It’s my pleasure to host J. Todd Kingrea, who joins me to talk about his Fantasy novel, The Witchfinder, the first book in the Deisparian Saga, which was published on September 23 by BHC Press.
J. Todd Kingrea is the author of the Deiparian Saga. He has also written two non-fiction books–Carrying on the Mission of Jesus and Bullied! Confronting and Overcoming Six Major Obstacles to Church Effectiveness–and contributes Blu ray reviews for “Screem” magazine. An ordained pastor, he lives with his wife just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, with their dogs, plenty of 80s metal, and an ever-expanding movie collection.
Connect with J. Todd Kingrea
In a post-apocalyptic world where tyranny and medieval torture reign supreme and witch burnings are an everyday occurrence, a top Witchfinder must confront the very Church he serves when he learns of its dark past and twisted plans for the future.
The Church of the Deiparous rules with an iron fist and its rising star, Witchfinder Imperator Malachi Thorne, is committed to leading its cause. Thorne is a man on the fast track to greater things so when a convicted traitor and heretic escapes his grip, he won’t tolerate it marring his perfect record.
As he pursues his quarry, he must confront demons, sorcery, and a cult of witches out for his blood. But when Thorne comes face to face with the Church’s dark past and its twisted present, his faith is tested to its limits. Now Thorne must decide who and what he believes in—and what he will do about it.
Welcome to the Asylum, Todd! Take a seat by the fire and have a glass of beverage of your choice. For those who don’t know you yet, tell me something about yourself that’s not in your bio!
Hey, thanks for having me! The Asylum, eh? I feel at home already!
Something about me that’s not in the bio… Well, I was a public radio disc jockey back in my college and post-college years. That was back when a real person selected real records in a studio, talked over the air, took requests, and played music! And back in the mid-1990s, I did some freelance writing for the “Call of Cthulhu” role-playing game. I discovered that game after playing “Dungeons & Dragons” for a number of years. I wanted to write for the gaming industry at the time and I made the acquaintance of a couple of other freelancers who helped me get my foot in the door.
That’s awesome! I’d like to say I remember those times, but… In the mid-1990s I just started elementary school… Back then we still had disc jockeys, although it was that time we sat by the radio waiting for our favorite songs to come up and record on cassette. I hated when the hosts talked over the music at the start… I think I’ll see myself out now.
What was the most exotic place you’ve visited so far? Did it inspire any of your work? How that experience affected you personally?
As an ordained pastor for the last twenty-plus years I’ve had the opportunity to visit a couple of interesting places as part of short-term mission teams. In 2004 I was in Ghana, West Africa, helping with a medical mission team. And no, I’m not medically inclined! But my wife is a registered nurse, and she was there, along with another RN. I got to help out with some basic care for the people we saw in several different villages.
In 2007, my wife and I participated on a mission trip to the Philippines and Vietnam. That was quite an experience, too! It was an international mission team, made up of several ladies from Australia, a man and woman from England, a guy from Brazil, and three of us from the States. While we were in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) we got to meet with believers who were persecuted for their faith. Most of our time was spent in the city but we did get to do some sightseeing along the Mekong River and in the jungle.
And in 2010 and 2011, my oldest son, Brett, and I went to the Czech Republic as part of a mission team. In addition to the work we were doing with the children and youth at a baseball camp, we got to visit a couple of lovely old towns, not to mention Prague. It was on the 2010 trip that the idea for The Witchfinder started to come alive in my mind.
One day we visited the town of Český Krumlov. The two of us stumbled upon a small museum just off the market square and inside were displays of medieval torture implements. As I looked at the various tools and mechanisms—used by men of the church to intimidate, wound, and in some cases, kill, those who had been accused of crimes against the faith—I couldn’t help but wonder: why had men of faith seen fit to inflict such cruelty on others? How did they reconcile such actions with their Christian beliefs? And what would the world be like if that particular moment in history had continued—indeed, what if it had become the dominant worldview?
Oh wow, you’ve got quite a few adventures, I see. I bet you’ve seen a lot of things most people probably won’t in a lifetime. I’m sure you could spend a few evenings telling stories. I live in the “neighbourhood” (Hungary), and I never got to visit Prague myself, even though I’ve been wanting to for a good decade now or more. As for medieval torture by church people…well. I find that topic fascinating from a Historian POV (I majored in History at the university, so…). The inquisition, especially the later Spanish version sure was something. And those questions you were posing are definitely worth some thoughts.
What inspires your writing? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil? Maybe all of the above?
Most of my inspiration comes from a story that I want to tell, or an idea that captures my attention—like the torture implements in the museum in Český Krumlov. This past spring, I was reading a non-fiction book and came across something that lodged in my brain as a story idea. So, I started to work on it. When I’m making an outline, world-building, developing characters—the stuff that has to be done before you begin writing—I’ll often listen to music. But once I sit down and starting writing, I normally like things pretty quiet. When the weather’s good I like to sit on my front porch and write there.
Your debut fiction novel, The Witchfinder released on September 23, 2021. Congrats! If you could launch a release party with your MC(s) present, how that would go down?
Ha! Well, it would depend on if the characters were from the beginning of the story or from the end. If they were the people from the end of the story, who’ve been changed by the events of the narrative, then everybody would get along nicely. If they were taken from the opening chapters…yeah, not so much! Malachi Thorne, the main character, would be chasing Teska Vaun, a witch, all over the place trying to arrest her! And the other characters would be helping him!
