Your Ad Spot

Interview with Patrick W. Andersen

He enjoyed an award-winning career as a reporter and managing editor of Asian Week in San Francisco for a decade. He then moved into corporate communications. 

Since retirement, Patrick has published two novels giving alternative stories of the New Testament, Second Born and Acts of the Women. He and his wife still live in San Francisco and look forward to traveling again when the pandemic is history.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
Despite the unorthodox views illustrated in my novels, I’m actually very active in my church and served as a layman in several leadership positions at the parish, diocesan, and national levels here in the U.S. 

But I suspect that, much as many families have an uncle with whom they avoid discussing religion or politics at a family dinner, most church people probably studiously avoid discussing religion with me.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you shortly? Any new project you’re working on?
I am currently at work on two projects. One will be another religious historical novel - this one a murder mystery - to complete the trilogy. I am also working on a more contemporary story involving love and romance on the Internet.

Q.3 When did you decide to write Acts of the Women?
When I published Second Born in 2017, which is a story about Jesus growing up with his brothers and sisters in a wealthy family in Sepphoris, Galilee, I realized I had left a big hole in the picture. 

That story was narrated by Jesus’ brothers, Judas, Simon, and the firstborn son James. But what of the sisters and the other dynamic women involved? 

For more than 1700 years the church has denied or downplayed the vital roles that women played in giving birth to and nurturing Christianity. So, I started Acts of the Women right where Second Born ended, except this time it was narrated by the women. And the story is much different than the one we were taught in Sunday School.

Q.4 It is vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing. Tell us about your marketing campaign?
I have tried to solicit opinions from influential book reviewers and readers from India because a very important part of the book occurs there. Legend has it that Thomas, one of the Apostles, founded seven churches in southern India beginning around the year 52 of the Common Era. 

At the same time, however, some of the ancient writings discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 suggest that Thomas was in Egypt. The hypothesis in Acts of the Women as to how he could have been in both places at once could say a lot about many fundamentally important issues in Christianity.

Q.5 What are the three things you want readers to take away from your book?
First, it is long past time to acknowledge how strong women are in this world. It is not just the church that has relegated women to second class. It seems that most cultures, institutions, and even nations try to force women to play only support roles for their men, rather than to lead in their own right. 

Second, billions of people - both Christian and non-Christian - have been led to believe that Jesus was not a human man. Some parts of the church portray him as God, others as some Harry Potter-like figure who performs magical feats to cure everything that seems wrong in our world. In my books Jesus is very human, a man who has achieved communion with God and is showing the rest of us that we can do so too. 

And third, I really want readers to know that it’s okay to ponder and question the nature of our faith. Much of the church seems to proclaim that all the important questions were answered at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE and that it is heresy for any of us to consider any other answers. That’s not true.

Q.6 What was the most difficult part of the artistic process for this book?
Seven or eight women characters narrate alternate chapters in the first person. Now, being a male, I face an obvious handicap in trying to write in a feminine voice, let alone eight of them. I sent the first draft of the book to a number of women whose opinions I respect, and asked them if they found any parts objectionable or too male-sounding. I took their replies very seriously and made adjustments where needed.

Q.7 Can you describe your process when starting a religious-historical fiction? Do you begin with researching the time period, creating a character, or something else?
I do not want to waste time telling the same story that has been told hundreds of times by hundreds of authors before me. So I look for unanswered questions - some of which may be controversial. For instance, there is the famous story of Jesus turning water into wine for a wedding feast, and the text in the Bible indicates the wedding guests were already drunk before he did it. 

So, I wondered, was it actual wine that he made? Or did he serve them water and say something to the crowd that was so powerful, so inspiring that they just glowed with elation. The story in the Bible quotes one of the guests saying the wine was the best ever. Somehow, I don’t think that means it was a well-aged Cabernet or a sweet Zinfandel. So in Second Born, I changed the story to be about the words that were spoken, not the beverage.

Q.8 Immersing readers in a different time period seems like it would be overwhelming. What advice do you have for readers who might be too intimidated to approach religious historical fiction?
I’m not criticizing other authors, rather I’m just pointing out that they use a literary device that I am lousy at executing myself. Most novels in this genre use dialogue that sounds like actor Charleton Heston proclaiming the Word of God from the mountaintop in The Ten Commandments. Or it is written in awkward and archaic syntax designed to make readers think the characters are speaking an ancient language. It works for them, but I was not interested in trying to recreate ancient Aramaic and Koine Greek in a kind of broken English, because I was more focused on the story. 

So, some readers are immediately surprised that my characters call their parents Mom and Dad and use modern language, or that a 12-year-old Jesus calls some Roman soldiers a bunch of pompous asses. When reading Acts of the Women, one friend complained that a peasant woman in the book sounded like she had an Irish brogue accent. Well, maybe so, but other readers have told me they especially love that character. So, I try not to get too overwhelmed with the historical nature but instead focus on the characters and the story.

