Saturday, June 3, 2023

Q&A with Anthony Mancini




Anthony Mancini is the author of the new novel Ashes. He is a former journalist and the founder of the journalism writing program at Brooklyn College.


Q: What inspired you to write Ashes, and how did you create your character Father Anton Weiss?


A: At the risk of sounding coy I'll start by saying that I have always resisted close analysis of the wellsprings of my inspirations, fearing that it would kill the process in utero by making mystery banal. Maybe that's just my Italian blood bubbling to invent talismans against the Evil Eye.


But I guess the headlines about Catholic priests abusing minors got me wondering how a God-fearing priest (not the mountebanks who pretend to have faith) who has such proclivities would struggle in the battle between belief and concupiscence. I opened the door to my well-worn imagination and there stood Father Anton Weiss.


Q: The writer Paul Moses called the book “a soul-stirring story of sin and redemption, of temptations of the flesh and self-recrimination..." What do you think of that description?


A: Perfect. It's gratifying to know that such an insightful consumer of words and ideas as Paul Moses bought what I was selling. And if I stirred his worthy soul I already earned a royalty for the book because at this stage in my life and career, stirring souls is the name of the game.

Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I learned early in my career as a novelist that writing fiction is a journey -- nay, better still, a pilgrimage -- and one can't get there without knowing the destination.


However, it is also a fool's errand to think so. Having a map is useful but you're going to have to tear it up along the way. If you're lucky and if you're open to unleashing your authorial superego your characters and events will dictate the outcomes. When you let go of the puppeteer's strings real magic happens.


So, to answer the question, yes, I had a sketchy idea of the ending but I tried not to let it overrule serendipity.


Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: It was obvious and it came to me in a flash. The best titles work on at least two levels: the material and the symbolic. And the interplay between the two.


The material ashes are scattered over the story by the Fire God Etna, which in many ways drive the plot. The symbolic ones represent the regrets that shadow the protagonist and the demise prefigured in the Book of Common Prayer.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am now busy taking care of my beloved beautiful wife Maria Ines Cellario who is very ill, and I am waiting for lightning to strike again in the form of another story idea. They usually come without warning.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I anticipate that Ashes might stir controversy as it deals with a highly sensitive subject.


I'd like to forewarn prospective readers, should I be fortunate enough to attract some, not to mistake the story for an exegesis and not to conflate the views of my characters or the resolution of the plot with any dogmas held by the writer. Ashes conveys no answers about pederasty or man-boy love. It is simply a story about a good man struggling with his conscience and wondering if he has lived a worthwhile life.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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