone to hell in a church pew! I love horror and I love horror because it is so multifaceted, rich, and into extremes that pop out the realities behind the scenes of everyday life. That’s the secret of horror…it’s into extremes so as to express truth…if you got something to say, an old professor of mine used to quip, why not exaggerate to get the point across. Horror does that. The Unholy does horror and goes to extremes to pop out the reality behind what is observable.
- A day with (you) behind the scenes. I get up at 3:45 am and write horror…actually I practice yoga for half an hour and call on the spirit world for guidance and direction, inspiration, for my day treating patients and for my writing. The inspiration often comes with an out-of-the-blue idea that I then tear off with onto the page. Everyday I like to write a little, without hope or despair as one writer said. I then have breakfast with my wife and read news-media for half an hour before seeing my first psychotherapy patient at seven am. I have full days of seeing patients Monday through Thursday then I write Friday through Sunday. I wake up ready to go, ready to engage in private psychotherapy practice, treating those who have suffered from the dark side of religion, to write about the drama of human life and individuals struggle to find themselves in the midst of dealing with a world loaded with dark energies and maleficent beings. There is so much in the course of one day to fill my life that I have to make sure and get time to heal myself, to relax, sink into marriage and family life. Ultimately, it’s the wonder of marriage and family life that grounds and heals me, keeps my feet on the ground, keeps me real and keeps me going! Without marriage and family there wouldn’t be the juice to keep moving the way I like to move, to live as I desire to live, and to write with the force and rage that is in me to write. The Unholy was a daily process over many years and all my stories are and will be daily processes over many years.
- How I handled the research for the book. (if applicable) Actually it was more like The Unholy researched me, the story lingering in my mind and not settling until I was committed to the year’s long process of writing it. It went on and on in my mind, countless nights of seeing the scenes in dreams and nightmares that eventually became the narrative of The Unholy. So, then, it was very much like the muse researched me, saw into my level of insight, personal and professional experience, diligence, and willingness and then decided to give me the story. Of course, I followed up by jettisoning the story into the mythopoeic realm of Aztlan. This is a spiritual land of the mestizo, mixed blood, southwest. I wanted to take it out of the place of New Mexico and sensed the inspiration of the muse behind this. It was not a story that would permit itself to be trivialized by some thinking of it as a dramatized version of a single story in the literal place of New Mexico. The Unholy is a centuries old story told in such narratives as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and explored further in twentieth century venues such as School of the Sacred Beast by Yumi Takigawa in 1974 and the upcoming HBO documentary “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.” Overall, research into the mysteries of Aztlan held sway in this book as it became a voyage for me, something I grew up with but had never formally delved into. The Unholy gave me an opportunity to move into the mystic potential of the land, the people, stories lived, and lives forever changed. It has been a place of great suffering and tremendous transformation. Aztlan, the setting of my novels, remains an ongoing study in sense of place, inner meaning, horror, and archetypal energy.
- Pondering the muse. Pondering the muse is nothing I want to do too up close and personal. It’s like looking for too long directly into the sun. It’ll blind you. While I was finishing up some of the final writing of the Unholy, my daughter, Victoria, a sculptress, would warn me, “Dad, be careful..the muse will always want more and more. She’ll take over your life if you let her.” I’ve more or less listened to the wisdom coming from my daughter and I’ve found that doing so has served me well. The muse and I stay on good terms so that I don’t burn myself out or blow myself out with the white hot energy that is present during the writing process. I leave the desk each day knowing that I’ve left some in and that is the way it should be. I don’t want to keep going and listening to the sirens who beckon to me to go a little further, a little more into dark creative waters after a full day already spent giving birth to the words, sentences, paragraphs, and scenes. I pay respect to the muse at the end of each in the secret way that I do, leave her and myself wanting more but leaving the more on the table. That way there’s something for me to return to, refreshed and ready, the next day. You know, as I am writing this I see the muse, and she smiles knowingly and hopefully. She hopes one day I’ll listen to her and be seduced into more and more and more and not stop…and this is a good thing to know because then maybe by keeping it in mind I’ll keep my balance between truth to self and heeding the call of the muse.
- How to handle negative criticism. The most important thing for me to remember about criticism and The Unholy is to realize that it sets off a religious complex in people who haven’t come to terms with the meaning of religion, freedom, spirituality, and love in life. If there is conflict in the confluence of these areas for an individual then they may hate the novel. It makes them vulnerable and suddenly what they’ve wanted to cling to and perhaps find redemption in becomes threatened. Instead of looking within and wondering, pondering the source of their intense emotional reaction, they take it out on the story and may rage against it. Intense emotional reactions are always telling, there is stuff lurking underneath. With The Unholy it provokes strong feeling and may cause folks to love it or hate it…depends on where they are and how they are feeling about themselves and their life. So, I take all this into account when I receive negative criticism. I believe it is helpful in maintaining a certain remove, a distance so that my objectivity remains as clear as possible. There was an initial reaction by a few church folk to The Unholy, stating or really wondering if this was a novel that “is just about slamming religion.” Actually I enjoyed answering them and saying that the novel is not about religion so much as it is about the dark side of human nature, religion just being the particular venue for this story. There is a dark side to religion, something they agreed with, and The Unholy takes this reality and dramatizes to show how good and evil can be masked and show up in the most unlikely of ways. This addressed their criticism and interestingly enough set them more or less at ease about reading a terrifying novel about the dark side of religion!
