Waiting for Life
Author Interview with Farrell O’Gorman, Awaiting
By Lisa M. Hendey
the surface, Awaiting
Orders (Idylls Press, August 2006, paperback,
236 pages) is the story of young men, waiting for life's
next move. They have assembled together in what appears
to be a paradise situation - recent graduates of military
institutions, they have nothing more responsible to do than
lounge around in beachfront living, awaiting their next
military assignment. Given today's military situation, is
seems hard to remember that the era surrounding the first
Persian Gulf War was a time of cutbacks and troop stand
In the book, we meet
a cast of characters who are developed wonderfully by Catholic
author Farrell O’Gorman. Although the majority of the story
is told through the eyes of Wes, we quickly see how his
story line is interwoven with that of his friends, both
male and female. It is these relationships that are at the
core of Awaiting
Orders. This is not a war story, or a
book about the military. Although it does contain tactical
information and is well based in its historical context,
the characters and their interactions are truly at the heart
of this book.
In the end, it becomes
apparent that it is in fact a less noticeable character
in the story that truly drives the message of the book home.
John, Wes’ roommate, seems to operate at times on the periphery
of the storyline. However, John's relationship with Wes
and with so many of the others in this book is really the
focal point. A second and closer reading of the book brought
me to the perspective that John is ultimately, in his own
quiet way, leading each of his friends in a unique fashion
to his or her own vocation or calling in life.
Set in a time so different
from today's military climate, this book caught my attention
from the first page and kept me glued to it until the very
end. I am pleased to share the following interview with
author Farrell O’Gorman and to give Awaiting
Orders my highest recommendation.
Farrell O'Gorman, author of Awaiting
Orders, thank you for your participation
in this Book Spotlight. Would you please briefly introduce
yourself and your family to our readers and tell us a bit
A: I teach American literature in the English Department
at Mississippi State University. I'm originally from South
Carolina, finished my undergraduate degree at Notre Dame
on an NROTC scholarship in 1990, then served four years
in the Navy before beginning graduate study at the University
of North Carolina. That's where I met my wife, Natasha.
We've been married seven years and have a daughter, Anna
Clare, who's 5, and a son, Jack, who's 3.
Q: I understand
Orders is your first novel and
that it follows your published work on Flannery O’Connor
and Walker Percy and other scholarly pursuits. How did you
find the venture into fiction?
A: To put it simply, I admired O'Connor and Percy--along
with certain other authors, not necessarily Catholic--so
much that I wanted to emulate them, to the best of my limited
The basic idea for the novel had been in the back of my
mind for almost ten years before I really sat down to write
it. I'd tried to begin it earlier, before I entered graduate
school, though it was only a longish short story then. The
truth is that it's for the best that I didn't get too far
with it at first. It ended up being a much better novel
when I wrote it in my early thirties than it would have
been if I'd written it earlier, both because I'd lived more
and because I'd read more.
Q: Please share
a bit about your own faith journey and how your faith has
impacted upon your writing.
A: I'm a cradle Catholic, but sometimes I feel like a convert
because--despite the fact that my parents did a good job
of keeping me grounded in the faith--the larger culture
that I grew up in told me that faith and reason, faith and
intellect, faith and the arts had nothing to do with one
another. In rural South Carolina, the people I knew who
talked loudest about faith steadfastly preferred the "blind"
variety, and at the suburban public high school I ultimately
attended the smartest people tended to reject religion altogether.
Maybe that divide is stressed more in the South than in
other parts of the country, but it's really a national problem.
Anyhow, in my undergraduate "Great Books" major
at Notre Dame we read many of the classics of Western civilization--philosophy,
theology, literature, and more--and in transitioning from
the writers of the ancient world to those of a newly Christian
Europe, it struck me for the first time what it meant for
Christianity to be a NEW idea, as opposed to an old idea.
I could go on about this for a while, but the point is that
I underwent a kind of intellectual re-conversion to Catholicism
At the same time, I know that faith is not a function of
the intellect alone, that it has to shape one's entire life.
