This month’s interview is with Catholic writer Jane Lebak!
1) What was your childhood like?
I grew up in New York City, so it was a strange distortion of too many crowds and too much isolation, but I think it was just right for making me who I am. I went to high school in a different borough (the local public high school wasn’t a great place; I remember three high school girls attacking a cop in the hallway) and getting there required an hour and fifteen minutes on the subway in each direction. Because of the distance, I got a subway pass.
That was freedom. It was amazing to have complete freedom to wander Manhattan with my allowance and my bookbag. After school, I’d walk from 83rd Street and head down to wherever I wanted. Forbidden Planet (both of them!) or Strand Bookstore or St. Francis Bookstore…I found so many amazing little shops and awesome little stores with ethnic food, and I could go all over the place to explore and learn and experience. I loved that so much!
Contrast that with early release days, where if I bolted out of school the moment the bell rang, and if all the trains and buses were right there to connect, I could get home in time to watch the last fifteen minutes of Transformers.
2) What evidence can you give for God’s existence?
My personal reason is that I’ve had personal experiences that lead me to no other conclusion. When you reach out and something reaches back for you, you have no more doubt. When you fall and something catches you, you feel secure in what you felt. That’s not data for anyone else of course, but it holds me fast.
Overall though, and even before I had that kind of one-on-one experience, I knew order doesn’t arise from chaos. Things fall apart on their own. They don’t become more ordered or more complex. So the tremendous complexity we see inside a cell or the way galaxies are constructed, for example, tells me something must have created and sorted, and organized everything that went into that.
3. Who is your favorite biblical figure besides Jesus?
That’s hard to pick. I like the Archangel Raphael in the book of Tobit. I used to have the worst crush on the Archangel Gabriel. But on the human side of things, I really like the apostle Thomas because he seems to have this sarcastic and pragmatic edge that really speaks to me.
4. Favorite biblical passage and why?
“Kindness and truth shall meet. Justice and peace shall kiss.” I love the sense of completion. In some ways, these things could be opposites (think of the answer to “does this make me look fat?”), but with grace, they become complementary. In the end, all our differences are harmonized so they retain their character but all work together to show the many facets of God’s glory.
5. What inspired you to write about angels?
I used to do a lot of reading on the subway ride home, and when I was 16, someone gave me a copy of St. Michael and the Angels. I read through it because I wanted to know a bit more about demons (I knew it wasn’t what Hollywood said), but before I got to that point, I hit the section on guardian angels and was blown away.
I remember just getting sucked into the reading and not looking up, not noticing anything around me. I looked up suddenly and realized I’d gotten off the 5 train at Bowling Green, not my usual stop. Everyone else had gotten off the train too, so they must have taken it out of service, but I had been totally unaware of anything else going on. I was just sitting there on the bench, reading with full absorption.
I devoured the rest of the book, and when I finished, I was just stunned. That night I prayed and asked God to say thank you to my guardian angel for me, and I asked if I could please have a dream with him in it. And I did. I’ve never looked back and my first published books were about angels.
6. Tell me about your kids and your husband.
On my blog, my husband was always my Patient Husband. We’re both pretty geeky, so it makes sense that we’d have a gaggle of geeky kids. My oldest is in college doing mathy stuff. The youngest two live for their various online games. My daughter is waiting for the day she can get a car so she can go volunteer at the animal shelter. And in July 2000, we had a baby with a fatal birth defect. She’d been diagnosed the previous February, but we were able to carry her to term and give her a chance to meet everyone else in the family. She’s Emily Rose, and I’ve written a lot about her in other places online.
7. Who are your favorite writers?
Dianne Wynne Jones was my absolute favorite writer. I found her work amazing in how it fits together. It was innovative, but at the same time always felt perfectly right and natural.
I had the chance to send her fanmail, but for whatever reason I put it off. She died two weeks later. Since then, whenever I get the urge like that, I try to honor it. You don’t always get the time you think you do.
8. What books of yours do you think would be a good place to start for a newcomer?
That’s a more difficult question than you realize, Jason! I write across different genres, so usually I try to tailor my suggestions to the individual, rather than in general.
I think my most accessible work would be the Father Jay stories. Jay is a disabled priest who had a pretty wild childhood. He and his brother Kevin were both in a gang, and Jay is pretty clear that if he’d stayed in that path, he was pretty much riding the rocket-train to Hell. He enlisted in the army, for reasons you’ll learn in Bulletproof Vestments, and while in Iraq, he drove over a land mine. Everyone expected him to die, but he kept pulling through. After that experience, he converted, and eventually he became a priest. Kevin straightened up his life and became a cop, but after all the evil he’s seen, he can’t believe in God.
When the series opens in Bulletproof Vestments, they’re completely estranged. In The Boys Upstairs, they’re brought together in an effort to save three homeless kids from the subzero temperatures. And in A Different Heroism, they’re still working their differences, and Kevin is shocked to find out just how much his older brother still needs him. The fourth book isn’t written yet. Ask again next year.