The Purple Robe
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What inspired you to write this book?
The idea for The Purple Robe came to me over a decade ago. I was working with another writer at the time (he was coaching me in my writing skills) and we had met in a coffee shop. During the discussion he asked me if I had any ideas for a novel---most of my work had been in short fiction up to this point. After mulling his question over for a moment, I outlined the plot to The Purple Robe almost exactly as it came to be written. I hadn't known it was there until he asked. He looked at me and said something to the effect of, "That's a great idea---I'd love to read that book! How long have you been thinking it over? " I shook my head, and replied, "I'm not really sure---my brother and I spent some time in the Yucatan recently and I guess it inspired me. " That certainly explained the setting of the book, but I wasn't at all sure where the characters and plot came from; I had given the idea no conscious thought that I remembered. After our meeting, I jotted the outline down on a legal pad and didn't touch it for several years. It was only during the actual writing of it that it occurred to me that I might not be working entirely on my own. I like to believe that the Holy Spirit had a hand in the creation of the story, and I hope that that is true.
How much of the book is realistic?
As I mentioned, my older brother, Danny and I, took a trip to the Yucatan some years ago. We spent time in Merida and the coastal town of Progreso. Much of the story of The Purple Robe occurs in Progreso, though I've taken liberties with some of the geography. However, I trust that anyone who's been there, or who is lucky enough to live there, will recognize many of the locations. Beyond the locale, I'm afraid nearly everything else (characters, events, etc...) is the product of my imagination, though I will happily admit that the kind residents of that town certainly provided a spark for all that followed.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological) in bringing your book to life?
Research was made easier by the time I spent in the Yucatan. My local library, and the internet, proved useful for tidbits concerning the region, and insight into the broader spectrum of Mexican history which informs some of the action. It was the literary, and psychological, challenge that was most daunting in the beginning---how to write a novel featuring a different culture and peoples without being either condescending on the one hand, or fawning on the other. Several times I considered placing the story somewhere in the U.S. But each time I discarded the idea. Mexico is still a predominantly Catholic Christian nation, and one in which faith plays a large, and active, part in the daily lives of its people. If I had placed the story in the U.S. the plot would have been forced by that to include a lot of distracting elements that I didn't want to dominate the story. The characters of James and Brenda Arbor (vacationing Americans) provide the worldliness and cynicism that I needed for the The Purple Robe, but not so much as to overwhelm it, which would've been difficult to accomplish, sadly, had I set it in the States where talk of miracles is generally greeted with derision. No, it had to be Mexico, the nation where Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego at Guadalupe. I needed a locale where the possibility of such things would not be instantly decried as medieval nonsense, but be considered with anticipation and joy; which is not to say that I think of Mexicans as simple and unquestioning zealots, but rather that their great faith allows them to keep a truly open mind when it comes to matters of science and God. I think that is equally true of most Catholic believers, though here in the U.S. we lack the comfort of numbers in which to express it. It was this shared Catholic faith that provided me the answer to my concerns about characterization: instead of allowing the differences of history and culture to separate me from the people I was writing about, I had our mutual faith and shared Catholic history to inform me. Once I realized this, I believed that I could do them justice and never looked back. I hope that this is true, and pray that no one will be ill-served by my words.
What books/authors have influenced your writing?
Where, oh where, shall I begin? My favorite authors run the gamut, I think. I have been influenced by the works of Joseph Conrad, H.H. Munro, Flannery O'Connor, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edgar Allan Poe, Joyce Carol Oates, Evelyn Waugh, and Ambrose Bierce, to name just a few.
What do you think makes a good story?
Anything that touches on the human condition in a compassionate way has merit in my mind. Of course the writing needs to be good and the characters believable. This doesn't mean it has to be a soft piece, far from it, but those works that stand the test of time contain that spark of humanity within them. Some of the cruelest stories I've ever read (many of O'Connor's works would fit this category) illumine man's struggle to rise above his own selfish, violent behavior, in search of the divine within, or outside of, himself. Others accomplish the same goal relying more on a gentle humor, and tolerance, of man's frailties and self-absorption. The Purple Robe contains elements of both, I hope. The reader will be the judge of that.