Matters of Faith is my second novel, and I'm delighted that the advance reviews have been fabulous. They've also surprised me with their clear understanding of exactly what I was trying to write about, not because I think critics are thick, but because I tend to think for years and years about a story, and am convinced that it's clear in my head, but am often concerned that I was able to get it down as clearly on the page. And now I get to try to actually explain that process? You're brave people, you really are.
So, Matters of Faith has been called "timely" and "topical," which are both, of course, nice things to have said about your novel, but my interest in the elements of this story can be traced back thirty years, when I was nine years old and had been assigned a book report.
The book report was "open," in other words, I could write about any book I wanted, and it was supposed to be at least two pages long. I imagine my teacher was surprised to receive a fifteen page treatise on world religions, with a concentration on the East, especially Hinduism (I was fascinated by Shiva, often depicted dancing upon the "demon of ignorance." Isn't that great? I want to dance upon the demon of ignorance, too.).
I was aware from a young age that while any individuals' religion was usually the result of a regional and parental lottery, you could still choose from a wide array of different ideologies, as long as you knew about them. I found this both liberating and frightening.
As I got older I continued to read about and collect stories from people about faith and religion, and one story in particular always stayed with me. When I asked a friend about a serious scar she had, she told me about growing up in a commune that didn't believe in medical intervention. When she was in an accident she was asked if she wanted medical help, or if she wanted to "pray for [the bleeding to stop]."
The fact that a young girl had to say, "I don't think my faith is strong enough" just to keep from bleeding to death in the middle of a field opened my eyes to the ways that religion could be dangerous, not just for fanatics, not just for people in other countries whose lives I could hardly begin to imagine, but for the kid next door, even for me if I put myself in the wrong situation.
One of the other issues in the book is how families deal with serious food allergies. I'd never given much thought to food allergies until the story of the death of Christina Desforges, a fifteen year old from Quebec, made headlines across Canada and the US. Christina had a host of serious allergies, including a peanut allergy. Her death was originally attributed to kissing her boyfriend, who had eaten peanut butter hours earlier.
I was horrified that someone could possibly have an allergy so sensitive that they could die in this fashion and immediately began researching food allergies. Months later it was confirmed that her death had been caused by an asthma attack, not her peanut allergy, but my research stuck in my head, and over time it developed into a deep compassion for families who have to deal with this while trying to find a way to allow their children to live in the world.
A third element in Matters of Faith is long-term marriage and the ways in which it can change over the years, hopefully for the better, sometimes for the worse. Add tragedy onto an already shaky or apathetic relationship and how will people respond? Will it tear them apart? Make them closer?
My interest in this has grown over the years because my husband and I have now been together for eighteen years. During that time we've watched how our friends' relationships have evolved, and most of the people who were together when we met are now divorced. It makes me examine my own relationship, about what I want, and what I need to do on a daily basis to keep it strong, fun, and loving.
And if you've read my first novel, Catching Genius, you already know that how children are parented is a fascination of mine. The best intentions to protect children from something almost always backfire. But what are parents supposed to do? They're trying to do the right thing, but nobody escapes childhood undamaged by their parents in some way. Nobody makes the right decision every time (though there are plenty of parents who still can't admit that!), and the fallout can take years to show up, and by then, of course, it's too late.
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