I finally get the call to the big leagues. The cool kids at Do Some Damage asked me to suit up. So I’m trolling for a topic, and ol’ Papa Benedict, the head Mackerel Snapper goes and announces he’s hanging up his zucchetto. Sweet. I got a novel coming out named PENANCE, it’s got a little Catholic vibe to it, I know the Vatican sit-stand-kneel bob-and–weave. I might as well riff on religion right out of the gate, piss everybody off, maybe start a little scandal. Good for traffic, right?
I got steeped in Catholicism as a kid. Schooled by nuns from kindergarten through eighth grade, schooled by Benedictine monks through high school. Well, Benedictine monks and the U.S. military. It was a Catholic military academy with an honest-to-Jesus, sanctioned-by-the-Pentagon JROTC program. We had an armory full of M14s in the basement. Marksmanship was part of the curriculum. So was Mass. The school motto was Crede De Deo, Luctari Pro Eo – to believe in God and to fight for him. Always confused me. I always figured if there was one guy who could handle his own beefs, it was the almighty. Hell, ask Noah, or better yet, Noah’s neighbors. Ask the good folks of Sodom. Or Gomorrah. (Boy, being from Gomorrah really proves the value of top billing doesn’t it? Denizens of both burgs got the fire and brimstone treatment, but only the Sodomites have been memorialized as the poster children for deviancy.) At least high school proved to be good training in cognitive dissonance. One period we’d be discussing the Beatitudes, the next a twitchy sergeant who’d done one too many tours in ‘Nam would be telling us how to kill someone with a copy of Sports Illustrated. Little hard on one’s social life, though. It was an all-boys school, so it’s not like you could impress some chick in math class by flexing your frontal lobes, and these were the 1970s. Everybody else was running around with Allman Brothers hair and I had the high-and-tight whitewalls. Although, upon graduation, I was named a brevet second lieutenant in the Illinois National Guard.
You never know what’s going to pay off when, as it turns out.
No, not the National Guard thing. The Catholic thing. See, one day during theology class one of the monks, just out of the blue, turns and asks “Mr. O’Shea, what’s the perfect time to be murdered?” I was leaning toward never, but it seems the answer he was looking for was as you leave confession. With your soul being freshly laundered and pressed, you’d be in a state of grace. It’s like having a lock pick to the Pearly Gates. Not that what was on the other side of the Pearly Gates held that much appeal to me anymore at sixteen. A back bench in the everlasting choir? An eternity praising God? Man, these Jihadists get a harem of virgins and we get Mass until the end of time? I’m thinking Islam might have been an easier sale to a mess of pubescent males already hamstrung in our hopes of getting laid by our unfashionable locks.
But that question stuck with me. Well, not the question so much as the answer. The idea that, in some twisted true believer’s mind, getting murdered on your way out of confession would be a good thing, that ended up being the germ of an idea that got me rolling on my first novel, PENANCE. (Coming April 30 to a book store near you from the good folks at Exhibit A.)
All writers joke about that “where do you get your ideas?” question. I imagine it’s the same for everybody. You read stuff – fiction, history, what have you; you hear stuff; you live through stuff. It all goes into the brain pan, just kinda bubbles around in there until it tastes like a story. Your brain works like that or it doesn’t. It’s not something explicable. Just pay attention I guess, and all that crap in there, stir it up now and again, see what floats to the top.
Anyway, howdy. Guess I’ll be cluttering up these parts on Wednesdays for a bit. Hope I don’t embarrass all these young whippersnappers with my curmudgeonly recollections. Those 1970s I was talking about? Back then, Bruce Jenner was an actual U.S. Olympic hero, on the cover of the Wheaties box, the whole deal. He wasn’t the punch line in a celebrity divorce or step-daddy to litter of big-assed Kardashians.
Been a long, strange trip for everybody, I guess.