Influences Uncategorized Writing

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!


A Disturbing World-building Resource

By Jay S. Willis

Cosplay of Monty Python

I was honored to have this essay World Building with the Spanish Inquisition published by Author and Scientist Dan Koboldt on his ongoing series for writers and fans of speculative fiction called Science in Sci-Fi, Fact in Fiction.

Monty Python and Mel Brooks’s modern portrayals of red-robed men with funny accents exploits the brutality and hatred derived from The Spanish Inquisition for laughs. All joking aside, this powerful Medieval and Renaissance Institution borne of anti-semitism and overzealous religious fervor should never be forgotten, or ignored. A little knowledge about The Spanish Inquisition offers an invaluable resource for any fantasy, alt-history, or sci-fi author in world-building. Want a disturbing way to literally torture your characters and/or build an oppressive regime? Look no further.

The royal appointment of the first inquisitor‑general was Thomas de Torquemada, who had been one of the seven inquisitors commissioned by papal letter in 1482. He was made Inquisitor of Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia by Pope Sixtus IV on October 17, 1483. The appointment of Torquemada was a crucially important event in the development of the Spanish Inquisition.

“Rigid and unbending, he would listen to no compromise of what he deemed to be his duty, and in his sphere he personified the union of the spiritual and temporal swords which was the ideal of all true churchmen. Under his guidance, the Inquisition rapidly took shape and extended its organization throughout Spain and was untiring and remorseless in the pursuit and punishment of the apostates” (Lea, Henry Charles, A History of the Spanish Inquisition, Vol. I p.174)

As the Spanish Inquisition gradually gained independence from the Crown, it started its rise in power and influence that would make it an institution having supremacy to all other governmental bodies and virtual equality with the Spanish crown.

V0041643 A torture chamber of the Spanish Inquisition with with suspe
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
A torture chamber of the Spanish Inquisition with suspected heretics having their feet burned or being suspended with a rope from a pulley while scribes note down confessions. Engraving by B. Picart, 1722.
By: Bernard PicartPublished: 1722
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

The means of which the Spanish Inquisition dealt with heretics were many and quite varied. Under the Inquisitorial Process “the accused was assumed to be guilty and that the object of the tribunal was to induce or coerce him to confess his guilt; that, for this purpose, he was substantially deprived of facilities for defence and that the result, for the most part, depended on his powers of endurance which the judges, at discretion, could test to the utmost” (Lea, History, Vol. II p.465). Basically, the accused was virtually helpless. The individual would be taken to a secret prison, confined to a cell excluded from all outside contacts for days, weeks, or even months, left wondering about his fate. Despite the cruelties inflicted by the Inquisition they were not only attempting to punish the body. The holy mission of saving souls, though the means were quite questionable, was of the utmost importance. An Inquisitional Procedure was to be based on the ideal of the inquisitors being able to judge all cases based on truth, justice, and impartiality.

“The evidence of witnesses is scrutinized in the light of their character and quality and those who are found to bear false‑ witness are most severely punished. The accused, while detained in the prisons, are treated kindly and liberally, according to their condition; the poor and the sick are abundantly furnished with food and medicines, … and are favored in every way…and…as Time is the revealer of truth, cases are not hurriedly finished but are prudently prolonged, as is requisite when there is such peril of the life, fame and property, not only of the accused but of his kindred” (Vol.II p.483).

The inquisitorial ideal remained only that, an ideal that was never truly attained. The holy mission of saving souls was attempted by inhumanely harsh methods including the extracting of confessions by torture and various punishments for recompense.

The crime of heresy was exceptionally hard to prove and the Inquisition’s most effective means of ascertaining the truth was through confessions brought about by torture. “The conditions held to justify torture were that the offense charged was of sufficient gravity and that the evidence, while not wholly decisive, was such that the accused should have the opportunity of purging it, by endurance proportionate to its strength. From the inquisitor’s point of view, it was a favor to the accused, as it gave him a chance which was denied to those whose condemnation was resolved upon.” (Lea, History, Vol. III p.7).

Certain limitations were supposed to be placed on torture. No torture was intentionally allowed to put life or limb in peril. Technically, torture was allowed only to be applied once. However, it was often stopped, suspended for a time and resumed later.

