July 7, 2010

Writer Spotlight: Mary DeTurris Poust

This month’s “Spotlight’s on” features someone I have admired and been in contact with for several years now. Mary DeTurris Poust and I have never met in real life, but we hope to someday. When that day comes, we’ll have much to talk about. Mary is a wife and mother of three, and the author of several books, each focusing on matters of the soul, as well as many articles, including those she’s written for the much-respected Our Sunday Visitor Catholic magazine. She blogs regularly for “OSV Daily Take” and at her own blog, Not Strictly Spiritual.

Mary, first off, I know you just learned you’ll be traveling to Rome in September. Please share with us details of your trip, why you are going there and what you’ll be doing while you are there.

Yes, I’m going to Rome the first week of September. To be honest, this is one of those moments that just feels like it was meant to be. A few years ago I promised myself I’d get to Italy – where my paternal grandfather was born – before I turned 50, but I really didn’t see how that was going to happen. Then a few weeks ago I got an email about a program called “Church Up Close” at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. It’s for foreign journalists who cover the Catholic Church. I decided to throw my hat in the ring and was pleasantly surprised when I learned that I’d been accepted and given a scholarship to attend. So it looks like I’m going to make good on my promise with two years to spare.

I am beyond excited about this trip. I’ve worked for the Catholic press for more than 25 years and have never been to the “home office.” I see this not only as a huge professional opportunity but also a spiritual pilgrimage and a return to my ancestral homeland. The Church Up Close program sounds amazing. We’ll take classes in everything from presenting Pope Benedict XVI to the world, to the Church in the digital age (something that I’m especially interested in as a Catholic blogger), to stem cell research, to economic justice. And of course there are trips to St. Peter’s, the Scavi, a papal audience and more.

Obviously writing for the Catholic press is something you’ve been very drawn toward. When did you first realize that you likely would be settling down into the Catholic press, as opposed to secular? And what training prepared you for this career?

In hindsight it seems like my entire life was training for this career. I grew up in a Catholic Italian-Irish home, where my mother, in particular, was very active in the life of our local parish. I joined right in, and by the time I was in high school was president of my parish youth group, teaching religion, volunteering at an orphanage, singing in the folk group, trekking to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., each year, and even to New York City to see Pope John Paul II in 1979.

When I graduated from Pace University in 1984, I thought I was all set with a job at a home for orphaned boys but it fell through at the last minute. I called an editor I knew at Catholic New York, the Manhattan-based weekly of the Archdiocese of New York, and landed an internship, which was an adventure in itself for this girl from the suburbs. After a brief stint there, I went to work in the communications office of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., and eventually went back to Catholic New York as a full-time reporter, which was such an amazing job. I got to cover the Church in New York under Cardinal John O’Connor. I think at that point I realized that the Catholic press was not just my job but, perhaps, my vocation.

I later worked briefly for a secular newspaper (the Austin American Statesman) in Austin, Texas, but continued to freelance for Catholic publications. It wasn’t long before I returned to Catholic New York as managing editor. It seems I always end up back at CNY. Even now I am a monthly columnist for the paper.

In 1993 I became a full-time freelancer, working for OSV, the National Catholic Register, and the National Catholic Reporter all at once. Later I became a senior correspondent for OSV and finally a contributing editor. I continue to work for OSV as an almost-daily blogger at "OSV Daily Take," something that really got its start when Pope Benedict visited the U.S. and I was part of the blog team. I am always fascinated by the twists and turns my Catholic writing career takes.

Your husband works for the Church as well. How does this either help or hinder your work as a Catholic journalist?

Yes, my husband, Dennis, is director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, so we talk “business” on a daily basis. We met while we were both working for Catholic New York, so the Church has always been part of the mix for us. I tend to lean toward the more spiritual side of Church and Dennis leans more toward the issue-related side of things, so I think we complement each other well, each of us bringing a different strength to our shared faith lives.

Mary, I have to admit, I’m very intrigued by the title and description of your forthcoming book. My preview copy is begging me to read it, but I’m holding off until we’re closer to our radio interview so the words will be fresh. But give us a little teaser. What is this book about, and how did you come to write a book about spiritual friendship?

Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship was really a labor of love. It includes so many personal stories and memories. This book grew out of my own interest in this subject. A few years ago I began reading a lot of St. Francis de Sales, who wrote extensively about spiritual friendship. I started thinking about a book on the subject. Then I went to Stations of the Cross one Friday during Lent and there was a quote from Sirach in the reflections: “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.” (Sirach 6:14-17) When I read that, it was like a thunderbolt. I knew I needed to write this book.

Walking Together is about those friendships that have a faith element to them, relationships that lead us farther down the spiritual path. These kinds of friendships come in all shapes and sizes and can bring such richness to our lives if we nurture them and honor them. In our world today, we tend to be isolated from one another or, if we are connected, it’s through social networking or more “surface level” communication. We need deep friendships, soul-level friendships. So this is about those soul mates – not the romantic kind that society imagines – but real, true spiritual friends who walk with us on our journey.

How was writing this book different than the writing process for your other books? Also, please let us know where we can buy it when it’s ready for purchase.

Writing Walking Together was a lot like writing my first book, Parenting a Grieving Child. It includes lots of personal stories from throughout my life as well as stories from others who were willing to share. Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, for example, spent hours with me talking about his lifelong friendship with Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester. So they anchor one of the chapters. And there are others as well. I also include a saintly relationship in every chapter, from Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal to Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.

Unlike my second book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism, this book – Walking Together – required a willingness on my part to share some very personal stories rather than a straight reporting of factual information. I explore many of my own relationships in this book, so it’s a very vulnerable kind of writing.

It is already available for pre-order on all the usual sites: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and, of course, Ave Maria Press, my publisher. It will be released on Nov. 1 so you’ll find it online and in stores at that point.

What are your kids’ names/ages? What are some of the ways you make your writing life work for you while also tending to your family?

I have three children, ranging in age from 5 to 13. It’s definitely a challenge to find time to write when I’m so busy with the kids, but somehow we’ve made it work. Mostly because I have an incredibly supportive husband who is always willing to take on lots of extra work when I decide to write another book. And the kids are great too. They often have to forego a lot of fun stuff when I’m deep into a book. It’s not always easy, but I feel blessed to be able to write from home and be with my kids.

Have any of your children expressed an interest in becoming a writer? Do you encourage or discourage that as a career?

The kids are always so excited when they know I’m writing a book, or even when they see my little photo with my column. It never seems to lose its luster with them, which is kind of cool. I’m not sure if any of them will become writers. Noah is my math and science guy. Sometimes I’m amazed at the intense information he seems to retain. I can’t even begin to help him with math homework anymore. Olivia is my artsy and imaginative girl, always starting journals, taking pictures, painting, collecting flowers and rocks and saving trees and bugs. Chiara is an interesting blend of the older kids – amazing with numbers and yet always creating stories and dialogue. Who knows? I wouldn’t discourage it. I want them to do what makes them happy, to follow their passion. Sometimes I’m amazed that I get to spend my days writing. I hope they each find a job they can love as much as I love mine.

Mary, if you could meet one saint and interview him or her, who would it be and why?

What an interesting question. Hmmm…I have to think about this one. So many saints, so little time. The obvious one, for me, would be Francis of Assisi. I love Francis – his over-the-top passion for God and for peace and for all creation. Too often I think we compartmentalize Francis according to whatever issue suits us, but he was the real deal. He didn’t do anything halfway. He lived for Christ. He walked the walk, so he’d probably be at the top of my list even though I feel so totally unequipped to walk anywhere close to his footsteps. I feel drawn to Assisi, which, unfortunately, I won’t have time to visit on my trip to Italy. Maybe next time.

I just have to add that if I could meet and interview a holy person who is not a canonized saint, it would be Thomas Merton. Just about everything Merton wrote speaks to me on a gut/soul level. Even when I don’t fully understand it, it resonates deep within me. So many people have problems with him because he had obvious flaws, but I think that’s what makes him such a spectacular role model. We all have flaws. Of course he had flaws. And yet he was incredibly holy and devoted to God. He was real.

