“Write. Write anything…” – An Interview with Catholic Novelist James R. Callan
Most Recent Book: Over My Dead Body – A Father Frank Mystery
Education: B.A. in English; M.A. in Mathematics
Current Employment: Writer
Profile: A person willing to take charge and get results.
List of Books Published:
Over My Dead Body – A Father Frank Mystery (#2)
Cleansed by Fire – A Father Frank Mystery (#1)
A Ton of Gold
Murder a Cappella (with Diane Bailey)
Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel
How to Write Great Dialog
Y2K, the Novel
Y2K and You
Computer Literacy Made Easy and Fun
Bits, Bytes, Apples and Mice
Author Website: www.jamesrcallan.com
Author Facebook: http://on.fb.me/VlgFi5
Author Blog: www.jamesrcallan.com/blog
Author Twitter Account: @jamesrcallan
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
Favorite Quote: “When I have made a line that sings itself so that I love the sound of it – I pay myself a hundred times.” Edmond Rostand from Cyrano de Bergerac (trans. Brian Hooker).
Favorite Movie: Cyrano de Bergerac (1950).
Favorite Piece of Music: Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Favorite Song: “Con Te Partiro” by Francesco Sartori (music) and Lucio Quarantotto (lyrics).
Favorite Place: My property in the middle of a forest in Texas.
Favorite Meal: Dessert.
Favorite Cocktail: Dessert.
Last Book Read: Last One Chosen by Stephen Woodfin.
Last Movie Seen: I don’t remember. It’s been awhile.
Last Trip Taken: A month in China.
Last Non-literary Feat: Installed an electric gate and solar cells to power it.
CatholicFiction.net: Why do you write?
James R. Callan: I like to create stories that will bring pleasure to all who read them.
CF: What first inspired you to become a writer?
JC: I love to read. Even at an early age, I admired writers who could capture me in a story and bring me hours of enjoyment. I wanted to do the same.
CF: If you were a critic writing about your own books, how would you describe the defining characteristic of your writing style?
JC: Unpretentious. Does not try to impress the reader with his knowledge. He disappears from the scene, letting the story and characters take, not only center stage, but all the stage. His characters are memorable.
CF: Is there a favorite place you have to write?
JC: I write in an office, where I have my computer with two monitors. This allows me to have my WIP displayed on one and other information and notes on the second monitor. I can bring up information from the Internet without displacing the WIP.
CF: What is your cure for writer's block?
JC: Write. Write anything. It can be a blog, an e-mail, notes for other projects. The point is simply to make the mind put words together. Soon, without even thinking about it, you start writing on your work in progress.
CF: What is your cure for procrastination?
JC: Unfortunately, I haven’t really found one. But a deadline, not self-imposed, is about as good as I can get.
CF: Describe in your own words what the “Catholic imagination” is – or alternatively, what it means to be a “Catholic writer.”
JC: Your heroes, the people you want the reader to identify with, should care about others. Above all, they maintain, sometimes with great difficulty, the true Christian values.
CF: What is the "best thing" about being a writer?
JC: Writing a scene, a paragraph, a sentence that sings in my heart. Writing a scene that, even after reading it fifteen times, can bring a tear or a smile or a laugh to me.
CF: What is your latest book about?
JC: When one of Father Frank’s parishioners dies and the police call it suicide, Father Frank refuses to believe that and works to find clues to get the case reopened, and to stay alive himself.
CF: What inspired you to write this story in the first place?
JC: Three years ago the courts granted eminent domain to the Keystone Pipeline, allowing it to clear-cut a swath across our timbered property. At that point, I knew I would write a book in which eminent domain played a role. After letting ideas tumble around in my head for over a year, I decided it should be another Father Frank Mystery. However, as my book would include murder and bribery, I moved away from any connection with a pipeline. But in the book, eminent domain would be granted to a for-profit corporation.
