We survived the Great Eastern Blizzard of 2016 (otherwise known as Jonas), and I spent the weekend shoveling snow, eating popcorn and marzipan cookies and plowing through a bunch of great ‘indie’ novels that I picked up from NetGalley, (NetGalley and chill! Sorry, Netflix) as I plan my upcoming review page. I like everything I’ve read so far, but what I’m really looking to read is a great, thoroughly modern, Catholic novel—not a ‘Christian genre’ novel, but a true unregenerate Catholic novel, big C, in the style of Walker Percy, Graham Greene or Evelyn Waugh, which would be grit and guts and unvarnished real life backlit with spirituality and tinged with the wan hope of redemption. No one seems to be writing those, so I may have to wait a while. And I confess that maybe this is what I’ve been trying to do, with my most recent work, The Novice Master—hence my utter dismay, when Amazon tried to categorize it as porn!
I want to stop here and recommend a terrific blog post I came across by the poet and writer Dana Gioia, about Catholic writers. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/12/the-catholic-writer-today. He is, by the way, the poet laureate of California, which you may or may not be impressed by. He seems to sum it all up perfectly, when he describes the mission of a Catholic writer: “They combine a longing for grace and redemption with a deep sense of human imperfection and sin.” He also notes that our faith is intrinsically communal, “extending to a mystical sense of continuity between the living and the dead.” I cannot make a better argument in favor of faith-based writing. All I can do is report from the trenches, and I can tell you, it’s damned near impossible these days to write in such a way, and be considered ‘publishable’ or even a respectable, serious writer. This might be changing however…
A few people have asked me if my own very recent novel, The Novice Master, is a ‘Catholic’ novel. And I say no. That seems a dated term that implies some sort of genre or pigeonhole, and I resist that kind of thing like crazy, even if I’m drawn to it as a reader. The term worries me, too, because it also conveys a kind of exclusivity, a holier-than-thou sensibility that seeks to keep out the non-believers and even Christian non-Catholics. Hence my preference of small-c catholic-ness (my spell-checker keeps trying to capitalize this), which includes everyone in the world, all of humanity, as potential readers. I’ve been marketing NM as a mainstream secular book, and it is in no way an apologia or attempt to convert. But it has a Catholic-cultural sort of setting; and my characters are small-time sinners, flirting with atheism and amorality, when you know at heart they are hardcore believers. But their beliefs are those of a very modern, post-Vatican II church, which stresses the importance of human love, compassion and community over ritual and mystery. I only use the rules and rituals for esthetics, for atmosphere and color. The dishy monk on my cover is meant to be mildly evocative, not a true or real clue as to what lies within. Those things alone do not make a novel ‘Catholic;’ however, the struggling, longings, and ultimate actions of my characters Ellis and Evan may be what does. But I feel like I’m not willing to use the ‘big C’ yet, and maybe I’m just a literary coward.
So let’s talk about small-c catholic fiction. I feel it’s mindful fiction that combines the grittiness and fullness of life while revealing—carefully, artfully, discreetly—the otherworldliness and spirituality many of us believe does exist in our world. A catholic novel can’t instruct, or lecture, or baldly lay out its purpose. It reveals: In realistic dialogue, in carefully crafted scenes and in graceful language; in realistically drawn characters who are actual humans, not ‘types’ or hollow, empty shells, but people who err and falter and sin and sometimes redeem themselves. Sometimes I think ‘high’ literary fiction works against this, with its puritanical shunning of exposition, and stark ambiguous scenes. How many times have you read an alleged ‘literary masterpiece,’ only to be left feel empty and unsatisfied—what was missing?
One of the reasons I’m writing this post is that I would really like to connect with other Catholic writers—whether or not your fiction is specifically faith-based or not. I am looking for my community, as scattered and far-flung as it might be. At the same time, I’m trying to strengthen my connection with all kinds of other writers as well, and thanks to those of you who have been responding to my blog and following me. If you’re too shy to post a comment or seek me out on Facebook, you can always contact me at kpcecala at yahoo-dot-com: I love getting emails that are not from idiotic retailers and marketers! And I always want to talk about fiction.