I Have Demons is a collection of stories following three characters grappling with the demons in their lives. What served as your inspiration while writing these stories?
Fiction is usually built at the crossroads where self-reflection, your surroundings as you perceive them, and your imagination meet. I Have Demons is character-driven and each protagonist is an amalgam of people I have met–even if for fleeting moments–creative license and of me. The idea for the first story, “An Alpine Lodge Special,” was sparked from my observations of the regular patrons who frequent a Canadian coffee shop chain and a restaurant located a few blocks from where I live in Ottawa’s historically Francophone east-end. It seemed as though the same elderly people would congregate here on a regular basis; merely by their presence they would add colour with their rich memories and lived experiences to an otherwise humdrum and drab restaurant franchise. More often than not, everyday people are, in fact, extraordinary.
The story “David and Franco” is probably something to which most people at the cusp of their adult lives can relate. I think we were all David once: we begin adulthood with idealism and grand ideas, perhaps even a missionary zeal of sorts, as we tend to have some very definite ideas of ethics and the world around us. It can be exciting, overwhelming and full of promise, even when we don’t have money, and when a good job and a proper livelihood seem difficult to attain. But does life experience temper our idealism and compromise our values?
The story that stands sandwiched between these two and provides the title for the anthology is also the “heart” of my book. I am not a priest, but I have been involved quite closely with the Catholic Church for many years and I can relate to the protagonist, Fr. Solomon. I’ve encountered Father Solomons along the way. This thirty-something priest is also the character that probably includes more fragments of my own personality than any other in the book.
Each character has their own challenge they must face. What were some themes you felt were important to capture?
Sometimes people we don’t expect to be marginalized in contemporary society do, in fact, live on the peripheries. This does not mean that they perceive themselves to be victims of oppression, even if they are forgotten or disadvantaged. In their own way, perhaps with limited success, they display a degree of agency as they journey towards the centre and attempt to make their voice heard.
I find that, while writing, writers sometimes ask questions and have the characters answer them. Do you find that to be true? What questions did you ask yourself while writing this story?
Creating characters and building narratives with them can be a process of discovery for the author. Inevitably, you begin to see the world around you through eyes other than your own. No character is completely divorced from the author, who is after all the creator of these people and their worlds. Yet if the goal is to tell a story credibly, the author must make a best effort to walk in the shoes of others.
One of the questions I asked myself is whether or not the Divine still exists in a mostly secular society. As the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant churches become more marginal to, and even absent from, the lives of the majority, where does that leave the concept of a Divine presence in the world–if, indeed, there is one? Writing these stories helped me better imagine the possibility of the Divine’s implicit and mediated, yet real presence in the world, through every living creature. This isn’t a new concept at all. The idea that everyone we meet, whether friend, foe or stranger, represents part of the image of God, is the fundamental underpinning of the Catholic and Christian faith, and the Jewish tradition too. Yet it can be a hard teaching to embrace. Fiction can help.
What is the next story that you are working on and when will it be available?
I’m working on my first novel, which will see a return of Fr. Solomon. I feel he’s a character with still more potential and room to grow. As for when this work may be available–I fear that I would make for a very bad clairvoyant, so I’ll have to give an evasive answer to this question. Scene by scene, I have been working on this new story since the spring. Once I’m done, my fate, and that of my novel, will rest in the hands of potential publishers.