FEATURED AUTHOR: C.S. FARRELLY
ABOUT THE BOOK
When journalist Peter Merrick is asked to write a eulogy for his mentor, Jesuit priest James Ingram, his biggest concern is doing right by the man. But when his routine research reveals disturbing ties to sexual abuse and clues to a shadowy deal trading justice for power, everything he believed about his friend is called into question. With the US presidential election looming, incumbent Arthur Wyncott is quickly losing ground among religious voters. Meanwhile, Owen Feeney, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is facing nearly a billion dollars in payments to victims of sex abuse. When Feeney hits on a solution to both men’s problems, it seems the stars have aligned. That is until Ally Larkin—Wyncott’s brilliant campaign aide—starts to piece together the shocking details. As the election draws closer and the stakes get higher, each choice becomes a calculation: Your faith, or your church? Your principles, or your candidate? The person you most respect, or the truth that could destroy their legacy?
When the line between right and wrong is blurred, how do you act, and whom do you save?
Title: The Shepherd’s Calculus
Author’s name: C.S. Farrelly
Publisher: Cavan Bridge Press (October 2, 2017)
Genre: Mystery, political thriller
Paperback: 272 pages
Touring with: Partners in Crime Tours
INTERVIEW WITH C.S. FARRELLY
Cassie, what’s the story behind the title of your book?
At its core, the title is meant to capture the calculation each of us makes about when to do the right thing and why. In the novel, James Ingram and Owen Feeney, are lifelong friends who each grew up to become a priest. As more and more news emerges about the widespread sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic Church, both are embroiled in the fall out and find themselves having philosophical debates about what it means to be a good shepherd of the faith. I think we all face moral dilemmas in at some point in our lives and have to work through the math in our head to help come to a decision about what to do.
Where’s home for you?
Pennsylvania – after about 20 years of bouncing among New York City, England, Washington, DC, and Ireland.
Where did you grow up?
Rock Springs, Wyoming and Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.
If you had an extra $100 a week to spend on yourself, what would you buy?
Books, loads of books. And music as well.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
Failure isn’t something be feared or avoided. It’s been extremely valuable in teaching me how to improve something so I can try it again, but most importantly, in helping me learn how to rally after a disappointment and keep going.
What is the most daring thing you've done?
White water rafting on the Zambezi river in Zambia. I’m a much more experienced white water rafter and kayaker now, but at the time I wasn’t and in retrospect, between the dangerous rapids and crocodiles, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do.
What is your most embarrassing moment?
There are too many to choose from. That said, I always try to find the humor in an embarrassing situation, so here’s goes. To set the stage: growing up, I was pretty nerdy, didn’t excel at sports, wasn’t a cheerleader, and wasn’t at all shy about speaking my mind. None of these qualities made you destined to be popular in rural PA in the 1990s. My dad was (and still is) big on doing volunteer work and every year, our church, St. Agnes Catholic, would have a fundraising fair. My dad would sign me up to help, and usually we’d get to man the funnel cake booth, which was great, because who doesn’t want to smell like french fries and eat their body weight in sweet, deep fried dough? But in 8th grade, I got assigned to the dunking booth. Words can’t capture the experience of having to sit, in all my burgeoning pubescent glory, in a public forum wearing a matronly swimsuit (Catholic fair, remember!) while classmates who weren’t terribly fond of me paid money to throw things at me. To add insult to injury, the booth had this filthy, slimy water in it . . . along with the odd few goldfish leftover from the goldfish toss two booths over, one of which got trapped in my not-yet-very-existent cleavage . . .
Oh, I feel for you! What makes you excited?
Travel. I love the feeling of anticipation that comes with getting on a plane. I also really enjoy the way you have to rely on instinct and body language to try to communicate effectively when you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language very well. I’ve had the good fortune to travel all over the world, and I’ve found many people to be incredibly kind and friendly to travelers. There are these beautiful human moments that come with connecting through body language and other ways to communicate instead of talking at someone.
What’s one of your favorite quotes?
"In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." – Albert Camus, Return to Tipasa
Beautiful. If you could live anywhere in the world, where in the world would it be?
Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s just staggeringly beautiful, and there’s something about the landscape and animals, etc. that enable you to imagine how it all was before we came along in ways that you can’t on the congested East coast. The weather is sublime, the scenery is breathtaking, and for a writer who needs to hike or kayak to clear my head, it would be the perfect spot.
What would you like people to say about you after you die?
That I made them feel valued and heard and that this helped them in some way.
What’s your favorite line from a book?
"The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place". – Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
What would your main character say about you?
That I have an irreverent sense of humor, come through in a pinch, and have good gut instincts, all of which have gotten me pretty far.
Are any of your characters inspired by real people?
