Listers, recently I have discovered a new outlet of Catholic media that is fighting against the current crisis of Catholic authorship. In a world where the Catholic perspective of life is seen as illegitimate or wrong, Tuscany Press is providing a means in which the Catholic writer who is “anonymously toiling” to have an opportunity to be read and seen. When I received word that Tuscany Press existed I immediately scrambled to their website and discovered that they have great potential to help Catholic writers produce quality and faith-filled or “Christ-haunted” stories that share their perspective to the world. I have recently had the pleasure of having a conversation with Peter Mongeau who is the founder and publisher of Tuscany Press and Christus Publishing. He shared with me some of his insights about the real state of Catholic authorship. He shared with me the amazing opportunity they are now giving Catholic writers, as well the major project they working on right now called the Tuscany Literary Prize. Now on to the interview:
1. Tell us about Tuscany Press.
I was a coordinator in Catholic book club in our parish, and we were always looking to read Catholic fiction. But, we really couldn’t find contemporary Catholic fiction. We could find Catholic fiction, but we had to go back to the mid-twentieth century with Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy or even further back to the early twentieth century with Tolkien and Chesterton. I have a Catholic spirituality publishing house called Christus Publishing, and I was looking to expand it. I knew there had to be some good Catholic fiction out there and we were looking for it, but we couldn’t find any stories that were contemporary. I talked to publishing executives. I talked to literary agents. I talked to writers and other small publishing houses. Basically anybody in and out of the Catholic publishing world. When I did the analysis of the publishing world, I realized that there was no publishing house that was dedicated solely to Catholic fiction. And so, we decided in the springtime to start Tuscany Press. We also noticed that there wasn’t a prize for Catholic fiction. I said “Well, we should create one. Because there needs to be some sort of recognition for great Catholic writers.” So that’s when the Tuscany prize started as well
2. Why Contemporary Catholic Fiction?
When we started Tuscany Press, we want to reaffirm our perspective of the world, but we also want to help evangelize our culture. Tuscany press is devoted to great Catholic writers. We have a great responsibility to encourage them and help them write fiction that is infused with our Catholic worldview. As Catholics we know we live in a world with a living God. Our stories should reflect that reality, that fact, that we live in a world with the living God and that his grace breaks into this reality in which we live. Our stories should reflect these facts. That is how we came about creating Tuscany Press and the Tuscany Prize. I don’t think the fiction publishing world appreciates the Catholic perspective. It once did, but I don’t think it appreciates it today [...] There are some good to great Catholic writers out there waiting and wanting to be published, and they have not been able to be published. So Tuscany Press is there for them and for all of us to find these stories.
3. You said that you were seeking out good quality Catholic literature. What makes Catholic literature “good”?
There are three things, generally speaking, that make literature good: 1. Is it well written? How much editing does this need? Has the author spent time and energy looking over how they have written the story? Have they taken care to create strong structure, character development, and themes? 2. Is the story interesting? There are some well written bus schedules, but they aren’t going to get published. There are also good stories that aren’t well written. Another question to consider is: Does it capture the imagination of the reader? 3. Is it filled with the presence of God? The Catholic writer knows that world is filled with the presence of God. It is not a truncated view of the world, but an expanded view of the world. It is a view that encompasses everything including the transcending God. That is what makes Catholic fiction so special. It’s not a narrow focus, it includes God, the presence of grace and how it operates in nature [...] This can happen either subtly, symbolically or deliberately.
4. Who is the Catholic writer?
There seems to be three different types of Catholic writers out there in general: 1. There is a group of writers who are over the age of 60. They have a totally different experience than most Catholics in America. 2. Then, there is this lost generation in their early 30s to 60s. These Catholic writers were lost in lieu of their culture. 3. Then, there are the young 30s and younger. These Catholic writers feel the most under-siege culturally. They live in a younger culture that does not espouse many Catholic ideals. The literature coming from these people are sharp-edged and jagged, which reflects what it’s like to be a young Catholic trying to live in this world. The Catholic Church has such a various mix of writers, which has been such a fantastic surprise for us.
