Interview with Bill Penrose, Author of “Anne the Healer”

(Bill Penrose is a friend of over three years standing I met on a  website, ERWA (Erotica Readers and Writers Assoc). I don’t participate much there anymore because I can’t seem to get the submissions of others  on a regular basis. (I am told it’s a server problem on my end.) It was a good classroom for those years,  and I would recommend it to any beginning writer for what you learn.  Most of us benefit from our time there and go on and perhaps broaden our writing from erotica. Or not.

Bill Penrose was one of the best people to come out of the ERWA experience. He took me, a very raw writer, in hand, and gently mentored  and encouraged  until I  started to stand on my own.  There were others who did the same, Nick Nicholson for one, and I remain very grateful to these two fine friends and great writers. Bill also has taken on the publishing of my first book, “A Seasoning of Lust” and is soon to do the second, “The Zar Tales”.

Thanks, Bill.  You know…you know.

Lady Nyo)

Bill, this book is rather different from “Ancestors of Star”. It delved into Catholicism, faith healing and other social issues, like homelessness.

I was still searching for the right genre. I began this novel as my Nanowrimo 2004 project, and finished it about a year later. Finally, I grew tired of letting it sit on my hard drive and decided to put it out there, first on authonomy.com, and finally on Lulu.com . I think it’s a good story, but I wasn’t really trying to get a message across, only to entertain.

While I was teaching at Illinois Institute of Technology, I was close to several contrasting neighborhoods in Chicago, including Bridgeport, Chinatown, and Bronzeville. Each neighborhood had its own peculiar characteristics, but Bridgeport was most interesting because of its cosmopolitan, transitional character. It had traditionally been Irish-Italian working class, as well as the home of the Daleys and the center of the famous Chicago Democratic Machine. But with the recent dramatic influx of Hispanics, it was becoming more diverse every day. It wasn’t just the broad ethnic spread, but the class distribution. There were the very poor, even some who lived in tents made of plastic garbage bags and duct tape, and others in narrow homes over a hundred years old. The shops on 31st Street reflected the fascinating variety of the area.

In other words, it’s an area where you almost expect unusual things to happen, much more so than in the homogenous suburban area where I lived. Although ‘Anne the Healer’ could have been set almost anywhere, it was a natural for the Bridgeport area.

Why did you write a novel about faith healing? Could you speak a bit on your own religious or spiritual convictions? How did you come to these?

I like to put a little magic in my stories. Life itself is magical in so many ways, so for me, it’s not much of a stretch to add just a little more magic, just enough to disorient and make the earth shift a little underfoot. I think it’s also important to merge it with the universal magic by making the special magic, e.g., Anne’s talent for healing, ambiguous. In other words, it should be possible to read ‘Anne the Healer’ without believing in faith healing or divine powers. Like the universal magic, it should be possible to interpret her healing power as self-delusion or coincidence.

‘Anne the Healer’ actually spun off from the character Mary the Healer in my first attempt at a novel, ‘The Sisters of Kali’. One of the Sisters, Mary Bell, discovers that she can sometimes cure sick or injured people by praying for them. At first, she is doubtful and then frightened by her mysterious power, with justice, because soon it takes over her soul and her life.

While ruminating on Mary’s character, I thought of other scenarios involving a reluctant healer, and wrote a short story, ‘Anne the Healer’, a tale of a brief liaison between a faith healer and Tim Hardy, a minimum-wage bookstore worker. I soon fell in love with Anne, but Tim was too passive to suit me. When I decided the story merited novel-length treatment, I made Tim a petty criminal with enough cynicism to doubt Anne’s talent, and later, when faced with evidence of her power to heal, plan to exploit her for his own purposes. But of course, they fall in love instead, Tim first.
I know that you are a scientist. Did you find that you were searching for different answers or was this not a conflict with your scientific views of life and death?

I never had a problem keeping science and spiritualism in my head at the same time. I’m not one of those scientists who claim to ‘leave God at the laboratory door’. Two people can look through a microscope at, say, a bacterial cell. One person will see an agent of disease, or perhaps a useful tool for the making of yogurt, or an intellectual puzzle to be solved. Another will see an actual miracle, the whole machinery of life packed into an impossibly tiny space, a spectacularly complex and beautifully constructed living device capable of reproducing itself, and involved in a vast web of interactions with the living and nonliving worlds. I find it difficult to do science without being caught up in the beauty of all things, from the mind-boggling structure of atoms, to the incomprehensible vastness of the Universe. The likelihood that these structures arose through a long process of variation and natural selection doesn’t dilute the miracles one bit. In fact, the more we understand, the more marvelous the Universe becomes.

Somewhere in ‘The Sisters of Kali’, my main character, Phyllis, says, “Miracles are everywhere. They happen every day, all around us. But we only question the new or different ones, the ones we haven’t become jaded with.”

No one has to believe in a god, or even a vague spiritual force, to appreciate Nature. Whether or not we attribute the Universe to a great spirit or to random chance isn’t due to the careful study of Nature, but something that comes out of our own character. No one really sets out to study the Universe in order to discover God or prove Her absence. They begin with the assumption that God exists, or doesn’t exist, and interpret all they see and hear from that perspective. Belief trumps facts every time.

I’ll go one step farther and say that the Universe is constructed in such a way that it’s impossible to prove or disprove the existence of a spiritual force. This ambiguity is built into the world, and it’s absolutely essential to the existence of Free Will. If we could solve an equation, or run a statistical analysis that conclusively proved the existence of God, Free Will would vanish instantly. Every decision after that would be conditioned on whether it would offend or please God. We’d have no choice but to try to discover what this new God wanted from us, and try to do things to satisfy Her demands.

You are not a writer who turns from the sexual issues in your books, but in “Anne the Healer” you handled this in a very different way. Why was that?

Mostly, I thought it would distract from the main story. I’d just spend a half year with two different critique groups who found the sexual interludes in ‘The Sisters of Kali’ too explicit, and intruded on the main story. In my current WIP, I’ve run into the same criticism, and I’ve decided to dumb down or dilute those scenes in the next rewrite.

Thank you, Bill.  What you write about Free Will expands my thinking on the issue.  I wish you had been my teacher in chemistry.  I think you would have made it all…’plain’.

And very much more illuminating.

http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/anne-the-healer/7805407

Lady Nyo

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3 Responses to “Interview with Bill Penrose, Author of “Anne the Healer””

  1. Berowne Says:

    Interesting story there.

    > a minimum-wage bookstore worker

    What? I am shocked, shocked I tell you…

    Like

  2. ladynyo Says:

    LOL!

    Well, Bill made “Tim” very human and interesting…the character was a hoot. There was a lot of comedy there…as only Bill can deliver.

    I missed all the brouhaha in Parlor over on ERWA, but I am told that Bill Penrose was in the thick of it and holding up well.

    Like

  3. Lise Jovel Says:

    I have gone to AA meetings through the years and never got much of a association there because I could never quite interrelate to people in the meetings. This other year though I have been blessed to acquire a group that is the needle in the haystack that I have been seeking for as it is attended by others like me. In that same category is the WFS meeting that I attend. Inside these 2 groups, I have discovered people that I am actually PROUD to be a part of because the people are so brilliant, humorous, compassionate and full of joy; not “a cluster of loser drunks”. So I am not embarrassed to be a part of them. I find the balance between the 2 groups to be really advantageous. WFS has an emphasis on encouraging empowerment in women, as well as a spiritual component, and AA has so many meetings to choose from that it is always easy to discover at least 1 to attend to. I am also noticing a sensitive but nice symmetry between “becoming empowered and accepting powerlessness,” whatever sense that makes!!

    Like

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