Fr. Ingram is based on a mixture of my father and a professor I had in college named Mark Massa, S.J., who was an absolutely phenomenal mentor and educator.
Is your book based on real events?
Yes and no. In terms of the election scandal and actions of the Vatican in the book, these have no basis in fact and are purely fiction. But there are certain elements of the book that were inspired by real events. For example, during the 2004 presidential election, the Vatican issued guidance urging Bishops to withhold Communion from Catholic candidates whose policy positions, such as being pro-choice, don’t follow Church teaching. That definitely inspired parts of the plot for me. Additionally, there are documented cases in which Catholic Church leaders have moved assets around to protect them in the event of civil litigation for sexual abuse. So a number of real-life incidents played into how I structured the plot and why.
With what five real people would you most like to be stuck in a bookstore?
Elizabeth I, Jane Austen, Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and my husband, Matt.
What book are you currently reading and in what format?
Grist Mill Road by Christopher Yates. Paperback.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your writing?
Many years ago when I was trying to figure out if I was going to really try this whole writing thing and working mostly on theater projects, I randomly emailed Gene Weingarten, the Washington Post’s Below the Beltway columnist. He’d recently written an article about New Yorkers claiming superiority over Washington, DC, and since I’d just moved back to NYC from D.C., I sent him a note to say how much I enjoyed the article. He was gracious enough to write back, and we shared some funny stories back and forth about our mutual familiarity with the Bronx and the White Castle restaurant on Fordham Road. At the end, he wrote “You know, you’re a pretty good writer.” I was positively thrilled because I love his humor and (still) read his column all the time. I actually printed the email out that day and took it home, and I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve pulled it out of my filing cabinet to look at it. It just goes to show how someone taking a few minutes out of their day to engage with someone else can have a huge impact.
Where is your favorite library, and what do you love about it?
The Long Room at Trinity College Dublin. I’ve always loved a library. Growing up, I spent enormous amounts of time at the Ross Library in my hometown and Stevenson Library at Lock Haven University. On one of my visits to Stevenson, I found a book about great libraries of the world that included that had all sorts of information: sketches of the lost Library at Alexandria, original floor plans for the Bodleian at Oxford, and photos of the Long Room at Trinity. My grandparents were from Ireland, and I have dual citizenship there so I was especially fascinated by Ireland and the Long Room. Years later I completed my master’s degree at Trinity College, and I’d go to the Long Room just to soak it in. The architecture is spectacular. The high ceilings, the wall to wall books, the light streaming through: it’s all so beautiful and perfect.
What are you working on now?
Novel number two, which is more of a traditional mystery in that it centers on a murder. But, as with The Shepherd’s Calculus, it’s going to have overlapping story lines that converge and look at issues of collective responsibility as well as individual responsibility for a damaging act. For me, there’s always a much larger story to tell about a crime than just the moment the crime itself took place and the aftermath of it. I’m fascinated by all the events and factors that had to play out leading up to a crime being committed and what, if anything, might have changed the trajectory.
READ AN EXCERPT
Several months had passed since his return from an extended and harrowing assignment tracking UN peacekeeping operations on the Kashmiri border with Pakistan, where violent protests had erupted following the death of a local Hizbul Mujahideen military commander. The assignment had left him with what his wife, Emma, solemnly declared to be post-traumatic stress disorder. It was, in his opinion, a dubious diagnosis she’d made based on nothing more than an Internet search, and he felt those covering the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan deserved greater sympathy. He’d been a bystander to tragedy, he told anyone who asked, not a victim.
One morning as he’d stood drinking strong Turkish coffee on the terrace of his apartment in Jammu, he watched as a car bomb detonated in front of the school across the road. No children were killed. It was a Saturday, and teachers had gathered there to meet with members of a French NGO dedicated to training staff at schools in developing nations. The arm landed on his terrace with a loud thud before Peter realized what it was. Pinned to the shoulder of what remained of its shirt was a name tag identifying Sheeraza Akhtar, presumably one of the teachers. At the time, he marveled at his complete lack of reaction to the torn limb, at the way his response was to read the letters on the tag, grab a pen, and start writing down details of the event—a description of jewelry on the woman’s hand, the streak of half-cauterized flesh running from where it tore from the arm socket to the bottom of her palm, the way smoke curled from the remains of the school’s front entrance, and the pitiful two-ambulance response that limped its way to the scene nearly twenty minutes after the explosion.
Even now as he recalled the moment, he wouldn’t describe what he felt as horror or disgust, just a complete separation from everything around him, an encompassing numbness. His wife kept telling him he needed to talk to someone about what he was feeling. But that was just the point, he thought, even if he couldn’t say it to her. He couldn’t quite articulate what he was feeling, beyond paralysis. Making the most rudimentary decisions had been excruciating since his return. It required shaking off the dull fog he’d come to prefer, the one that rescued him from having to connect to anything. The pangs of anxiety constricting his chest as he glanced from the screen of the laptop to his jangling cell phone were the most palpable emotional response he’d had in recent memory. The interruption required a decision of some kind. He wasn’t certain he could comply.
