An interview with author Rea Nolan Martin, author of The Anesthesia Game. A collection of Rea’s most inspirational essays, WALKING ON WATER, will be released in 2016.
By Robin Gregory
Mother of two sons, professor, editor, novelist, and regular contributor to Huffington Post, Rea Nolan Martin is a visionary writer, one who writes stories of transformation and self-realization. “I have always believed in miracles, and over the years that belief has not diminished. In fact, at this point, I have grown to expect them.” She agreed to talk with me about her life, writing, publishing, and her new novel, “The Anesthesia Game.”
Robin: Can you tell me a little about your upbringing, and how it relates to your books?
Rea: I grew up in a Catholic household, but I don’t really identify as a Catholic. I identify as a human being on her way back to God. Having said that, the Catholicism of my youth was a very positive experience. The nuns and priests who taught me were also brilliant and nurturing and allowed me to ask many questions. Even as a child I sought out the rich mystical traditions within that religion. The mystical saints are a large part of the Catholic heritage, but one that many Catholics don’t investigate too deeply. Most protestant religions miss it altogether, having done away with the entire concept of saints as bridges to the Divine. I understand why they found saints to be a distraction from primary worship, but I don’t see things that way. After all, we represent one Mystical Body and each of us is critical to the Whole. We help or hinder each other every step of the way. I believe there are many saints who continue to guide and amplify our prayer energy inward and upward.
Robin: What writers have influenced your writing?
Rea: On my writing in general, I would say the southern writers had the most influence, including Reynolds Price, Anne Tyler, and Fannie Flag. Very different writers, but all with lovely prose and stories that open a reader’s heart. I also love Rainer Maria Rilke, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walt Whitman, Rumi, and other metaphysical writers.
Robin: How long does it take you to write a novel? Do you edit as you go, or push through to the end before revising the entire book?
Rea: Stories to me are tapestries. They happen in layers. I pull the threads through, read it, go back and add a few more. I move through the entire process until the characters start telling me where they’re going next. This is when I know I’ve created believable characters with real stories. I never let an idea go that I know will improve a given story, even if I have to go back to the beginning to thread that line through with credibility. It takes me about six months to finish a storyline and another six to make it right. Mine is a very slow process in today’s book-a-day market.
Robin: You have such a gift for characterization. Sometimes, when I’m writing, when I’m really in “the zone,” characters feel so vivid it’s as if I’m remotely eavesdropping on someone who lives somewhere else in the universe. Does that ever happen to you?
Rea: All the time! If an author can’t imagine a character into being, the reader won’t be able to do it either. That’s the gift, I think, right there.
Robin: You have two sons. If they aspired to write, what would you want them to know about the process?
Rea: My boys have other ideas, so no fiction writers there. But I would tell anyone interested in writing that it means very little in the end if you aren’t willing to learn and develop your craft first. Invest the time to learn then put out your best, whatever that is. And have fun!
Robin: How much of The Anesthesia Game is autobiographical? Have you ever faced huge challenges that forced you into awakening?
Rea: I have, but to a large extent I have been aware of the subtle dimensions since childhood, as well as the not so subtle presence of God both in the traditional religious sense and beyond. But you know what they say—our opponent grows with us. There’s really no limit to our spiritual potential, so the battle continues.
Robin: Do you think it’s possible in spiritual practice to reach a “tipping point” when it’s no longer such a struggle, and we are so aligned with something divine that problems no longer frighten us?
Rea: I think our entire job on earth is to understand (with humility) our spiritual potential and develop it. Physical and psychological grounding are critical in the early years. As we get older, we receive lessons of detachment. These are tricky since our attachment to our children, for instance, is critical to their survival. But as we align more and more with the spirit as opposed to mind-body, we begin to understand how infinite our existence really is. That’s when we begin to resonate with the Divine, and then yes, the little things are less irksome. That’s the tipping point.
Robin: Your books are rollicking, funny, and quick-paced, yet fundamentally thought-provoking. The characters seek escape from emotional, physical, and spiritual problems, as well as connection to what is true and meaningful. Is it important to withdraw from the external world, and perhaps venture beyond organized religion, to find spiritual freedom and connection?
Rea: Most organized religions, including Catholicism, have mystical traditions that invite followers into the ‘inner room’ to develop a deeper, more mystical relationship with God (and themselves). Catholicism has Contemplative (Centering) Prayer, Judaism has the Kabbalah, and Islam has Sufism. Most of the Eastern religions are inherently interior, using meditation as a central practice. So it’s certainly possible to form a deeper relationship with the Divine within many organized religions. The problem is, in Western religions, at least, believers often float on the surface of faith, and don’t care to explore the deeper traditions. An individual’s desire to delve more deeply often occurs only when an obstacle larger than the person’s belief system shows up at the door. When that happens, withdrawal from the external world (within or outside of religion), is usually critical to the solution. This is when most people begin to seek. Once a person becomes an actual Seeker (accepting all that comes with it!), anything is possible.
In the case of Mystic Tea, each of the characters for one reason or another has been forced upon the Seeker’s path, some by a total absence of faith, and others by false or insufficient faith (to be clear, by “faith I do not mean “belief”—Huffington Post http://tiny.cc/8ylrlx). In the end, any good story has to place its characters in a crucible and watch them punch their way out. The crucible in Mystic Tea is the monastery. It’s a good one, because they’ve vowed lifelong obedience, not only to the monastery, but also to the larger Church. What will they do? How will they get out? Or will they? Removal from the external world both amplifies the need and assists with the solution.
Please check back next week for part 2 of the interview.
Robin Gregory lives in California with her husband and son. Her debut, visionary novel, “The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman,” was awarded the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award, 2015. More at www.MadMysticalJourney.com, Twitter @tweety_robin, facebook.com/RobinGregoryAuthor.bio