Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
My name is Christine Marie Eberle, and I’m 52 years old.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I’m from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, and have lived here almost my whole life, though as a young adult I did volunteer service in Richmond, Virginia and then went to graduate school in Boston.
Fiona: A little about your self (i.e., your education, family life, etc.).
I have a Bachelor’s in Theology and English from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and a Master’s in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College. As a young adult Iworked as an administrator at a street center for people experiencing homelessness, as a hospital chaplain, and even as anexecutive secretary, but those were all just warm-up acts for my real, beloved career.I’ve spent the last 25 years working in college campus ministry. I’m presently Director of Campus Ministry at Gwynedd Mercy University, a Catholic university rooted in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy, an order founded in Dublin in the 19th century.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
Green Writers Press in Brattleboro, Vermont is about to publish my first book, Finding God in Ordinary Time.The book contains four weeks of daily meditations; each includes a true story, a nugget of insight, questions for personal reflection, and a memorable Scripture quote. Together they guide readers over four “terrains” where people can experience the presence of God. You can look for Finding God in Ordinary Timein the fall of 2018 at a bookstore near you!
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been a writer since I was old enough to wield a pencil.
The earliest story my parents saved was something I wrote when I was about six years old.“The Story of Tommy Carrot” was a terribly spelled brief tragedy about a root vegetable, which was inexplicably (to me) rejected by the PBS television show Zoom. Then there was the aggrieved letter to President Nixon, demanding an end to the Vietnam War. A couple decades after those false starts, I really hit my stride–writing about the intersection of Scripture, spirituality, and everyday life.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Honestly, I can’t think of a time when I didn’t consider myself a writer. I write all the time at work—everything from inspirational remarks to accreditation reports to fundraising appeals—and I’ve publishedarticles on spirituality in a couple different magazines. But writing a book remained an elusive dream until recently.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Almost ten years ago, a friend got a job as an acquisitions editor at a Catholic press. He encouraged me to submit a magazine article; after they published it he insisted that I must have a book in me, and challenged me to articulate what that was. Although it didn’t go anywhere at the time, the idea I pitched to him eventually became Finding God in Ordinary Time.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
It’s a bit of a play on words, and both parts of the title are significant.
The book is grounded in Ignatian Spirituality—the charism of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order of priests. Ignatius urged his followers to “find God in all things,” which is what I try to do in this book (hence, Finding God). And in my Roman Catholic tradition, “Ordinary Time” is the long liturgical season that offers a little teaser between Christmas and Lent, and then stretches out for almost half a year between Pentecost and Advent. Many prayer resources are designed for those “special seasons,” so I’m happy to provide something for the less dramatic, more ordered procession of weeks.
For people of any or no faith tradition, however, Ordinary Time also refers to the way we experience our days.As I say in the book’s Introduction: Each life contains certain moments of awe. We welcome a baby into the world or accompany a loved one out of it. We go on retreat and have a profound religious experience. We take the vacation of a lifetime and sink to the ground in reverence at the edge of the Grand Canyon or beneath a bright field of stars. But those experiences, though real, are also rare. Literally as well as liturgically, most of our days are spent in ordinary time.
So I like the way the title works on multiple levels, making sense whether a prospective reader knows anything or nothing about Ignatian spirituality or the Catholic liturgical calendar.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I strive to be descriptive yet succinct. Any chapter in my book wouldmake a nice daily Mass homily or a short sermon, and as a person who has listened to an awful lot of those, I can testify that less really is more. I would rather make one point, and make it memorably, than try to cram everything I’ve ever thought about a topic into a single reflection.