But in keeping with the career he had chosen, curiosity got the better of him. He looked at the incoming number. The area code matched that of his hometown in central Connecticut, less than an hour from where he and Emma now lived in Tarrytown, but his parents had long since retired to South Carolina. He made his decision to answer just as the call went to voice mail, which infuriated him even more than the interruption. For Peter, missing something by mere minutes or seconds was the sign of a journalist who didn’t do his job, who failed to act in time. Worse, he’d allowed a good number of calls to go to voice mail while under his deadline, and the thought of having to sift through them all made him weary. The phone buzzed to announce a new message. He looked again from his screen to the phone, paralyzed by the uncertainty and all-consuming indecision he’d begun exhibiting upon his return from Kashmir. After several minutes of failed progress on his article, the right words refusing to come to him, he committed to the message.
He grabbed the phone and dialed, browsing online news sites as inconsequential voices droned on. His editor. His sister. His roommate from college asking if he’d heard the news and to call him back. Finally, a message from Patricia Roedlin in the Office of Public Affairs at his alma mater, Ignatius University in Greenwich, Connecticut. Father Ingram, the president of the university, had passed away unexpectedly, and the university would be delighted if one of their most successful graduates would be willing to write a piece celebrating his life for the Hartford Courant.
The news failed to register. Again, a somewhat common experience since his return. He tapped his fingers on the desk and spotted the newspaper on the floor where Emma had slipped it under the door. In the course of their ten-year marriage, Peter had almost never closed his office door. “If I can write an article with mortar shells falling around me, I think I can handle the sound of a food processor,” he had joked. But lately that had changed, and Emma had responded without comment, politely leaving him alone when the door was shut and sliding pieces of the outside world in to him with silent cooperation. He picked up the newspaper, scanned the front page, and moved on to the local news. There it was, in a small blurb on page three. “Pedestrian Killed in Aftermath of Ice Storm.” The aging president of a local university was the victim of an accident after leaving a diner in Bronxville. His body was found near the car he’d parked on a side street. Wounds to the back of his head were consistent with a fall on the ice, and hypothermia was believed to be the cause of death.
To Peter’s eye the name of the victim, James Ingram, stuck out in bold print. An optical illusion, he knew, but it felt real. He reached for the second drawer on the right side of his desk and opened it. A pile of envelopes rested within. He rooted around and grasped one. The stamp was American but the destination was Peter’s address in Jammu. The script was at once shaky and assured, flourishes on the ending consonants with trembling hesitation in the middle. Folded linen paper fell from the opened envelope with little prompting. He scanned the contents of the letter, front and back, until his eyes landed on the closing lines.
"Well, Peter my boy, it’s time for me to close this missive. You may well be on your way to Kabul or Beirut by the time this reaches you, but I have no small belief that the comfort it is meant to bring will find its way to you regardless of borders.
You do God’s work, Peter. Remember, the point of faith isn’t to explain away all the evil in this world. It’s meant to help you live here in spite of it.
Benedictum Nomen Iesu,
Peter dialed Patricia Roedlin’s number. She was so happy to hear from him it made him uncomfortable. “I’d be honored to write a piece,” he spoke into the phone. “He talked about you to anyone who would listen, you know,” she said. “I think he would be pleased. Really proud.” He heard her breath catch in her throat, the stifled sobs that had likely stricken her since she’d heard the news.
“It’s okay,” he found himself saying to this complete stranger, an effort to head off her tears. “I can’t imagine what I’d be doing now if it weren’t for him.” He hoped it would give her time to recover. “He was an extraordinary man and an outstanding teacher.”
Patricia’s breathing slowed as she regained control. “I hope to do him justice,” Peter finished. It was only when he hung up the phone that he noticed them, the drops of liquid that had accumulated on the desk where he’d been leaning forward as he talked. He lifted a hand to his face and felt the moisture line from his eye to his chin. After several long months at home, the tears had finally come.
Excerpt from The Shepherd's Calculus by C.S. Farrelly. Copyright © 2017 by C.S. Farrelly. Reproduced with permission from C.S. Farrelly. All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C. S. Farrelly was raised in Wyoming and Pennsylvania. A graduate of Fordham University, her eclectic career has spanned a Manhattan investment bank, the NYC Department of Education and, most recently, the British Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She was a 2015 Presidential Leadership Scholar and obtained a master’s degree from Trinity College Dublin, where she was a Senator George J. Mitchell scholar. Her debut novel, The Shepherd’s Calculus, was released in October 2017.
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