Without going into their gory details, the varieties of torture employed by the Inquisition can often be judged solely on name: Water torture, the Pear, the Heretics’ Fork, the Rack, the Saw and the Pendulum were all methods employed, ranging greatly in severity. The severity of the tortures could be easily seen in the reports kept by the Inquisition.

“The secretary faithfully recorded all that passed, even to the shrieks of the victim, his despairing ejaculation and his piteous appeals for mercy or to be put to death nor would it be easy to conceive anything more fitted to excite the deepest compassion than their cold‑blooded, matter‑of‑fact reports” (Vol. III p.18).

The punishment system the Inquisition utilized was as harsh as the torture system used in gaining confessions. There were several minor penalties implemented by the Inquisition. Reprimands, sometimes verbal, other times as severe as lashings, were used often. Those of minor offenses were also exiled at times. The more peculiar of such lesser punishments included the razing of the house of a heretic, and such spiritual penance as requiring fasting and pilgrimages.

The harsher penalties used usually resulted in severe wounds or death. Scourging was when a public lashing took place while the victim’s charges were read aloud. Some of the unfortunates who were convicted by the Inquisition were sentenced to man the oars of the Spanish fleet’s galleys. Others were imprisoned permanently.

The harshest of all punishments were the burning at the stake and the auto de fe. Those that were burned at the stake were the heretics who were turned out by the Church and handed over to the secular authorities who took over the criminal’s punishment.

V0041640 An auto-da-fé of the Spanish Inquisition held in a church. E
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
An auto-da-fé of the Spanish Inquisition held in a church. Engraving by B. Picart.
By: Bernard PicartPublished: –
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

The auto de fe became the Spanish Inquisition’s largest show of authority and it generally went to all expenses to insure impressiveness and vast amounts of public attendance. Most, but not all auto de fe ceremonies were held as public exhibitions. Some private ceremonies were held in churches away from the public. During the auto de fe the sentences of those heretics to be punished were read to the public after a procession of those condemned, the inquisitors and all officials involved into the public square. A sermon was preached by the inquisitors and a general celebration would commence. The burning of the condemned would take place at the end of the day after all of the minor penalties had been administered.

The Spanish Inquisition gradually came to an end due to European political factors, internal corruption, and general public hatred. It was officially abolished on July 15, 1834. Yes, it officially lasted that long.

The Inquisition’s fanaticism grew in Spain out of the enmity between Christians and Jews. However, over the years of its operation it gradually became a completely independent body functioning, not to oppress the Jews, but, to finish the holy quest of saving the world from heretics of all sorts. It was efficiently organized and became quite effective in accomplishing its purpose.

The memories of the horrid accomplishments of the Spanish Inquisition are often selectively forgotten. Such atrocities should never be justified or allowed to continue by society, whether committed in the name of religious fanaticism, politics, or individual prejudices. Alas, we all need to learn from the past so as not to repeat it. Substituting fantasy, or alien races, and/or practitioners of magic, or other forbidden arts as the driving forces behind an Inquisition in our fiction offers an untapped wealth of conflict for any author and opens wide meaningful opportunities to memorialize and learn from man’s extensive inhumanity against man.


Lea, Henry Charles. A History of the Spanish Inquisition. Volumes I, II, III, IV, London: Macmillan Company, 1907.

Influences Writing

Writing A Brief History of Real World Magic

A Brief History of Real World Magic-Scenography of the Ptolemaic Cosmography by Loon, J. van (Johannes), ca. 1611–1686. Public Domain through Wikipedia Commons
Scenography of the Ptolemaic Cosmography by Loon, J. van (Johannes), ca. 1611–1686.
Public Domain through Wikipedia Commons

A Brief History of Real World Magic

I am honored to have my essay A Brief History of Real World Magic published by Author and Scientist Dan Koboldt on his ongoing series for writers and fans of speculative fiction called Science in Sci-Fi, Fact in Fiction.

I came across Dan’s blog series last fall when I entered Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars competition. I found the content provided to be insightful and interesting. For a long while I considered contacting Dan about a submission for this series. I’m glad I finally got around to writing my essay and emailing Dan.

The core of my brief history was an Independent Study I completed as a History major in college at Capital University many, many years ago on the History of Medieval and Renaissance Magic. In researching these ancient scientists and philosophers I found many amazing links to our modern ideas about magic. From Dungeons & Dragons, to Harry Potter and most modern video games, there is a common thread weaving back through history. Sympathetic magic, talismans, dream magic, astrology, and astronomy all factor in to our modern conceptions of magic throughout fantasy culture.

