Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Anita Lock is talking with Christine Sunderland, author of The Fire Trail
FQ: On your website, it states, "Having spent considerable time in Italy, France, and England, she developed a keen interest in history, the ability of the individual to change events, and the power of belief. In her stories, she brings to life the effect of the past upon the present, the puzzle of perception, and the mystery of time." Was there a poignant moment in your literary journey when you knew without a shadow of a doubt that you wanted to write stories with a historic and religious purpose?
SUNDERLAND: I can't say there was a moment when I knew I wanted to write such stories, although I've always been keenly interested in history and the meaning of life. My first novels (Pilgrimage, Offerings, and Inheritance) rose from meditative travel journals that considered the history of Western Europe, the churches and villages formed in the last two millennia. The historic and religious themes loomed large and I prayed that God would show me how to make use of this experience. He answered my prayer, and slowly I learned the craft of novel writing, attending workshops and critique groups, listening to readers and mentors. I'm still learning and always will be.
FQ: After writing stories set in France, England, Italy, and Maui, what gave you the idea to create a tale based in your own hometown?
SUNDERLAND: I fell in love with the structure of the novel and went on to create Hana-lani from scratch so to speak, not using earlier journals. The next novel, The Magdalene Mystery, was a Catholic correction to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. When I considered this most recent novel, our current cultural issues called me. I was especially troubled by escalating terrorism, national threats to freedom and peace, the erosion of the rule of law. I work a block from UC Berkeley, the heart of the Free Speech Movement, and decided I was qualified to set such a novel in this university town. I lived in Berkeley as a child when my father was Youth Pastor at First Pres Berkeley in the fifties. I grew up in the Bay Area and attended San Francisco State in the sixties when demonstrators threw rocks, burned flags, and stormed Berkeley's People's Park in the name of free speech.
FQ: What would you say were the inspirations for your characters in The Fire Trail?
SUNDERLAND: My characters reflect combined traits of various people I know, voicing their own deep concerns about our country's path in the last fifty years. I have known many versions of Jessica and her sisters, victims of the Sexual Revolution, of Zachary and his desire for truth and beauty, of Anna and her fierce passion to protect children from crime and pornography, of pastors like Father Nate who pray without ceasing for their community, country, world. Americans are a caring people. They care about one another, and I wanted to reflect that deep yearning in my characters, a longing for domestic and world peace.
FQ: You relay thought-provoking perspectives on life, love, and spirituality. Have you always been a faith-based person, or did that coincide with your keen interest in history?
SUNDERLAND: My faith has been a journey, a "pilgrimage into God with God" (St. Benedict). I became an informed Christian at the age of twenty, having read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I needed a reasonable explanation for belief; I would not settle for blind faith, and Lewis gave me reasons to believe. I never looked back. I grew up in a Presbyterian home, but I left the faith in my teens. In the sixties faith was considered unreasonable, too demanding and restrictive in a time of free love and self-indulgence. But a few years later, God pulled me back, with "a twitch upon the thread" (Evelyn Waugh and G.K. Chesterton) and showed me Christianity was quite reasonable after all. I was confirmed in St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, San Mateo. My real life, my pilgrimage through time, began.
FQ: Anna Aguilar, Zachary's mother, is an activist and advocate for children's rights, particularly wholesome literature. Following in her lead, your website has a link of children's books that you recommend. Have you given any thought to writing your own children's books?
SUNDERLAND: I love working with children and welcome our grandchildren (now numbering ten) to our home whenever possible. Children are our future and they teach us so much. They show us how to believe again – in truth, goodness, innocence. I admire those who write good children's literature that provide role models and a hopeful vision. At this time in my life, however, I prefer to write for adults rather than children.
FQ: Since much of The Fire Trail is geared toward Jessica and her personal journey, do you have any plans to write novels in the young adult genre?
SUNDERLAND: Jessica is twenty-two, on the verge of making decisions that will shape her adulthood. It is an interesting age, when a person has recently graduated from college and faces the real world with all of its challenges and responsibilities. It's helpful to include at least one character in that age group, for it is a pivotal time in life, an age abused by our culture.
FQ: On your website, you state, "I have also been fascinated with the interaction of body and soul, matter and spirit. Science is only beginning to understand some of the mechanisms of the brain; how we think and perceive is still a great mystery. Evidence supports the theory that the body and soul are closely connected, that our mental/spiritual state affects our physical well-being. My novels explore some of these ideas." Do you have any upcoming projects that will explore these ideas on a larger scale?
SUNDERLAND: In future projects I will indeed explore the interaction of body and soul, matter and spirit. This fusion is the heart of our humanity, the genus of the human experience in the time frame we are given. As I age, that time frame shrinks, and like many I hear the clock's tick. I might write about body and soul and their relationship as we approach the end of our lives. But then I also like to celebrate life, and how life can be glorious and joyful, once body and soul unite, something I experience in Christian worship. We shall see what comes next! I have many ideas from which to choose.
FQ: Do you foresee yourself writing other literary trilogies, such as Pilgrimage, Offerings, and Inheritance, or continuing with a chain of mysteries?
SUNDERLAND: Trilogies and sequels, I learned, are complicated. The author must create consistent backstories. I'd rather write stand-alone novels, literary and not genre, works that don't fit into a formula but breathe on their own, so that the story and characters define the novel's structure. Aside from my early Trilogy of Western Europe, my following three novels are unique. Hana-lani is the story of a city girl learning the meaning of family and community and love; The Magdalene Mystery is a quest to find the historical Mary Magdalene and in so doing discovering the truth of the Resurrection; The Fire Trail is a suspense reflecting the chaos of today's culture and the yearning for beauty, truth, and transcendence. None of my novels follow the detective-mystery format, but it is true they all involve a mystery, some serious question or problem immensely important both to the characters and (I hope and believe) to all of us.