It’s also very important to me to be real. When writing about spiritual topics, the careless cliché or pious platitude is just one misstep away,but that’s the moment you lose any reader who has been through the hard stuff. The things we say we believe have to be true even in the most difficult circumstances, or they were never true to begin with. So I try to look at complicated, painful experiences straight on, never denying the struggle, but always grounding my reflection in hope—often tempered with a touch of humor.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The whole book is realistic; each chapter is based on a true story that I experienced personally.But please know that, while I’ve had a full and interesting life, it’s not been so spectacularly adventurous that other people can’t relate. (It’s not “Finding God on my Whacky yet Profound Paddle Boat Excursion down the Amazon!”)There are stories about gardening and camping and getting my shoes shined, about struggling with imperfection and grieving my mother’s death and learning to take risks in friendship. I hope that reading these stories—and the insights gained from them—will stir readers’ own recollections, and lead them to see where God has been at work in their lives. If that doesn’t happen, then the book has missed its mark.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
This book is organized into four different “terrains” where I have experienced the presence of God, though only one of them involves international travel. That’s Part Three, which is about the shifting perspective gained when we experience another culture far from home. Each of the seven stories in that chapter happened when I was in another country, mostly in Latin America. I didn’t travel with writing in mind, though; in most cases I wasaccompanying students on service-immersion experiences. The reflection came afterwards.
And of courseno one has to travel far to encounter God; my other three sections are about the natural world, the delightful and difficult people around us, and the everyday struggles of life in ordinary time—things we all experience.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I am can’t stop looking at my cover; AshaHossein did such a beautiful job with the design! I had suggested a garden image; my original idea was that the reader would seem to be looking out a kitchen window—probably over a sink full of dirty dishes—and see a hummingbird at a bush in the back yard. Asha took that idea and simplified it into a single gorgeous flower and a shimmery hummingbird on either side of the words “Finding God.” She deliberately made all the other words small, so that only the most important words in the title and those two striking images would catch the reader’s eye.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Essentially, this is a book about paying attention. God longs to communicate with each of us; that is what I want my readers to grasp. God longs to communicate with us, and uses whatever material is available. If we can train our vision to notice, open our hearts to listen, and allow our spirits to savor something each day, then we will be praying—by which I mean, having a long, loving conversation with our creator. Some days it will be an argument; other times God will just crack us up. We may be humbled, challenged, affirmed, or consoled, but we will never be bored.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favourite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
My long-time favorite novelists are Gail Godwin, Mary Doria Russell, and Barbara Kingsolver (though in a different mood I can really enjoy Pat Conroy, Isaac Asimov, or even Tom Clancy). Ann Patchett is my new favourite; I only let myself read one or two of her books each year so I don’t run out too soon. And there’s a Philadelphia-area author named Robin Black who writes novels and short stories that really move me. I think the common thread is that they all write about the complexity of life—and its inevitable suffering—with clarity, insight, and compassion. Most of them also have characters for whom being both spiritual and religious is an ordinary part of their lives, which we really don’t see enough in fiction writing.
And of course there are more explicitly spiritual authors who are my go-to gals: Anne Lamott, Jan Richardson, and the poet Mary Oliver. One summer I spent a week on silent retreat with Oliver’s book “Thirst” as my primary text, and those poems remain close to my heart.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
In February 2017 I visiteda writers’ retreat in Rochester, Vermont called When Words Count. I’d won four nights there in a Facebook sweepstakes, and I really thought I was just going to hunker down at a snowy inn and enjoy working on my little God book. But at the hash session after dinner on my first night, the other authors (a very diverse bunch) were so enthusiastic about my book that I realized I could aspire to a broader audience than I had envisioned originally. Midway through my stay the founder invited me to compete in the October “Pitch Week,” and the rest is history. Although the competition involved a significant investment of funds, it was well worth it; I got to work with a superb cover designer as well as a marvelous editor (Peggy Moran) who was tireless, insightful, funny and kind. (Now I know why authors always thank their editors!) Without their help, and the deadlines imposed by the competition, this book would still be hanging out on my bucket list instead of about to go to print.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Writing is an integral part of my career, but just a part. I also do a lot of public speaking on spiritual topics, and each nourishes the other.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Only the publication date; I’d make it about ten years earlier!
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learned that I really do enjoy everything about the writing process. Some people love writing but hate editing, while others find writing excruciating but love “having written.” But I really do enjoy the whole enchilada, as they say. (Except for the self-promotion, Fiona, so thanks for making that fun!)
