Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Need a break from yelling at your computer screen and trying to impact swing state poll numbers through the power of your mind? I have just the thing! Take a few minutes to watch this excellent interview with author Dean Koontz that aired on The World Over earlier this month (also embedded at the bottom of the post).
The World Over always has good interviews, but this one is really special. When I first watched it, I knew I had the urge to send the link to everyone I know and tell them to check it out, but I couldn't quite articulate why. Then, when I watched it a second time, I realized what it was:
First of all, it's Catholic media at its finest. Raymond Arroyo is arguably one of the best interviewers of our time. His experience as a bestselling biographer undoubtedly helps him hone in on just the right questions, and he has an excellent sense of when to draw out his interviewee on a subject, and when to shift gears and move to a new topic. Combine that with a fascinating subject like Dean Koontz, and you have a recipe for a riveting interview.
In a larger sense, it shows the need for these kinds of personal profiles conducted in Catholic media. Koontz admits early in the interview that there are things that he could say in this kind of forum, i.e. a Catholic TV show, that he could not say in other interviews. It's amazing how much a shared moral framework cracks open the possibilities for conversation: I've noticed that I can have a more honest and intimate chat with someone I've just met whom I know to be a faithful Catholic than with a non-Catholic acquaintance whom I've known for years. You see this concept at work in the Arroyo/Koontz interview: Because he can assume a lot about the worldview of the show's audience, and shares that worldview himself, Koontz is able to delve deep into meaty subjects like good and evil and the intrinsic value of all human life, without wasting time on caveats and fundamentals.
But I think that the most important part of this interview is what Koontz shows us about what it means to be a Catholic artist, which is to say, what it means to be a good artist.
At the beginning of the interview, he emphasizes the importance of humility in the life of the artist. A writer -- or any other kind of artist -- must understand that producing good work takes a lot of hard work and patience (Koontz wrote consistently for years before he had a bestseller, and still works from sunrise until dinner each day, even skipping lunch). Perhaps more importantly, however, the artist must know that there is a source to his inspiration beyond his own intellect. From time immemorial people have taken it for granted that the best art comes the divine, and that anyone who hopes to produce something beautiful must first be open to receiving inspiration from a supernatural source. Sadly, modern culture has all but lost this concept, and so it's refreshing to hear Koontz discuss it so matter-of-factly. (Don't miss his goosebump-inducing story starting at 10:00 about how the idea for the Odd Thomas series came to him!)
Toward the end of the interview, Koontz emphasizes that all work should have a moral purpose, and that there is an urgent need for stories containing the hope-centered ideology of the Judeo-Christian worldview to act as a counterbalance to the nihilistic messages that dominate our culture (I'm paraphrasing a bit here; you can hear Koontz explain it much better at 40:20). For example, Koontz sees his Odd Thomas character as being on a journey to perfect humility, and has each book in the planned seven-part series reflect on a certain virtue. His 2001 novel One Door Away from Heaven fleshes out the idea that every human life has value, and shows the bleakness of the utilitarian worldview in which some lives are seen as being not worth living and therefore expendable.
Every story ever told takes place atop the foundation of a specific worldview. As Arroyo and Koontz discuss (at 44:50), these days it's popular to take traditionally evil characters like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz and create stories painting them -- and therefore evil itself -- as not really all that bad, their "wrong" actions ultimately just a matter of misunderstanding. I've also noticed more subtle but no less disturbing moral landscapes in which characters can commit adultery or live completely selfish lives, and this supposedly leads to good times and lasting fulfillment for all involved.
I think that this is exactly why the world is desperate for more Catholic artists, even if it doesn't know it: When we create stories that take place within a Catholic moral framework, they resonate as true. Catholicism articulates the laws of good and evil that are inscribed on every human heart, and people ache for these truths, even if they deny that they're true on the surface. A story that says that promiscuous sex and violence are glamorous might do well at the box office for a few weeks, but it's the stories that say that self-sacrifice is better than selfishness or that heroism is better than cowardice are the ones that are remembered over generations. Like hearing the high note of an opera sung at just the right pitch, you know a moral truth when you encounter it, even if you can't articulate the details of why it's true. And when you encounter it, it fills your soul with warmth, and you yearn for more.
There's so much good stuff to dig into in this interview -- Koontz's inspiring work with service dogs (16:15), his thoughts on the complementary role of faith and science (12:45), his insights about the critical role of beauty and symbols in the Church (53:30) -- but I'll step back now and just let you watch it. I hope that everyone takes the time to check it out, but I think it should be required viewing for Catholic storytellers of all kinds. Whether you're a writer, a blogger, a film or television producer, a playwright, or anyone else who hopes to transform the culture through the power of a tale well told, you could hardly find a better use for your time than listening to this rare interview with Dean Koontz.