First, let me describe this literary novel. In it, Charlyn Blake, an aging, but elegant mistress, runs home to St. Mark’s to seek comfort and is appalled to run into Rev. Brian Dolatowski, the son of the man who seduced her as a young girl. She had gone to St. Mark’s only because it was the closest tie she still had to her beloved grandfather, the previous minister and The Old Prophet of the title. Grampa had always been the one person Charlyn sought despite her “fallen” state, but Gampa is now dead. St. Mark’s itself, a formerly affluent church, is a crumbling Gothic structure in a neighborhood sunk into poverty. Charlyn has spent a lifetime trying to forget her seducer, who set the stage for her becoming the perennial Other Woman. Now, Brian threatens to resurrect the guilty ghosts of her past.
What Charlyn doesn’t realize is that the seemingly confident Brian hides his own struggles with his faith and with his fatherless childhood. Even his mystical wife, Rev. Regina Sánchez, who along with Brian is attempting to restore St. Mark’s and the neighborhood, fails to recognize his struggles until almost too late. For his part, Brian is deeply pained that Charlyn is only the latest person to recoil at the mere mention of his reprobate father. As the novel unfolds, Brian compensates for his father’s lifelong absence by trying to rescue a fatherless neighborhood kid. While fearing he is an atheist at heart, he co-founds with his wife a wildly successful religious movement. Charlyn heals the wounds of her childhood seduction by finally facing her past. The Old Prophet, though no longer here, lingers as their conscience and consoler.
Why write about a mistress and, what’s more, to do so in a compassionate way? I am a happily married woman who would be horrified and deeply hurt if my husband had an affair, much less carried on a long-lived relationship with a mistress. For that matter, why write about a minister who deceives his flock by hiding his atheism? I wrote about Charlyn Blake and Brian Dolatowski, though, not to glorify their lifestyles, but to try and understand them. Several themes converged to create the impulse to write The Old Prophet’s House. The first was meeting several women who were long-time mistresses of married men. Each of these women was intelligent, capable, and kind-hearted. Struck by how lovely they all were, I felt I had to write their story somehow. Another theme was that, like Brian, I have had my own struggles in defining my spiritual beliefs and the meaning of faith. Finally, I was deeply moved to write this novel after witnessing a seventy-year-old man weep inconsolably at his long-time mistress’ funeral.
From these experiences, I drew the inspiration for writing about characters who seemingly are undeserving of society’s goodwill, but who actually may be our greatest teachers about tolerance. My fiction frequently focuses on the difficulties inherent in achieving mutual understanding among people holding strong conflicting beliefs, especially religious ones. In The Old Prophet’s House, we are allowed a compassionate glimpse into the life of an elegant but aging mistress, a woman usually reviled. With Brian, to whom parishioners turn for certainty, we come to understand that ministers are human beings first, filled with doubts and personal hurts. How these two parse the meaning of compassion and love provides a greater lesson for a world torn apart by secular, political, and religious strife. The struggles of Charlyn and Brian mirror those of so many who wrestle with defining the elusive meaning of redemption.