The Magic Fault by Paul Mohrbacher

The Magic Fault unfolds in Turin, Italy, where the Catholic Church’s most revered relic has been stolen by a mysterious sect from the city’s cathedral. The theft occurs during the 2004 Salone del Gusto, Turin’s celebration of “good, clean, and fair food” sponsored by the international Slow Food Movement. Tom Ueland, an American Midwest college history professor and journalist who writes about magical thinking, is in Turin to vacation with a friend, Rachel Cohen, an exhibitor at the celebration. He’s also there at the invitation of the Turin archbishop, himself a student of magical thinking. Tom takes up the chase after the Shroud of Turin and is spun toward a resolution he never sees coming.

The Magic Fault will resonate with people who love the drama of European history, with those who follow religious debates, and with people passionate about where and how the world’s food is grown.  Mystery lovers will have fun trying to figure out the resolution before the protagonist does.  And the “magic” theme adds to the mystery.

Excerpt:

He never would have been in that church yesterday if not for one other person. A month earlier, he had received a letter from the archbishop of Turin, a priest named Michael Tucci. Tucci had read an article on magical thinking in the New York Times arts section. In the article, Tom had been quoted as an authority on the topic. He summarized the Historian Norman Cantor’s insights into medieval behavior during the Black Plague of the 14th Century: Christians blamed the Jews for the plague. “Scapegoating is magical thinking,” Tom wrote. “And it goes on today. We blame the ‘other’ for everything wrong in our lives. Religious extremists are often the worst offenders.”

The priest wrote that he was deeply fascinated by the topic and invited him to Turin. Tom wrote back he’d be there in a month. Yesterday was to be the day for the meeting. Tom had decided to check out the famed Shroud of Turin relic first.

Now it looked as though he might not get to see the priest. Next stop: The U.S. consulate in Turin, if there was one. And he needed a lawyer.

Another knock on the door; the big guy barged in and spoke actually using nouns and verbs. “The archbishop of Turin wants to see you.”

Tom looked at his watch — 7 a.m. The cop had brought him a shaving kit, a cappuccino and a bag of fresh bread and rolls. “Get dressed, please, and I will be back in thirty minutes.” “Please” meant something for sure — he was cleared.

 “It’s about time. Is it a trial, the inquisition, what the hell is going on?”

The big cop had undergone a personality change from the night before. He even looked smaller. “The archbishop will meet you in the Duomo. The scene of the crime. Then of course, if all goes well, you are free to go about your business in Torino.”

***

The Magic Fault is Paul Mohrbacher’s first venture into genre fiction. His writing career began as a playwright. His first script for the stage, The Chancellor’s Tale (The Dramatic Publishing Company), won first prize in the 1991 Julie Harris Playwright Award Competition and has received numerous productions and readings. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, he was a Catholic priest for 16 years. He lives with his wife, Ruth Murphy, in St. Paul, surrounded by grandchildren.

(Photo by Andrea Cole Photography)

See also:
Chapter One of The Magic Fault
Interview with Paul Mohrbacher
 

Click here to buy: The Magic Fault

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Interview with J. Conrad Guest, author of Backstop and One Hot January

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

I start with a protagonist and his conflict; most times I have the ending in mind and simply write to it, although often the ending is amended depending on what happens prior to my getting there. Everything before that — the digressions, the journey — are discoveries that, hopefully, translate as discovery for the reader. I’ve never written from an outline. I haven’t even tried to work from an outline; I feel it would be too restrictive to me.

What is your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain number of words each day?

Raymond Chandler, one of my favorite novelists, despite Faulkner (no stranger to drink himself, Faulkner butchered the screenplay for The Big Sleep) calling him a “world class drunk,” wrote Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off. My writing schedule is like that: the first sentence is magic, the second intimate, the third settles me in for the session, and after that it’s like taking the girl’s clothes off. I used to set a word count but learned to accept what comes. Some sessions produce more word count than others; but I focus on the content as my goal. Certain parts of the story are going to be more difficult to put down on paper than others. Some sessions result in 1,500 words, while others end with 4,000 words. I’m grateful for it all.

Do you have any rituals that you follow before sitting down to write?

