prose

Discussion Questions: Arthur Powers

apowers200x200Contributions by Arthur Powers:

“Venus If You Do”

“Claudio”

“MS”

“In the Death of Winter”

See our interview with Arthur here.

Discussion Questions

  • What should be the relationship between artistic creations and the ideas/ideals the author believes in?
  • How do you feel when a story or poem is obviously pushing a certain message?  Does this feeling differ if you agree or disagree with the message?
  • How can fiction bring someone who may not agree with you toward being more open to your point of view?

Interview with Contributor Arthur Powers

apowers200x200Author Name: Arthur Powers

Contributions to Image and Likeness: “Venus If You Do,” “Claudio,” “MS,” “In the Death of Winter”

Bio: Arthur Powers went to Brazil in 1969 as a Peace Corps Volunteer and spent most his adult life there.  From 1985 to 1992, he & his wife worked with the Church in the Amazon, organizing subsistence farmers in a region of violent land conflicts.  Arthur received a Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, three annual awards for short fiction from the Catholic Press Association, the 2008 Tom Howard award (2nd place), the 2012 Tuscany Novella Prize, the 2014 Catholic Arts & Literature Award, & many other writing honors.  He is author of three books, and his work has appeared in numerous magazines & anthologies.Find Arthur on Amazon.

About Arthur’s Contributions to Image and Likeness

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

By watching my fellow human beings and myself, and pondering the rhythms and meaning of life.

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

I did not consciously write about the Theology of the Body.  I wrote about human beings and the way they think and live.  As the Theology of the Body admirably suits the way people really are (deep down), it also encompasses my stories.

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?  

Fiction and poetry are much better than non-fiction at conveying experience, with all its nuances and ambiguities.  TOB involves intricate and intimate aspects of human nature, and these can be best captured and conveyed empathetically via fiction and poetry.

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?  

I do not write my stories to be tools of any kind.  I write them to convey human experience – to tell a story.  If they are successful, they help the readers understand a little more about life, about the human condition, about the world we live in.  Anything that brings us greater understanding also brings us closer to truth, which in turn is reflected in the teachings of the Church.

Let’s first talk about your prose contributions to this project.  In “Venus if You Do,” you look at what appears at first blush to be an unlikely topic for our modern times, and that is the worship of ancient gods.  How do you think the idea of “strange gods” plays into the illustration of the complexities of human sexuality as seen through the lens of Theology of the Body?

I write all my stories because they come into my consciousness as stories.  Like all others, “Venus If You Do” was born without an agenda – it is simply a story.  However, reading it as a reader, rather than the author, I can trace out several interesting elements: 1) deviant spirits are real, and if we allow them power in our lives, we will suffer;  2) whether a deviant spirit is an old demi-god, a demon from South American folk religion, or the secular demons of our own society (greed, consumerism, internet addictions, lust) doesn’t matter much – all are able to distort us; 3) the parallel between pagan society and our own is very real – the situation of the Church today is far closer to the situation in ancient Rome than it was 50 years ago.

Then in “Claudio,” you show us what amounts to an extramarital affair that happens only within the imagination.  What do you think this story can show readers about the concept of emotional faithfulness and how that applies to forming healthy, integrated human relationships?

Again, “Claudio” was written as a story.  But, as a reader, I can see that the story tells us of the potential boredom of marriage, the lure of the romantic stranger, the recognition that real love involves hard work, sweat, daily picking up one’s cross.  In the end, Maria das Dores truly sees her husband struggling up from the field after a hard day’s work, recognizes this (semi-consciously) as love, and makes the decision.  All love is a decision.  But the husband still snores while the imaginary lover walks off quietly in the moonlight.

In your poems “MS” and “HVaughn,” you illustrate the effects of choice on the human body, specifically on the female body.  While both poems show radically different choices for their subjects, both end on a note of hope.  What can you tell us about the hope you see in the characters and images of both of these poems?

MS” is based on a real person who made that real decision – I admire her immensely and wanted to record her decision.  “In the death of winter…” is also based on a real, tragic happening – one which contrasts technical/mechanical view of life/death with the human/spiritual view.  If there is hope – cold comfort – in this poem, it is that, in the end the technical/mechanical self-destructs and the human/spiritual prevails, but much is distorted and destroyed in the process.

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

Dena Hunt’s story, “Pear Trees,” is wonderfully written.  Among other things, it brings home how much the sexual revolution has hurt young women – how it has made them servile to the whims of self-absorbed men (and most of us men, when young, are pretty self-absorbed).

Look for discussion questions on Arthur’s contributions on Wednesday, February 22, 2107.

Discussion: “The Death of Me, the Life of Us” by Ellen Gable

egable200x200“The Death of Me, the Life of Us” by Ellen Gable

See our interview with Ellen here.

Discussion Questions

  • Bereavement and grief are natural responses when we lose a close relative or friend.  Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, and later became a convert to Catholicism, said in his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning, that we could survive any “how” as long as we knew the “why.” That is, if we could somehow find meaning in our suffering we could draw strength from it to continue on and survive. (John Mallon, 1996).  What meaning do you think Sarah, the protagonist from The Death of Me, The Life of Us, eventually draws from the experience of losing her youngest sister?
  • Relationships with others are a valuable part of our life experience.   How did Jack help Sarah to understand that the grief and guilt she latched onto for so many years were preventing her from experiencing life?
  • What did Jack mean when he told Sarah that her mother lost two daughters the day of the accident?
  • Many experts say that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Which stage do you think Sarah remained in until she met Jack?

Discussion: “Hard Choices” by Barbara Hosbach

bhosbach200x200“Hard Choices” by Barbara Hosbach

See our interview with Barbara here.

Discussion Questions

  • What’s the difference between getting what you want and being contented?
  • When have you asked for forgiveness from someone you’ve hurt? What happened?
  • Think about someone who has had a positive influence on you. Given your own experience, what can you do that might help you have the kind of influence you want on others?

Discussion: “Two Kinds of People” by John D. McNichol

jmcnichol200x200“Two Kinds of People” by John D. McNichol

See our interview with John here.

Discussion Questions

  • Sean has seen a lot in his life, so much that he seems unfazed by much that would anger or upset most of us. Is he truly in control of his emotions, or have they shut down as a defense against the darkness he has to see on a regular basis?
  • Sean displays a basic knowledge of the Church’s stance on homosexuality. While he is not Catholic himself, he does not display the bitterness towards the Church that some do on this issue. Why is this?
  • Sean has been told that he must either be a hammer or a nail in life. What does this mean? What would the Catholic response be to such a statement? By the end of the story, is Sean a ‘hammer,’ a ‘nail,’ or something else?

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.

Discussion: “The Walk” by Anne Faye

afaye200x200“The Walk” by Anne Faye

See our interview with Anne here.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever experienced infertility or an unexpected pregnancy? What were your emotions? How did you make peace with the situation?
  • Have you ever had a chance meeting that you felt God had orchestrated because it was just what you needed at that moment?
  • This story has an open ending. What do you hope happens to the two primary characters?