I recently wrote a guest post for A Well Read Woman on “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the Novel Identity Theft.” So stay tuned for that. I will let you know as soon as it appears. I had so much fun doing it that I decided to write one for my first novel Angel.
1. A real retired minister inspired the story
The initial spark of an idea for Angel came when I was invited to speak at a conference in Seattle and took a bus tour of Mount Rainier. The driver was entertaining and kept talking about burning out on his old job. Only at the end of the tour did someone ask what his old job had been and he said “a minister.” I thought the mystery of what would make someone leave the ministry to become a tourist guide on a mountain was a great premise. Of course, I know nothing about the actual minister’s story, but he did describe the mountain as “magnificent in its symbiosis” a line that made its way into the book.
2. There is an unpublished sequel to Angel
Over the course of the next year and a half after the release of the novel Angel, I wrote a second novel from Ian’s perspective. It begins with Ian at age 13 losing everything in a house fire and ends in the present just after same sex marriage was legalized in the state of Washington. After completing it, I decided not to try to publish it.
3. Ian Finnerty’s name is a play on “infinity “
My father was an author and when he passed away he left many partial fiction manuscripts. One very sketchy idea was for a novel about an alcoholic pilot named Ian Finnerty who flew a traffic helicopter and went by the name “Captain Infinity” on the air. Ian sounded like a young person’s name and the connection to “infinity” seemed a propos for a character who is described as an angel. So I used it as an homage to my late father. In the unpublished sequel to Angel, by the way, Ian’s middle name is revealed to be Armstrong.
4. Paul Tobit’s name is a reference to the apocryphal book of Tobit
Paul’s name came much later than Ian’s. I do not write novels in sequence and for much of the writing I was still calling the main character “the minister” because I didn’t have a name that quite felt right. His name finally came when I wrote the scene where the minister introduces himself to Ian. “I’m Paul,” he said, and I thanked the character for finally letting me know what to call him. It was not a conscious reference to St. Paul, but may have been a subconscious one as St. Paul’s epistles come up in the text.
Paul’s last name, however, was chosen consciously. It is an allusion to the book of Tobit, which was part of the version of the Bible known as the Septuagint and is still part of the Orthodox and Catholic Biblical cannons. It is one of the most ancient angel stories we have. It recounts how God sent an angel, Raphael, to heal Tobit who has suffered pretty much all of the smiting the Bible can dish out. He’s been left alone, impoverished, blind and even the birds shit on him. Raphael is described as “one of the seven angels who see the face of God.” The angel introduces Tobit to his bride, Sarah (thus Paul’s wife was named Sarah). By taking a leap of faith and trusting the odd advice of the angel, Tobit gets his sight back and finds love. (Although not with the angel.)
5. The denominational language that Paul wrestles with is from the United Methodist Church
Paul’s denomination is purposely never identified in Angel. It is a denomination, unlike the Methodist church, which I believe moves pastors to different parishes after a given time, where a minister can stay as long as he and the congregation are happy with one another. In writing the book, I studied the statements on human sexuality of the Presbyterians and Methodists. The Presbyterians changed their policies between the time the book was written and published but the Methodist church still used the language which appears in Angel about homosexuality being “incompatible with Christian teaching” and about “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” not being allowed in the ministry. Shortly after the book was released, in fact, Rev. Amy Delong was tried by the UMC under that language.
6. The book is set in the year 2007
As I recently explained in a blog post, laws and culture have changed so fast regarding LGBT issues that it is possible to pretty much identify the exact year that Paul and Ian spent together by a reference to the states in which same sex marriage was then legal.
7. Ian’s friend Ray is of Egyptian descent
In Angel, Ray is described as being of “some vague ethnicity Paul can’t quite place.” In Ian’s unpublished book he is described this way: “Ray Shenouda was the definition of tall, dark and handsome. Of Egyptian descent, he had black hair and nearly black eyes, strong cheek bones and he spent way more time in the gym than Ian ever would, at least until someone got the idea to install an open bar there. He was, by any objective standard, extremely good looking. Ian recognized he was attractive, but Ray’s good looks stirred nothing in him, and this seemed to be mutual. During that one month when Ian was broke and crashing on Ray’s couch, they had played around a couple of times just to try things out. Actually, it was two and a half times. The third time involved too much alcohol, a few half-hearted gropes and the sudden realization on both of their parts that it was kind of a stupid thing to keep doing.”
8. The interior, but not the exterior, of Paul’s church is inspired by a real place
In order to have a sense of physical space in the church, I visualized the interior of my own church, which is a modern structure. The exterior, however, is a traditional gothic church with an attached cemetery. This is the kind of thing you can do in fiction. In the church office where I worked there is a bathroom right behind the office manager’s desk. An editor balked at the description of this unrealistic layout, but I left it in.
9. Gay men are still not allowed to donate blood under current FDA guidelines
A pivotal plot point in Angel revolves around the annual church blood drive. Under current FDA guidelines, which date back to 1985, a man who has had sex with another man– even once– is banned for life from donating blood. The FDA has proposed a change in policy which would only ban donations for one year, but which would continue to ban any non-celibate gay men from donating.
10. A second edition of Angel is set to be released on November 10