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article imageAuthor C.S. Farrelly discusses new book, impact of technology Special

By Markos Papadatos     Jun 22, 2018 in Lifestyle
Distinguished author C.S. Farrelly chatted with Digital Journal about her book, "The Shepherd's Calculus: A Political Suspense Thriller."
On the morality behind her novel, The Shepherds Calculus, she said, "I have always been interested in the social structures that play a significant role in society. When I was a little kid, I read a lot of Greek and Roman mythology, which then spread into learning about the early Republic systems of government and I was struck by the idea that religion and government have been intertwined throughout much of history."
"As an American, I was raised on a steady diet of rhetoric around separation of Church and State as making us very different than other places," she said. "But culturally, many Americans do inject religious faith (and by extension concepts of morality) into their voting choices. Much of The Shepherd’s Calculus sprang from my curiosity about this topic and reconciling the verbiage of “Separation of Church and State” with the practical reality of how that plays out. Additionally, living in Ireland and the U.S. at a time when revelations of widespread abuse (and cover-ups) in the Catholic Church came out made me take a harder look at who and what the arbiters of morality are in society are and to what extent we can and should trust them."
She continued, "More recently, particularly through the rise of technology, we now have a culture where people are very quick to judge others publicly on social media and announce loudly that they would do something differently if they were in their position. But the fact is, we can’t know. When it boils down to it, each person makes his or her own calculation about what constitutes the “right” thing to do in any situation, when to do it and why. So the book is largely my attempt to explore concepts of collective morality and how easily they can be manipulated for amoral purposes without us even knowing it."
Farrelly finished the first draft years ago, long before the election in 2016, so she has been eerily surprised by similarities between the book and some of what’s been playing out in real life. "For example, in my novel, a foreign government is motivated by financial gain to make an unsavory deal with a presidential candidate, so the ongoing investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia has resonated with me and readers of my novel. In another plot point, the Catholic Church imposes penalties on Catholic candidates who are pro-choice and just last week, we saw the Catholic Church agree to impose penalties on Catholic employees of ICE who were involved in separating families at the border.
She continued, "Many of our politicians are driven by preserving their own power, not necessarily acting in the interests of the public good. Our current political climate is such that people are tired of government representatives who put self-interest first and are looking for new and different voices, which is similar to how the plot unfolds in The Shepherd’s Calculus. So it's been interesting to see these echoes of plot points from my novel in front page news."
Farrelly further added, "I think the outrage and corruption in The Shepherd's Calculus is microcosm of what's playing out right now, in that each of the characters are motivated by the same thing: protecting what is most important to them. They just happen to express them in vastly different ways that – in some cases – are extremely damaging to others."
The role of technology among the main characters and the election process
On the role of technology in her book, among the main characters and the election process, she said, "Technology is essentially what both inspired the novel and made it possible. It plays an enormous role in the plot, in that Peter Merrick is only able to spot signs of a sinister cover-up because of technology. The ability for information and news – real and fake, unfortunately—to travel so quickly around the world is a direct result of technology."
She noted that in the novel, Peter starts with a list of names of people living in several different U.S. states and doesn’t know anything about them except that they all received a letter from his mentor, a Jesuit priest. "So he does what anyone who has become accustomed to all the tools of the digital age would do: he Googles them," she explained. "Solely because technology makes it possible for you to read the local newspaper in Indiana from the comforts of your living room in New York City, Peter is able to spot a common theme among the letter recipients: that they’re all victims of sexual abuse. 40 years ago, that just wasn’t possible. If you wanted to try to spot a trend, you had to know what you were looking for and then do a lot of manual labor to try to find the facts."
The author continued, "Certainly, in our current climate where posting something on Twitter passes for 'leadership' and people attack each other with unspeakable vitriol using online platforms, there are some downsides to technology; however, technology has also made it much harder for certain secrets to remain hidden. Back when I first started thinking about the novel, I was living in Dublin reading about abuse cases in The Irish Times and getting emails from my friends and family back in the U.S. with stories about abuse cases in Boston that were very similar to those in Ireland. It soon became obvious that these cases weren’t unfortunate one-off situations that happened, but rather part of systematic cover-up that spanned the entire globe and decades."
Farrelly added, "Bluntly put, were it not for technology making it possible for people to connect the dots, I think sex abuse in the Catholic Church would have continued unabated and I definitely think that without the power of technology spreading negative publicity, the Church wouldn’t have felt or responded to immense pressure to take responsibility for what happened."
On her inspirations as an author, she said, "I am fascinated by human psychology and the idea that there's always another story lurking below the main one. As readers, we get to follow the plot progression, but we also get to understand the mindset of people impacted by the events of the main story and that means the way we understand everything that leads up to an act or follows an act is much more rich. As I mentioned earlier, we live in a culture that likes to see things in very simple and, at times, judgmental terms. I think that’s because reducing complex issues to a black and white discussion is psychologically comforting. But real life is messy. The people involved in complex situations don't always have the luxury of black and white."
Farrelly continued, "As an author, I am inspired by telling the same story from several different points of view and I’m drawn to work by other authors that do the same thing. I read Grist Mill Road by Christopher Yates earlier this year and loved it."
She revealed that there is a second book in the works. "It is more of a traditional murder mystery than The Shepherd's Calculus was in that it opens with the discovery of the body of someone who was murdered. But, like the The Shepherd's Calculus, the story is going to be less about the murder and more about the events leading up to the murder and the notion of collective culpability as opposed to guilt for an individual act," she said.
If her book were to ever make it to the big screen, she listed the following actors to play her characters: Jeff Bridges for James Ingram, Ed Harris for Owen Feeney, Sam Rockwell or Ed Norton for Peter Merrick, and finally, Sarah Ramos or Saoirse Ronan for the role of Ally Larkin. "I think the most important casting decision would be James Ingram and Owen Feeney because that friendship is so critical to everything that happens in the novel," she said.
The Shepherd's Calculus: A Political Suspense Thriller is available on Amazon.
To learn more about acclaimed author C.S. Farrelly, check out her official website.
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