(This interview is reprinted courtesy Catholic 365.com.)
I first met Karl Erickson in Seattle during a New Testament class at Seattle Pacific University. We were married several years later and I can still say that I am married to my best friend. Karl Erickson is a writer, husband, father, and an employee for the State of Oregon. Since 2005, Karl has written nearly fifty articles—e.g. America, National Catholic Weekly and This Rock--two children’s books (Toupee Mice, and Tristan’s Travels), as well as a new mystery novel, The Blood Cries Out. His Catholic faith seems to come out with whatever he writes, but maybe not in the expected normal way. For example his new novel, The Blood Cries Out, comes across as real life. His character, David, has problems, temptations, and deals with normal day to day life. What makes it different than most mysteries is how David seems to allow his steps to be guided by God. This is my interview of my husband, Karl Erickson.
What inspires you to write?
People and situations catch my interest, and I like to imagine what the backstory is. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with distant lights—especially twinkling lights on the dark ocean. To me, each pinpoint of light represented an untold story. Looking further back, my mother always took time to read good books to me; Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and George MacDonald were some of our favorites. The written word was always highly prized in my home growing up, and this became a fertile soil for stories to take root.
Strangely enough, sometimes when I find myself spending a lot of time in Catholic churches, I feel like somehow the experience blasts away writer’s block and opens my mind more. It’s not that I’m writing about anything relating to the service itself per se, but there’s a quality of creative freedom that seems to come to me through the act of worship
Why do you write?
Usually, I have a passion to write a particular piece or scene. Other times, I feel I should address something by writing about it. If given the choice between speaking and writing, I often would select writing; it just feels more natural to me. The satisfaction of finishing a strong piece is also highly rewarding. When I’m deeply immersed in a passage I’m writing, I lose track of time to such a degree that it can be startling to return to the here and now. There’s not really anything else quite like it. The creative process still remains somewhat mysterious to me, but I am thankful to God for any talent He’s seen fit to give me.
Where do your ideas come from?
When I was younger, I had a habit of keeping a little notebook on me to take down character sketches or story ideas. I remember sitting on a city bus, and taking notes on the strange conversations I’d overhear. These days, I’ll sometimes make a voice memo on my iPhone or e-mail a note to myself. The ideas themselves usually come from life observed, but they can also be sparked indirectly by either the writings of others or historical events. In the case of my novel, for example, a poet’s account of finding some old, bloody clothing from Oregon’s Snake River Massacre played an important part. I also enjoy writing the kind of fiction I really love reading myself. There are authors who write styles of fiction they don’t personally enjoy reading, and I think this shows a lack of respect for their audience.
How do you go about your writing?
With my fulltime day job and a family, it’s definitely hard to find time to write. Sometimes I may be unable to write for a week or two, but writing is like exercising in that it’s really important to keep at it. If I find myself in a situation like this, I’ll try to make time to write during late evenings or maybe Sunday afternoons. It doesn’t have to be long; any time spent writing often helps me get back into the “creative groove.” I can’t forget music. Having music on helps me concentrate.
Do you have any ideas for future books?
I do, but I’m still focusing on promoting The Blood Cries Out right now. If it’s sales continue to improve, I may very well pursue a sequel. I’d like to eventually move the series to the San Juan Islands, but that’s just one option being explored right now.
What do you like to do besides writing?
I love hiking and nature photography. Lately, I’ve been enjoying finding patterns in nature to photograph—from water droplets in a mountain waterfall to intertwined tree roots in the forest. One of my favorite recent photographs is the first one showcased on my new Water and Ice page.
How do you respond when asked whether, or not, you are a Catholic fiction author?
Well, I am a Catholic writer, but I try to avoid emphasizing this fact too much. Like I heard a Catholic singer recently explain in an interview, I don’t want the Catholic dimension of my authorship to be a significant selling point; I’d like the story to or fall stand on its own merits. Let’s face it, modern Catholic fiction has lost something of its past luster. Too often the story doesn’t come first; the story is just a means to make or illustrate a point, and this betrays a lack of respect for the reader. I'd like to help change this. I think it's also critical that Catholic fiction takes into account real life situations. That is, anyone can be saved in a story where God's power is like a magic wand that heals and saves effortlessly, or where daily life is sanitized. I want to write fiction that demonstrates how real characters handle trials that are true to life.
When it comes to fiction for older readers, my pet peeve is sanitizing dialogue or situations for the taste and preferences of the writer or a select group of potential readers. If you have a story, tell it truthfully and with authenticity. As Flannery O'Connor so eloquently put it, “Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn't try to write fiction. It's not a grand enough job for you.”
Not too long ago, I was discussing my novel with some fellow Catholic writers who were very passionately debating their view that profanity had no place in fiction--especially the writing of a Catholic. While I don't agree with this premise at all, it did encourage me to lighten the profanity in The Blood Cries Out just slightly--as a courtesy, you might say. Some might argue that my lightening of the profanity was an unnecessary sacrifice to political correctness or prudishness, but I suggest that realism and truth can be achieved with a lighter touch at times. Finding that balance can be a real challenge, but it's what lies at the heart of writing that matters the most: truth.
What can you share about your spiritual journey?
I was raised in Evangelical Protestant churches. In fact, my wife and I were both raised in churches of the Wesleyan tradition: Nazarene and Free Methodist. My grandfather, a retired minister from the Christian Missionary Alliance, helped me understand at an early age that we need to be reverent before God, and avoid transforming our services into mere entertainment. Even though our family was Protestant, my mother placed me in a Catholic school. This turned out to be an important influence in the future.
We never intended to become Catholics, but for the first fifteen years, or so, of our marriage, we were pretty miserable in regards to finding a church home. We visited church after church—from Free Methodist and Lutheran to Episcopal. In looking back, each church we attended seemed to bring us closer and closer to the Catholic Church. The liturgy and the sacraments began to be more fully understood and valued as we journeyed on.
When we began to study Saint Peter, in particular, we were struck with the fact that this first pope of the Church was entrusted by Jesus Himself with the keys to bind and loose. That is, real authority was given to this man (and his successors) by Jesus.
Christian unitywas also terribly important to us. In particular, we were struck by passages like 1 Corinthians 3:1-23 or John 17:11, which reads...
"I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one."
The writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton were also profoundly important in our decision to join the Catholic Church. In Lewis’ essay entitled “The Fern-seed and the Elephant”, for example, it seemed his words were directed straight at us as we debated whether, or not, to leave the Episcopal Church.
It’s impossible for me to read verses like this and not be struck with the vital importance of Christian unity, since we all are members of the mystical body of Christ. I ended an article of mine on unity with the following words.
"It was Pope John Paul II’s tireless ecumenical work that first caught our attention years ago. Slowly, it dawned on my Protestant family that the pope was indeed right.... Whether Protestant or Catholic, we all follow the same Good Shepherd, and it’s time this separated family came back to the house of their fathers."