A sampling from my interview with Chad Pelley, over at Something Daily, about my new novel A Blessed Snarl.


To cut to your new novel, in a nutshell, a family moves to Newfoundland … and falls apart. Is there any reason you made the family a preacher’s family? It certainly lent you the unique dynamic of the preacher’s kid stereotype, and an original spin on the neglected wife.

Someone once told me that it was acceptable to write sympathetically about Catholics, partly because they have a long literary history (think Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, or, more recently, Ron Hansen), but that it was basically impossible to write sympathetically about evangelicals. I believed that for a while, but as I continued to read and to write I became more and more convinced that there is nothing off limits for a writer. I grew up Pentecostal. I know that world, that way of thinking, believing, living. And because I know that world so well, I wanted write about it and to do so in a way that didn’t reduce flesh-and-blood people to caricatures. Another person told me that writing about religious faith is only interesting when the story is about loss of faith: about characters achieving some form of secular enlightenment. I thought about that too for a while, made lists of good books in which loss of faith made for compelling, truthful fiction. But then I started to think of great books where hanging onto faith made for richly textured, challenging, even disturbing stories. So, in writing A Blessed Snarl, I wanted to write in that tradition: in the tradition of Graham Greene, Marilynne Robinson, and Ron Hansen. I wanted to tell the truth about evangelical faith, as I’ve experienced it, and to show the ways in which this way of living in the world conflicts with and sometimes, mysteriously, coalesces with other ways of being in the world. I thought I had done this in an original draft but I asked a writer-friend to read it and he said the evangelicals sounded no different from the “regular secular urbanites” in the novel; he said, if you’re going to write about them, you have to let them be who they are, think the way they think, and believe the way they believe. So I went back and cut the evangelicals loose. I think the novel is better for it: a little wilder at any rate.

There’s a lot of longing and interpersonal strife in A Blessed Snarl; a lot of instances where professions and past experiences affect relationships. Plot points aside, what is the novel really about, conceptually?

The novel is “about” the blessed snarl of life in Newfoundland: the tangle of things Protestant and Catholic, secular and religious, conservative and anarchist, mundane and miraculous. This is why I chose to tell the story from 5 perspectives: to sound out a dissonant chorus of voices in a novel-sized sound-byte of human experience. People rarely agree on anything, and most often we don’t see things the same way. But we still have to live together, and in a place like St. John’s I think this comes into sharper focus than in a more sprawling urban environment like Toronto. Here you more or less have to face your neighbours, family, and friends; as a local you have to deal with CFAs and as a CFA you have to deal with locals—you have to negotiate differences and work to find common ground. So, the novel is about the knotted mess of lives snarled together, but it is also about how blessed the tangle of a tightly knit community can be.


To read the whole interview click here.

  1. trudyj65 says:

    I love everything you say here about writing about evangelical faith. The same thing I struggle with in my writing.

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