Roger DeBlanck's Blog

March 28, 2020

Prayers from the Far Quarter

Prayers from the Far Quarter, my new novel, is now available in trade paperback or on Kindle. It will also be available anywhere books are sold. Many thanks to everyone for your continued interest and support.

Here's the Amazon link:
https://www.amazon.com/Roger-DeBlanck...

Here's the book's description:
Prayers from the Far Quarter is Roger DeBlanck’s most memorable and essential novel to date. Its historical breadth and sweep traverses three continents to chronicle the extraordinary life of Isa Muhammad Rahman, an African Muslim.

Isa’s unforgettable voice and distinct prose style narrate his journey that begins in 1850 from the Bornu kingdom of sub-Saharan Africa. From his capture in his homeland, to his sojourn in Victorian England, to his enslavement on a cotton plantation in the antebellum South, to his work with the American Anti-Slavery Society in the North, and finally through his sacrifices as a Union soldier, Isa relies on the guidance of Islam to strengthen his humanity as he struggles for survival and freedom.

During his efforts to gain inclusion for himself and his family as American citizens, Isa’s journey affords him remarkable opportunities to share Islam’s message of accepting people of all races and faiths. His quest for equality and a just society leads his life on a path where he meets and works alongside figures as majestic and revered as Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman.

In its totality Prayers from the Far Quarter honors the sacrifices and contributions of Muslims throughout American history, and through the voice of Isa Muhammad Rahman the novel resonates with the great peace and compassion at the heart of Islam.

Roger 8-)
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Published on March 28, 2020 11:18 Tags: african-muslims, civil-war, islam, islam-in-america, muslims, muslims-in-america

June 3, 2019

Completing the Manuscript

Over twenty years ago I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the first time. Since then I’ve reread the novel at least ten times, and the power of its story continues to haunt me with the aftermath of America’s greatest tragedy: the institution of slavery. I have always wanted to write something where I brought an untold story to life, but not until February of 2017 did the right voice begin speaking to me. What started twenty-seven months ago is now a completed manuscript titled Prayers from the Far Quarter about an African Muslim slave. Chronicling the main character’s journey has been a life-changing honor for me. The last four months have been obsessive editing and revision to polish up the work. Now it’s ready for the next stage of querying.

If anyone has been perusing my social media posts over the last two years, you may recall the novel characterizes a handful of historical figures throughout the main character’s journey. These include Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman. I had foreseen at one point perhaps the main character may meet Lincoln or Grant, but it never happened. Regardless, the main character’s journey is a loose composite of many real-life Muslim slaves and what emerged was his own distinctive voice, sharing the peace and humanity at the heart of Islam. His extraordinary story honors the sacrifices and diversity that make America great.

Roger 8-)
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Published on June 03, 2019 17:07 Tags: manuscript, novel-writing, writing-process

November 3, 2018

Reaching the Midpoint of Writing a Novel

Nineteen months ago I embarked on the journey of my next novel about an African Muslim slave. The first fourteen months I spent mostly researching and immersing myself in the subject matter and time period of Islam in Africa, African Muslims, the African slave trade, American slavery, the Civil War, and of course the Islamic faith and what it means to be a Muslim. In June of this year I began drafting the narrative told in the first person voice of the main character, and yesterday I surpassed the 50,000 work mark, which at this juncture in the narrator’s epic journey feels as though the story has reached its midpoint.

My writing and drafting process is not to throw words feverishly onto a page and go over them with enough effort to achieve a reasonable quality so I can quickly move forward. I am a deliberate and methodical writer who contemplates and obsesses as I envision the direction of the plot or more precisely the struggles the main character is guiding me through with his own voice. And so I write and rewrite, write and rewrite, and stop completely when something is not working. Not until the chapter or section or scene feels solid and polished enough do I feel as though I can move ahead with certainty that what I’ve had time to contemplate is the true destination the narrative is heading.

After 50,000 words, the pace of this novel is running about 10,000 per month, which is registering in at a slower pace to complete the “first draft” of this project compared to my other novels. What I have learned from my books is that each of them is like a different child. They behave differently, make different demands, and require me to care for and nurture them in their own unique way. In short, they are beautiful and fascinating and frustrating and exhausting, but I would not want it any other way because I do not have a choice. These works have demanded me to write them.

