One sunny morning in the autumn of 1988, the mind of an introverted student at a Florida high school became ignited with an idea.
At the time, he could never have foreseen its scalability – and certainly not its endgame three decades later.
Originally conceived as an ironic twist on televangelism for a project in a writing class, the concept began to quickly expand. And then expand some more. Like peeling an onion in reverse, thematic layers upon layers in the forms of horror, mystery, religion, government, the supernatural, and spirituality began to take shape.
That student was writer Todd M. Calcaterra. The idea has bloomed into his Agnvs Dei trilogy.
The forthcoming debut series promises to pack a wallop of intrigue. The three books combine to offer a unique and massive worldview, encasing stark scenes and hellish monsters from humanity’s darkest nightmares like a cursed treasure chest – one that you can’t wait to unlock.
After more than thirty years of development – including multiple versions, dozens of rewrites and twice as many story arcs – the evolution (in fact the trilogy was once titled “Evilution”) of the series makes it more than your usual page-turning jaunt through a fantasy world. It’s gripping themes and relatable characters create a compelling and chilling atmosphere that will have you often asking yourself, “why not?” and “what if?”
I had the chance to speak with Mr. Calcaterra recently about the metamorphosis of his long-awaited, epic debut. Here now, is the full transcript:
Kevin Trusty: The scope of your debut series is rather impressive. If you could give us a snapshot of the story…
Todd Calcaterra: Agnvs Dei is the story of a young priest, Nicodemus Van Hausen, who joins the seminary right out of high school, at a time when the Church is undergoing a drastic reformation. In the New Church, priests are permitted to marry, and nuns can hold mass in churches and take on more active roles within their parish. Nicodemus is a prodigious young man who is on track to take over for Father Benjamin Lomenique in Harland Falls, Minnesota. A series of gruesome murders in the sleepy town lead Lt. Howard Sherman to the Diocese of Saint Mary Magdalene. There he seeks out the help of Ben and Nicodemus, as the killings are religious in nature and quite blasphemous. The presence of a powerful entity soon begins to emerge and manipulate the situation. With Harland Falls plunging into chaos and Nicodemus sinking into a deep depression, Ben watches as the fabric of reality unravels before his eyes, and Nicodemus disappears.
In book two, the story leaps ahead 10 years, where the world is about to celebrate a milestone of peace. This was brought about by the Cygnvs Corporation, a global conglomerate with its headquarters in Chicago. Nicodemus is now the head of this corporation after being elected the U.S. President and is making it into an example for the world model. In this book we see a side of Nicodemus that was not explored in the first book – a romantic attachment to a young man named Michael, hired to rebuild and maintain the Cygnvs IT infrastructure. Their relationship blossoms, and they are soon married. The celebration is worldwide, as people across the globe are grateful for what Cygnvs has done. It created a strong global economy, an end to poverty and homelessness, and opportunities for everyone. During the official parade for the World Peace Celebration, Michael is killed by a sniper’s bullet and Nicodemus falls into a deep depression, becoming obsessed with finding his husbands killer. Book two concludes with the recently buried Michael being brought back to life, but it is the powerful entity Calibraexis that lives within him, at least to an extent.
In book three, the darkest of days are upon mankind. Michael’s body cannot house the tiny portion of Calibraexis and it begins to twist, become malformed, and decay. It calls itself The Lord Maledict and removes Nicodemus from power. This act plunges the world into darkness as Calibraexis and The Lord Maledict now intend to turn man directly against God, and wrestle control of Heaven from the almighty himself.
KT: That is compelling, and certainly touches on a lot of themes that are relevant in today’s world. Where and when did this all start? How did the idea come about?
TC: The origin of the story came to me initially in 1988 as an essay for a writing class. It was to poke fun at televangelists. As I went to work at a movie theater, and met a friend named Tony, we expanded the idea to make a short story about a killer priest in a church. I wanted to go further with it, but he did not, and so I took it over entirely. It was, at first, a common slasher story, but I was influenced by the story of the Thorn family from The Omen films. I gave Nicodemus an Antichrist quality and finished several drafts with that arc intact. But he became more of a real young man and less of an unholy villain, and I decided to let the reader like him rather than hate him.
KT: Considering the several variants of this story over the years, it’s now gone from one book to three. How did all that transpire?
TC: At first there was only the one short tale. I decided to build Nicodemus into a monster at first, bent on world domination. As I wrote and rewrote the story, I came to like Nicodemus, giving him a more tragic story that would explain his malicious nature. I then decided to make him a hero of sorts and create a villain of epic and biblical proportions. Thankfully with the help of a few individuals I was able to expand the story, enrich its lore, and make the evil entity something both vicious and at the same time charming. He needed to be vile but possess a logic befitting his eons of life. He can be destructive, determined, and spiteful but not beyond the ability to reason and see both sides of a situation. This aspect is what will give the third book it’s most interesting angle.
For the most part the first versions are just rough sketches of what I am working on now. This final rendition is far more sophisticated and less of a typical monster story with killers and tropes. I needed something more insidious, and it’s evolved much further than I originally intended.
KT: All writers of course share the common goal of just wanting people to read our work. Is this your goal as well? Anything beyond that?
TC: This is simple. I want the story to be read. I need to share what I see in my head. If by some enchanted miracle this were to become a film, I can only envision it competently produced as an anime film series.
KT: This is quite a project to emerge at any stage, much less as a debut. Do you have a specific writing or art background?
TC: I took – and loved – creative writing classes all through middle and high school. In fact, I was the only student in creative writing 3 during my senior year. I’ve also loved drawing and sketching my whole life. I did artwork for a literary magazine but had no faith in my own writing at the time to submit a story or idea.
KT: Tell us about your creative process.
TC: I make a skeleton on notebook paper to structure out the main events in the story. As I write, I fill in, elaborate, and reread over and over until it is to my liking. Characters are developed in a notebook and fleshed out as I go. Using a computer, it is easier to put my thoughts down. I suffer from arthritis and as it’s worsened, so did my ability to hand write anything beyond a signature.
KT: Writing, as we know, is a lot of hard work – with unique rewards. What do you enjoy most about the craft?
TC: I simply love making new characters and putting them in scenarios that I see in my head. I also adore creating the most vicious villains, although nothing can compare to Calibraexis and his even more vicious underling, the Lord Maledict.
KT: Every writer, artist and musician has their influences and peers whom they admire. Who are some of your favorite authors?
TC: My favorites are the ones that have inspired me to keep going when I was wanting to give up:
William Peter Blatty
KT: The tip ‘o the cap is appreciated there but holy shit, putting me in with the company on that list is like installing an elevator in an outhouse – it doesn’t belong.
TC: Well the records room didn’t belong down in B-1 either but that worked out, didn’t it?
KT: Thanks for your time Todd! Looking forward to the continued progress of this project and what will be much success upon release!
TC: Coke and taco.