Cerece Rennie Murphy
It all began at this year’s installment of the New York Comic-Con.
I tracked down Charles Pelto, the mastermind behind Classic Comics Press, to say hello and see how the show was going for him. We’d only begun our conversation when suddenly his eyes lit up. “Bill, there’s someone I have to introduce you to. I think you’re going to like her and her work,” he stated, and then promptly escorted me to her table and introduced us.
After only a few moments talking with the writer in question—Cerece Rennie Murphy—I knew that Charles was right in his estimation. Even better, that initial impression has only been strengthened by careful reading of her novel, Order of the Seers, and what I’ve subsequently learned about Cerece since then.
All of which made it obvious that I needed to help introduce Cerece and her Seers to the larger audience that they both deserve, starting with you good people, the loyal readers of TMR. I think you’ll like her and her work.
In fact, I predict that this is the beginning of a long and rewarding relationship for all concerned.
How would you describe Order of the Seers to someone who’s unfamiliar with it?
I would describe Order of the Seers as a sci-fi thriller about a group of people who can see the future and are enslaved for that ability. The story takes you on a journey with the Seers as they try to escape the group that hunts them, regain their power and ultimately fight back.
There are strong elements of suspense and action that run throughout the book, but at its core, Order of the Seers is a story about a group of people trying to find their identity and true purpose in the world.
Well, who are some of the main characters, and what kind of world do they inhabit?
The story begins with Liam and Lilli Knight, a brother and sister who are forced to hide once they discover that Lilli is a Seer who is being hunted for the power she possesses. Marcus Akida and Alessandra Pino are Seers who have been captured and enslaved for many years by the Guild, the organization that collects and exploits Seers all around the world. Marcus and Alessandra play a critical role in helping the first group of Seers escape the Guild and reach a deeper understanding of their power and their purpose.
The main villains in the book are Crane Le Dieu and Andreas Menten. They are high ranking members within the Guild and partners in their quest for dominance within the organization. I can’t tell you how proud it makes me to hear from readers how much Crane makes their skin crawl. He really should he makes my skin crawl, too.
Order of the Seers is set in an alternate contemporary universe, where things look pretty much the way they do now with some important differences—the UN, for example, has been reorganized into a more powerful and cohesive entity that is essentially run by The Guild. There are much fewer conflicts going on in the world as a result of their cooperation, but their power comes at the expense and enslavement of the Seers who enable them to rule with near omnipotence. The average person has no idea how deeply their communities are policed, manipulated and controlled.
What was the originating spark for the project, how long did it take you to fully develop it, and how much did it change during that process?
The initial spark was a vision of one of the main characters, Marcus Akida, that came to me while I was washing the dishes about three years ago. Almost immediately, the premise of the story sort of unfolded in front of my eyes and I could not let it go. It took about ten months, from that initial idea in my kitchen to finish the first draft of the story. During that time, the journey of understanding and seeing the story just became more and more intricate. After about three months, I had a chapter outline that I thought was pretty comprehensive, but new aspects of the story and the characters just kept revealing themselves the more I wrote.
I have to say, when that happens (and it happens a lot), it is so much fun! I discovered how addictive giving yourself over to a story can be and that is an experience I cherish every time it happens. About halfway through writing the first book, I realized that Order of the Seers was a trilogy.
Would you say that the outline was more important than just going with the flow of the story, or...?
Both, really. I started out with a story summary, then developed a detailed chapter outline and wrote the chapters based on that outline. It was and continues to be a very helpful tool for working out the sequencing of events and keeping me on track with the objectives and themes for each chapter. One of my main goals with the book was to keep the pace pretty tight and make sure I built in a reason for readers to turn from one chapter to another. The chapter outline kept me focused when I was in danger of rambling.
But the truth is, the chapter outline just tells me what is going to happen in each chapter, it doesn't tell me how and the how is really where the story is. The how is always a discovery process for me. I love it when the story surprises me.
Why work that particular way? What does it allow you to do that other approaches don’t offer?
To be completely honest, I haven’t tried many other methods. I’ve written poetry most of my life and that has always been a very spontaneous process. In the end, if I read the poem over and it accurately expressed what I was feeling at the time, then it was a good poem. No further examination was needed because I never planned to share it with anyone.
But I can’t imagine writing a book that way. You have to prove everything: the characters, your story premise, the events that take place and your conclusions. Everything has to be on the page or you are going to lose your reader. Suspended disbelief will only take you so far, so I had to have a plan for keeping everything straight. Also, my memory is terrible. If I didn’t chart things out, I doubt I would have remembered where the story was supposed to go. I would have been like “Dag, I had a good idea for that fight scene last week. What was it?”
With the sequel to Order of the Seers, which I am writing now, the outline has proven just as helpful as it was the first time.
Given that the Seers can forecast at least aspects of the future, how difficult was it to write those scenes and still maintain that enduring aura of dramatic suspense, much less not give away some of the major plot points beforehand?
Great question! For awhile I was stuck on that exact problem, asking myself, “How do you wage a war against people who can see the future?” That’s part of why it took me three months to come up with a chapter outline. In the end, I was able to incorporate some constraints within their powers that felt true to the characters and where they were in their understanding of their gift. It was tricky because I wanted all their abilities and shortcomings to seem as realistic as possible and be in balance with what we know a human body can do. That’s why no Seers move at supersonic speed in the series. These are not all-powerful, all-knowing beings. They are humans and thus have limitations.
