Michael Haskins

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Mother Teresa or truth is stranger fiction

Mother Teresa’s rough face, aged with lines, large brown eyes, and colored from outdoor living, stared from the front of TIME’s Sept. 3, 2007, issue. I half expected to read she had received sainthood from Rome, but large white letters screamed “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa” and small white print whispered “Newly published letters reveal a be loved icon’s 50-year crisis with faith.”

Last week, Bill Maher, host of “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO, showed off the magazine and even kissed it, referring to Mother Teresa as one of his. Of course, he meant nonbeliever.

A new book is coming out, or maybe is already out, that reports Mother Teresa had concerns about her faith. It is proven, the reports indicate, in letters she had written during her life. Even with her questions about faith and God, the woman continued her mission of helping the poor. Of course, most of us have no idea of the class of poor Mother Teresa worked with.

I remember when she came to Tijuana, Mexico, one of my favorite cities. Poverty in Tijuana is hard to explain. It is even harder to witness. Slums in Tijuana would make the slums of NYC and Boston seem like luxury living. Wealth also is in surplus in Tijuana. Living side-by-side, they highlight the obserdity of life.

I bring this up, because people have asked me where I get my story ideas. It may seem like a simple question by those asking, but it really doesn’t have a simple answer. Sometimes ideas come out of the blue from a newspaper article or a news story on television. I write mysteries, so there is usually an iota of truth/fact in the story. Then I add “what if” to it and I am off and running.

An idea doesn’t have to give me a theme for a book. It can help me with character development, as the Mother Teresa story is going to do. In my novel, “Chasin’ the Wind,” and my EQMM short story, “Murder in Key West,” there is a Jesuit who sees and communicates with angels. I leave it up to the reader to believe Padre Thomas can do this or not. He is an Irish Jesuit whose missions have been in Central and South America, hence the “Padre” before his name.

Padre Thomas walked away from his mission in Guatemala and ended up in Key West, where my protagonist, Liam Michael “Mad Mick” Murphy meets him at Schooner Wharf Bar. Obviously, Padre Thomas is having a problem with faith, or he would have remained at his mission. He is still religious, donates his time at the Catholic soup kitchen and even helps counsel many of the men and women who come to the kitchen for a daily meal.

I guess that would be something like Mother Teresa’s continuing her work as she battled with her faith. I don’t know if I will read the book, but the story in TIME has given me some good background material I can include in Padre Thomas’ battle with faith. In my sequel, “Free Range Institution,” I have the Jesuit continue his battle with his faith and I end the book with him violating his beliefs, but there are strong circumstances behind it.

If I had chosen to write about Padre Thomas’ questions with faith without doing some background, it probably wouldn’t have come across properly – which I hope it does. Now, with the material from TIME I have more directions for him to go.

One of my research tools was, fortunately, a friend who came to me after his wife had read my short story and told me he was an ex-Jesuit. Imagine my surprise! He graciously met me after work one day and told me about his life and answered many of my questions. I had pretty much captured the spirit of the order in Padre Thomas, but the interview helped me increase his character in the sequel. I also learned a lot. Did you know the Jesuit order does not report to the pope? The head of the order is equal to the pope! I am still looking into this, because it was one of only a few things that caught me totally by surprise. I expect in the sequel to the sequel that information, along with what I’ve gleamed from Mother Teresa’s crisis with faith, will make its way into Padre Thomas’ character and may – no, probably will – affect my character’s actions and reactions in the second sequel.

So where do my story ideas come from? I guess you could say from real life, but I tone them down so they are believable.

1 comment:

Reemberto said...

... a simple factual correction to your writing: To Jesuits, the "head of their order" is NOT "equal to the pope." Indeed, Jesuits take a 'fourth vow' to be obedient to the pope... Regardless of this theological snafu, your post is excellent. It is truly fascinating to see how people like Mother Teresa, Ghandi, and the Dalai Lama truly transcend religiosity and hit a spiritual cord with people of all faiths (indeed, even with some of no faith.) ... I am sure your writings will be 'the better for it' for having ran across such a beautiful human being as Mother Teresa. Bless her and bless you.

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