I enjoyed conducting that research and I’m glad to have the opportunity to revisit it and share it now. Thanks to Dan Koboldt for allowing me to do so!


Guest Blog Post-September Fawkes

Today I’m welcoming September Fawkes as a Guest Blogger. Her website is chock full of fantastic writing tips. I highly recommend utilizing her insights as a resource. The advice she offers below is something I’ve found particularly helpful in my writing, though I know I’ve not even scratched the surface or come close to mastering subtext.

First, a little bit about September Fawkes:

September Fawkes
September Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It’d be easier if her fictional one wasn’t so interesting. September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. Today she works for a New York Times best-selling author, is penning a novel, and sharing writing tips on her blog, which you can find at

Be sure to check out a Giveaway September is doing at the link below!

Take it away September…

Guest Blog Post-September Fawkes

Subtext: *tries to be invisible*

I’ve been seeing a number of stories lately that are lacking in subtext. And honestly, it’s no surprise. writing subtext (or, I guess not writing it) is flipping difficult to 1) understand 2) do. I had read about writing subtext like over two years ago, and only now do I feel like I’m starting to understand it and have conscious control over it. So, I’m going to attempt to try to explain how to do it.

What is Subtext?

The best definition of subtext, in my opinion, is this: subtext is what’s not said; it is what is implied.
Remember my humor post from a few weeks back? I talked about how Lemony Snicket had a specific technique he employed for some of his humor. He states the obvious. And then strongly implies the un-obvious.
So subtext is what is implied. Look at this example of it that I just made up:

Robert, not bothering to raise his hand, spouted out an inappropriate joke.

“Robert, I don’t want to hear that kind of language in my class,” Mr. Henderson said, but the ends of his lips twitched up. “That’s very offensive.” He failed to suppress a full-blown grin.

Here, we can tell that the teacher found whatever Robert said funny, but neither he nor the narrator comes out and tells the reader that. Instead it’s implied by his body language and behavior–what he doesn’t say. What Mr. Henderson actually says to Robert is at odds with how Mr. Henderson acts.


Full Speed Ahead for Nanowrimo


Or, National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated.

I’ve had a great 5 days of writing on my latest project so far. For various life reasons, my writing habit faltered during the early fall months, but I was able to plan and outline to reboot during November. Thus far, I’m very pleased with my success. My word count’s been great every day and I’m enjoying the story that’s forming around my outline. Feels kind of like Dr. Frankenstein bringing a creation to life. Muahaha!

The working title for my latest venture is Pendulum Arcanum. Here’s the Synopsis:

Pendulum ArcanumPendulum Arcanum, a Middle-Grade novel, is Warehouse 13 meets The Mummy.  Daniel Waldera believes Death stalks him every year when school starts. As 8th Grade begins, Daniel is relieved he no longer has to contend with his shadowy stalker from the past. After a terrible 13th birthday, Death once again lurks around every corner for Daniel until Halloween night when Daniel learns the truth behind his annual Back-to-School-Ghost.

Upon learning he has gained the ability to infuse everyday objects with magic, crafting powerful and sometimes dangerous artifacts, Daniel embarks upon a frightening adventure chased by horrifying spectres known as Drats threatening his friendships, family, and most importantly the entire school! In the end, Daniel discovers he has to make a terrible choice forever changing his life and the lives of those he cares about most.


Writing Mindgames

Writing Mindgames

The past few weeks I’ve been pondering my brain. That sounds peculiar, but hear me out. Since “winning” NaNoWriMo last year and dedicating myself to my writing full force, I’ve managed to establish a writing habit and have been able to write, even if only some brainstorming notes, almost every day. What started me pondering my brain function was the fact that recently in preparing for a jury trial I simply could not write anything not related to my job as an assistant prosecutor. I tried. Despite coming home after long hours I tried, but couldn’t shift gears. Therefore, for the first time in over seven months I went a few consecutive days without being able to write. It bothered me mentally and physically. When I say I have a writing habit, I mean a deep driving need to write. I suppose it’s a healthy addiction at least.