The other thing that helped me in crafting the story was the idea that unless your agenda is truly altruistic, your understanding and vision of the future will always be limited. The organization that controls the Seers uses their gifts to probe specific aspects of the future because they are only interested in their own gain. They don’t care about world peace as an ultimate goal. Everything is a means to consolidating power. As a result, the aspects of the future that they use the Seers to focus on are limited by their own greed and self-interest, which ultimately blinds them from some very real threats to their supremacy and helps me keep the suspense going.
Now, there’s a few fairly steamy—and one fairly explicit—sex scenes in there. Why include those, and how difficult was it to write them? I ask, because it’s my understanding that writing effective sex scenes, like writing truly funny comedy scenes, is a lot harder than many would think.
As much as possible, throughout the book I tried to create an intense, visceral experience. I wanted the reader to feel his heart racing as Lilli and Liam run for their lives and the anguish Alessandra’s visions cause her. If my characters are up against a wall and fearing for their lives, I want to describe it in such a way that you, as the reader, can feel the brick on your back too. I want you to be scared right along with them. I approached every scene that way and it was no different with the love scenes in the book.
I wanted the reader to experience the passion that these characters feel for each other in the same way he or she has experienced everything else on their journey. I think of them as love scenes, because, to me, they are not about sex as much as the emotional connection that the act exemplifies for these characters. I included the love scenes because they are very important to the characters and where they are in their emotional journey. The first love scene was actually a surprise to me. I didn’t see it coming until I was inside the chapter. But, it brings Alessandra to a breaking point that is critical to her decision-making throughout the rest of the story. Some reviewers have described Order of the Seers as a YA novel, but it really isn’t. Though some of the characters are teenagers, I wrote the story for an 18 and over audience.
And I have to say, the love scenes weren’t any more difficult to write than anything else in the book. Plus, they appear pretty late in the story, so I had a lot of time to think about it. My biggest challenge in writing is usually to see the scene clearly in my head. Once I can see it, the writing part is pretty straightforward. I just have to translate those visual images into words that convey the power of what I am seeing in my head. It’s all about trying to be faithful to what the characters show me—the story they want to tell. If I don’t write it down the way they want me to, they get really nasty and vindictive inside my head.
Well, what’s next for our favorite seers, and when might we see the next book?
Oh, I am so excited! The Red Order, which is the next book in the Order of the Seers trilogy, will be out this summer, most likely in June 2013. I am almost halfway through writing it now and am having a ball!
With the first book, I tried to answer the question “Who are these people?” Because the foundation is already there, I don’t have to focus on that question as much in the second book. I can really expand on what you know of these characters and focus on giving the reader more answers and more action. The big question in The Red Order is “What can these Seers really do?” The end of Order of the Seers laid the ground work for a whole new adventure for these characters. The Red Order picks up right where Order of the Seers left off and doesn’t let up. With the second book, I also get to set-up the foundation for the third book in the trilogy which will answer the question of “Why—why these people, why these powers, why now?”
Did I mention that I am excited?
Is this a project that you can see yourself coming back to again and again, or do you have a definitive beginning, middle and an end in mind for it?
Oh yes, I know how the story ends. This series has only three parts that I plan to write. After that, I am on to other projects. I’ve already written the outline for a children’s book series called Enchanted: Five Tales of Magic in the Everyday. I am really looking forward to writing those stories when I am finished with the Order of the Seers trilogy.
What do you get from writing, generally?
Another great question! First and foremost, I get a chance to release my own emotions and creativity. It is amazing to see how much of yourself is on the page at the end of every day. The ability to string a series of words together to convey something inside yourself is a gift. It is pure magic and I mean that very literally. Writing helps me make sense of myself and the world around me. Writing is my confidante, my shrink, my objective third party, my memory and my truth-sayer. Writing shows me who I really am, which is sometimes hard to gauge when you’re locked inside your own perception.
How about from the Order of the Seers? What do you get from writing those?
Hmmm... the first thing Order of the Seers gave me was the knowledge that I could write a book. I didn’t know that three years ago.
The second thing the series has given me is a place to explore a question that I’ve had in the back of my mind most of my life—a question about what our true potential and purpose is as human beings and why so many of us have such a hard time accessing it. What is preventing us from being more than we are? These questions have been with me for a very long time and I didn’t realize how integral those questions were to the story until after I had finished the first draft and read it over. When I did, I could see how my personal journey influenced the story and the characters I wrote.
But the most unexpected and amazing thing that I get from Order of the Seers is the interaction with people who have read and liked the book. I never imagined that in a million years.
What would you like readers get from your work? Is it all about pure entertainment and escapism, or do you hope that they get a little more from it?
In my dreams, Order of the Seers will inspire its readers to ask themselves, “What more am I capable of and how can I tap into that?” I am always so happy (and relieved) to hear when someone enjoys the book.
That’s my first duty—not to put people to sleep. But after that, if it makes them question their own perceived limitations, then I am over the moon because to me that is the central question in Order of the Seers—what would you be capable of if you unleashed your full potential?
Anything else to add before I let you get back to work?
Well, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to do this interview and answer all of your awesome questions.
If anyone would like to learn more about me or what’s next in terms of my writing, you are welcome to visit my website. From there, you can read the first chapter of Order of the Seers or visit the Order of the Seers Facebook fan page. You can also see teasers for The Red Order through my Pinterest link and learn more about my upcoming projects and appearances.
In the spring and the summer [of 2013] I look forward to visiting a number of sci-fi conventions, so check out the website for all my appearances and signings in the New Year.
I am also sending out an exclusive sneak peek of The Red Order as a holiday gift to everyone on my mailing list, so feel free to go on my website and sign up!
And last, but not least, thanks for reading!