Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Gene Ferraro, author of Ordinary Evil
FQ: I cannot tell you how fascinating I found this read to be! I’m curious to know what your motivation was in writing this book.
FERRARO: I grew up a Catholic. During the 1990s a lot of bad things were happening in Boston and New England involving sexually abusive priests. It made me consider how good and evil reside side by side in religion. I thought about the relationship between the faithful at the bottom, particularly the women, the clerical hierarchy at the top, and all the institutions stuck in the middle between them. In writing the book I hoped to give readers some insight into how all these forces collided to cause such terrible things.
FQ: I’m sure you’ve gotten a diverse reception since launching Ordinary Evil. What has been your most positive response? Most negative?
FERRARO: Most people I’ve talked with found the book a fast read, despite the many characters and shifting locales. In general they thought it really caught the times, as well as the Catholic culture. Everyone asks if it’s based on real events. The few negative comments arise from the violence depicted in the book.
The few negative comments arise from the violence in the book.
FQ: The Catholic Church has had a fair amount of press over the years. How difficult was it to develop your Father Dascomb character?
FERRARO: I developed Bert Dascomb from a number of sources. From the first few pages, it is clear that he is a villain, but, like all good villains, he is also a compelling human being. I tried to ground him in the day-to-day routine of the church to show the challenges, stresses and loneliness of a vocation. I also used time. We see him develop over three decades, with glimpses into his childhood and family life as well.
FQ: Was this a story that came pouring out of you or were there times when it stalled and if so, what got you back on track?
FERRARO: I knew from day one how the story would end. The problem was how to get it there and capture the complexity of the levels of the church in which the characters find themselves. I finally settled a kind of movie style using short scenes.
FQ: There is a definitive nuance that threads throughout your story concerning the invocation of the right to secrecy and sanctity of the Catholic Church, yet it seems to be ‘bullet proof’ when it comes to owning their misgivings. What is your philosophy toward this notion?
FERRARO: The Catholic Church is governed by Canon Law, which is church law. There is an inherent conflict between that and the civil law of any state or country. The church is also a bureaucracy. Any bureaucracy, by nature, is going to be self-protective and secretive. Scandal must be prevented at all costs, and in trying to prevent scandal, terrible things were allowed to happen.
FQ: I have great respect for your tact in rendering the subject matter of this story. It truly was written with a distinct voice of concern toward the delivery. Were there any portions of the story where you wrestled with how you would get the scene down on paper? If so, can you site a specific instance where this occurred and how you overcame the situation?
FERRARO: I had no desire to write a lot of graphic sexual situations so I tried to be economical and use a single sentence or image to convey something much worse in the reader’s mind. Dascomb’s psychological abuse of the Joey character is more explicit than any physical damage he inflicts. With Kate, I thought it was important to establish that she was a spiritual woman who loved God and who also liked sex, and that both were not mutually exclusive.
FQ: You have an impressive background. I’m interested in your work of producing presentations and events for businesses and organizations. Could you elaborate on some of the subject matter?
FERRARO: After I got out of the army I worked at WGBH’s film department for a year. Then I relocated to Missouri, where I produced some short documentaries and taught film at Stephens College. In less than a decade I was back in Massachusetts working on many different types of educational, marketing and internal communications programming. Today I write and produce programs and events.
FQ: I am intrigued by your observation in your Author’s Note: "...From the very beginning, one of its primary virtues was and still is obedience. Like any bureaucracy, it also manifest an unlimited capacity for self-preservation, addiction to secrecy, and the potential for evil..." I detect a melancholy in this statement. What, in your opinion, is the defining moment when something so right turns to something so wrong?
FERRARO: The more involved I got in writing Ordinary Evil, the more I wanted the book to be a meditation on Catholicism. Awful things happen, but I did not want the novel to be a scathing polemic. I hoped, at the same time, to convey the wonders of Catholicism and how so many good Catholics everywhere are doing good works because that is what being Catholic is about. The book tells a sad story, but the bad things that occur are not the whole story.
FQ: As I formulate my questions, my inner voice suggests 'political correctness.' I figured since the crux of your book touches upon religion, we’ve already broken the ice on a topic we should not talk about so why not forge forward into politics? We have become a society that has had ‘all things equal’ rammed down our throats far too often. I’m very old school. I believe we reap what we sow as much as we work to earn. What is your philosophy on this sentiment?
FERRARO: As far as my ideas on religion go, I’ll paraphrase of a couple of familiar sayings which I think about a lot. One is “whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren you do so to me.” The other is “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” There’s a tension that exists in those thoughts and in the book, which, when you stop and think about it, has a high body count and more than its share of psychological and physical violence.
FQ: I want you to know I received Ordinary Evil yesterday and picked it up this morning to read. It took me five hours to read it in its entirety and throughout the experience, there was not one moment of hesitation in the storyline for me. Thank you for an extremely great read! Please tell me you are penning your next novel and if so, are you able to share a sneak preview of what’s to come?
FERRARO: I’m just getting started on another novel and I really hope it will go faster than Ordinary Evil did. The working title is The Box at the Back of the Drawer. The story is set in New England during the period when some people and institutions thought it would be a good idea to put the theory of eugenics into practice and breed their problems away.