Q.9 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
Writer’s block is very real, just like gravity in a deep pool of water. If you start sinking in a deep pool of water, the cure is to start swimming. If you are beset with an attack of writer’s block, the cure is to start writing.

Q.10 What were your feelings when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
I was thrilled and greatly relieved when I saw the cover of Acts of the Women. I had left the artwork to the publisher to decide. I will admit I was a bit fearful that, in order to appeal to a mass audience, they would put a woman or women in low-cut Roman-era robes baring a lot of cleavages and pouting their lips seductively. That would absolutely not fit with the story, but some publishers might take the cheap route for increased sales. Fortunately, my friends at Adelaide Books took the high road. I am very pleased with it.

Q.11 How do your friends/family feel about your books or writing venture in general?
Well, I have been making my living as a writer for more than 40 years, so I guess they’ve gotten used to me carrying a pen and pocket-size pad of paper with me everywhere I go. Since I turned from journalism and communications to writing fiction several years ago, everybody seems mostly tolerant, as long as I don’t badger them with details about my ideas or beg them to promote my books with their friends. But I can’t put words in their mouths; I really don’t know what they think.

Q.12 What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
I never had the occasion to study the geography of southern India before. But while trying to pinpoint the areas where Thomas is said to have established churches, I found what might have been a path leading from the west coast inland. As that part of the plot developed, I tried to project that path further toward a conclusion. I hope I was able to do so without offending the geographic or cultural sensibilities of that region’s modern-day residents.

Q.13 Describe your research process (type of sources, depth, how much of the research makes it into the text).
I took a number of biblical studies courses at Stanford University to immerse myself in some of the theories and commentary surrounding biblical tales as they have been told for 2,000 years. 

I also have a home library of dozens of books on different aspects of biblical archaeology, history, and theology, and most of the books still have Post-It notes stuck on the pages to remind me of items of significance. As I am writing, I sometimes flip through those books looking at the Post-It notes to confirm some obscure point nagging in the back of my mind.

Q.14 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
I have written two novels and also published a collection of short stories, entitled Moments to Contemplate (In Bite-Sized Servings). A parent is not supposed to choose favorites from among his or her children, but I think I like Acts of the Women best.

Q.15 Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
This perplexes even me. My usual fiction writing is humor and satire. But when I decided I wanted to write a book about Jesus, I realized I could not do it strictly in the field of humor because readers would assume I was imitating Christopher Moore

Mr. Moore’s classic, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, set the standard for humor in this field. And as I said earlier, I prefer not to waste time telling the same story that others before me have told. Now, I still manage to inject some humor into Acts of the Women, but I try not to distract from the seriousness of the issues at hand.

Q.16 What are your favorite books from other authors and why?
There are so many! Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov, James Tabor, Bart D. Ehrman, even J.K. Rowling. And as critical as many people are of Dan Brown’s writing, I salute him for his cliff-hanging style that just won’t allow a reader to set the book down at the end of a chapter. 

I wish the movie The Da Vinci Code had even one-fourth of the tension and suspense that was in the book. I like a mixture of seriousness and humor, tragedy and comedy, fact and fiction.

Q.17 Who edited your book, and how did you select them?
Ach! Now I’m going to sound arrogant. I’ve been an editor for 40 years, so I edit my own work while I am writing it, and again after the complete first draft is done. Then I share it with some sharp-eyed beta readers and promise them a prize for the first person to catch a typo or hole in the plot. 

I don’t know if they’re just being polite, but they haven’t made me give out too many prizes. The publisher of the first book made some minor changes to my manuscript to conform to the Chicago Manual of Style, but otherwise, they mostly left it alone. I am not aware that the publisher of Acts of the Women made any changes at all.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
Well, since I’ve written so much about him, I suppose the obvious choice would be Jesus. The man, not the myth. But I’d probably prefer to talk to Judas. He’s the one who became known as the worst traitor of all history, at least in Christian cultures. I’d like to find out if it really went down the way it is described in the Bible. 

If so, what was he trying to accomplish? If not, how has it been falsely portrayed or misinterpreted? What would be his advice to people today who are struggling with their spirituality, no matter what their religion?

Q.19 Who designed your book covers?
The cover of the first edition of Second Born was designed by the publisher’s artist. I hired a freelancer named Felicity Morgan to design the cover for the second edition, which is now self-published. For Acts of the Women, I left it to Adelaide Books’ artist.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
When I first started writing poems and short stories in my pre-teen years, I was thrilled if someone would just read them and say they understood what I was saying. When I started writing for a newspaper, I was thrilled that a larger audience was reading my stuff, and I won some awards for my reporting on issues that few if any others were covering. 

When I went into writing for a large organization with thousands of employees, I had to learn to do something that many of us dread - “write by committee.” I got good at it, and the process served me well. But now that I am writing fiction, with no firm deadlines and no senior executives looking over my shoulder, I’ve gone back to being that introverted loner who is just thrilled if people read my stuff and understand the points I’m trying to make.

No comments:

Post a Comment