5. Is there a chance that the Catholic writer can effect the contemporary world of literature right now?
Absolutely! The Catholic writer can definitely effect the contemporary world around them. The experience of most Catholics today in the world is so different. They know that there is a living God, but the state of current fiction is devoid of this fact. These themes hardly ever show up in contemporary fiction. The Catholic writer can bring these themes back to the world of literature. We know as Catholics that we have restless hearts, so it will speak to the restless hearts. Today’s secular world is a world that is fragmented and meaningless to most Catholics. It’s a world that looks upon the people around and doesn’t see the workings of God. The Catholic fiction writer can tell stories and show where grace appears.
6. Catholic writers have this great gift to give the world, but it seems that it is almost impossible for the Catholic writer to break through into the secular arena. What kind of difficulty does the Catholic writer have then?
The publishing world does not appreciate the Catholic perspective. I hope that Catholic fiction writer can find a home at Tuscany Press. That is my goal. However, I also believe that Catholic writer should go to any and all publishers. I don’t believe that they should limit themselves, but I do want them to know that they have home at Tuscany Press. We hope that we can provide a home for them. It will be difficult to break into the secular publishing houses, but if we can prove (and I think Tusacany Press will) that Catholic fiction has a place not only in the marketplace but in the world of culture, then the secular publishers will turn back to the Catholic writers.
7. What happens if a person claims that a book is too Catholic?
My personal response is that no book is ever “too Catholic.” These books are not going to be about good Catholics doing good things, because that is not necessarily good literature. It’s unrealistic, and people cannot relate to them. We are are fallible creatures, and our stories contain fallible creatures.
8. So, some of the content of the books will be gritty?
I don’t know. We have recieved some gritty manuscripts. We have received some not-so gritty manuscripts. We have received fantasy manuscripts. We have received some murder-mystery manuscripts. We have received manuscripts across all genres. We will choose the best though. I will tell you the short stories are great. I am excited about the short stories. The book that wins the prize will be what we consider be the best manuscript, but it might be from a genre that some people might not expect. It could be historical fiction or contemporary fiction. It could be a murder mystery or it could be a fantasy. We have received all types. We won’t know what will be published specifically until we get all the manuscripts in. We had some submissions from some very rural areas in America. Also some of our submissions are from some big cities. East coast. West coast. Mid-America. It is coming from all over.
9. Do you have a date set for your next novel to be printed? Or are you still looking for more manuscripts?
Well, we have the Tuscany prize. The Tuscany prize will end September 30. Our goal will be that we publish the Tuscany prize winners by the Christmas season. We hope to launch some in the spring who are not Tuscany prize winners but who are worthy of being published. Then we plan on launching the Tuscany prize again in 2013 and to have that deadline set around May 31st.
10. What are the future plans for Tuscany Press?
Not only are people looking for contemporary Catholic fiction, but we have discovered that parents are desperate for good Catholic young adult fiction. They are desperate for it. They want their children to read, and they want their children to read good Catholic books. The young adult fiction out there is so desperate, its so awful, and we have discovered that Catholic world, actually the entire Christian world, is looking for good young adult Catholic fiction. We are going to be doing Catholic young adult fiction and we will probably expand the Tuscany prize to include a young adult fiction in 2013. We trying to satisfy the need for contemporary Catholic but also the need for contemporary young adult Catholic fiction.
11. What would encourage the our Listers do?
I want to encourage people to send in their short stories, their novels, and novellas.
The Tuscany Prize, which is Tuscany Press’s first major project, is still going on. Peter Mongeau asked St. Peter’s List to encourage all Catholic writers who perhaps have a short story, novella, or novel sitting on their desks to submit it to the Tuscany Prize by September 30th. However, if you are still working on something that is not finished, you can participate in their next prize next year as well. For more information you can check out the Tuscany Press website at www.tuscanypress.com. All I can say is I am extremely anxious and excited to see what will come from Tuscany Press. I am thankful Tuscany’s mission, and I pray that they get lots of success in their endeavor to assist the real starving artists in the world, Catholic writers.