What I’ve discovered over the last week is that writing is good for me and I do need to write. Working in the court system takes its toll despite what television and movies may tell you. Not all attorneys are alcoholics or vigilantes. However, the prevalence of mental health issues in the legal profession is a very real concern. Facing some of the things we have to deal with daily can impact a person if you let it. For me, I think focusing on my writing has become the best therapy available.

Writing fiction allows me to work toward and hopefully achieve a mental equilibrium. I have to admit it’s sometimes challenging to work on an appellate brief using legal reasoning and the side of my brain, then coming home and switching over to the right brain to create characters, dialog and plot story arcs. Alas, that’s why I need to write. I need to be able to balance the opposing forces between the hemispheres.

Influences Life Stuff

A Farewell to Kings

A Farewell to Kings

Rush Clockwork Angels Tour
Rush-Clockwork Angels Tour-Columbus, Ohio 2012

June 8, 2015 Rush played Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio opening the second leg of their R40 Tour marking their 40th Anniversary as a band. I was privileged to take my wife and two children and share a special evening with Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart, and Geddy Lee. Given the recent articles, interviews, and rumors, this is most likely the last major live tour Rush will undertake, so for me the evening was bittersweet at times.

I write this post as part review, part ode to the biggest musical influence in my life.

I’ve been following Rush since 1989 when a college buddy introduced me to the band. Once you hear these three masters play live your life changes, at least mine did. That first concert during the Presto tour hooked me for the rest of my life. Though I admittedly didn’t yet know the lyrics, and probably couldn’t understand most of them either given Geddy Lee’s high-pitched wail, there was magic in their music. Rush is the epitome of professional and they are truly masters in their craft.

For the past 26 years, I’ve not missed any Rush tour; I’ve seen at least one concert on each tour since 1989. Last night I overheard a guy behind me talking about the spiritual experience of watching “The Boys” live, and I couldn’t agree more.

Throughout college and the course of the last 26 years, Rush has provided a soundtrack for my life. My kids have grown up on Rush music. The Rush 40 concert was the third I’ve shared with my daughter, the second with my son, and they’re both under the age of 15. The guys sitting next to us complimented me on bringing my kids to share the experience, and there were quite a few families in attendance at that concert. Musically Rush reinvents itself every album they record. Lyrically, Neil Peart composes some of the richest poetry there is and the stories and philosophical thought packed into those words are all a part of me, and always will be. It’s impossible to fully express the effect Alex, Neil, and Geddy have had upon my life.

The Rush 40 concert was remarkable. The setlist, which travels back through time as a retrospective of their body of work is close to perfection. The only thing that could have improved upon what they played last night for me personally would have been the addition of at least one song from Hold Your Fire, but that’s a minor point. Hearing  Jacob’s Ladder, then an abbreviated version of Hemispheres and 2112 with Xanadu thrown in for good measure was a dream come true. If this is in fact the last time I get to see Rush perform live, they did not disappoint. Their performance last night was Rush in peak condition and they still sound better live than any band should ever have a right to sound.

Thank you Alex, Neil, and Geddy for your creativity, your professionalism, your work ethic, your sense of humor, and most of all for sharing your talents with me for all these years. I’ve learned many things from you three gentlemen, and I’ve been able to teach my children many things from your music, and your example as human beings.

“I hear their passionate music
Read the words
That touch my heart
I gaze at their feverish pictures
The secrets that set them apart

When I feel the powerful visions
Their fire has made alive
I wish I had that instinct —
I wish I had that drive”

Mission from Hold Your Fire

Lyrics by Neil Peart



Revisions and Writing Resources

Revisions and Writing Resources

Volume I: The Dream of the Sphere is finished and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel on revisions at long last. After a very long haul, working through my lessons from Dave Farland’s Rewriting to Greatness, I’m finally on the last few passes, completing line-editing.

The first 7 chapters are complete out of 23. I’m pleased so far with my creation, and I can definitely say I have a better, stronger book now. With the help of a few readers and their input I’ve made several changes for the better. One major character was totally revamped from the ground up and I’m much happier with that character now. I added at least 10,000 words in revisions, several new characters sprang forth and I feel like my world is fuller and more detailed.

Throughout the process I’ve read, and reread several excellent books which have been invaluable and I would highly recommend to anyone:

I definitely prefer the actual writing process of building worlds, and crafting story to revisions and rewriting, but in the end, the revision process is crucial in making it all come together and I’ve learned a lot that I think will help me streamline the process in the future.

