Author Interview

Author Interview Q You gave up a successful career as a corporate executive to write novels: what happened?

A It seems strange, looking back, to see how important being successful in business had become to me. A career is a funny thing, and I found mine very rewarding, both financially and emotionally; it was intoxicating. I was fortunate in the late ’90’s to that I came to see the shallowness of this lifestyle, and to discover the rest of my life that had been closed off to me.

When I began meditating, I began to see how precious not just my family was, but everything—my co-workers, my children’s friends, the natural and technological worlds. I realized the gift of simply being here, and my life became deeper and more intimate. At the same time the pores of creativity opened up and ideas started flooding out. So I began writing.

You say you never wrote until five years ago, and yet you have six completed books.
How can this be?

A There is a wonderful book called Higher Creativity which narrates the breakthroughs of scientists, artist, musicians through the ages, in their own words. A consistent message unfolds: true creativity comes from an inexplicable inside source, one which cannot be controlled and which manifests itself when one lets go. As I’ve opened up over the last five years, I’ve undergone a complete personality change (this was quantified when I took the Myers-Briggs test recently). This change led me to take up the piano after twenty years, to go to the opera, to cry during movies for the first time in my life.

True creativity is present in the divine creation of the universe at work, whether we attribute it to God or Allah or Shiva. The more limited creativity of writing comes from the same source. It is not my creativity, and I count myself enormously fortunate to be the conduit that allows such wonderful characters as Jessica, Clark and Old Sam to unfold.

Q You say the creativity comes from inside, but finishing a book requires commitment.
What drives you to do this?

A Obviously there is a practical side to this: money. I would like to maintain our family lifestyle, and would much rather do so from the proceeds of writing than anything else I can think of doing right now. So please buy this book, and tell all your friends to do so, too!

But actually the larger reason is my growing need to comment on what I see in the world around me. I am troubled by the level of prejudice and judgment which exists in our society and which gives rise to the problems in my book, The Grace of Guilt. I am troubled, not by the fact that we cut down trees or dig up oil—for we need to use these resources to live—but by the ignorance and lack of regard for all life, and in particular for our children, with which we do so. And I am troubled by the shameless elitism practiced in all walks of life, but which is only occasionally exposed—such as when, for a few precious days, we saw the New Orleans underclass after Katrina. I don't believe in evangelizing, but I do like to share my views with those who want to listen. And to the extent that my voice is one that can help us see this behavior, and alleviate some of the suffering that it causes, I'm delighted to offer it up.

Q How has your family reacted to this change in lifestyle?

A I couldn’t do this without my wife's support, and she has been wonderful. The kids, too, have told me they are glad to have me around in their lives more, which is a delightful bonus. I’ve mitigated the lifestyle change by building my consulting business, which is providing a healthy income while allowing me to retain the time and flexibility to write.

Q Let’s talk about Church of the Epistles. Where did the inspiration for Jessica come from? How can you, a man over forty, write from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old girl?

A A friend of mine related to me, many years ago, the sad story of a young woman she had met which had considerable parallels to Jessica's tale and, along with similar tales of persecution and prejudice, this sat in my unconscious for several years.

I didn't create Jessica. One morning she was just in my head, and I let her out. I didn't so much write as a fifteen-year-old girl as get out of the way and let her live and talk. Writing The Grace of Guilt truly was the most extraordinary experience.

Q Is the book antagonistic to organized religion?

A Not at all. My children have gone to a Christian school, and I am personally very supportive of organized religion. Most of my friends and family participate in a meaningful way in religious establishments of considerable diversity, many of them in a very deep way, and I am active in multi-faith organizations. I find organized religion to be a very positive force in society, and this belief underpins The Grace of Guilt. The sand in the book’s oyster is prejudice and judgment which is, unfortunately, present in all of human existence. It is particularly strong in closed societies, of which a small religious community in an isolated, rural town is a good example.

Q It certainly does. But isn't your book a criticism of fundamentalist Christianity?

A The Grace of Guilt is optimistic. It takes its protagonists through trauma, but concludes with a message of hope and redemption. And this optimism isn't artificial, it is absolutely available in fundamentalist Christianity.

Unfortunately all too often individual churches are hijacked to promote personal agendas. The agenda can be so deeply seated that its prosecutor sees it as God’s will: like Simon’s dad, there are bad apples.

In researching this book, I spent time on websites emblazoned with ‘God Hates Fags’ and ‘God Hates Sweden,’ and sites that tell horrible stories of violence and abuse. I've also come across a variety of more bizarre and sometimes entertaining tales, such as the expulsion by the East Waynesville Baptist Church of 9 members who voted against George W. Bush in the 2003 presidential election. The Grace of Guilt, to the extent it points a finger, points it at prejudice.

Q You mention Old Sam—tell me more about him.

A He's delightful, isn't he? The inspiration is actually an old Chinese Buddhist story, but that's not important. What matters is the possibility of someone of this compassion, wisdom, and insight living unnoticed just down the street from every one of us. You'll never find him—or her—unless you look really hard, though, because he will be clothed in old rags and smelling of stale sweat.

Old Sam, by the way, was responsible for an earlier working title for the book: Is That So?

Q One of your characters is a fan of P.O.D. How does music feature in your spiritual experience?

A Music is a very important part of my life. I listen to music while I write, and after a gap of over twenty years, returned to the piano a few years ago. Religiously inspired music offers one of the most powerful and moving experiences I know. My favorites include Bach's Mass in B Minor and Guilliame de Machaut's Messe de Notre Dame, but I have derived great pleasure from other medieval, classical, and romantic pieces. I also find contemporary music deeply moving, even that which is, superficially, loud and violent. I cried the first time I heard the opening No Way Out (Intro) from rapper Puff Daddy, and was blown away by P.O.D.'s Alive.

Q Would you explain the title of the book a little, please?

A Guilt can be experienced directly or projected by others. When you act contrary to your own moral code and bad things happen for which you feel responsible, you may feel profound guilt. This is real, internal, and often utterly incapacitating. On the other hand, when society imposes rules, and you act innocently, or in accordance with your own nature, and yet are blamed for wrong, this is projected. This kind of guilt can be equally incapacitating, but for a different reason. It can also turn to anger. Thus sin can be experienced directly by oneself, or can be imposed by social rules. The Grace of Guilt explores guilt and reaction to guilt.

Redemption occurs in The Grace of Guilt within a Christian environment, but it can equally occur in Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. The characters come to terms with their sin, accept complete responsibility for their actions, and transcend the arbitrary rules of society. The characters, in this grace, truly move to the moral high ground.

But this moral high ground is not a place for complacency. The process of redemption, as I see it, is one of cutting through the ignorance with which we judge, act on prejudice, and behave without due regard for others. It is Nick hearing the birds for the first time, or Jessica acting out of genuine compassion and only realizing long afterwards what she has done. This is the real redemption of The Grace of Guilt.

Q With your writing, your family, consulting and your spiritual practice you have a lot going on; within all of this, where is your passion?

A It is in experience itself. I am fascinated by the study of consciousness, both externally in reading and internally through meditation, because it is through this that I am able to better understand the world around me, and to let go and more intimately immerse myself in it. Interestingly, this study and practice is also what allows me to dive deeper into the wells of creativity. I explored this at length in a book that I wrote some years ago, and may decide to publish at some point, Meditation Must Work.