P.S. Sorry for the weird white background thing going on. Don't know why it's there and can't seem to get rid of it. Oh well. The content is still amazing. :)
Hi Erin! Thanks so much for joining me here at Green 4 God to discuss your new book, Don’t You Forget About Me. I have to say, I really enjoyed your book. The plot itself was gripping and I found that I really cared about the characters and what happened to them. I have to ask, is there any autobiographical element to it?
Thanks so much for having me, Laura! Don’t You Forget About Me is completely autobiographical… it’s the autobiography of a fictional character named Mary Catherine Whelihan! Oh, you’re asking if I was bullied as a child at a Catholic grade school! Well, as I said over at Kathleen Basi’s blog… I certainly had a less-than-pleasant experience myself, but I also own that I was a less-than-pleasant child. We all survive our childhoods, and whether we come out victim or victor is really up to each of us.
Besides sharing a history of rough peer experiences with my character Cate Whelihan, she also “inherited” her endometriosis from me. While she and I took very different paths to treatment, it was still the same path. As the saying goes, “Write what you know.” Sometimes our whole lives can serve as research—or at least the jumping off point.
Speaking of autobiographical information, I understand that you are a lay Dominican. Would you mind explaining what that is and, perhaps, how you became one?
Over a decade ago, a friend invited me to a weekend at a Dominican retreat house. At the time, I didn’t even know what a Dominican is, much less that there are Dominican laypeople! On the first night of that retreat, I remember coming down the staircase of the house, and I saw emblazoned across a ceiling beam was the Dominican motto, “To Praise, To Bless, To Preach.” It was as if something literally fell into place inside my heart, and I could hear a voice say, “That’s what you’re supposed to be doing.” It took about five more years for me to figure out what Dominican life would mean and to find a chapter to join. The Dominican layperson promises to live a life of prayer, study, community and apostolate. Dominicans of all kinds—priests, brothers, nuns, sisters and laypeople—all participate in some kind of preaching apostolate. As a writer, a reader, and a Catholic, the Dominican life has been a great fit that has really guided my path deeper into the heart of Jesus. You can find more information about Dominican life at Lay Dominicans: Fraternities of St. Dominic.
Back to the book! I loved all the 80s references! What made you use the 1980s as a backdrop for the history of your characters?
Because I just love big hair? No, seriously, in Don’t You Forget About Me, the main character, Cate, is facing down so many of the demons of her childhood. Using the 80s songs as titles felt like a fun way to harken the reader back to the culture of that decade without overburdening the story with flashbacks. Another thing the 80s song titles did for me as a writer was to keep me focused and motivated. The mood or connotations in my mind that go along with each title song sometimes guided where the story would go next, what the characters would feel, or the direction of a space of dialogue. It was a lot of fun!
I have to admit that I learned a lot about endometriosis from your book. I didn’t realize that there are now better choices for women who suffer from the disease than there once were. Why did you choose to bring this issue into the book?
I like to say that the story itself was born from a serendipitous collision of scars. I was reconnecting with people from my childhood just as I was seeking treatment for endometriosis myself. As someone who came to Catholicism in part because of its holistic approach to the treatment of women’s health, I felt so much frustration with how the secular medical establishment just wanted to cover up my pain and not heal me, when there are healing treatments to be found. However, it seems like because those treatments have been found as a direct result of the Catholic approach to women’s health, the more secular practices want to turn a blind eye. After all, who wants to be shown up by the backward, ignorant Catholics, right? I realize that I’m venting, so please take that into consideration. Anyway, if there is a “message” to be found in Don’t You Forget About Me, perhaps this is it: that there’s hope and healing out there for whatever sickness we have, if we’ll just hang on and keep looking long enough to find it.
Finally, I love the way you integrate your faith into your fiction. When you approach a new project, do you decide on the plot and fit in the faith? Or, do you think about what issues you’d like to include and then write the plot to support it? I hope that question made sense. Anyway, however you approach it, you do a lovely job. I look forward to reading more of your work!
Aw, thank you so much for your kind words! I always put story first and don’t worry about the faith. The longer I write, the more I’m confident that if I’m writing the story out of a heart aimed toward God, He’ll season the whole pot with the faith part. All I have to do is stir it up and serve!