- The making of a (your genre) writer. I have to state something that I hope is not a cliche. But, I really believe writers are indeed born and not made. Of course, it takes years and years of work, reading, writing, and editing and editing and editing before things come together. This is definitely the making of a writer, but the initial stuff needs to be there. I couldn’t be a computer programmer or software engineer for all the oolong tea in China. It’s just not in me. However, I do have it in me and have had it in me to write and write til I get it write. If we’re born with the inspiration, if we want to write, then something is there. In The Unholy I had to keep going, the inspiration and compulsion were so strong that the energy literally felt as if it was electric and going to shoot out my fingertips and the top of my head if I didn’t write it out. The making of a horror writer, one who wants to write about the dark side and thrills of the psyche, is about doing what you feel when it comes to putting words on the page and letting no one dissuade you. There is discouragement, but that only comes when we need to step back a bit and rest. If we are patient and don’t enter into the Hades Hall of Abandoned Hope then we’ll find that energy returns. The making of a writer is about writing and never stopping the writing, letting it come together as it does in its own way and in its own time.
- As an author, what scares me the most. What scares me most is the day I’m not scared. Fear is a healthy part of being alive. It doesn’t have to cripple us. If it does then we’re not listening to something that we need to turn inside and hear. Otherwise, fear especially when conjured within a horror story helps us in life by getting us to face things on the page that symbolically we’ve been wrestling with. We might never have had to face a raging Archbishop; but, what if we’ve been raised in a rigidly religious home and the face of God is manifest in the face of the minister or priest and as you are reading you suddenly, on a primal level, feel the terror of being reproved by the Almighty for having fallen short in your life and being condemned. Well..that kind of fear is a good thing because it brings us face to face with a destructive emotion that can be faced and felt in the story, the reader finding a little catharsis and perspective, and maybe discovering a little more freedom in the process from what just doesn’t make sense. Respecting fear and its power to inform and motivate is something that I hope to do for the rest of my life as I continue to explored horizons of horrifying stories that provide catharsis and a little perspective. When, as an author, I’m open to catharsis as I’m writing, feeling the fear of the character, the young curandera facing the evil archbishop, then I’m open to continuing to change and grow as a writer and never fear ceasing to grow, change, horrify, and perhaps transmogrify.
I get the impression that The Unholy is a book only you could write, because of the setting, and because of your own background. Let's start with the setting. Tell me about Aztlan. Aztlan is the mythopoeic realm of the mestizos (mixed bloods of southwestern United States). I am mestizo. Aztlan is New Mexico, especially the region of Albuquerque (southern Aztlan) and Santa Fe (northern Aztlan) and extends to the four corners area. Spirits, dreams, visions, and natural magic are woven seamlessly into everyday life.
Your protagonist, Claire Sanchez, is a curandera, a term which roughly translates as "Medicine Woman." What exactly is a curandera? What led you to choose this occupation for your heroine? A curandera is a healer. She spoke to me as the story evolved, told me who she was and told me of her struggle to find herself. The path of a healer is fraught with danger. She dramatizes the life of so many women and men seeking to face their fears, find themselves, and walk the path of healing, natural magic, and life.
Faith and religion are central themes of The Unholy. You explore the abuse of religion and the conflict that can come from spirituality. What would you say is the central theme or message of Unholy? What impact are you hoping to have on your readers? The central message of The Unholy is Religion Kills. It is made explicit at the end of the tale. News media broadcast Religion Kills as they describe the battle between the evil Archbishop and the young curandera.
You live in New Mexico, in the general area where the novel is set. How has this affected the writing of The Unholy? How important was your knowledge of the places and people and culture? What kinds of personal knowledge did you draw on as you crafted your characters and setting? New Mexico is Aztlan. My lineage reaches back for over three-hundred years in Aztlan, a long line of medicine people, healers. I live here, breathe its air, am sheltered under the canopy of its turquoise sky. The Unholy and the natural magic of the medicine women, forces of darkness and light, exist side by side in the daily, mythopoeic realm of Aztlan. I live here. It is my homeland.
How has your training and experience as a psychologist impacted your writing in general? For over thirty years I have treated survivors of the dark side of religion. I chose to write a novel about this human drama. Stories cut to the chase. I’ve written three other books in psychology and spirituality, but there is nothing like stirring the imagination via story to set the mind working and the heart healing.
I know you've had some specific experiences in your role as a psychologist that led to your decision to write this book. Tell me about that. Religion can be both terrifying and damaging. I help people to heal from the dark side of religion. Decades of such experience led me to write this book and the ones that will follow. Each phantasmagoric story, much like The Unholy, plumbs the dark and light sides of human nature and spiritual experience.
