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November 14, 2011

Mary Curran Hackett’s debut novel, PROOF OF HEAVEN, tells the story of a boy who is terminally ill and has one last wish --- to meet his father. In this interview, Hackett talks about an incident with her own young son that inspired the book. She also describes her writing process and shares her unique ideas about faith and peace.

Question: What inspired the idea for PROOF OF HEAVEN?

Mary Curran Hackett: I was first inspired to write PROOF OF HEAVEN the night I returned home from the hospital after my own son Colm (just about one year old at the time) collapsed and stopped breathing suddenly while I was bathing him. Then before my eyes Colm spontaneously opened his. But he was catatonic for a long time afterward in the ER. For no reason he just stared up at the ceiling. Then, suddenly, just like the collapse that seemed to occur for no apparent reason, he sprang back to life. While I was overjoyed, I was also paralyzed with fear. I was convinced it would happen again, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I wouldn’t be so lucky the next time around. I didn’t know how to process it. But I’ve always kept journals or written when I felt stressed out, so I started writing. That night I wrote the first and penultimate chapter. Since I thought I had purged all of my fears out of my system, I set the document aside and didn’t look at it for nearly three years. But in 2009, I came across the document on my computer quite by chance and picked up the story where I had left off. I wrote the first draft in a two-week period. It all seemed somewhat inspired and out of my hands, really.

Q: How does your own faith play into the novel?

MCH: Oh, it comes out in just about every page --- Why are we here? Where do we go? And how come it’s all so hard? Those are the questions I find myself trying to answer all the time. I am not one of those people for whom “faith” or “belief” comes easily. I struggle a lot to understand it and its role in my life. I grew up in an Irish Catholic family where faith was the essential pillar, but I always felt like I didn’t fit in or that I was missing something because I didn’t “feel” or “experience” the faith the way others did. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that my experiences and feelings were no less valid, even if they were different. Sometimes Faith doesn’t have all the answers. Sometimes Reason doesn’t either. But for me, when faith and reason fail us, love does not. And what I find most remarkable is that all faiths, beliefs, religions and sects within various religions rely on this one singular human emotion and driving force: Love. It’s what unites everyone regardless of their belief, regardless of their religion.

Q: What do you hope people come away with after reading PROOF OF HEAVEN?

MCH: Every writer hopes that at least one line in a book rings true to a reader. If I am able to achieve that, I will feel like I did my job well.

Q: What is your proof of heaven?

MCH: I can say that the moment I held each of my children in my arms I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, they were a miracle. I think every single mother who has beheld her child feels that way. I don’t need to look any further than the two people in front of me to know that I am part of something bigger than myself. My children are all the proof I need.

Q: The characters in PROOF OF HEAVEN make a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, in search of physical and spiritual healing. Do you believe there are holy places on Earth?

MCH: Holy places? Hmm. I would be more comfortable saying spiritual or healing places. It could just be semantics, but I think the word “holy” puts off and scares people. Once something is deemed “holy” or “sacred,” it seems so out of reach (at least to me). I did go to Assisi and found it to be one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. There were areas that were just so peaceful, calming and healing. But there are places like that, I realize, all around us. A walk in a nearby park. A beach at sunrise. A bridge. Our own front porch. We all need to find a quiet space in our lives, where we can just unplug and check out and calm down and experience peace.