Ha! Sounds like it would be a fun event. Although probably not for the poor organizer who would have to keep them all in order…
As a debuting fiction author, what advice would you give to your future self?
Don’t get so hung up on deadlines that you stop enjoying the creative process. Tell the stories you want to tell regardless of whether or not they’re best sellers. There’s somebody out there who wants—and needs—the next story you have to tell.
Talking about The Witchfinder, what was the main inspiration for the story? Which aspect of the book was the most challenging to write and why?
Well, I mentioned the genesis of the story earlier.
Storytelling always begins with “what if?”
What if the Nazis had won World War II? What if JFK hadn’t been assassinated? What if Frodo had kept the One Ring? The question I asked: what if the Inquisition of the Middle Ages became the basis for a whole society?
Upon returning home from the Czech Republic in 2010, I started to look for answers. I researched the Roman Catholic and Spanish Inquisitions, as well as the social, cultural, historic, and religious background of the Middle Ages. While readers may cringe at the tortures and tools described in The Witchfinder, I assure you that they are historically accurate (with the exception of the Hellcage, a little device of my own design).
My questions also fueled the idea of the book—a world where a monolithic church held supreme power over the lives of every person. Where torture, oppression, and control were commonly employed by church agents who viewed their work as holy, vital, and necessary. Just as it happened in real life.
I’ve always been a fan of post-apocalyptic stories, and knew I wanted to tell that kind of tale. I elected to use an unidentified time in the future, long after a calamity had reshaped the geography of the United States and the world—and in which humanity had rebuilt itself to a medieval level of social and technological achievement. I wanted to explore what might happen to someone born and raised in that kind of world, who suddenly had his entire existence upended—whose beliefs and identity were challenged to the core.
The hardest part to write was the blossoming romance between Thorne and Vaun. I’m not the most emotional or romantic guy (just ask my wife!), so I struggled to show how their feelings for each other developed, fluctuated, and deepened over the course of the narrative. I can write action, horror, describe places and situations—but trying to make the characters’ affections come across as believable and authentic was hard for me.
I love that you’ve put a lot of research into the Middle Ages, I love when people do that. And believe me, I wouldn’t be surprised by much of what you’ve found – and used in your book. People can be pretty creative when it comes to all aspects of life, torture not being an exception…
Which character of your book do you identify with the most? What you’ve learned from them (if anything)?
I’d have to say Malachi Thorne, the Witchfinder of the title. He’s a man who’s given his life to serving the Church of the Deiparous. And when a series of events forces him to re-evaluate who he is and what he believes, it pitches him into an identity crisis, as well as a crisis of faith. I think people who claim faith in any religion have moments or periods of doubt. Uncertainty. They have questions that their belief system cannot adequately answer. Or worse yet, they’re told by those in their belief system never to question anything. My own faith journey has had its share of ups and downs, confidences and doubts. So, I see some of myself in Thorne.
If you were a character in your book, how would you be described? And what your profession/role would be? How long do you think, you would survive?
Honestly, I’d probably work for the Church of the Deiparous in some capacity! Maybe as a “Storico”—the term I came up with and use in the book to refer to the Church’s historians. The Church is separated into four Orders, each responsible for different parts of peoples’ lives. One order handles the equivalent of law enforcement and judicial affairs; another oversees education. A third takes care of all the worship and liturgy for the Church. And the biggest Order (in terms of the number of people it “employs”) is responsible for all the things we associate with civic government: a treasury for minting currency, taxation, record-keeping, permits, deeds, and so on. If I was in the story and didn’t end up being a Storico, I’d probably find myself as part of the Kyrian Order—that’s the one responsible for all the faith-related aspects of the realm (liturgy, hymns, worship, etc.).
What are your future plans? Are you working on something now? Can we meet you at an event – circumstances permitting?
Well, I can say that the second part of the Deiparian Saga, which is titled The Crimson Fathers, will be released in November 2022 by BHC Press. The publisher has a horror novel I’ve completed, and they’ve contracted to publish, but I haven’t been given a release date yet. We’re still working on a good title for it.
The next project I’m about to jump into is the final part of Malachi Thorne’s story, part three of the Deiparian Saga. And no, I don’t have a working title for it yet, either.
Yes, I’m absolutely open to meeting my readers! I attended the Fanboy Expo at the end of October in Knoxville, Tennessee, and hope to be able to be present at a couple of cons next year. I have to work them into my schedule since I pastor a church full-time!
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you to invite one visitor (fictional and otherwise) – who would you invite? And no, they can’t help you to escape.
Geez… What about one per day? Or per week? Wow, there are sooo many…
Jesus, of course. My grandfather, Howard Hunter. Dario Argento. H.P. Lovecraft. The guys from Iron Maiden. Lon Chaney, Sr. My childhood friend, Joaquin, who passed away a few years ago. William Wallace. Captain James T. Kirk (he could probably help me escape!) Ramsey Campbell. Ingrid Bergman. Bernie Wrightson. J.R.R. Tolkien. Doctor Who (I’m getting out of here one way or another!) Gaston Leroux. Joan of Arc. Michaelangelo. The apostle Paul. Jeffrey Combs.
And my dog, Rigby.
You are going to have some busy days…
Well then, it was a pleasure to have a chat with you! Please allow these nice attendants to escort you out. We hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
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Check out The Witchfinder by J. Todd Kingrea