Aleteia's serialized novel had its origins in the real experiences of parents in grief
When we published a recommendation of suggested Lenten reading, more than a few Aleteia readers wondered why we had not included any Catholic fiction in the mix. A very good question, and to make up for that omission, we have been featuring a serialized, chapter-by-chapter exposition of Michelle Buckman’s award-winning book, Rachel’s Contrition. We’re also encouraging discussion of the book and its themes, which are not all religious, at the Aleteia Book Nook on Facebook, where Buckman also shares daily meditations related to her work. Here she answers six “fast questions” about the novel’s origins and more.
1) What inspired the book?
I can’t say much about the initial inspiration without giving away some of the plot, but I wrote down the general idea for the story many, many years ago, because of a news blurb about the death of a child that I heard on the radio. I was in my car at the time, and I just sat there dazed by the torment the parents must have faced over something that was reduced to a 2-sentence statement in the news. I wondered how they faced each other after the tragedy. What could they say to each other that could bridge what happened. It seemed an impossible feat to me. I made notes and stuck the story away.
Then years later, a relative and several friends were all suffering through the deaths of their young children within a one-year span, and that story came to mind. I saw a need for people to understand the depth of their grief and the parents’ desire to talk about their children. So, I sat down and started writing it. I interviewed two of the ladies. We went on long walks, and they told me about their pain, their thoughts. From there, I embellished the story which Rachel expressed to me (characters always talk to writers).
If you could give this book another title, what would it be?
The original title was A Breath Away, because life and death, salvation or damnation are always that close to us. When I submitted the story to John Barger, he made me write out 100 possible choices, and from those, we all agreed that Rachel’s Contrition conveyed the most meaning, with a Catholic lean to the Act of Contrition.
What anecdote or piece of advice in this book most personally resonated with you?
With St. Therese being so much a part of Rachel’s journey, it’s hard to choose, but my favorite quote from St. Therese is: The sun shines equally both on cedars and on every tiny flower. In just the same way God looks after every soul as if it had no equal. -St. Therese
Did writing this book teach you anything?
It allowed me to walk in the shoes of grieving mothers and immersed me in St. Therese’s ideology, so I grew emotionally and spiritually.
If there is one person you want to reach with this book, who would that be?
I wrote this book not for grieving parents, but for the friends and relatives of grieving parents, to grow a sense of empathy within them so they will urge these parents to share their memories and sorrow.
What is the ideal beverage to have in hand while reading your book?
I can’t suggest a particular beverage, but I constantly listened to Evanesence while writing it, to keep myself enveloped in Rachel’s dark mood. I guess in reading it now, I’d probably have a glass of wine.