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Fiction Meets Spirituality and Science
by Lisa M. Hendey
11/29/05
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Fiction Meets Spirituality and Science
Author Interview with Kevin D. McMahon, Garments of Skin: A Genomic Apocalypse, Book 1
by Lisa M. Hendey

Kevin McMahon is first and foremost a teacher, family man, and a deeply spiritual person. In his spare time, he has written and published two books. Kevin’s writing came to my attention when I heard him speak recently at a writing conference. Although his topic related to the process of print-on-demand publishing, it was the fascinating subject matter of his novel Garments of Skin: A Genomic Apocalypse, Book 1 that caught and held my attention.

Garments of Skin tackles timely technological issues, weaving ethics and science into a book that is at once instructional and entertaining. Scientifically-challenged readers like me need not shy away from the book due to the inclusion of the word “genomic” in the title. McMahon’s teaching skills and fantastic creativity make this book highly readable. In our world, advances in reproductive and medical technology continue at a lightening pace. This makes McMahon’s book relevant to today’s ethical dilemmas and pose pressing questions about what the future may hold.

Kevin McMahon shared the following thoughts with me on his book and the writing and publication process.

Q: Please tell our readers a bit about yourself and your family.

I met my wife, Janice, while we were both attending an Evangelical church. We have two daughters, Megan and Breanna. Megan is currently in college and plans on becoming a high school English teacher. Breanna is at the school where I teach, Reseda Science Magnet. About ten years ago my wife and I left our Evangelical church and started attending a local Catholic church. A few years after that we converted to Orthodoxy and now attend Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Northridge, California.

Q: Please briefly describe the plot of Garments of Skin.

The book is a little bit like Frankenstein in that Shelly was attempting to write about the potential consequences of the hubris of human nature as it manifest itself in science. My book, of course, is an updated version of this Promethian tale in that it deals with what happens when man attempts to take the divine fire of life from the heavens, or as I state it in Biblical terms, when he breaks through the fiery sword guards the Tree of Life.

So I approach the whole issue of the stem-cell debate a little differently, that is, I move beyond the ethical debate into the ontological side of things. Just as the sin of Adam and
Eve had an ontological consequence on human nature I am suggesting that the application of embryonic stem-cells may alter the very nature of humanity. To explain this I employ the Eastern Christian (Orthodox) theology of the garments of skin. I should add though, that unlike Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which ends in fear and despair my book focuses on hope and redemption.

Q: What prompts a high school science teacher to take on the task of writing a religious thriller? From where did the idea for this book originate?

As a science teacher in public school I deal with a default setting that tends to not consider the moral content of scientific progress, or if consideration is given, more often than not, students and colleagues tend to take a utilitarian approach. What I have found however, is a surprising degree of openness when I have discussed with students and fellow teachers issues such as stem-cell research from a thoughtful, Christian perspective.
But it takes time to develop persuasive arguments and often people don’t have the time, or want to think that hard or long about a subject. As a result I thought that perhaps such people could be persuaded if they were offered the information in an entertaining manner.
Consequently, this book was written not for the “choir” but for a secular audience and thus far I have had more nonreligious people reading the book and giving me favorable reviews of it than even religious folk. I am gratified by this but I believe a religious audience would also enjoy and benefit my Genomic Apocalypse series.

Now as for where I get my ideas—that is almost a mystery to me. I might have to refer you to the Muses or to the writings of the Orthodox philosopher, Nicholi Berdyaev, who spoke of dipping into the deep nothingness of our own hearts to create, like God, ex nihilo, that is, from nothing. I guess this is just a fancy way of saying, I really don’t know where the ideas come from.

Q: What kind of research did you undertake in writing this book?

There were three areas of research that this book required. Obviously there is the science part—the stem-cell business. That part wasn’t too difficult given that I have degrees in biological sciences. Then there were the theological and philosophical aspects of the story. I read numerous books on these topics, again mostly Eastern Orthodox theology. Finally, I researched geo-political topics as the type of biotechnological breakthrough I wrote about would inevitably have enormous consequences world-wide.