For now, I’m looking forward to putting the finishing touches on Dream of the Sphere, forwarding it to Dave Farland for his input and critique and moving toward submitting it to a publisher. Most of all, I’m looking forward to writing again, free from the yolk of revisions.



General Influences Life Stuff

Welcome to Nightvale!

Welcome to Nightvale!


Welcome to NightvaleEarlier this week I had the pleasure of visiting the auspicious town Nightvale by way of Cincinnati. The wildly popular podcast is currently touring its live show “The Investigators”. Watching Cecil Baldwin was truly a treat. The man is a consummate acting professional. All the performers in this production were excellent performers and it was fun to see them in person, though, with the exception of Cecil, none looked like I imagine the characters they portray.


My only disappointment for the evening was the script itself. I think the writers tried way too hard to make this live show interactive and accessible. I can appreciate the accessibility issue. It’s understandable that they want to grow their audience and not alienate new listeners/viewers. I think they accomplished that goal. However, to me the problem was the story itself just tried to hard to involve the audience. The premise behind the podcast is a radio show. I don’t expect it to be an interactive experience, and I didn’t go to watch it live seeking an interactive experience. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy “The Investigators”.  Experiencing Nightvale live was a delight. The story was somewhat forgettable and didn’t advance, or add to Nightvale lore in any discernable way. That’s my disappointment.


The most intriguing part of Nightvale’s charm is the depth of mythology, setting, characters and description achieved with each episode. Followers of Welcome to Nightvale will readily tell you details about the lives of a multitude of characters. The minutiae is what makes Nightvale such fun. It’s easy to become lost in the lore and dream of picking up and diving into the weirdness. I just didn’t leave the theatre with any new epiphanies or friends from Nightvale.


Still, experiencing Nightvale live was well worth the two hour one-way trip and I would gladly give any new live shows a try in the future. Goodnight, Nightvale. Goodnight.

General Influences

Visions of The Avengers

Visions of The Avengers

I’m anxious to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, in a good way, and a bad way.  The Avengers was my favorite comic book growing up. It’s one of the first books I ever bought with my own money and started collecting.  I was thrilled with Joss Whedon’s take on my Avengers in the first film. It worked really well and Joss obviously “got it”. He maintained a lot of the chemistry and relationships that makes The Avengers special as a comic book.

Admittedly, I haven’t kept up with comic books as much as I’d like as an adult.  Time, money, and life interfered.  But, to me my Avengers will always hold a special place in my heart and mind regardless of whatever has been done to the title through the years.

VisionsNow, my favorite character in Marvel comics has always been Vision.  Thus, I’m having grave reservations about Avengers: Age of Ultron. I truly don’t want Vision and Scarlet Witch to be ruined. Vision has always represented an especially poignant look at our struggle to define our humanity, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Vision has explored how we deal with love, life, loss, and everything in between. I was heartened by the Pinocchio references in the trailers. I’m hoping Joss still “gets it” and doesn’t muck up Vision. We’ll see. . . .

(A few hours later…)

Not a disappointment in the least. If anything, Vision didn’t have nearly enough screen time, but I think the new origin story Joss crafted fits in nicely with what Vision has always been and represented and it melds well with the MCU on screen currently. I was very pleased with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in the movie. Again, a lot of potential for character development there. Another great Avengers movie.  Thank you Mr. Whedon, job well done!


Rewriting to Greatness

Rewriting to Greatness

Dave Farland
Dave Farland

I previously wrote that I was taking an online writing class, Writing Mastery I, with Dave Farland, aka Dave Wolverton. I’m proud to say that this afternoon I turned in my last two assignments for that class and now await Dave’s feedback. I can say completing this class has been invaluable to improving my skills as a writer and I can’t thank Dave enough for his tutelage.

Now, I’m moving on in the next phase of my plan to prepare the first book of my Fantasy Series The Sphere Saga to submit seeking a publisher. I’m comfortable with Dave Farland, and have learned a great deal from him. I’m embarking on a higher level online class with Dave called Rewriting to Greatness which is geared toward teaching authors the ins and outs of editing and revising their own work. My goal is to revise my book (The Dream of the Sphere) to make it the very best it can be in order to secure a publishing contract. I’m confident that with Dave’s guidance I’ll be able to develop the professional skills that will help me launch a successful career as a professional writer.