The Joys of Writing Catholic Fiction

It is not an uncommon dream to think about writing a book. It seems nearly everyone I have met has a book simmering inside their soul that wants to find a home on paper.

This was certainly the case for me. But I discovered one important human quality that helps get a book started and more importantly, finished. Most of us want to write a book, for me, I had to write my book.

Luckily, writing my book and pandering to my obsession was a glorious experience…most of the time. I say “most of the time” because no matter how dedicated one is to finishing a book, inevitably, you will confront the desire to set the unfinished project on fire or run your manuscript over with the lawnmower you have not started in weeks.

Writing a book that works, at least for me, is not easy and it is very time consuming. But the challenges faced and the obstacles overcome, in the end, add to the thrill of writing the book of your dreams.

The journey of writing my book was quite literally a joy ride. I would often get in my car, turn on my favorite music, and work my characters around in my head like chess pieces. Developing characters, creating plotlines, crafting sentences, and weaving Catholic spirituality into the fabric of a novel is a great way to spend your day or evening. A word of caution — be mindful of your spouse and keep your family first in your life.

In addition to the joy of creative writing, I felt the presence of Our Lady with me every step of the way. Each sentence would not be completed without a short prayer to our Celestial Mother.

Before I wrote my first sentence of The Madonna Files, I was very far from the Church, yet somehow I was made aware of the events known as Fatima. Perhaps I was simply led there by a miraculous, unseen guiding hand. But the discovery of Fatima challenged my comfortable state of agnosticism. With Fatima, the mysterious world of Marian apparitions opened up to me and I plunged into that world seeking answers.

At some point it occurred to me the Catholic Church’s narrative of reported supernatural events were superior and intellectually more rigorous than the shallow accounts of “mass hysteria” or dim meanderings about the “paranormal”. The unbelievers, I came to see, never did any investigation at all. The Vatican had hallways full of research.

What makes the supernatural world so fantastic is that the Church still actively investigates miracles and other unexplained religious phenomena. The work is not merely a ceremony of some medieval ritual. In fact the Catholic Church is the only institution in the world with its own department organized to investigate supernatural occurrences. The Vatican, quite literally, employes “miracle detectives”, clerical gumshoes, who look into cases of weeping statues, marian apparitions, and miraculous cures.

Dan Brown of the The Da Vinci Code figured this out. He discovered and exploited the Catholic Church’s rich treasure trove of mysteries, miracles, art, rituals, traditions, secrets, power, money, dogmas, even sex, to create the bestselling work of fiction of all time.

My hope in writing The Madonna Files was to create an entertaining book that could reach a wide audience and would reveal Mary’s power to change people’s lives. To do this I chose to write a contemporary political thriller set in Washington DC, where I live.

Anne Marie Hauge captures the essence ofThe Madonna Files nicely in her review for saying: “With an air of National Treasure, or Pier Paul Read’s novel, Death of a Pope, the reader plunges into political controversy, chase scenes, a coded message, and an exposition on Marian apparitions.” Br. Daniel Klimek, T.O.R, a Franciscan friar and an assistant professor in the theology department at the Franciscan University of Steubenville writes: “I found The Madonna Files to be a great book; a fascinating, fast-paced thriller, written in a strong voice, filled with rich dialogue, complex and colorful characters, a story-line that tackles the most meaningful, religious and political subjects in the world. It is an impressive work…Move over Dan Brown, I was blown away!”

Exploring your faith while engaged in the joy of creative writing can be a deeply rewarding experience that will most certainly enrich your prayer life and draw you closer to the Church you love. I would like to encourage those who dream of writing to begin their own journey.

Five things I learned while writing my Catholic novel.

  1. Be passionate, be true to yourself, and convey what you love about the Catholic Church.
  2. Writing is a bit like real estate, but instead of “location. location, location”, it’s rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Read your work out loud. The words not only need to tell your story they need to flow in a way that is comfortable and pleasing to you.
  3. Don’t overwrite; minimize adverbs. Work to find the right word, not the impressive word.
  4. Believe in your characters and make them yours, not a cliched version of a famous character in a movie or book you liked. Have a little bit of you in the hero or heroine.
  5. You need to keep your audience in mind but, always write the book in a manner that is interesting to you.

image: Image by MorningbirdPhoto from Pixabay


Stephen is the author of the contemporary Vatican thriller, The Madonna Files and runs the Catholic online news magazine Stephen is a member of the International Thrillers Writers an honorary literary society.

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