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Ah, who would play me, in other words? I used to play that game all the time with my cousin Susan (to whom my final chapter is dedicated). When I was younger I said Debra Winger; then I moved on to Holly Hunter (faking a mild Philadelphia accent). But if I could pick anyone now, it would be Diane Lane; we’re the same age and I’ve loved her since she was in A Little Romance when I was in grade school. She’s got such an endearing balance of quirky and appealing, which I hope describes me as well.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Don’t be afraid to show people your work. Writing is just a self-serving hobby until you get it out there into the light of day, risk rejection, accept critique, and keep trying to make it better. There’s also much to be said for externally imposed deadlines, even if it’s just a promise to read your next page to a writer friend on Tuesday!
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I would like to tell my readers what I tell my students: God wastes nothing. Your life may appear to be full of detours and dead ends, but (and here I mix the metaphor) God is like a master quilterwho can take the tattered scraps of each person’s experiences and put them together into something both useful and beautiful. For example, I was an English major and a drama geek before I was a theology major and a campus ministry geek. Were those early passions a waste of time? Of course not! Now I perform monologues I’ve written in the voice of different women in Scripture, and I am so grateful for those early “false starts” that God has pulled forward into my present life.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m filling in the gaps in my early Barbara Kingsolver withAnimal Dreams, and I’m reading a book of essays about Pope Francis called Go Into the Streets to prepare for a retreat I’m giving next month for the Baltimore region of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I really can’t . . . I was only three years old when my momasked me what I wanted to pray for and I said, “I want to ask God to make me able to read to myself.” Mom said that it hadn’t occurred to her to teach me how to read yet, but immediately she went out and bought flash cards and got to work (and thus condemned me to a grade-school life of getting in trouble for “reading ahead”).
I do remember loving A Little Princess, and The Little Prince, and Little Women. (Hmm . . . I never noticed the common thread until just now!)
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
My partner was diagnosed with cancer this fall, and I have been profoundly moved by the specificity of people’s kindness. Friends have offered to drop everything and drive him to treatment, or come sit with me in the waiting room during surgeries, or keep him company when I need to be out, or pick up the phone any time I need to vent. The owner of my local indie (shout out to the Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park) even offered to run errands for me! The network of care and supportaround us has moved me to tears.
And I can always count on my brother to make me laugh. He is one of the most spontaneously funny people I know. He’s 14 years younger than I am, and it’s just the two of us; we lost both our parents to cancer when I was in my 40’s and he was in his late 20’s/mid 30’s. He lives in Baltimore, about 90 miles away, but we talk on the phone almost every morning. People often comment that we sound alike, and we often say that same thing at the same time (though usually he beats me to it by a hair). I’m incredibly lucky to have a brother who is my best friend. There’s a chapter about him in the book as well!
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I would love to meet either of my parents or any of my grandparents when they were young. I would love to be able to ask them questions or just watch them have the experiences and make the decisions early in life that shaped them into the people I eventually knew.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
My two related hobbies are gardening and cooking, though in the height of summer I find I only have time for one or the other!
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I’m a huge fan of The West Wing and BattlestarGallactica. Favoritesthroughout the years have included Star Trek, ER, and Madam Secretary, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I guess I like shows where idealistic people are doing noble jobs!
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Food: Authentic Mexican (not Tex-Mex) and good dark craft beer.
Colors: Dark blue is my favourite colour, but my wardrobe is basically variations on black.
Music: My secular musical taste is preserved in the amber of my own college days: James Talor, the Indigo Girls, etc. But I also cantor for my parish, and I love singing church music, especially when the whole choir is together and as a soprano I get to do those soaring descants.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
That would give me a whole lot more time for reading!
Seriously, I would do all the things I already love . . . reading, traveling, speaking, singing. But it would be a diminished existence.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25).
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
I invite readers to follow me at www.christine-marie-eberle.com; I have a blog as well as a page for the book andanother for my public speaking. I welcome invitations! Thanks for reading this far.