Oh, yes, I do. We laugh at our pets for being creatures of habit, but we are, too, if we’re honest. My morning sessions start with a pot of coffee and a trip to my humidor to select a cigar. (In the evening, substitute bourbon and beer for the coffee.) The cigar is all about the ritual — selecting the right cigar to go with my mood, the time of day; taking it out of the cellophane, inhaling the fragrance of the wrapper, admiring the label, the workmanship (the better cigars are still handmade by someone with skilled hands in another culture thousands of miles away), snipping its head, lighting it, those first few draws, and watching the smoke infiltrate my den. The ritual helps get my creativity flowing.

Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?

Yes, my preference is for Sunday morning. I schedule my entire day around my session. During the week, in the evening, I’ll polish or edit what I wrote on Sunday; but sometimes, if I’m really humming along, I’ll push the story forward during the week. But it’s difficult to do that consistently with a day job, especially one that puts me in front of a laptop writing. Sometimes the last thing I want to do when I get home from work is switch on my own laptop and be creative.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished a major project — A Retrospect in Death. It begins with a man’s death, and the reader is taken to the other side where the narrator encounters his higher self—the part of him that is immortal and is connected to the creator. The protagonist learns (much to his chagrin) that he must return to the lifecycle. But first he must be “debriefed” by his higher self, and so they set about discussing the man’s previous life — in reverse chronological order: knowing the end but retracing the journey, searching for the breadcrumbs left along the way. I’m just now tinkering with a concept for my next novel, a period piece during the golden age of motor racing—the 1960s—with the Indianapolis 500 as the centerpiece.

What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?

When I started my first novel, nearly twenty years ago, the hardest part was sitting down to write the first sentence—even though I’d written it in my head several weeks previously. I was intimidated by the whole process and feared that I’d never complete it. I only talked about it to friends. Finally, someone asked me when I would stop talking and do something. It was the kick I needed to set pen to paper. Now, when I near the end of a project, I begin to worry about my next one. What’s the story? Who are my characters and what are their conflicts? How can I top my last novel? Today I find the revision process the most difficult part. I love polishing a text; but sometimes I get carried away with the tinkering. At that point I go back to the original draft and determine whether the tinkering adds something, some new dimension, or does it get in the way?

What is the easiest part of the writing process?

The late great sports writer Red Smith wrote Writing is easy. I just open a vein and bleed. Opening a vein is never easy, but it’s essential, in my opinion, to great writing. It separates the great writers from the mercenaries, who write simply for the masses, for profit. Unfortunately, that seems to go against what many creative writing courses are teaching young writers today. They’re told that they must allow the reader to experience the text in their own way. I understand that, but one must still lead the horse to the water. What if your reader has never experienced what you’re writing about? For example, I’ve never fathered children, so it does me little good to read about a character’s joy over holding his newborn son for the first time by writing, “He was proud.” I like metaphor and so I could relate to something like, “Holding his son for the first time he felt as if he’d just hit the walk-off homerun in the seventh game of the World Series.” Raymond Chandler was one of the greatest stylists ever to write, and I consider myself somewhat of a stylist, too. It comes natural to me. I love language, and to me how something is said is as important as what is said; yet sadly, the publishing industry seems to frown on anything that might take a reader out of the story. Well, commercials do that on TV; but it doesn’t lessen our enjoyment of our favorite shows, does it? If the industry is losing money, perhaps they should reconsider the cookie cutter mold stories they seem to want to publish.

Does writing come easy for you?

It comes a lot easier today than it did when I started twenty years ago! That’s a product of experience — like an exercise routine, the first few workout sessions are difficult as your muscles rebel against the abuse you put them through. But in time, your body craves those workouts. Writing is like that for me. The more I do it the more I feel the need to do it. Raymond Chandler wrote Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say. I hope I never reach that end because every session is an adventure. I learn something about the craft of writing and, more importantly, about myself.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

For me, the most essential quality of a good story is characters with whom I can connect. Finding a good story to write is easy; but writing about characters the reader cares about is more difficult. Hannibal Lecter is one of the most demented characters ever conceived, yet he was fascinating, a train wreck away from which we want to look but can’t.

Where can we learn more about your books?

My third novel, One Hot January, is soon to launch, through Second Wind Publishing. You can learn more about me and all my literary endeavors at my website.