I’m discovering with this current novel that I need anywhere from 6-12 drafts of each chapter before moving on. This is not to say that I am trying to shortcut any part of the process by doing more rewrites and polishing ahead of the next draft. In fact, as with each project, I am detecting those instances where I know I will have to go back in forthcoming drafts to fix, change, tighten, and polish certain sections and details. I keep a list of the tinkering needed, but overall I am feeling this novel is the strongest work I’ve ever undertaken. This is partly because when you commit yourself to a strong work ethic and you keep focused on the vision of the story, you tend to improve with each effort and challenge yourself more with each project.

This current novel is by far both the hardest and the most enlightening one I’ve ever attempted. As this story develops, the beauty and humanity of Islam is emerging exactly as I knew it would because Islam is such a beautiful and humanistic faith. The language of this first person narration feels as magical and lyrical as anything I’ve ever done, and I owe my love of poetry in my teens and during my early writing days for helping me see history and the world of the past with its every wondrous detail. No matter how hard I work, however, I have doubts. In fact, every book I’ve written has started with doubt and not believing I can do it until I start researching and giving my soul over to hard work which brings about the muse.

What pushes me, keeps me going, and inspires me is reading. Whenever I’m feeling tired, I head to my bookshelf and seek out my heroes: Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Michael Ondaatje, Albert Camus, Jorge Luis Borges, and the list goes on. At this moment in the story, I’m back to Morrison’s Beloved and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. Another mainstay in my reading is going back to the Quran and to Reza Aslan’s No god but God.

After a day of feeling exhausted with the demands of this current novel, I’m now refreshed and reinvigorated to head back to the narrative. Reading Morrison should give me the inspiration to do some good work with the hours left in the day.

Roger 8-)
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Published on November 03, 2018 17:10 Tags: drafting, first-draft, novel-writing, reading-books, researching, writing-process

February 25, 2018

Enslaved African Muslims, the Civil War, the Beauty of Islam, and My Next Novel

It’s been nearly a year since my last blog post. In that time, a lot of progress has been made on the journey of what will become my next novel. As I mentioned in my last post from April 7, 2017, this new project will focus on the antebellum and Civil War era and most specifically on enslaved African Muslims. Historians estimate about 15-20 percent of slaves in America devoutly practiced Islam, even against all the direct and indirect forces that tried to make them abandon their faith. West Africa and its great civilizations and kingdoms—where many of the Black Muslims were originally captured during the slave trade—were greatly influenced by the Quran and Islamic teachings. Learning and education were valued greatly in these African kingdoms, so Muslim slaves were often highly literate and extremely intelligent.

Over the course of the last year, I owe tremendous gratitude to dozens of writers and books for shaping my understanding and vision for this next novel. With most of the grassroots research completed, my task over the past two months has been typing up, organizing, studying, and reviewing the hundreds of pages of notes and ideas I’ve accumulated. Not only has my research immersed me in the Civil War era, plantation life, the slave trade, and the unspeakable crimes of the institution of American slavery, my focus has also been overwhelmingly drawn to the beauty and intellect of Islam. During this last year, I reread the Koran for the first time since 9/11. As I experienced it then, I again found the Quran full of its inspiring message of love, compassion, and generosity. The entire purpose of Islam is a profound commitment to God—the only One from whom we came and to whom we shall return. Submission to God’s love through prayer, kindness, mercy, and unwavering charity make up the foundation of what it means to be a Muslim.

Anyone who claims Islam endorses violence is wrong. Nowhere in the Quran or in the Prophet Muhammad’s life is violence condoned against innocent people. In self-defense, one may protect one’s self, but that is only if you’re denied by another the right to worship God in your own way and follow the path of righteousness as set out so beautifully by the Prophet. Otherwise, peace is the answer and all should be forgiven. The word of God should be offered, but it can never be forced upon anyone because Islam prohibits any compulsion of religion. Muslims revere each of the Old and New Testament prophets as divine vessels of God’s love. It was Muhammad who God entrusted to deliver His final message to humankind through the words set forth in the beauty of the Quran. And so the Quran says to pray for peace and grace, give to the underprivileged and less fortunate, and show mercy to everyone, including one’s adversaries and especially to anyone who may believe differently from you. That is the life the Prophet lived and the message he shared.

