Interview with Contributor John D. McNichol

jmcnichol200x200Author Name: John D. McNichol

Contribution to Image and Likeness: “Two Kinds of People”

Bio: John D. McNichol was born in Toronto, Canada at the dawn of the swinging 70s. He left Toronto in 1988 to attend the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. John now lives in Vancouver, Washington, with his wife Jeanna and their children. He became a proud American citizen on September 19th, 2012. John’s first book, The Tripods Attack, was published by Sophia Press in 2008. The sequel, The Emperor of North America, is available from Bezalel Books. His novel for the 9-12 year olds, The King’s Gambit, was published by Hillside in October of 2013. He loves pizza and hates broccoli.Find John on Facebook, YouTube and Amazon.

About “Two Kinds of People”

How did you find yourself inspired to write this/these piece(s)?

I was more than a little concerned when I first saw what happened to Carrie Prejean, who was denied the Miss America crown only because she stated that she felt marriage was a union of a man and a woman. While I normally could care less who becomes Miss America, she was denied this honor strictly because she disagreed with the current culture’s politics about the nature of marriage. Soon, they started running bakers and florists out of business for the same imagined offense, and then even CEOs found themselves vulnerable to politicized attacks on their jobs or businesses. I found myself wondering how a person who had no real dog in this fight would react if they didn’t consider themselves to have a dog in the fight, but were drawn into it anyway.

What drew you to writing about Theology of the Body in this way?

I’ve always liked the hard-boiled, film-noir detective character, the kind of person who tries hard to be a good man in a dirty world. I wanted to write a story where a similar kind of person has the truths of the TOB illustrated to them strictly through the lessons of life, with the use of a catechism, textbook or encyclical.  One thing that intrigues me more and more about the Catholic faith as opposed to any other sect of Christianity or religion is that its core truths can stand on human experience alone. One need not be a practicing Catholic to see that abortion is a hideous wrong, for example, or that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.  I wondered how a person like a modern Sam Spade might end up seeing the truths of the modern culture’s bullying ethos without the aid of an expressly Catholic source.

There is a lot of nonfiction out there on TOB, but the amount of fiction and poetry on the subject is certainly on the rise. What is it, do you think, about fiction and poetry that lend themselves to illustrating the tenets of the Theology of the Body?

Good fiction, like any good art, illustrates the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Great art makes us want to BE good, true, and beautiful. Fiction and poetry is in a unique position to illustrate these three because, as storytellers from Aesop to C. S. Lewis once noted, you can get across a point far easier in a piece of illustrative fiction than you can in a simple treatise. I certainly learned more about the veracity of the Church’s claims by watching the lives of the Saintly and unchurched, and the long and short-term consequences of their choices, rather than reading papal encyclicals. And, at the time, I wasn’t really formed enough either intellectually or spiritually to where I could sit through a reading of an encyclical, much less absorb and benefit from it.

Some TOB stories and poems can be evangelization tools, and some can be messages of encouragement to those of us doing the evangelizing. Which do you think yours is, and why do you think that’s valuable to its audience?

Most folks go through a period where they don’t feel so much like a beloved child of God, so much as they feel like a red-headed-stepchild of God. By that I mean we don’t feel like the joyful, pious saints we see on holy cards so much as we feel like banged-up, second-hand, rumpled people trying in vain to live up to an impossible ideal.  I didn’t know everyone else felt like this for many years. Even after I started to take my faith more seriously, I only knew I was failing again and again, and absolutely everyone seemed to have their act together better than me.

The good news for me came when I started to read full biographies of the Saints, people so holy their bodies didn’t decay after death. They didn’t define holiness based upon the image they presented to the world, but how they lived their lives, mud-splatted spots and all. Saint Francis could be impulsive and annoying to those around him, waking up the town at 2am to look at the moon. St. Padre Pio had a limit to his patience with the folks who wanted to see his stigmata, and so on.  Many of the characters in my fiction are trying. They do not remain satisfied where they are, but they find it difficult at best to move to the next level of spiritual maturity without some kind of crisis pushing them there, or dragging them kicking and screaming.

My message, I would guess now that I look back at it, is that we’re all in that boat.   A story about someone enduring the same struggles as the rest of us, even in a different format, did more to validate my faith in times of crisis than aphorisms or anything from the current cultural vat of feel-good, vaporous, generic, small-c Christianity we see in bookshops today.

Your story “Two Kinds of People” has this amazing, hard-boiled narrative voice, and I really like the contrast between the narrator’s calloused (not callous but calloused) tone and the victim’s apparent sensitivity and compassion. Was that contrast intentional, and what do you think it shows to the reader?

I’m glad you enjoyed it! I didn’t set out to do that intentionally. I had the crime in mind, and I wanted a believable policeman to unwind the events and draw his conclusions. The character of Sean Capri is based upon a number of real-life people I’ve known who are in the law-enforcement profession, while Danny and his accomplishments and trials was a pastiche of a number of excellent teachers I’ve known. I hope the reader takes away that even someone who has seen the bad side of life can still know the light when it is presented to them. Or, in the case of Sean Capri, know that the darkness is real and must be opposed, even if we’re not certain how to do so effectively.

What’s another story or poem in this anthology that spoke to you? What in particular in that piece reached out to you?

I had a particular affinity for Powers’ “Venus if You Do.”

One of the best part of writing teenage characters is the fresh and new way many of us experienced the world at that age. And few things burn brighter or leave a more lasting wounds than our first experiences of love. Powers notes in a sad and yet uncompromising way how the misuse of even something pure as young love can not only break friendships, but lives, careers and other relationships as well.

Moreover, the character of Bill may seem to live a small life by comparison to Matt, who lives the kind of sordid life that many English professors love to have their students study extensively in their author biographies. But in truth, Bill marries the girl Matt rejects, and goes on to live a happy life as a largely unknown doctor in private practice. Matt goes on to derail a promising career through his lechery, spinning out of control in a vain worship of sex through a half-hearted belief in the dead gods of ancient mythology.  The believable conclusion of these lives is itself a testament to the beauty of the Catholic life lived as intended. There may not be a glorious, promethean ending to it all, nor is there a smorgasbord of vice and arch-sensuality. But there is a quiet joy and happiness that the dissolute often cannot understand, and Powers does an admirable job illustrating it.

Look for discussion questions on “Two Kinds of People” on Wednesday, January 4.

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