Q: How does your faith impact your writing? Did you ever consider writing this book without the religious element?

My faith is so interwoven with who I am I cannot even imagine how I could write a book without it slipping in someway—although perhaps I could slip it in more subtly. Maybe someday I will. For me, I try to express my Christian faith in all I do—I see little difference between my life at Church, my life at home with my family, my life as a public school teacher, or as a writer.

Q: Do you resemble any of the characters in this book? Do any of them have a basis in real people you know?

Goodness, I suspect that the people in my book are either better or worse than I am—I’m probably somewhere between a Maria and an Obermann! Do any of the characters resemble people I’ve known? I think so. My first years as a teacher was in East Los
Angeles—I’ve known a few Maria’s: very bright, attractive young ladies who were drawn into gang life and who were sometimes extracted by the help of others, like the math teacher who helped get Maria out of the barrio. I’ve also known a few McIntyre’s—great men of God who always stood firm in the face of adversity.

It seems to me that technological advances have greatly complicated medical and technological ethics questions. What forecast do you have for these types of advances and how can Christians and ethicists keep pace and respond to our changing world?

As far as the first part of your question, I started writing this book around 1998 and I have since then witnessed about half of what I have written about already come to pass.
If I were to play the prophet I would say that it is inevitable that almost everything in the book, technologically, will happen. I am sure some people will find that hard to believe but just wait—it will happen within our life-time.

Now as far as what Christians need to do—first, they must know their faith. They must be grounded in their relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. This becomes the touchstone upon which they can deduce the answers to all ethical dilemmas. Of course, I would suggest they buy my book—they’ll get the information they need and will enjoy learning it at the same time!

Q: I know that you took a non-traditional path toward the publication of this book. What advice do you have for authors who have a desire to share their message in book format but may not be finding success in publication?

Frankly, I never really sought a traditional path. I am a full time teacher—that’s my real job; writing is a hobby. I didn’t want to go through the expense, hassle, and the emotional roller-coaster associated with trying to get my book published in a “traditional” manner. Also, my topic is so “hot off the press” so-to-speak that I wanted my ideas out there quickly. I thought this would be a good way to do it. Finally, I think you will find that more and more authors are going to turn to print-on-demand and other “nontraditional” means of publication.

My advice for those who want to go the way I did is that you should find someone to help you edit your book because most big publishing houses will work with you on that whereas if you publish yourself you are on your own. Secondly, be prepared for the long haul when it comes to getting your book out there and known. You have to be aggressive and push the book in people’s faces. I find that the most difficult part of the whole process.

Q: What is the key to successfully completing a work of fiction? How did you overcome obstacles that came up along your writing path?

First of all, I think you need to know where you want to go, what’s the end game of the story. Then let the end draw you. Along the way your characters are drawn to this end, and as they are drawn to whatever the end is for them they need to change authentically— they must be real, believable, and interesting people. I think most readers want to read about interesting people and how they respond and change to circumstances. And in this sense, the story line is secondary to the characters. Readers like to identify with characters and wonder what they would do under similar circumstances.

The biggest obstacles I faced were either being tired (since I had to write late in the evening) and feeling that my head was a block of wood (ie, not feeling very creative). To this I would recommend—write any way. You can edit it or throw it out altogether, but you can’t edit or throw out nothing so if you fancy yourself a writer you have to write even when you don’t feel like it or feel particularly creative.

Q: Do you have any future writing projects?

Yes, I have already written and published Book II of the Genomic Apocalypse series,
The Daughter of Abraham. I need to start working on Book III, but I started writing a book on theology and epistemology. I hope to have that done in a year so that I can get to Book III.

Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you’d like to share?

Yes, I like to thank you for taking the time to read my book and ask me these probing questions. Finally, if any of your readers would like to reach me they can contact me at
kevindmcmahon@yahoo.com

For more information on Garments of Skin visit
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1413474241/catholicmomcom

Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.




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