Moreover, no religion throughout its history has valued women more than Islam. (For more information read Reza Aslan’s No god but God or Carla Power’s If the Oceans Were Ink.) Muhammad’s original Muslim community, the Ummah, made women instrumental in leadership and learning. The same happened in the West African kingdoms where Islam made its influence beginning in the 11th century. Women were scholars who played a central part in teaching and learning. My next novel will celebrate the beauty and wisdom of Islam through slaves who were Muslim, but their story will be much more. It will confront slavery’s crimes, it will encompass the Civil War, and it will have a Muslim slave as the protagonist showing humanity the path to a better life. At this point, all I know is that each day this project lives in my heart. Every day I make a little more progress, and that is the commitment to the journey. I’m hopeful to begin drafting soon.

Roger 8-)
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Published on February 25, 2018 14:35 Tags: american-slavery, antebellum, god, islam, muslims, novel, the-civil-war, writing

April 7, 2017

Starting My Next Novel

Last year after finishing The Destruction of Silence, I wondered whether I’d ever have another book in me. “How can I ever push myself more than I did with that novel?” This question had been haunting me for months. The emotional drain of completing The Destruction of Silence hit me hard. I was separated from the characters of Thomas and Great Star for the first time in three years, and it hurt to the point where I broke down and wept. I started to think I could never again experience anything with that type of intensity. I realized, however, my emotions were similar to the way I’d felt after finishing my other books.

But something was different with finishing The Destruction of Silence. The pain and redemption of that story made me nervous about ever wanting to commit to another work if the new work was unable to produce the same emotional impact. Seven months after the book was released, I had no new project on the horizon. With the completion of my other books, I found myself immersed in a new idea within a few months. But not until last week did the idea for my next novel come to me. It now feels as powerful as anything I’ve ever considered writing about. The root of this new story is now firmly planted in my heart, and it’s beginning to course through my blood, and so I have no choice but to undertake this next journey. What’s most interesting is that this new idea has been stored in my head for over twenty years. But only in the last week have I been able to see it clearly after all these years.

This next novel will take place in the antebellum south and will cover American slavery and the Civil War years and its aftermath. More specifically, it will deal with African Muslim slaves and the presence of Islam in America during the Civil War era. That’s all I know right now, but I will be charting my progress with all of you over the next two, three, four, or however many years it takes to tell this story. I realize I'm on the verge of the most challenging endeavor I’ve ever undertaken, and thoughts of fear and doubt are swirling, but mostly I’m driven by the need to relive the past and tell this story. The decision is not mine. The story must be told. I can hear the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney echoing to me, “Get started, keep going, and get started again.” So I’m on my way.

Roger 8-)
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Published on April 07, 2017 15:04 Tags: novel, novel-writing, novels, read, reader, readers, reading, write, writer, writers, writing

September 23, 2016

The Destruction of Silence -- My new novel is now available.

The Destruction of Silence is my new novel, and it is now available in trade paperback or on Kindle from Amazon. It is also available in paperback anywhere books are sold. The links to Amazon and B & N are below. I've also included a link to the book's trailer.

https://www.amazon.com/Roger-DeBlanck...

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-d...

https://www.goodreads.com/videos/1094...

Here's the novel's "book jacket" description:

In his most accomplished novel to date, Roger DeBlanck delivers an unforgettable contemporary story of a young Native American man on the road to recovery. Abuse and addiction have ruined Thomas Newsome’s youth, but he refuses to follow the wasted path of his father, Gilbert. After Thomas narrowly avoids tragedy, he vows to get clean and stay that way. Before he can bury his past and move on, he wants answers from his father for why he never changed. But then Gilbert falls ill and takes off on a personal journey. With only a handful of clues from his Apache past, Thomas sets out on a quest to track down his father. Along the way, he meets an elderly Native American sage by the name of Sons-in-jah. While traveling with the old man deep into the heart of Apache country through Arizona, New Mexico, and across the border, Thomas’s search for his father becomes an odyssey of self-discovery and an excavation into the roots of his Mescalero ancestors and the truth of his family history. The native individuals he meets and the enchanting places he visits will forever alter his perspective on life. In going from destruction to redemption, Thomas learns how the Apache spirit within him can lead towards a meaningful purpose in life. The Destruction of Silence is a heartfelt novel of remarkable beauty and compassion. It will sweep you up, carry you along, and leave you bereft and ultimately uplifted.

