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Pray For Us Sinners
by Kathryn Lively

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by Cami Tapley


Murder Mystery with a Catholic Flavor
Author Interview with Kathryn Lively, Pray For Us Sinners
by Lisa M. Hendey

If you love a good murder mystery, treat yourself to the latest from Catholic author and new mother Kathryn Lively.  Lively’s Pray For Us Sinners (Wings Press, 2005, paperback, 243 pages) is a murder mystery with Catholic flavor.  In a day when many of the books featuring our Catholic faith do so from a negative perception, it’s a treat to find an author like Kathryn Lively who allows her spiritual perspective to permeate her writing in a positive fashion.

What I find attractive about Kathryn’s work is that her sharing of the faith is essentially seamless.  As a reader, you find yourself so wrapped up in the “can’t put it down” story line and the cast of characters that the Catholicism present in the book becomes just another natural element of the book’s setting.  Lively’s work features all types of characters, from all types of backgrounds.  Some of these characters happen to be Catholics, doing things Catholics do like praying, attending Eucharistic Adoration, and discussing their faith with others.  Kathryn Lively’s books celebrate our faith in an optimistic light.  These are the types of books you’d want to share with friends who are not Catholic, and whose only exposure to Catholicism in fiction might have been The DaVinci Code

Pray For Us Sinners has added appeal:  it’s a gripping book, with an original mystery that’s tough to crack.  Lively tackles some delicate relationship issues in this book – her characters are Catholics living in the “real world”.  One character deals with a struggle to remain committed to her values prior to marriage.  Another pursues a secret relationship with someone of another faith background, fearing her family’s reaction.  A particularly religious character, harboring an old grudge, refuses to speak with a close family member.  All the while, a mystery is unfolding with a Catholic woman begrudgingly placed in a position to investigate what may or may not be a murder.

I recently took time to interview Kathryn Lively about Pray For Us Sinners, her writing, and her prognosis for the future of Catholic fiction.

Q:  Kathryn Lively, author of Pray For Us Sinners, congratulations on this great book!  I think there's been a big development in your family since the last time I interviewed you...can you share with us about the new addition to your family?

A:  That would be Geneva, our little girl. She was born last October and is now crawling and able to pull herself to a standing position! I still can't believe it, it seems like only a month ago she was barely able to roll to one we can't keep up with her. And she eats like a fiend, but we can't tell from which side of the family she gets that.

Q:  Pray For Us Sinners is the second book of your Ash Lake Mystery series.  For those who may not have read the first book, could you give us a brief introduction to the characters and the setting?

A:  These books (Saints Preserve Us and Pray For Us Sinners, so far) are set in fictional Ash Lake, located north of Jacksonville, a bit inland from Fernandina, if you're familiar with the area. I am from Jacksonville originally, and had always wanted to use the area as a setting, but the way these stories are written a small-town feel is important. So Ash Lake was created as a place within Duval County, where Jacksonville is easily accessible, yet there's a strongly knit community perfect for the story's background.

Ronnie Lord and Gina Hayes, the two sisters descended from Ash Lake's soon to be Saint Lorena, are the main characters of the series. Both are somewhat based upon my sister and myself, and other characters in the book have some traits of family and friends. I wanted to write a story with a strong family connection, and for this purpose I created a family descended from the brother of a young girl about to be canonized. Saint Lorena's story is similar to that of Saint Maria Goretti.

Q: From following your blog and reading some of your other books, I see elements of your personality sprinkled through this book - which one of your characters would you say your most closely resemble?  Are any of the other characters based in reality?

A:  I'd say I resemble Ronnie Lord of the Ash Lake books more than anyone else. She has my same outlook on life, sarcastic sense of humor, same tastes...she is a teacher, as I used to be. Only difference is that she begins the series widowed, while I am married.

I have a few characters based on real people. Pithed's Andy Farmer is based on my father, who gave me the idea for the story. Like Dad, Andy is a high school biology teacher, dealing with various bureaucratic headaches in the school system, dealing with the headaches of older children who have left the nest but don't act like it, and leave behind things like dogs for him to care for.

Q:  Do you set out to write Catholic fiction, or does your Catholicity just shine through based on who you are as a person and a writer?

A:  My first novel, Little Flowers (currently out of print, but coming back) was intended to be Catholic fiction, to suit the story. The mysteries, I don't really consider Catholic fiction the way Little Flowers is, but more mystery with a Catholic flavor. I try my best not to beat readers over the head with the Faith, but I like to make it visible enough that it becomes a seamless part of the story and positive trait in my characters, so when readers see these books they hopefully will become endeared to the story and all the players.

Q:  I respected the way that you handled the relationship issues in this book, and particularly the struggles of Ronnie and Lew.  Is it difficult to incorporate morals and values into a book that deals with romantic relationships?

A:  I don't think it is difficult. Inspirational romance has a strong audience, and it is possible to show intimacy and love with characters who remain clothed, LOL. The key is to introduce the necessary tension and dialogue without making the scenes appear preachy and trite. For Ronnie and Lew, there are outside forces that affect their promising relationship, and basically I pictured in my mind what I wanted to happen, and let my pen take it from there.

Q:  Where do you come up with your story ideas and what is your creative process in pulling a book like this together?

A:  I get ideas from all sorts of places - family, real life experiences, things I see on the news...

The idea for Pithed was my father's entirely, he came up with the idea of a teacher suspected of murdering his principal, and I took the story from there to include some background on my father.

The idea for Saints Preserve Us was inspired by the cause for Mother Teresa's canonization and the story of Charlie Chaplin's grave robbing (his body had been stolen for ransom). I took parts of each story to make one about a young blessed being taken for ransom.

The idea for Pray For Us Sinners was inspired partially by a college acquaintance who went on to become a television celebrity. In Pray, Ronnie and Gina have a childhood, now a famous actress, who dies under mysterious circumstances. Fortunately, the woman who inspired Allayne Witt is alive and well.

Q:  I'd love to hear your prognosis for the future of Catholic fiction.  What can readers do to support and encourage Catholic fiction authors and publishers?

A:  Buy the books, buy the books, buy the books. Tell people to buy the books, ask your Catholic bookstore to stock the books. Catholic fiction will never take off unless people buy the books, and unless the Catholic media supports these books. I see Catholic media bemoaning The DaVinci Code and the like, complaining that people are eating this stuff up and believing it's real. Whereas I ask a Catholic paper or magazine to review my book, and I get turned down because they don't consider fiction! Do you see the problem here? Publishers complain Catholic fiction doesn't sell...maybe it would sell if you PROMOTED these works, told readers it existed. You remain silent, the books go unread, and eventually future projects will go unwritten. A great way to kill a book is to remain silent.

Q:  After reading Pithed, I was anxious for more Andy Farmer, but now I've fallen for Ronnie and Gina, the heroines of Ash Lake.  What are your plans for future projects?

A:  Definitely, a sequel to Pithed is in the works. I hope to get started on it soon. The baby has altered my schedule a bit. As for Ash Lake, I have one more book in me, maybe two. Right now, though, I plan to revise Little Flowers before its re-release, and I have a number of booksignings in the works.


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For more information on Pray For Us Sinners visit Wings Press.
Visit Kathryn Lively at
Also by Kathryn Lively: Pithed: An Andy Farmer Mystery Book Club
Additional Catholic Book Spotlights