CF: Did you hold onto the idea for a long time before giving it shape, or did it come together in a flash?
JC: In this case, I had the genesis quickly. But it took a bit of time for the thoughts to merge into a plot.
CF: All fiction comes from a mix of past influences and impressions – things we’ve lived, seen, imagined, or read. Can you talk about some of the elements that came together to shape this particular fiction?
JC: I have long felt the power of eminent domain should not be used to the benefit of for-profit corporations. When it actually happened to us, this feeling was intensified. I decided it should be Father Frank who got in the middle of it because he is always more concerned with the good for others than for himself. So, he could pursue this not for personal gain or his personal agenda, but for simple justice.
I’ve know many priests in my life, and a few were classmates, both in high school and college. Certainly, these men have left an impression on me. And I have known women who, much like Georgia, made things happen while staying out of the lights and taking no credit.
CF: What did you learn about yourself in writing this book?
JC: I’m not Father Frank. I would have let my own agenda influence my actions.
CF: What did you have to do to prepare for this book in terms of research, etc.?
JC: This book required a little research on eminent domain, mineral rights, poison, and how property deeds might be written to the advantage of the buyer without the seller realizing it.
CF: How does this book differ from either a) previous books you’ve written or b) other writing work you’ve accomplished?
JC: First, a number of my books are non-fiction, so this work of fiction is quite different from those. Second, A Ton of Gold, which I wrote just before Over My Dead Body, is a suspense book. The reader soon knows who the bad guys are. The driving force is if, when and how they are stopped, and what collateral damage occurs. Of course, as this is the second Father Frank Mystery, it has a lot in common with Cleansed by Fire, the first in the series.
CF: What was the most challenging aspect – a character, a plot point, etc. – of writing this book?
JC: When a man who threatens to file a court challenge to a big corporation’s land grab is found dead from an overdose of his heart medication, the police and the ME call it suicide. Case closed. Father Frank does not believe it was suicide.
My challenge was for the priest to ferret out clues that the police did not find, in order to get the case reopened. I did not want the police to look incompetent. Yet Father Frank, not a detective and with his parish to serve, has to find enough to cause the Chief (who does not like the priest) to reverse his decision. And in the end, of course Father Frank has to solve the case.
CF: Which characters in this book did you find most challenging to work with, and what was it like to write with them? Conversely, do you have any characters that came particularly easily to you?
JC: Perhaps the detective. He has a developing romantic relationship with Georgia, a parishioner who is helping Father Frank prove the dead man did not commit suicide. But the detective must support the police position of suicide. Getting the balance just right presented a challenge. On the other hand, after spending so much time with Father Frank in the first novel, I know him. I know how he thinks, reacts. I know his weaknesses and his strengths. I feel confident I can present him as a complete, three dimensional character.
CF: Creating a work of fiction is a spiritual journey in itself. Can you talk about your own spiritual life – realizations, doubts, crises, etc. – that came during the writing of this work?
JC: I’ll just say that Fr. Frank has an effect on me. He is not perfect. He has self doubts and sometimes has trouble keeping his temper under control when faced with injustice. But his moral compass never waivers. I’ll write about him again, hoping some of him rubs off on me.
CF: Name one good habit you do have as a writer and would like to continue to cultivate.
JC: I try not to edit myself as I write the first draft.
CF: Name one bad habit you have as a writer that you would like to break.
JC: Allowing non-writing chores to take far too much time.
CF: Name one good habit you would like to have as a writer and do not have at the moment.
JC: Avoiding distractions. Shutting out the outside world when I’m writing.
CF: What is the most discouraging aspect of being a writer?
CF: What one project do you daydream about accomplishing as a writer – your magnum opus?
JC: I’m happy with where I am. But I’d like someone else to take over the marketing. And I wouldn’t mind if more people read my books. There are still millions who have not met Father Frank – yet.
CF: If you could no longer work with words, what medium would you work in to create art?
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