Roger 8-)
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March 31, 2016

The Destruction of Silence -- My New Novel's "Book Jacket" Description

Writing a novel is mostly hard work, dedication, and staying committed to your vision. But one of the toughest components is putting together the summary. Below is the most updated "book jacket" description of my new novel, The Destruction of Silence, due out in September. Let me know how it sounds.

Roger 8-)

In his most accomplished novel to date, Roger DeBlanck delivers an unforgettable contemporary story of a young Native American man on the road to recovery. Abuse and addiction have ruined Thomas Newsome’s youth, but he refuses to follow the wasted path of his father, Gilbert. After Thomas narrowly avoids tragedy, he vows to get clean and stay that way. Before he can bury his past and move on, he wants answers from his father for why he never changed. But then Gilbert falls ill and takes off on a road trip. With only a handful of clues from his Apache past, Thomas sets out on a journey to track down his father. Along the way, he meets an elderly Native American sage by the name of Great Star. While traveling with the old man deep into the heart of Apache country through Arizona, New Mexico, and across the border, Thomas’s search for his father becomes an odyssey of self-discovery and an excavation into the roots of his Mescalero ancestors and the truth of his family history. The native individuals he encounters and the enchanting places he visits will forever alter his perspective on life. In going from destruction to redemption, Thomas learns how the Apache spirit within him can lead towards a meaningful purpose in life. The Destruction of Silence is a heartfelt novel of remarkable beauty and compassion. It will sweep you up, carry you along, and leave you both bereft and ultimately uplifted..
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Published on March 31, 2016 15:26 Tags: apache, apaches, book-jacket-description, native-american, novel, summary, writing

February 22, 2016

The Reading/Writing Balance

Before I ever believed I could be a writer, the work of my masters made me dream of what I might create—something worthy of shadowing in the footsteps of their monumental achievements. In reading the works of those I revere, I was driven to follow their greatness, to emulate what they do. Early in my teens, this often led me to consume all the work of certain authors: Shakespeare, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Dostoevsky, Camus, Hesse, Borges, Steinbeck, Wright, Hemingway, and others. As I read, often I’d come across something about the way they wrote and I’d become nervous, alarmed, even discouraged that my writing habits didn’t mirror those of my masters and the way they did their art. I’d feel defeated that if I couldn’t mimic their “ways”, I couldn’t be a writer. For example, Dostoevsky wrote several versions of his novels to find what worked best. Unreal? Could I ever match such a standard? This often caused real doubt in my early days of writing. If I wanted to write like the best, I needed to adopt their “way.” Right? Then after I finished college, it dawned on me how every writer did their art differently. By this time I was enamored with many of my contemporary masters: Morrison, McCarthy, Ondaatje, Doctorow, O’Brien and the list goes on. As I consumed their work, I realized there is no one right “way” to write. In fact, Morrison didn’t start writing her novels until she was forty. But she’d been a writer her entire life. As a lifelong reader and a professional book editor, she lived and breathed reading, writing, language, and literature.

For me, I must work in streaks and forays, yet every day I live and breathe reading, writing, language, and literature. I may never be able to put down a specific number of words each day or assign a disciplined block of time each day, but I live and breathe reading, writing, language, and literature every day. As a self-proclaimed reader first, I’m unable to go a single day without finding at least a few hours to read. Reading sparks my thinking, envisioning, obsessing, planning, preparing, researching, editing, and revising—all of which are necessities for me to write, all of which I carry out a little each day. I may do 10,000 words in a few days or less than a 1,000 in a given week. It all depends where I’m at in the process. But one aspect remains constant every day: I live and breathe reading, writing, language, and literature. If I’m writing a lot, naturally time is taken away from reading. The reciprocation is true: if I’m reading a lot, it is essentially to gear me up for an intense period of writing. This is my cycle, and worries do not bother me anymore if I’m not “writing” every single day because I am actually in the process of writing with everything else I do. My habit of a reading/writing balance is the only way my art works for me.

