Interview with Rea Nolan Martin

Why do you write?
I write for the thrill of creation--putting an idea into the world that didn't exist in quite the same way before. Writing for me is a spiritual, transformative process that derives from the soul and connects me to God. Of course I always strive to make a connection that turns it into a meaningful story that people enjoy.
Mystic Tea has a thread of female empowerment. Please explain.
Empowerment of women in a religious and spiritual context is a theme of mine, yes. The older women in MYSTIC TEA vowed obedience decades ago to their church superiors, who were all men. As the number of these male clergy dwindled, there was by necessity less and less supervision of the women's rural monastery. At the opening of the story, the Sisters are wandering around without purpose or meaning, independent of external authority in all but name. Confused and burdened by a sense of abandonment, the women are further burdened by an Official Investigation of their practices by the Vatican, which of coruse threatens their entire way of life. (This is a situation that is actually taking place in the American Roman Catholic Church.) As time goes on and hostility compounds, the women are forced to decide where their loyalty really lies and if not with the men who rule them, then with whom? As they are forced further and further into this crucible, they see themselves more clearly and are able to separate their spirituality from their corporate faith. This is what wakes them up. This is what empowers them.
After writing MYSTIC TEA, what was the most important thing you learned?
The characters had a lot to teach me, but once I was clear on who they were, I had to let go of them. That's always an interesting point in writing a longer work. Sometimes the characters do things you had no idea they were capable of, but if you go back to the early chapters, you see they had it in them all along. I thought their choice was either to remain in the church as is, or to leave. They showed me a surprising new path.
What makes MYSTIC TEA stand out from other books in its genre?
I don't consider my stories to be religious stories, per se, though they often start off in a religious context. Religion for me is an external mindframe--more of this world than the next. There's plenty of religious fiction out there that stays well within the very narrow standards dictated by whatever church. What separates MYSTIC TEA is that it dares to question those standards. Do my characters have to comply just because an outdated policy insists they do? No. They don't. I place my characters in a religious community, but at the same time I challenge their spirituality, which for me is the real issue of any religious vocation, clerical or lay. I asked myself--if I were in this monastery now, having made a commitment forty years ago--what would I do? How would I behave under present circumstances? And would I dare to reinvent myself in a more evolved context? I don't think there are many, if any books with the same subject matter that ask these questions.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a new novel, THE ANESTHESIA GAME, in the same genre.
What do you hope to achieve with MYSTIC TEA?
As with all my work, I hope publishers and readers alike will discover that great fiction comes in all shapes and sizes. It doesn't have to fit on a genre shelf to be successful. I have always called my genre (novels as well as short stories and poetry) "Mystical Realism" and hope that someday there's a shelf for it. Mystical Realism is not Magical Realism, Fantasy, or Science Fiction. It addresses religion and spirituality, as well as true mystical experiences, and because it is emerging and evolving, it often challenges the status quo. I also hope MYSTIC TEA provides insight into the femal expeirence in what is still a male-dominated institution. Good fiction should explore injustices, not using characters as victims, but as explorers into a better, more inclusive world. In the end of course, writers also write to entertain and communicate ideas. A primary goal of any writer is to engage plenty of readers. I want that, too!
Published 2013-10-07.
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