Interview with Joseph Mauck, author of The Cross and the Godless

Joseph Mauck is the author of The Cross and the Godless.

Where did you get the idea for this story?

The first inklings of The Cross and the Godless came to me as I followed a news story way back in 1981, when increasing numbers of political refugees from Nicaragua and El Salvador made their way across the US/Mexican border.  I lived in Southern California at the time, when the ongoing violence in those two countries alarmed a great many Americans.  For me, the horrific murders of nuns and priests was particularly troubling.  But I also read about magnificent acts of  courage and sacrifice on the part of Christian volunteers who helped thousands of people. And yes, there were horrific murders along the border. Some were attributed to death squads. Helping destitute immigrants in those days was a dangerous undertaking. As a dramatist I couldn’t resist writing a story that reflected that same Christian courage.  At first, it was just a one page outline.  But with careful thought and a lot of research over the years, I pulled the story together between other projects. 

The big jump forward came about seven years ago, when I finally got fed up with all the filth and hedonism in mainstream American culture.  Fortunes have been made by the constant appeal to our greed, lust, and all that we think of as the “dark side” of human nature, and those who create these ugly stories don’t care whether children are exposed or not.  These are the same people who say they never have enough fresh stories for books, movies and television, but always seem to ignore Christians writers with great stories, both fiction and true-life.  Add to that Planned Parenthood’s growing influence, and I realized I had to do my part to fight back. Writing The Cross and the Godless  –  a suspense-thriller with a solid pro-life love story  –  became my way of  taking sides in the cultural wars.  Yes, it has its share of violence and contemptable behavior, but it only reflects what we find in the darker parts of a  fallen world.  Overall, I’d have to say The Cross and the Godless expresses the determination of good people trying to survive dangerous circumstances, and fight a persistent, unmerciful evil.  I’m proud of this book.  It’s a good read.     

The truth that each person is a unique and beautiful creation of God runs throughout this book. Why was it important that your reader understand this fundamental truth in the context of the story?

For the past several decades, mainstream crime fiction has gradually become increasingly harsh and brutal in its depiction of human behavior. Certainly one can say this gradual degradation only reflects today’s headlines. But that doesn’t explain why the counterforce of Christian writing—through the depiction of heroic characters, such as teachers, extended family, neighbors, and the like—has not taken root and grown at a similar rate.  The arguments of “profit margins” and “the bottom line” can’t explain it; stories with less violence and happy endings can be profitable too.  Nor can we simply write it off as a kind of “secular cynicism”; our current social debasements are the result of failings far more complex than that.

On the other hand, at the heart of your question, we see a way of turning things around, a way out of the morass of ugly depravity and its seemingly constant surrender to evil intent. We need only remind the reader that even the worst among us was born of God’s love. In other words, all children are born innocent. This “fundamental truth” not only allows for the broader development of an antagonist’s motives (such as the emergence of childhood trauma) it provides for the exploration of the deepest thought and behavior of all characters. More importantly, by reminding the reader “that each person is a unique and beautiful creation of God” we inspire hope, which might be the only way to survive a fictional crisis. Moreover, in the real world of increasing degradation, hope is a powerful antidote to real-life cynicism.        

Writers tend to include aspects of themselves in their characters. Do any of your characters possess your strengths or flaws?  Or are they all based on others?

My central protagonist, Steve Rodriguez, has a few quirks I see in myself. He’s a bit too hard on himself when he makes mistakes, and he’s especially cautious when it comes to self-pity. Like me, he knows self-pity can slow him down, discourage him, or distract him from the task at hand. In real life, I guess that’s one fault I have wrestled with from time to time, and that certainly made it easier to write about when I fleshed out Steve’s character. 

Charlie Bregetti, too, comes to mind.  As Steve’s second in command on the FBI task force, Charlie’s tough exterior tends to obscure his love for God and country, and it takes a while before we see his fondness for children, his respect for the meek and suffering of the world. Especially strong is Charlie’s compassion for the innocent victim. It’s there, all right. But it emerges slowly. Come to think of it, there’s a lot of my father in Charlie.  Deep down, a lot of love for humanity. Bill Mauck—to know him was to love him.       

What writing projects are you currently working on?

A few things right now. But it’s too soon to talk about. Maybe after the second or third draft. I’m sure there’s other writers who, like me, feel uncomfortable talking about new work in the early stages. The way I see it—the way I feel it—describing unfinished work can only hinder one’s creative engines.  

On the other hand, I have a new project that’s set to go.  I’m searching for a producer of my new play, Quinn’s Gift, a contemporary two-act drama about a black middle-aged widower who, with God’s help, finds justice for a murdered white father and daughter. 

Do you have any favorite authors or books you can recommend to my readers? I enjoy reading James Lee Burke.  His characters carry on despite their inability to correct enormous, self-destructive faults. Sometimes his supporting characters are too patient, too forgiving I think, but always colorful and interesting. Even in the darkest prose, Burke’s love for humanity shines through.  

Buy The Cross and the Godless here on Amazon.

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