Roger 8-)
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Published on February 22, 2016 12:56 Tags: language, literature, reading, toni-morrison, writing, writing-process

February 12, 2016

When You Read Something Special

When you read something special, your job as a reader is to share your experience with as many others as possible. Recently, I finished the extraordinary novel Gospel Prism by Gerald Weaver. Take a minute to read my review, and you’ll see how special the reading experience was for me:

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

But instead of ending this post with asking you to look at my review of Gospel Prism, which hopefully will entice you to want to read it, I thought to exalt Weaver’s brilliance by recounting a few among countless passages that made a lasting impression on me (page numbers correspond with the paperback edition):

“That we may not ever be so certain is the hallmark of humanity, in the same way that even the most exacting words are easy to misconstrue and are often inapplicable to each and every case. The certainty of words and the certainty of our apprehension of them is always suspect. So it is best to take them for what they are, fall back on your humanity and embrace the uncertainty.” (p. 59)

“Hold everything you believe . . . and particularly everything you read and believe, as you would hold a child or a bird, firmly but gently and carefully . . . Many of them would argue that it is hypocritical to profess faith and have doubt. It is really the other way around.” (p. 69)

“The true miracle of it all begins and ends with our own senses and our own heart and mind.” (p. 210)

“What I gathered from my journey thus far is that while God may be transcendent what we may know of him or her is written on our inner parts. God’s law is merely immanent and is at least in part composed of our memory. For instance, the very purpose of prayer is to remember.” (p. 307)

“The problem is not what you believe but what you impose upon the rest of us. And in many cases the desire to impose upon others is stronger than any personal faith . . . The actions of each faith may be judged by the way it treats its members and non-members, by the way it treats woman, by the way it treats the least among us, by the way it treats those who are its neighbors, and by the way it respects itself in the face of differing beliefs. It is one thing to live your own life in faith, it is another thing entirely to say that your God gives you certain sanctions within the world, such as the right to bomb innocents, or take and command land, or to oppress women.” (p. 332)

“We are never fully formed, and our comprehension of divine wisdom will always be something at which we must labor and of which we may never be assured.” (p. 340)

“Reading is your opportunity to brush with the minds of other people, great women and men who have also been visited by divine inspiration. Reading deeply of the great books is your best opportunity to find the divine.” (p. 341)

“Seek God in what you read and will know the divine when you see it. If a child reads any book he is looking in its pages at a very spare road map showing him a way toward the Lord.” (p. 345)

“The true study of the divine is the study of ourselves, and we must understand our selves first and best. Uncertainty is one of our truly divine hallmarks, and we must hold anything that strikes us as the most sublime truth with the most gentle and delicate care. This uncertainty may actually be the most holy element that is within us.” (p. 346)

If you connect with any of these passages, I highly recommend you try Gospel Prism by Gerald Weaver. It will touch your heart and expand your mind.

Roger 8-)
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Published on February 12, 2016 15:08 Tags: gerald-weaver, gospel-prism, reading

January 28, 2016

Writing: Starting and Keeping Going

Every time I begin drafting the next chapter of the book I’m working on, a nagging fear resurfaces. It questions me, “Oh, no, what if you’re unable to pull this off?” This doubt, however, is always transient. Instead of derailing my intent, it fuels me. The best advice I’ve ever heard about writing comes from one of my favorite poets, Seamus Heaney, someone I revere and had the great honor of once meeting. Heaney says that in order to be a writer you must make a commitment: “Get started, keep going, and get started again.”

The second I remind myself of his cure against any fear of writing, I get to work. I rely on my notes and research to provide guidance. The feeling that I’m putting garbage sentences and mindless ideas on the page always surprises me later when I have my longhand typed up and I start my initial revisions. Most often I find myself overjoyed with the starting point I have. There’s usually a rhythm, a structure, and an overall outline for how the story and characters are developing. In other words, I have something good to work with.

No first draft is ever close to being finished. In fact, it usually takes dozens or more drafts before I can see the end. But once I’ve made that initial start with words on the page, my fear disappears and seems foolish, for of course I can pull off what needs to be done. So each start is a little battle against doubt, which for me is a driving force. Keeping going is never hard for me—until I must begin the next chapter. But I can forever hear the soothing, reassuring Irish voice of Mr. Heaney reminding me to get started. At that instant, I know everything will be fine.

Roger 8-)
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Published on January 28, 2016 13:44 Tags: advice, drafting, seamus-heaney, writers, writing