But, one of the psychiatrists who had to deal with him after his first outburst, the first attempt with the knife and he went in for observation and everything, called me in and said, "Let me tell you some things about your father. He would not go to church or be religious in any way, except periodically, when things went really bad for him. Then he would sit around all day reading the Bible and quoting it and everything." She began to list a number of personality traits as things he would do from time to time. And it became eerie, because she was telling me things that I thought nobody could know unless they had grown up in [my] house. She said to me, "I believe your father is a paranoid schizophrenic with tendencies to violence, complicated by alcoholism." Later, he got a darker diagnosis than that. But, she said, "These are the kind of people with all this complexity of problems." This was in the days before they were really finding drugs that were effective.
She [then went on to say that], "Somebody with this tendency to violence complicated by alcoholism and has a paranoid schizophrenic complex will frequently be the kind of person you do see in the news who has killed himself and his family. It was good of you as a child to come through this without more of the problems you have." I said, "Well, writing is, to some degree, therapy, and I think every writer works out some of his own problems in the course of telling his stories."
But, at that moment I realized that my guilt was not proper, my feeling that I was putting too much weight of evil on him. Actually, I wasn't. And whatever his problems, whether they were partly behavioral, partly of his own making or partly because of some condition he was born with in a mental way, I'll never know, but I think it's probably a combination of both. But, it never taxed my belief that life had meaning and purpose. In fact, seeing him live his life without meaning and purpose sort of showed me the way to live life more successfully.
Good always seems to prevail in your books. Is it because of your faith that you always believe that, ultimately, good will triumph over evil? When you write, do you want good to prevail because in your own life to some degree it didn’t?
It's actually sort of the opposite. I saw my father live a life where everything was done for himself, when he subsequently was diagnosed as sociopathic. And, of course, I've written a number of novels where a sociopath is the center of the action, even before my father was diagnosed.
When I looked at the way he lived his life, it was always about himself. It was always about his wants and desires and not about anybody else. Therefore, he broke just about every kind of rule of behavior and cultural or legal behaviors that would make a life an acceptable or an admired one.
And yet, although he had a lot of fun—he drank a lot and he ran around with a lot of women and he was gambling—all the things he wanted to do that he thought were fun, he got to do and he got away with. But, he never had a pleasant life. He was always an unhappy man, and although he would never have acknowledged it, always sort of desperate.
In the end, he ended up with nothing, with no friends and no family who cared about him. When he died and I had to make a list of people to call, there was no one to call because he had left a life without any friends. Even what few family members he had were uninterested. Nobody sent flowers, nobody thought of coming to a memorial or anything like that. In the end, that kind of behavior did not lead to a satisfying life.
I often say that in the short run, evil wins. I've seen it all my life. Bad behavior can triumph in the short run. But, in the long run I never see that it does. I think it's more realistic to say that most of the time good does triumph over evil, even in the shorter run, but certainly in the longer run. It's partly faith-based, but it's partly just practical, just looking at the way I've seen life for the past 60 years.
You've acknowledged that spirituality has always been an element in your books. Are you weaving these spiritual elements in consciously, or is it just second nature as you're writing?
It gets to be a little bit of both, but I would say it happens because of what your world view is. And it's going to happen automatically without your straining to do it. The way I sometimes begin a story is with a premise, just an odd little thing.
Then, I look at it and a character has to come into my mind, and I have to be able to play with him very quickly in the first chapter to begin to see a person I want to know a lot more about and that I find engaging. But, at the same time that's happening, premise and character, there's constant questioning going on in my mind. What is this about, really, besides the story, because, if it isn't about something more than the plot and more than the unveiling of the character, then it isn't interesting enough to write.