What was the most intriguing interview you’ve done so far in your career?

Wow. I have to go through some mental files for that answer. Let’s see, I would say the most intriguing interview I’ve done recently with someone famous was with author Anne Rice. It was fascinating to talk to her about her long career as the vampire novelist and then about her return to faith and how that impacted her writing.

BUT, over the span of my entire career, the most intriguing people I’ve interviewed are the ones who aren’t well known but are doing amazing and inspiring things. The women cattle ranchers struggling to make ends meet in Texas; the Brooklyn statue maker who lovingly created sculptures of Mary and the saints for front lawns; the Franciscan Friar who fashioned traditional leather sandals in a little basement cobbler’s shop in mid-town Manhattan; the truck-driving pastor, who shepherded a parish by day and drove semis by night; the sisters who cared for migrant farm children in upstate New York while their parents worked the fields from dawn till dusk. These are the people who have blessed me with their stories. Those are the interviews that would leave me smiling and thanking God for the kind of job that lets me drop into the lives of such amazing people if only for a few hours.

I always like to glean some advice for writers who are just beginning their career. What advice might you share with those starting out?

Don’t give up, and if you have a really good idea, go with it. Just start writing, even if it’s journaling or blogging. Practice your craft. And when you think of an outline for an article or book, pursue it. My first book idea started out as one paragraph emailed off to a newspaper editor I knew. It didn’t spark any interest at the original publishing house I tried, but I kept at it and sent it off to another publisher, and next thing I knew I was writing an outline and sample chapter. Tell your story. Write from your heart.

What is one thing you hope to do in Rome that is not necessarily work-related?

I’m trying to narrow that down right now. Mostly I want to walk the streets of Rome, sit in cafes, and really feel Italy deep in my bones. I have been driving my husband crazy in recent years with my obsession with Italy, constantly telling him that I just have to get there. It’s not because I have to see one particular site or do one special thing. I just want to go to this beautiful country of my father’s family, this country that is so important to our Catholic faith, and experience everyday life.

Mary, thanks so much for stopping by Peace Garden Writer. We wish you the best on your upcoming trip and with your forthcoming book!

Q4U: Anyone have any questions for Mary that I missed? Now’s your time to ask!


Laura Marcella said...

Great interview, Roxane and Mary! I like the question about which Saint you'd interview if you could meet him/her. That's a hard one to answer! I'm still thinking about it!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Laura, if you think of one, come back and let us know. :) There are so many great ones from which to choose, aren't there?

maria ruiz scaperlanda said...

What a beautiful interview, Roxane--and what a beautiful and inspiring woman! Thanks for bringing Mary to your blog :-)

Mary Aalgaard said...

Hi, glad I was finally able to read this interview. Mary's trip sounds wonderful. How great that you get to travel to Italy, your life-long dream, and with an interesting purpose.

Even though I'm not Catholic, Roxane and I have a strong faith friendship. What a great topic for a book.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Maria, I'm so glad you had a chance to stop by!

Mary, isn't the topic of Mary's book so intriguing, and so right up our alley! I have a copy and will be reading it soon, and will interview Mary on radio in November, when the books comes out to the public. I can't wait to read it and glean insight from Mary DeTurris Poust.

Wow, I have a lot of beautiful Marys and Marias and Maries in my life, some Catholic, but not all. :) There's something about Mary though, I tell you. :)

Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle said...

Great interview Roxane and Mary! Roxane, thank you for doing these interviews to shine some light on awesome authors! Very inspiring.

God bless!


Karen E. said...

The new book looks fascinating -- I know how much I treasure my own spiritual friendships, and I look forward to digging in to this. Great interview.

Mary DeTurris Poust said...

Thanks again, Roxane, for featuring me on your blog. I'm honored. I've been away for about ten days and I'm just now catching up with the blog world. I appreciate all the nice comments here. What a nice welcome home from vacation!

Qin said...

Great interview. Always interesting to read about other authors.