Screenwriter of <i>My Girl </i>Writes First Novel About Faith: An Interview With Laurice Molinari

The novel chronicles a young boy's discovery and the training he receives in a mystical place called The Ether, as well as the battles he fights in that pit good against evil.
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Many of you may know Laurice Molinari as the screenwriter for the popular film My Girl, but now she's taken on a new genre: children's fiction. I recently received a copy of her newly released first novel called The Ether, a book about a young boy who learns he's a guardian angel. The novel chronicles his discovery and the training he receives in a mystical place called The Ether, as well as the battles he fights in that pit good against evil.

So much about this book was fascinating that I wanted to chat with the author about it. What follows is an interview with Ms. Molinari about her new novel, her views on angels, and her writing process:

It's not every day that you see a novel about a boy who's also a guardian angel. How did you get the idea to write the book?

My inspiration to write a kids' book about angels came from my own belief in angels and their mission to protect us. There are certainly a number of wonderful choices for our kids today in the way of mythical monsters, witches and dragons, but not too many about God's fiercest warriors and the battles they wage on our behalf. So as a mother of two young readers, I thought I might try to write an interesting one myself.

A lot of young adult literature has religious overtones that are allusions or symbols, like Aslan is in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But what set your book apart for me was that you made the bold choice to make more direct references to religious characters and themes, like Lucifer and free will. Have readers commented on that?

It's a bit embarrassing, but when I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a young child, I completely missed that it was an allegory. I loved the fantastic world of Narnia... I wanted to climb through that wardrobe and have tea with Lucy and Mr. Tumnus, and to meet Aslan himself. But as obvious as it was, as a young reader I totally missed the symbolism in the book until years later. Of course, I then had to reread it with new eyes, and finally got the whole beautiful story, and C.S. Lewis.

While I love allegories and symbolism, my style is to be direct with kids in my writing. There is real good and evil in the world, and these things do have names. I think middle-school age kids today can handle the honesty, and the responses I've heard so far from parents and kids have been overwhelmingly positive.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a lifelong C.S. Lewis fan... he was a brilliant writer whose works continue to inspire and comfort millions of kids and adults alike... and he was clever enough to get me to read his books twice!

While many of your characters and themes come from the Judeo-Christian tradition, the idea of the Ether doesn't. Can you tell us more about how you came up with this place called the Ether and what happens there?

Years ago I remember reading a story about a woman who was being tormented, and she saw a vision of the angels and demons fighting above her for control her soul. For me, that image was very powerful.

We all have an idea of what heaven and hell are. But if those are the only realms in the spiritual world, then where do these battles happen?

For thousands of years "science" has theorized about an Ether which surrounds the earth. From the ancient Greeks all the way down to Isaac Newton, there were varying scientific theories about this mysterious invisible material that surrounds all.

What I am calling the Ether is actually a spiritual world that surrounds the earth, and exists right along side of us -- not unlike the ether Newton envisioned, though this one is purely spiritual. It is the realm where angels and demons battle for influence over God's most cherished creation, humans.

I want to give a lot of credit to my husband Chris, who connected many of the theological and scientific dots and helped write the rules for the Ether that ended up in the book.

It strikes me that this book can be a great way to start conversations about faith with children, and you mention in the acknowledgments that your children read the book as you wrote it. Did your writing allow you to talk about faith with them in a new way?

With two young readers of my own, writing this book was a bit of a family affair. We all discussed Vero and the Ether, and guardian angels and demons as I was working on the book. It was great to be talking about spiritual matters with my kids, without it being a lecture. They really appreciated that I was interested to know what they thought. It was great experience for all of us.

The religious themes and characters in the novel come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Is it your hope that readers from other traditions will also pick it up? What do you hope they will discover from it?

I have always believed guardian angels are real, and that everyone has one because God cherishes us all. I'm not alone in that thought. A 2011 AP Poll found that nearly 8 out of 10 Americans also believe in the existence of angels. Once I started writing this book, one of the most exciting things I discovered is that nearly all religious people believe in angels... they are not just Judeo-Christian. In my book there are fledglings of different faiths that train alongside of Vero. Angels are here to help all of us, so my hope is that Vero will speak to everyone.

I kept thinking about Ender's Game when I was reading this book. Like Ender, Vero is different from other children, adopted, and has to go through a training program to prove his ability to help save mankind (or at least, that's what they tell us in the first installment of Ender's Game). Was that book an influence for you at all?

I must admit I've never read Ender's Game and I'm not familiar with the story. I was most influenced as a writer by Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. I was fascinated by Ms. Lee's painfully honest exploration of horrific events as seen through the eyes of a little girl.

Many parents today probably saw your first screenplay, My Girl, when they were kids. I remember seeing it when I was about ten, and I was so fascinated that Vada's father owned a funeral parlor; it really intrigued me. It was also the first time I saw a child die on film. Like that movie, this book doesn't shy away from challenging the audience. The characters in the movie also had to struggle with some pretty intense questions about the meaning of life and love and death, as they do in your new book. So I'm curious: Is there something that draws you to these themes? (Also, I notice that both Vada and the main character in your new novel -- Vero -- have names that begin with the letter V. Is that just a coincidence?)

Probably my own fears of life and death draw me to these themes. My characters go boldly where I would likely cower. As for Vada and Vero... I hadn't really considered that at all. When I wrote My Girl, I just really liked the name Vada Sultenfuss. For this book, I actually agonized over Vero's name. Given the questions that my hero was going to be asking, I ultimately settled on Vero, which comes from the Latin "veritas" meaning "truth."

Finally, given that faith is so prominent in the novel, how did your own beliefs factor into what you wrote? For instance, do you believe in angels or Lucifer or free will?

Well, the short answer is that of course, my own belief in angels not only factored into this book, but greatly inspired it.

I believe we are all surrounded by angels -- good and bad -- who are keenly interested in the choices we make every day. I think they really do everything in their power to influence our decisions. While our guardian angels seek to protect us, and guide us on our journey back to God, there are fallen angels that fight to pull us the other way, down a path they chose for themselves ages ago. There is a real battle that wages on between the two.

Wow, well this only begins to dig into the plot and faith themes of The Ether. Thanks for sharing these insights with us, and I can't wait to hear more about how readers respond to the book!

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