Monday, April 15, 2013

A Catholic Revenge Novel! - Guest Post by Declan Finn

Today I have a special treat for you. Author Declan Finn talks about writing his novel A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller. My favorite bit of his guest post is this: "I would write a thriller that was (a) thrilling, (b) factually accurate about the Catholic Church in the Holocaust."

Plus I admire his use of the words "modicum" and "vivisect" within a post containing an Incredible Hulk reference.  But, I'd better not give any more away. Read on!

-“Torquemada Lives!” Writing the “Catholic revenge” novel-

So many lies have been told about the Catholic Church over the years that the easiest way to get revenge on its behalf is to tell the truth.  Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge, who has read or seen a movie based off of Dan Brown’s work, knows that everything in them are lies, including “and” “but” and “is.” And there are “history” books out there that are so full of lies and half-truths, one could glean a better knowledge of history from a James Rollins techno-thriller.
And even though Dan Brown has prompted the writing of a dozen books explaining how and why he’s lying, these books haven’t reached as many people as the supposedly “thrilling” work of fiction.
In graduate school, I was a history major, and I did a paper on Pope Pius XII and his history during the holocaust—essentially: what did he do, what did he know, and when did he know it. I went through the standard procedure: primary documents (papers of the day), and secondary sources (books written later by people who weren't there at the time). Along the way, I came across non-historians, forgeries from convicted criminals, historians who had done jail time for slander, and deliberate liars
One of the most interesting things about this is that one side of the conflict doesn't acknowledge the other. One side takes the opposition's statements and theories, vivisects them with a scalpel, the end result looking like shredded wheat, and the second side acts as though there are no alternate theories, interpretations or evidence.
Anyway, by the time I was finished, it was fairly clear who was right. I had enough primary documents to reach those conclusions. I left motivations alone, because I wasn't going to break out my Ouija board to ask a dead pope what he was thinking at the time. The paper consisted of: “These are the actual events; to the best of our knowledge, this is what happened, and this is how the people reacted to it AT THE TIME.”
Then I came across a novel that used historical events as a background to the primary action. Premise … nothing new, really. Evil Nazi Catholic Church, blah blah, snore … "But, hmm, wait, I know that character's name. It's historical …" Skip to the back of the book to read the author's note. I had assumed that this author had read one side of the argument, and wrote another “evil Catholic Church” story based on that. But, no, I had read all of these books. The author had done his homework, and had completely and utterly screwed up the history. I could have taken it if he had just said “I'm writing fiction, not commenting on a historical debate.” But he took a side and even lied about facts that everyone agreed on.
People not only read this, they believed this. Most readers would have almost no intellectual background to separate the wheat from the chaff (seriously, how many people read about the religious and cultural activities of Europe in World War II?)
My reaction was somewhere akin to that of the eminent physicist and research scientist, Doctor Bruce Banner: Hulk smash.
Fine. Two could play at this game. If people got their history from entertainment, I would take up the strangest project ever imagined. I would write a thriller that was (a) thrilling, (b) factually accurate about the Catholic Church in the Holocaust.
Luckily for me, I've wanted to write for a living since I was sixteen. By the time I had started A Pius Man, I had more or less taught myself keyboarding, and had developed a mental habit of innovation out of the weirdest little things, and the ability to write for thirty hours straight.
I knew a few things from the outset.  The title was obvious to me, and I knew it had to be in Rome, at the Vatican.  It needed a conspiracy—what fiction with the Catholic church in it doesn't have some kind of deep dark conspiracy? (Answer: The Exorcist.) Who's behind it? Well, the standard options are the government, the Church, or intelligence agencies.... I came up with a fun combination of all three.
I threw in some characters I had lying around —the head of Vatican security, a secret service agent auditing security, a Mossad agent, and a wild card. And then toss in a menacing-looking Pope who is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, and he must be a Jesuit, because there aren’t that many priests in Opus Dei (seriously, 2% of Opus Dei are priests, making one a bad guy is unlikely).
At the end of the day, A Pius Man is a thriller, a war story, apologetics with bullets, a political techno thriller; there's a shootout down the Spanish Steps, in the Vatican, at an airport, and I slipped in enough history for a journal article. Oh, yeah, I have a love story in there too. Thankfully, I managed to tie the romance subplot into the overall story fairly easily. It even became critical to the book. How can two people falling in love save the world? Well, you'll have to read the book to find that out.
How do you write a novel that is, in essence, “Catholic revenge” on every last one of the liars out there who call themselves good writers? Simple: write an engaging story – in my case, an action novel that slips in facts between the gunshots.  I was lucky enough that the premise of A Pius Man easily lent itself to being made into a thriller. And I am enough of a Catholic nerd that I can slip in apologetics into casual conversation, so writing it into scenes was easy – did I mention my other bachelors degree was in Catholic philosophy?
The book
Declan Finn himself :)