One of the things I admire most about Walker Percy is that
he could see writing as his vocation yet at the same maintain
that "the living of life is not to be found in books,
neither the reading of them nor the writing of them."
This plays into my novel, in a sense: reading the right
books helps John grow in his faith, but books are finally
no substitute for faith in action, and he enters into that
action at the end.
Q: Given your
military background, I must ask how much of Awaiting
Orders is based upon your own
history or that of individuals you may have met in your
life. With which of the male characters do you identify
A: The novel does draw
on my knowledge of the Navy and of southern California,
where I was stationed. And the basic situation the characters
are in is not entirely fictitious: this whole strange business
of potential pilots "awaiting orders" for up to
a year did actually occur in the early 90s, though they
were waiting in Pensacola, FL, not California. And I was
never in that situation--I served aboard ships--but some
other officers I knew were. One Annapolis grad who ended
up in my ship in '92 or so had been killing time in Pensacola
for over a year and finally gave up on flight school, requested
shipboard duty just to have something to do.
Which male character do I identify with most closely? There's
some of me in John, there's some of me in Wes, and there's
even some of me in Cullen, but I'm not identical with any
one of them. I'd say each one of them might represent some
part of myself blended together with other people whom I've
known, either in life or in books.
And despite the fact that there's some of me in Wes, I envisioned
him as a deeply flawed character from the beginning--he
definitely differs from me in his faith that the military
can give ultimate meaning and order to his life, which I
never believed-- and the whole novel can ultimately be read
as a critique of his point of view.
Q: I wanted
to compliment you on the authenticity of your female characters
in the book. How were you able to find and resonate their
voices and personalities so clearly?
A: Thank you--I've been
pleasantly surprised by the positive responses I've heard
from female readers. Thanks to my wife, I've learned a lot
more about women than I knew ten years ago! But I really
don't know how to answer the question except to repeat what
I said above: the female characters are blends of people
I've known, either in life or in books. And maybe there's
a little bit of me in Cynthia, whom I certainly admire.
More generally, the women in the book simply face the same
kinds of questions about identity and purpose that the men
do. But it's not the military which has created these questions
for them: I suppose it's the collapse of traditional gender
roles and notions of courtship and the like. The fact is
that all of the characters, female and male, simply don't
know what to do with themselves in a society which seems
to offer them no sense of mission, only an aimless and empty
John seems to be the character at the focal point of the
book even though this doesn't become apparent immediately.
Could you please discuss your decision to enable John to
be the vehicle to healing for so many of the characters
in this book?
A: You're absolutely
right that he's the focal point: if it weren't for John,
I wouldn't have bothered to write the book. He's meant to
serve as both a kind of subtle counterpoint and a mostly
silent companion to Wes from the first chapter on. While
he's unobtrusive and doesn't speak much unless spoken to,
he's really the beginning and the end.
At the same time he's a human being who's not so steady
in his own faith at the beginning of the novel and manifests
it most clearly at the end, just when other people need
him to be a sign to them. I'll also say that, while John
is--again--not based on any particular person and has some
things in common with me, I don't think I could have fully
realized him as a character had it not been for a friend
of mine who, much to the surprise of many others who knew
him, chose about ten years ago to enter the priesthood.
Q: Given your
success with Awaiting
Orders, are you planning additional
works of fiction at this point?
A: I've been working
at some short fiction--I have a story in the latest issue
of the journal IMAGE, which is a really great publication
your readers might be interested in: www.imagejournal.org.
Some people assume short stories are easier to write than
novels but I'm finding that's not necessarily the case.
Anyhow, I hope to complete a collection of stories sometime.
Q: Farrell O'Gorman,
thank you so very much for offer your time and talent and
for writing such a fabulous book. Are there any additional
thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
A: I'd just like to
recommend that interested readers take a look at my book's
web page at Idylls
Press. Here you'll find links to more information
about how I came to write the book, plus discussion questions:
For more information
Orders visit Amazon.
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of
numerous web sites, including
http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid
reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at
http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.
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