Exploring Spirituality and Mystery: An Interview with Author David Carlson

From Monastic Wisdom to Compelling Mysteries, Delve into the Mind of a Renowned Author

PHOTO: Author David Carlson, renowned for his award-winning books
and captivating mystery series, shares his insights on spirituality and literature.

David Carlson, author of award-winning books and the Christopher Worthy and Father Fortis mystery series, discusses the influence of literature, his writing process, and the intriguing blend of spirituality and murder in his works.” 

David Carlson is the author of the award-winning Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World (Thomas Nelson) and the Christopher Worthy and Father Fortis mystery series (Coffeetown Press).  His ninth in the series, Suffer the Children, will appear in fall 2023.  Carlson is Professor Emeritus in Religious Studies, Franklin College, and is frequently interviewed when religious violence occurs. 

What books and authors have impacted your writing career?

One of the most beautiful writers for me is Sigurd Olson, an environmentalist of the 1960s through the 80s. His writings about the spirituality of wilderness transport readers and have challenged me to be more direct in expressing my thoughts and feelings in my writing. I’d recommend Olson’s Ruins of the North.    

Though I didn’t read anything by Thomas Merton until after he died, he is such a living voice for me and millions of other readers.  A monk with a sarcastic streak, Merton is pleasure to read, especially his journals that became available twenty-five years after his death.  While grounded in his monastic vocation, Merton was open to the world and to other religious and philosophical traditions.  As my mystery series has a spirituality element, I strive to express that same openness.    

What kind of reader were you as a child? 

I loved reading biographies written for children, as they gave me a sense that a good life is one where a person aspired to leave a positive mark.  I also loved walking down the aisles of the local library and picking out “fat books,” books of over three hundred pages that challenged me to not just begin them but finish them. 

What moves you most in a work of literature? 

When a work, be it fiction or non-fiction, presents a truth about life that I haven’t considered, I receive a jolt of “oh, wow, that’s something I never considered before.”  An author who consistently has this effect on me is Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It and Young Men and Fire.   

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?  I bring one of Sigurd Olson’s books with me on vacation very summer.  It is such a pleasure to study his sentence and scene structure.  When I read him, I feel I’m in a Master Class.     

You’re organizing a party. Which two authors, dead or alive, do you invite?

For my fantasy party, I’d invite Dorothy Sayers and Rumi.  What a combination!  I’d thank Dorothy Sayers for teaching me so much about paying attention to detail in writing mysteries.  I’d thank Rumi for demonstrating how visual images can change, with only a few words, the lifelong assumptions of readers. 

What is your writing process?

I write like a nicotine addict smokes—any chance I get.  I always carry paper in my pocket and by my bedside, ready when a new character, plot, or word choice springs to mind. 

 In writing mysteries, do you know the end before you begin to write?

With the ninth mystery in my Christopher Worthy and Father Fortis series appearing this fall, I know my two main characters well and I trust them.  I put them into a difficult and perplexing situation—a homicide or missing person case—and follow them along as they solve the crime. Part of the joy of writing the series is not always knowing what my two characters are going to do or say.        

Why do you choose to write mysteries that combine murders with spirituality? 

Faith and murder might seem like an odd combination, but both arise from deep within us as human beings.  I have studied, written about, and lectured on religious violence for over forty years, and while most of this has focused on groups, I am also interested in how religion can promote violence in the lives of individuals.  Faith and murder can be a combustible combination, as other authors have found—G.K Chesterton (Father Brown), Father Andrew Greeley (Father Blackie Ryan), and, more recently, James Runcie (Grantchester).    

What makes your two main characters compelling?

The relationship and friendship between Lieutenant Christopher Worthy and Father Nicholas Fortis is unusual.  Christopher Worthy grew up the son of a minister, but he lost his faith when, at a high point in his career as a homicide detective in Detroit, his wife asked him for a divorce and his older daughter ran away.  I treat Worthy’s loss of faith as being as complicated as having faith. Losing faith isn’t easy for someone like Worthy, given his upbringing. Many of my readers can identify with his experience. 

Father Nicholas Fortis is a Greek Orthodox monk.  He breaks the stereotype many have of monks by eating and talking too much. He’s also the size of a sumo wrestler. He is the extrovert while Worthy is the introvert.  Father Nick never tries to “fix” Worthy’s shattered spiritual life.  As he says about himself and faith, “I’m not in sales; I’m in public relations.”  What Father Nick means is that, as a monk, he isn’t trying to sell faith. Rather, he is simply trying to live his faith out, which he defines as caring for and respecting the journeys that people—Worthy included—are on.   

Testimonials    Praise for Let These Bones Live Again: A Christopher Worthy and Father Fortis Mystery

 “Powerful portraits of strong characters finding love through trust and forgiveness…  All this and a cracking plot with many an unexpected twist.  Though this is the first Worthy/Fortis mystery I have read, it will not be the last.”Michael Sear, author of Saving Jason and other thrillers in the Jason Stafford series

Excerpt from In the Clutches of the Wicked (number 4 in the Christopher Worthy and Father Fortis mystery series)

            So, as grateful as Sera Lacey was that Worthy and Father Fortis were coming to assist in her own investigation into the innocence of her husband, she also felt both guilty and defeated as she sat in the airport.  The guilt stemmed from her neediness, the sense of defeat from all those around her who believed Freddie was guilty of murder.  Even Captain Cortini, whom she’d worked under for most of her career, had stopped by her house and advised her to divorce Freddie before he pulled her and Felipe down with him. . .

            “He’s confused, captain,” she tried to explain.  When he got back, he roamed the house sometimes all night long, most of the time talking to himself.  Always about Afghanistan. . .  I know Freddie.”

            “Do you? . . . Look, Sera, we all know he’s a sick man. That will be a big part of his defense.  But we’ve talked to others who were on his plane coming back.  They heard him mutter about you needing to forget him, letting him rot.  That sounds pretty right-on to me, not confused at all.”    

Folllow The Author

  • Web: davidccarlson.net
  • Facebook: David Carlson Author
  • Twitter: Davidinterfaith

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Verified by MonsterInsights