Katie Andraski, “The River Caught Sunlight”: An Interview with Richard Rossi

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On October 1,  I received an email from fellow author, Katie Andraski, letting me know that on Monday October 3 she would be interviewed by Richard Rossi on Blog Talk Radio.  On the website, Rossi called the interview “Katie Andraski Discusses her Controversial Novel, The River Caught Sunlight.”

  And controversial the novel is.  In a review of The River Caught Sunlight,  published on February 4 of this year, I wrote:

“Katie Andraski has dared to write about the radical evangelical movement in this country, about her own part in that movement, and about the subject terrifying to those on both sides–the awful issue of abortion.”

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As he introduces her, Rossi points out that the two of them seem to have travelled “parallel paths”–both with Fundamentalist backgrounds, both having fallen under the sway of Frank Schaeffer, the real-life counterpart of Andraski’s fictional character, Jeremiah Sackfield, and both having come to question what Rossi calls “the totalitarian environment” and “the cookie cutter world” of the Fundamentalist movement.

He begins the interview by asking about Frank Schaeffer.

Katie Andraski first encountered Schaeffer, a celebrity of Evangelism in the 1980’s, when she was working as a publicist for Crossway Books.  She travelled with Schaeffer and his parents as she convinced editors at  publications like The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Newsweek, and Christianity Today to feature their books. She was good at her job.

Later Frank Schaeffer told her that he knew she didn’t agree with his work, but it didn’t matter because she did the job so well. She got him the publicity. “He wrote me a wonderful letter towards the end of my work there.”

Katie talks at some length about her increasing discomfort with his “screaming and shouting.” She was torn and “troubled by the radical nature of what the Schaeffers were saying.”  A turning point for her was their growing insistence that you weren’t a Christian if you didn’t condone the most extreme behavior of the anti-abortionists.

And so began a thirty-year journey for Katie which bore the rich fruit of her novel.

But she did not make her journey out of the darkness alone.

Above the title, on the front cover of The River Caught Sunlight, is perhaps the novel’s most poignant endorsement. Frank Schaeffer, author of New York Times‘ best-seller  Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God (2014), says,

“This book has a piercing insight at its heart as humane as it is damning of religion gone off the rails.”

Rossi points out the irony that Schaeffer, “In wanting to be more Christ-like, had to get out of the religion business.”

And that defection didn’t go unnoticed.  In August of 2011, The New York Times reviewed Schaeffer’s memoir, Sex, Mom, and God, under the headline,

“Son of Evangelical Royalty Turns His Back, and Tells the Tale.” 

The discussion during this forty-five minute interview ranges from the Religious Right, to the current political environment, to the healing power of art.  Andraski says that, of course, the telling of her story was tremendously therapeutic, but she adds that the artistic work itself–learning how to write a plot, editing, writing “revision after revision after revision” moved her toward a new wholeness.

My acquaintance with Katie tells me that she is a woman who understands the healing balm of hard work–whether in writing a novel or in tending her horses.

Perhaps above all else, she says of her main character, “Janice has a voice that I never had.”  And in the novel’s final pages, Janice stands up in front of Sackfield and his followers, and says,

“Jeremiah has just told you how to be afraid, how to be bullies, how to throw your weight around . . . If this is Christianity, I don’t want it . . .But you know what? It’s not. It’s found on our knees asking the Lord and our neighbor to forgive us the things we’ve done wrong.”

I believe that Katie Andraski has a very strong voice, and not just through the fictional Janice Westfahl. When asked by Rossi whether she had a crisis of faith and how she processes doubt, she responds,

“I always write from a question, from things I don’t understand.”

This is a woman who takes risks.

Of her hard-won and finely-chiseled beliefs, she says,

Christianity is a living and vibrant faith.  We can grow with it. It can grow with us . . .Scripture is very complex. It can be alive. I see one thing as a fundamentalist and another as I grow and move forward.”  

Katie Andraski, author of The River Caught Sunlight, has found her voice and has embraced a faith that, as Luke writes of Jesus, goes “about doing good.”

Buy The River Caught Sunlight from Amazon.com

Tune in to Richard Rossi Live, and listen to his many fascinating interviews, on Blog Talk Radio

Buy Looking for Lydia; Looking for God from Amazon.com

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