We have a special guest in the house today: author Camille di Maio, a Catholic homeschooling mom, Realtor, and author from San Antonio, TX. Camille is here to introduce us to her debut novel, THE MEMORY OF US, the story of a Protestant socialite from Liverpool and the Catholic seminarian she falls in love with. You can find more information about the book here, on its Goodreads page, along with my review.
Camille has graciously agreed to answer some questions about her book. If you have more questions, leave them in the combox and she’ll answer them. And—bonus!—she will offer one lucky commenter a copy of THE MEMORY OF US. So ask away! And I will “ask away” for you…
Camille, what made you choose this particular time and place to set the novel?
My original inspiration happened as I was listening to my iPod while driving our four kids around on errands. The song “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles came on, which I have always loved. But, it struck me differently this time. I thought about this lonely woman and this lonely priest and what might have happened in their lives to bring them to the final verse in the song. I was intrigued by setting it in Liverpool, in homage to the roots of the Fab Four, and I’ve always been fascinated by the drama of the war years. So, Britain in WWII was a great fit for the story ideas that were swirling around in my head. The book, however, is not “about” the song. The characters have different names. But fans of the song will certainly see its influences.
You’re a home-schooling, NFP-practicing, Catholic mother of four. How does that shape the stories you tell and the themes you explore?
While I don’t believe that you have to “write what you know”, I do believe that there is an authenticity that comes with telling a story that has some traces of your own experience in it. I am not “me” without Catholicism. For my first foray in to writing a novel, it was only natural to weave elements of that in to the manuscript. And, since a priest is one of the primary characters, that made it an easy choice.
Despite its subject matter, you don’t consider this book Catholic fiction, but mainstream fiction that happens to center on Catholic topics. Is there a reason you chose to go that route, rather than write directly to a Catholic audience?
I love reading about other cultures. Catholicism is a culture, and I wanted to represent it in a unique way to a wide audience. In secular entertainment, the references are almost always derogatory, misrepresented (even with good intentions), or hopelessly sappy. In fact, we have a robust, rich, complex faith that goes back two thousand years. There is much to draw from that is magnificent. But, it doesn’t get much of a voice in modern literature. So, I do consider the target audience for this to be mainstream fiction readers, while it draws references and embraces situations that are inherently Catholic. Advent, Last Rites, Mass, lighting candles, fasting, etc. However, I would definitely not call it a “Catholic” book, because in no way is it preachy or trying to convince anyone of anything. It simply has a main character who is a Catholic priest, and it is reasonable to build the world of his story around that.
But, in deference to my faith, there is absolutely nothing in the book that would be uncomfortable for a Catholic to read. Yes, there are brief romantic scenes between two of the characters, but none are inappropriate or graphic. My threshold is, if my priest/confessor can’t read it, I won’t write it. I believe literature can be compelling but clean. Catholics should have no issue with reading it. But, secular readers (hopefully) will also be very intrigued by the story and by a view of a culture that they, perhaps, know little about.
Although you don’t beat us over the head with it in the book, the themes of vocation and discernment come through clearly. What do you hope readers will take away from it?
The two primary vocations in our faith – priesthood and marriage – are definitely explored in the book. I consider them to be on equal footing, each modeling a different aspect of the image and likeness of God. We can’t have one without the other. Both involve dedication and calling, and each requires taking a lifelong vow. I hope that readers will walk away with a profound respect for both states of life. Additionally, I hope that readers will see how seriously I take the concepts of discernment and purpose. We are each created for a specific reason, despite what many outside influences may want from us – good or bad. Kyle and Julianne are both the subjects of other people making choices for them. But, ultimately, they must each discover what it is that they were created for.
Can you give us a tease for your next project?
My publisher just gave me a contract for my next book, BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS, which will be out in spring 2017. While the religious tones are not quite as evident as they are in THE MEMORY OF US, it is set in south Texas, which certainly has Catholic influences. If the theme of the first could be said to be “vocation”, you might say that “sacrifice” is the theme of the next one. We’re not far enough along to have written a full blurb yet, but this might give you an idea: Two sisters. One death. A mysterious portrait. And a town with a desperate need to find hope. It is written in chapters alternating between the 1940s and present day, as a washed-up journalist and a young doctor cross paths while trying to discover the truth behind what happened so many decades ago. And how that revelation can save the people in the border town in which they meet.
Thanks for joining us today, Camille.