The cover image for The Unholy is striking and haunting, and it's not just some random stock photo. Tell me about that picture. It is the Devil’s Throne, an actual site between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The evil archbishop performs atrocities there. The land has been contaminated by evil, women desecrated, the air itself befouled. It is the Devil’s Throne in the realm of Azltan!
Please share a little about yourself, your genres, any other pen names you use. I am a psychologist and writer. Psychological thrillers set in the mythopoeic realm of Aztlan are my specialty. They delve into dark regions of mind where good encounters evil, battle ensues, and darkness threatens to overcome light. In The Unholy, as one reader described it, things get going and then they get going stronger and faster and scarier. That’s how I write and how I enjoy telling stories.
Tell us a little about your latest release. The Unholy will be followed up by The Dark Goddess. In The Dark Goddess the question of whether bad love is better than no love is asked. It takes place in the phantasmagoric realm of Aztlan where dream, visions, and natural magic are everyday happenings!
Are you a mom (or parent)? Kathy and I have been married thirty-six years, have four grown children, two writers and two artists who grew up with the tale of The Unholy. Each of them has said that it’s been strange reading on the page what was told them years back while the novel was in formation. They’re creative individuals with a keen eye and sharp who readily picked up on the shades, shadows, and moments of enlightenment in The Unholy.
Have you ever based your book or characters on actual events or people from your own life? Oh my gosh…the characters in The Unholy are a compilation of so many folks. These are people who suffered under the reign of organized religion. Despair and mental torment threatened their existence. I treated them in psychotherapy, others I knew as associates and friends, and was privileged to witness the unfolding drama of their courageous lives.
Is there a theme or message in your work that you would like readers to connect to? Yes…definitely. The theme of The Unholy is Religion Kills. This refers to the dark side of religious experience that is terrifying and can be experienced in the novel as a young woman struggles against overwhelming odds. Religion has stolen from her the very foundation of her emotional life. She witnessed her mother’s murder. Dramatically, this is enacted and stated at the end of the novel as headlines of a news publication reads--Religion Kills!
When you’re not writing what do you do? Do you have any hobbies or guilty pleasures? The greatest pleasure for me is in my marriage and family life. Three of our children are married. Getting to know them and their spouses in a new way is an exciting experience. My wife and I are getting to know each other in a new way after having spent so many years raising them. I really dig music, play folk and blues, and am an avid yogi! Life is an unending trip leading to one state of enlightenment after another!
Q & A:
Q) What inspired you to write this story?
A) Over thirty years of treating patients who have suffered from the dark side of religion inspired The Unholy. The travails and dramatic life stories ushered my imagination into a phantasmagoric realm in which a young medicine woman engages in a life-and-death battle against an evil Archbishop. Dreams, such as ones experienced in therapy, and synchronous events, natural magical happenings, inform the healing process just as they guided Claire in her battle against evil!
Q) How long did it take you to write?
A) The book was in process for ten years. After years of rejection from other publishing houses, Jim Smith of Sunstone Press in Santa Fe, New Mexico saw it and claimed it. The actual writing took two to three years with edits. The Unholy was its own journey of discovery and natural magical happenings!
Q) What is your favorite thing about writing?
A) Listening to the unconscious mind unfold creatively in the form of story, dramatic narrative is fascinating. The characters come alive, speak to you, tell you what to write, what they suffer, their challenges, and their outcome. The Unholy filtered through my waking life, dreams, and ongoing musings during the three years in which it was written. I totally enjoy the life of the story felt within the context of my daily life and inspiration and then taken to paper.
Q) What is your least favorite thing about writing?
A) Waiting to hit the page running is my least favorite thing about writing. The anticipation of pouring words out onto paper can be painful. You want to get to it and do it. The pain is in the waiting. The Unholy would allow me to write only so much at a time, pause, let days pass, wait, write more….painful in the waiting…a pregnancy of sorts.
Q) If you could be any famous person for one day, who would you be and why?
A) No fame for me. The mystics of old would flee the thing. They felt it compromised them. I believe that. Archbishop William Anarch in The Unholy craved the power and prestige of fame, among other things. When you read the story, you’ll see where it got him.
Q) What is the oldest thing in your fridge and how old is it?
A) Old memories are the oldest thing in my fridge. They’ve been there metaphorically for a good, long time. Funny thing, when I open up the fridge, things from the past pop to mind. So often, the stored memories of pleasant encounters and painful occurrences usher forward. In The Unholy, a young woman is haunted by the past, things stored in her mental fridge, and needs to come to terms with them, to face the past, deal with it, or forever be haunted.
Q) What can readers expect from you in the future?
A) The Dark Goddess is rolling out. It’s another psychological thriller set in the mythopoeic realm of Aztlan, same region as The Unholy. It’s a novel asking is bad love better than no love? This and other psycho-spiritual thrillers will be coming on down the pike over the next few years.
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