Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Author Interview with Christine Sunderland

Our interview today is with Christine Sunderland, author of Inheritance



FQ: It was wonderful visiting with Madeleine and Jack again. I feel as though by having Jack’s stomach act up again at the end of this book, you might be hinting the there is more to the story. Is this really the last that readers will see of the Seymours?


Thank you! Never say never, as they say. But for the time, the Seymours are taking a holiday...but who knows about the future!


FQ: There are many elements to your books – history, religion, travelogue, drama – which parts do you enjoy writing most?


When I began writing, I was fascinated with history and religion, but as I learned to construct a story and incorporate some of our own travels, I became challenged with setting and plot, as well as character development. It's been most rewarding to interweave them all, rather like a puzzle or a painting. I enjoy dealing with the big questions of life - who are we, where are we going, is there a God, what happens when we die, why do we suffer, what is love, what is truth. There have been many answers to these questions throughout history, and I wanted to treat them in a fictional form that might resonate with readers on a different level than a nonfiction form would. At the same time I wanted to pull the reader in, so it was a challenge to do both, to not allow the history and sermons to interfere with the drama, but to contribute to the story's depth.


FQ: The concept of time seems to be a minor theme throughout this story. For example, Maddie reflects, “Only now, when her own jewels of time seemed to be fewer and fewer in her shortening span of life, did she understand their worth. Here we are, nearly buried with this avalanche of love from heaven, and we see trickling sand, not precious stones.” I would love to hear how the issue of time resonates with you from a religious/humankind perspective.


Time is the great mystery, isn't it? We all have just so much given to us, and yet we often abuse the gift of time, take it for granted. As a Christian I believe in life after death, so in a sense I'm not limited by time, but even so earthly life is definitely circumscribed. I try and remind myself to appreciate the moment given with open eyes and heart, to not let any minute be wasted. Prayer is a great aid to this increased attention, for God helps me (ironically) to focus on the sensory world around me. Also, believing in a hereafter gives meaning to the present, for nothing is lost, whether it be suffering or joy. Everything counts.


FQ: Brother Cristoforo is an interesting character. Is he based on somebody you know? Was he more of a challenge to write about than the other characters, given his faith/background?


All of my characters are amalgams of folks I know. Cristoforo was a rewarding character to write. I've had the opportunity to know and work with many clergy over the last thirty years, and Brother Cristoforo reflects various aspects of some of them, both good and bad. I love sermons and think of them as poetic lectures (constrained by time and form), so it was fun to incorporate some of the style and content of sermons I have heard. The temptation to pride is endemic to clergy (and teachers), and I wanted to create a character who was on fire with God, but unable to control his pride. When I introduced him in Pilgrimage, he was a minor character, but I named him with the intent of possibly using him later as a Christ figure, a sacrificial lamb, but still with a human problem to solve. So in Inheritance, this was my chance to show the pitfalls of faith not tempered by humility. I also wanted to show how powerfully God can work through a simple person (often the least of us), how appearances can be deceiving, how suffering can be redeemed through love. He's Roman Catholic and I'm Anglo-Catholic, which is close, and I've spent a good deal of time in Catholic churches and monasteries in Europe, so I hope his character isn't too far flung.


FQ: Please tell us what project you are working on next!


I'm presently submitting for publication a novel set in Hawaii, called Hana-lani about a fast-paced city girl who flies to the rural village of Hana, Maui. When her plane crashes she is taken in by a local family and nursed in their home, Hana-lani. Our heroine's material world clashes with the very different world of an old grandmother, a grieving professor, and his little girl. Themes involve the meaning of love, history, and family, in our culture today. It's not an inspirational novel in a religious sense and is faster paced and more traditionally structured than the trilogy. It's a love story.
I'm working now on a mystery set in the present day, in Rome and Provence, that explores the life of Mary Magdalene and the first-century Christians.