Shelf Unbound: Your main character Molly is a quirky original, deemed by a faith healer as an “Angel of Death.” How did you come up with this character?
James Mulhern: Molly is a derivative of Moll, from Daniel Defoe’s novel Moll Flanders, one of the first novels published in English. I was inspired by her character, whom some critics called dissolute, but whom I admire because of her survival instincts and strength of character. She, like Molly Bonamici, is a strong female protagonist who takes on the challenges of the world, respecting the integrity of her own mind. I have always loved strong females; there are several strong women in my family.
The true genesis of Molly is the fact that five important people in my own life died in less than a year. Like Molly, I felt like an “Angel of Death.” Certainly the circumstances of the deaths were not the same, but Molly’s being “surrounded by death” was how I felt while writing the book. For me, the writing was cathartic.
Shelf Unbound: What is usually a starting point for you in writing a book?
Mulhern: If I am writing fiction, the starting point is always a character. The next most important aspect of writing a story is the voice of that character. Many writers have said this before, but it is true: The characters will write the story for you if you let them speak.
Shelf Unbound: Molly’s life becomes an existential search for truth. What made you interested in exploring this theme?
Mulhern: The existential search is within all of us. Why are we here? What is the point of life? What is God? When I was a kid, as nerdy as this sounds, I would read the Bible and take notes, trying to understand religion and what I was learning in church from the priests. I was introverted by nature. Not shy. Sometimes people confuse shyness with introversion; they are very different. I was always asking questions, and I still am. Like Molly, the protagonist, I love books and learning.
I am very analytical and this sensibility is reflected in the novel. Any work of art enlarges our consciousness. We become wiser by “digging deep” as we create.