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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Stealing From A Priest

Father Adrian Storm. Photo courtesy of Dorothy Rack
People frequently ask where the inspirations for stories or characters for my books come from. Writing fiction gives me a lot of leeway in what I do with a spark of an idea. For me, a Lego figure is not merely a hunk of useless plastic. At a minimum, it is a trigger for memories of the birthday gift unwrapped by a child squealing with joy. Maybe it becomes a cable holder. Cobbling the junkie flotsam of my brain together for a new use is creative fun.
In writing "The Troubles," I had a few obstacles to navigate. My book is not a "religious" book, but one cannot write about the political conflict in Northern Ireland without being aware of how religious beliefs motivate a person's behavior. I wanted to stay true to the history and the motivations of the conflict while departing from facts enough to weave a good tale. Bringing characters to life that carry the story is hard work, and making the reading fun for the reader is a challenge. I wrap fiction around facts, and facts around fiction, to blur the sharp edges of reality and make the story flow. Sometimes, the mere use of a name is enough to trigger the creative grease that makes the process work.
The picture above is of Father Adrian Storm, parish priest of Pawling, New York. I don't ever recall Father Storm when he did not have a smile on his face or in his heart. Sunday mornings were spent in a building we called the "Lyceum" where he held a mass for children. After mass, and before our catechism lessons began, he would quiz us on bible stories or what the differences were between a venial or mortal sin. Then a plastic rosary or other religious trinket would be given to the kid who proudly gave the right answer. He is remembered and loved for his piano playing and discrete shots of whiskey. Bits and pieces of Adrian Storm were snatched out of life and tucked into my memories. 
I named a character in my book to honor him. Father Ignatius Storm is a very different man from Father Adrian Storm. The character is not the man smiling above. Ignatius is a concoction of fiction. But using the name "Father Storm" conjured wonderful memories for me and helped me form a three dimensional man full of love, loyalty, and complexity. Ignatius provided a vehicle for showing the toll on a priest who is the keeper of secrets and sins. He provided a way to unfold the heart of my story.
The Father Storm of my youth is remembered for his warmth and boundless love. He was the heart and soul of a thriving parish. He christened many, married others, and buried more than his share. 
So, I stole the love he had for his community. I secreted away the trust his parishioners freely gave him. I used this loot as my own.
I've said my five Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers in confession of my theft.
I hope that's enough.