Interview with Mark Perretta

Very simply, how would you describe the novella Heaven Above, Earth Below?
HAEB is an inspirational coming-of-age-story that deals with family, faith, sacrifice, and honor. The
story twists together the lives of three men: brothers Jason and John Mann, and a World War II veteran
living in a retirement home.

Jason is the eldest son in the Mann family and a lieutenant in the Navy. He has flown many missions
over Iraq and finally returned to the States to be reunited with his wife and family while he continues to
work as a Naval flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida.

John finds himself in some trouble as the story opens. His punishment is to spend community service
hours at a local retirement home. It is here he meets an Old Man, a survivor from the USS Indianapolis,
who helps John balance his life and priorities.

With John’s adventures at the retirement home, a strange offer by John’s philosophy professor at the
local community college, and living at home with his mother and sister, he is set on an a magical adventure
as he attempts to discover the true essence of being a man.
The story has many layers. What genre would you use to describe the novella?
Fiction, historical fiction, religious fiction, military fiction, inspirational
When did you get the idea to write Heaven Above, Earth Below?
When I learned of Jason’s death in January 2006, I was immediately heartbroken for his family. I
could only imagine how it would feel to lose a son, a brother, a husband…someone so young. It turned
my thoughts to all veterans and the contributions they continually make, every day, for our great country
and the people they will never know, yet constantly sacrifice for it.

Jason’s story stayed with me, always on the edge of my mind. As time went on, I felt I had to tell
“his” story. My first draft was in the form of a movie script, and I started that a little over two years ago.
I took the script and transformed it into a novella in August of 2014 and finished the first complete draft
in spring of the following year
Why did you “feel” Heaven Above, Earth Below had to be written?
Jason’s story stayed with me much the same way the melody stays with him in the story. (You’ll
understand when you read it) This isn’t a biography; it is a work of fiction, but I gathered facts from
Jason’s life and intertwined them within the story. I knew over the course of time his story was something
I had to tell.

I felt I had to write this for his parents, brother, wife and especially his son Griffith,
who was unborn at the time of Jason’s death. I wanted to give his family, and all military families who
have lost someone, something to provide hope and meaning. I also wanted to create a story that had a
magical, inspiring feel to it.
You describe the story as having a “magical” quality. How so?
As I began composing the story, I remembered my fascination as a boy with Ovid’s Metamorphosis
and Mythology in general. I love stories that combine the presence of the divine within our daily,
mortal lives. I devised a metamorphosis of my own in the story and tried to bring it full circle. I
wanted to write something inspiring and motivational, something that does not rely on cheap artifices
and humor used so frequently today, especially in the cinematic world.

I wanted to write a wholesome story that demonstrated the importance of family, faith, honor, and
sacrifice…and give it a kind of a “Hallmark” feel if you will. The “change” or metamorphosis that
occurs in my story leaves the reader with hope, and the magical possibilities that life can hold. I tried
to write something with a spiritual feel that connects all things in life and the natural world in which
we live.
It is said in the preface of the book that you received some inspiration on a family vacation. What was it?
Our family has vacationed at the Outer Banks of North Carolina since I was a child. Usually, I try
to wake up early and go for a jog. One of the places I like to jog is a sidewalk that runs parallel to the
ocean. One morning while running, I noticed a few coins on the pavement. I reached down to pick
one up, but it was fastened to the concrete. The person who put them there intended them as a prank
for passersby. I turned to my left to look at the house they were in front of and saw a small blue cottage
with bold, black letters posted next to an open garage.

The letters formed the last name “MANN.” As I stood in front of this house trying to catch my
breath, I thought, That’s it! That’s the last name I need for my main character. I loved this name
because it was symbolic for one my characters, John, who was trying to learn the meaning of what it
takes to become a man. It was also close enough to Jason’s real-life last name without using it, but
still purposeful in that regard.

Shortly after this first visit, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Mann on another morning run. He
was a grandsire of a man, and as I talked to him, I knew he was the perfect model for the Old Man in
my story. Mr. Mann, among other things, was a fisherman. He was very knowledgeable about the
ocean and nature. He had hearing aids and blue eyes that seemed like they could cut through glass.
Over the course of my morning runs, I would always make it a case to stop by and talk to him.
As the years went by, would you continue your visits with Mr. Mann?
Yes, over the years I would always look forward to my morning runs and occasional visits with
Mr. Mann while on vacation. I even had the opportunity to introduce my family, meet his and see
them each year as they always returned to his house for the July 4th weekend.

It was also at his house where I noticed a number of bird houses kept in the back yard. He informed me that he made these by
hand at one time. (His birdhouses are the same ones that are pictured on the book’s website. There is
even a picture of me with Mr. Mann) These birdhouses provided me with the final piece to the story.
What final piece was that?
It was here that my idea for the integration of a “metamorphosis” in the story hit me. The
importance of the bird, poem/song, the labor of the Old Man in the story and ultimately the symbolism
it provided...all sprung from seeing those birdhouses. I pictured my character building birdhouses as
a catharsis for dealing with his grief from World War II and how that could be transferred to John and
Jason.

Everything seemed to come together for my story because of a few coins Mr. Mann had planted on
the ground as a joke, and the fact I took the time to investigate. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Once you
make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen." And once I made a decision to write this
story, the universe started to conspire.
Discuss the poem at the beginning of your story
The poem is symbolically at the heart of the story. It provides the motifs of hope and reassurance I
wanted to infuse throughout the novella. In the story, the poem takes the form of a church song. About
half way through the book, Jason remembered hearing the song as a child while sitting at Christmas
Mass with his family.

The words of the song express the main theme. When tragedy strikes, it is easy to forget there is still
hope. When bad things happen, it is easy to lose our way, but through the trials and tribulations of life,
we learn, and hope always remains. The words are meant to transform one’s outlook, and this “transformation”
occurs within John, and ultimately, Jason’s character. The metamorphosis is revealed at the
very end of the story.

The poem itself is transformed into a song that is crucial to the story. I went to the Director of Music
at Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Church, Steve Dallas, and asked his help in coming up with a musical
score. Basically he took my words and made them into the song I could only imagine. The song can be
heard at the book’s website, heavenaboveearthbelow.com. The person singing the song is my daughter
Angela. The song was first performed on Father’s Day of 2015 at St. Joan of Arc Church in Canton,
Ohio. It will be available for download soon.
What are your plans with the sales of the book?
I am going to take a portion of all sales and donate them to the Lt. Jason Manse Memorial Charitable
Fund and some of the proceeds will support a scholarship at Canton Central Catholic High School
for a deserving senior entering the military.
Published 2016-04-06.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Heaven Above, Earth Below
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 37,470. Language: English. Published: May 10, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Inspirational, Fiction » Historical » USA
An inspirational coming-of-age story dealing with family, faith, sacrifice and honor, Heaven Above, Earth Below weaves the lives of three men is a modern-day metamorphosis that will warm the patriotic heart with hope and inspiration.