I love how my mentor and friend Fleda wrote an interview with herself about her latest book, No Need of Sympathy. She's a fab writer, by the way, and many of us could learn a thing or twelve from her. For instance, I learned last week that conducting an interview with oneself is indeed a possibility and, not only that, a worthwhile venture. In praise of Fleda, I imitate:
Heather: Hey, so glad to see you here. I've been noticing all this activity on Facebook about a book you have coming out--Dear Boy, An Epistolary Memoir. What's that all about? I thought you were a pastor?
Self: Yeah, I know. Crazy, right? Well, three years ago I actually completed an MFA program in creative writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop. Great place--great people. And my creative thesis has become this book, Dear Boy, that is being released by Ovenbird later this year.
Heather: So, what does "Epistolary" mean? I notice that word trips people up now and then.
Self: I know--it's an uncommon usage of the root word--epistle. Think about the Bible and the Pauline epistles--the letters Paul wrote to various groups of believers: so, epistolary has to do with letters, and at least half of the book is written in letters to different people in my life.
Heather: Wait--are these real letters? Letter that you saved from correspondence with family members?
Self: No--see, I borrowed the techniques of fiction to tell this story. The letters are made-up, but when they combine with parts of the book that are in third-person narration, they tell this story about my relationship with my brother (who died five years ago) against the backdrop of other complex relationships and dysfunction in our family. It's also, in large part, what I call a "grief book." Not that I think it's a guide for grieving people or anything like that, but I think there's something universal to the story that people who have suffered loss or are currently grieving will be able to relate to.
Heather: I know you're a very spiritual person and pastoral ministry is a very important part of your life. Is this a book that will help others?
Self: I think people could make a lot of honest assumptions about the kind of book that a "minister" would write--that it is, by design, intended to point people to God or give them insight about living a more God-centered life. But I don't know if this book will do that for anyone. It wasn't written with that in mind. What it is is an honest picture of a part of my life, written during a season where I was experiencing some of the worst heartache and having to wrestle with questions I'd never had to wrestle with before. I don't pretty up any of that in the book, but I do think that there is a lens that I, as the narrator, offer--one of compassion to those who have hurt me. One of forgiveness.
Heather: So, there are people to forgive in this story?
Self: Sure, but the book doesn't use language like that. There's the woman who raised me--my mother. One of the tricky things I and other memoirists have to work out is that the telling of our stories intersects with other people's stories by default. I did everything I could to protect her identity as much as possible because it's important to me to honor her in that way. She's just another human being who deserves to face the world on her own terms without anyone else interfering. I don't want the telling of my story to get in the way of that.
Heather: But why write this book and publish if there's a chance that this could hurt someone?
Self: That's a tough question, and I'm not sure I have the right answer. All I know is that I feel like it's the right thing to do. I have this faith that it's the right thing for an artist to tell the truth as best they see it and in as compassionate a way as they can. All of us writers have to grapple with the fact that truth and art can hurt. There are even those parts of the Bible that cause me excruciating anguish to read--like in Judges when an innocent woman is raped all night long; then her body is cut apart and distributed to all twelve tribes of Israel and used as an excuse for civil war. That's the kind of thing that you read in the Bible about God's "chosen" people and think, How did this get here? How are we supposed to react to it? Why did the Biblical narrators put it there? What do we do with that? I think Dear Boy also begs that question of the reader: when evil happens--when people hurt us--what do we do?