Stephanie Engelman's fabulous visit to A Seeking Heart:
One hour with Stephanie Engelman WAS not enough! There was so much more I wanted to ask! She very graciously (despite very full and busy days) accepted my request to answer a few follow up questions:
What is the hardest part of writing fiction?
Right now, I’m finding it quite difficult to find the time to write anything - fiction or nonfiction! I miss it terribly, but trust that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing at this stage in my life. I pray that, when the moment is right, my time will be freed up and inspiration will strike. I do look forward to writing the next chapter in the story of the missing beads! **My reaction to this news was an audible ... YIPPEE!!**
What is your favorite part of writing fiction?
The weeks that I spent writing A Single Bead I was literally on a high of inspiration and creativity. I knew that God had given me both a gift and an important task, and it was exhilarating to know that I was doing exactly what he wanted me to do. So, I guess that, to me, that’s the best part. As Blessed Mother Theresa said, “I am a little pencil, in the hand of a writing God.” As a writer, I feel that quote in a very special way.
That feeling isn’t limited to fiction, though, and it’s not even limited to writing. I get those same feelings when I write a great blog post, or when I speak to a group about scripture, the Church, Our Lady, or any of my other favorite topics.
In fact, one of the best thirty minutes I’ve spent recently was on the phone with a representative from the insurance company. Over the course of our conversation, I ended uptelling her our story - five kids, husband had a heart attack, suffered anoxic brain injury and had been in the hospital for two months… She was horrified and sympathetic. But then I told her about how present God had been to us, and how I had felt his reassurance and Providence through the whole experience. Before we hung up, she thanked me, and told me that I had touched her life.
That conversation touched my life, as well, and, even if it didn’t last as long, it gave me the same feeling of exhilaration that I’d experienced when writing. It was a great reminder that, regardless of what we’re called to do - whether it’s writing fiction, caring for children, brain-injured husbands, or elderly parents, or reconciling accounts, or emptying trash cans - each of us has the opportunity to glorify God and touch the lives of others in our own way.
Are any of your characters based on real people? Who is your favorite?
Many of the characters are loosely based on people in my life. Kate’s grandparents, in particular, bear a strong resemblance to my parents - although my parents are still very much alive - thank God! - and very much not Catholic. Aunt Mary Ellen is a bit like me in that she knows her Catechism, but she’s much nicer than I am, and Aunt Susan is quite similar to my sister Suzanne, who also has a strong faith and loves to cook and entertain just like Aunt Susan.
I think that my favorite character, though, is Evelyn, Kate’s cousin and best friend. I love that she’s a teenager who, while not perfect, lives her faith in a way that sets an example for others. She supports Kate, reaching out to her during her worst time, and, when turned away, seeking the support of caring adults. She encourages Kate to pray the Rosary and attend Mass. In fact, one of my favorite scenes from the book is when she prays a “speed Rosary” over the phone with Kate at a time when Kate feels too busy to do so. We all need an Evelyn in our lives!
You speak of the mystical aspects of the Catholic faith (such as sacramentals and prayer) - which I loved! How do you see that playing a role in how people come to believe or come to a deeper faith?
You might have guessed that I love those mystical aspects as well! Sacramentals are a tangible, visible way to extend the Sacraments into our daily lives. We can only receive Communion daily, and we generally only receive Reconciliation monthly, or less. But we can wear a scapular, Miraculous Medal, or crucifix 24/7; we can surround ourselves with religious art and statuary; and we can keep a rosary in our pockets or hang it from the rear view mirror. These things serve as reminders to lift our minds and hearts to God in all that we do.
Prayer, of course, deepens our relationship with God, and it is through this deepening that we might sometimes be blessed with mystical experiences, like what Kate experiences while praying the Scourging at the Pillar. While not everyone will have a mystical experience like that in their lifetimes, a priest recently spoke to me of the fact that any time we feel God especially present to us is, in fact, a mystical experience. I’d like to think that every person of faith, then, will be blessed with many mystical experiences in their lives. These moments are our glimpses of Heaven. Holding those glimpses in our hearts, and treasuring the joy and peace we find within them, will buoy us up, and give us the strength to continue to “run the race” with hope and knowledge of the ultimate reward.
Stephanie, you also address many reasons people walk away from church. Honestly, it was very exciting to see these topics discussed in a Young Adult/Teen book. How can parents and catechists support discussion on these topics and so many others with A Single Bead?
I believe it’s vitally important that parents and catechists talk with teen aged children about their faith well before they’re in danger of losing it - particularly those infamous college years!
I would suggest using A Single Bead as a spring board to this conversation. Start off by asking teens to contrast the faiths of different characters, and how that effects their response to Grandma’s death. Perhaps the parent or catechist has a personal story they can share of their own faith journey, and perhaps the teenager does as well. The next step, then, is to talk about the fact that people do fall away from their faith, why that happens, and how we can protect ourselves from that fate.
Most importantly, I believe that a blind faith is a weak faith. Invite children to ask questions about why we believe what we do, and be prepared to answer them. If you don’t know all the answers, that’s okay! Doing the research, and encouraging your child to do it alongside you, will not only strengthen your faith lives, it will strengthen your relationship as well. For Catholics, I highly recommend Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Catholicism as a great starting point to better understand the Catholic faith.
A big thank you again to A Single Bead author Stephanie Engelman for indulging my selfish request to know more about how this engaging read came to be - and for giving us all a deeper look into her heart and home. Many prayers for Ray's healing - and for the much anticipated sequel to my newest favorite rosary adventure story - A Single Bead.
All Rights Reserved, Allison Gingras 2016.