Paul Tobit, a widowed minister now working as a tour guide at Mount Rainier, is the protagonist of the novel Angel. As part of the Snowy Reading Blog Hop, hosted by Authors Promoting Authors. On each site that participates, a main character answers winter-themed interview questions. This seemed like a great opportunity to speak in Paul’s voice one more time. The interesting thing with a character interview is that you have to make a decision not only about how the character would answer, but where he is in his life and in the world of the story. This is an interview of Paul Tobit at the time of the opening chapter, which is also the time of the closing chapter. We meet him as a tour guide on Mount Rainier. The most of the action of the novel takes place prior to that– it is the story of how he got there. Before we get to that, a little bit about the novel:
Since the loss of his lively, charming wife to cancer six years ago, minister Paul Tobit has been operating on autopilot, performing his religious duties by rote. Everything changes the day he enters the church lobby and encounters a radiant, luminous being lit from behind, breathtakingly beautiful and glowing with life. An angel. For a moment Paul is so moved by his vision that he is tempted to fall on his knees and pray. Even after he regains his focus and realizes he simply met a flesh-and-blood young man, Paul cannot shake his sense of awe and wonder. He feels an instant and overwhelming attraction for the young man, which puzzles him even as it fills his thoughts and fires his feelings. Paul has no doubt that God has spoken to him through this vision, and Paul must determine what God is calling him to do.
Thus begins a journey that will inspire Paul’s ministry but put him at odds with his church as he is forced to examine his deeply held beliefs and assumptions about himself, his community, and the nature of love.
So without further ado, an interview with Paul Tobit.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: My name is Paul. For the past year, since I burned out on my old job, I’ve been working as a tour guide at Mount Rainier. I enjoy it. I never get tired of the scenery. It changes into something more beautiful each season. I like showing that majesty to new people each tour. I don’t know if I will do this forever, but I’m content now. I have a lot of time to look at the mountain and think about things, reflect on life.
Q: Do you enjoy or dislike winter? Tell us why.
A: My favorite season is probably spring, all of that rebirth and renewal, but I am starting to appreciate winter more as I get older. Winter is actually a hopeful time because spring comes next and anything is possible. I’m in a winter period of my life at the moment, taking a pause and just laying low until the next phase of my life is born. That’s an important part of life too, that time when it just seems as though everything is on hold and nothing is certain. The truth is, until I came here to the mountain I was such an indoor person that the seasons didn’t affect me much at all. I went from one indoor space to another and I mostly focused on what was going on in my head. So that has been one benefit of this job, I’m more in touch with the nature of the seasons, how things change and how it’s a natural process.
Q: What would you do on a date (or with close friends) on a snowy evening?
A: I don’t go out or socialize much these days. I get just about the right amount of contact with people doing the tours. Like I said, I’m at a moment in my life where I am happy to have time to myself for quiet reflection. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, the Bible and other books. I’m trying to do more of that than watching TV. I’ve been writing meditations, prayers, mostly about nature and beauty, but also about loss, why there is loss in the world and what you can learn about God from that. I don’t have the answer to that, by the way. I’m writing about it to figure it out if I can. When I’m finished I might put the thoughts together in a book and publish it. It won’t be Thoreau, but it might mean something to someone. I didn’t mention, but before I came here I was a minister. I left my old job, but I haven’t lost my religion. It is interesting actually, I was a minister for a long time, but when I was doing that, I never had the kind of time I do now just to sit and be still with God. So, the Lord works in mysterious ways!
Q: When it’s cold and dreary outside, what makes you laugh out loud?
A: There was this time that Ian decided to make a snowman. Ian was a young man I was close to. He lived with me. He was like a big kid sometimes. He has this joy for life. We had our first big snow and he got it in his head that he was going to make the world’s largest snowman. He was out there making this giant base. I’m watching through the window, because I hate the cold. He kept coming inside and dripping snow and calling me names for not coming out and helping him, but he was going to make the biggest snow man on earth, damn it, with our without me. Next thing you know he has one of the neighbor kids out there, and then there are four of them. They are pushing this huge snowball around. Really leaning into it, they can hardly push it. Then they made another huge snowball, and by the time they got it done they realized they were both so big that, even with the five of them, they couldn’t possibly lift the second one and get it on top of the other one. So that was it. I made hot chocolate and we sat there with the neighbor kids, drinking the hot chocolate, looking out the window at these immovable mounds of snow and laughing. The huge snowballs just sat there in the yard for probably a month. They took forever to melt. Every time I looked at them I couldn’t help but picture Ian out there with the kids, pushing these things around. It makes me smile when I think about it. Stuff like that.
Q: If you were sitting around a fire, playing truth or dare, what would you choose and why?
A: I can’t imagine myself doing that. But just to take your premise, if I were… I’m not that adventurous, I’d chose truth. Well, now that I think about it, it would depend on who I was playing with. There are some people who I would be willing to give a bit more truth than others. Ian would take a dare. Truth would be no fun for him because he would tell you anything anyway.
Q: Tell us about a winter memory from your childhood?
A: I grew up in Kansas. I was raised by a single father after my mother died when I was young. It was just the two of us. My father never made a big deal out of Christmas. I have fond memories of the Christmas season at the church, though. I remember the mitten tree. Every year we put up a big tree and people put mittens and hats and gloves on it, and we’d donate them to people in need. As soon as I was old enough, I got put in charge of the drive. I liked the responsibility. It felt important. That kind of thing got me thinking about joining the ministry.
Q: What is the most creative gift you would put under the tree?
A: The thing that springs to mind– the last Christmas Sara and I were together– Sara was my wife, she died from cancer fairly young. It was such a hard time. That last Christmas she was very ill and we both knew we wouldn’t have another one together. Christmas that year was a weight hanging over me. I felt so much pressure to make that gift mean something. I couldn’t just go to the mall and get something shrink wrapped. But what do you get someone who doesn’t need any more things? What can she take with her where she is going? Only love, right? I really thought about that one. I had proposed to her at a picnic. It had been kind of a disaster because the weather didn’t cooperate, but she said yes anyway. So for Christmas I got a picnic basket, and I filled it with little things she could look at from her bed, because she was in bed a lot. All these little things that represented good times we’d had together. It cost almost nothing, they were just little knick-knacks. But she loved it. She cried. We both cried. She would run her fingers over these objects. After she died I gave those things away. It was too hard for me to look at them. Now, I sort of wish I’d held onto them. Anyway, I’m sorry to bring that heaviness into this. Let’s move on.
Q: Would you start a snowball fight?
A: No. I’m not the snowball fight starter. That would be Sara, or Ian. They would both start a snowball fight. The difference is, if I didn’t play along, Sara would give up and hug me for being boring. Ian would just keep pelting you until you threw back. He was relentless in that way.
Q: Tell us about your favourite winter movie or book?
A: I like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I also have a fond memory of Ian playing Big Crosby’s “White Christmas” and singing off-key.
Q: How do you celebrate the holidays? Be it Christmas or Hannaukah or the Winter Solstice.
A: This year, I think I will find a church that does a midnight mass. I’ll light a couple of candles.
Want to know more about the characters from Angel? Today at The Readdicts is an interview with the second main character of the novel, Ian Finnerty.