Michael Nicholas Richard is the author of the Ignatius Press novel Tobit’s Dog. He has also written another novel, Bogfoke, and a few published short stories, one of which can be found in the anthology Heroic Visions II. Michael also enjoys writing for his blog. Michael lives near New Bern, NC with his wife and two dogs. Ignatius Press Novels interviewed him via email.
From where did the inspiration for Tobit’s Dog originate?
Richard: I have always been a dog person. When my mother was pregnant with me, my parents had a dog, Sam, of which they were very fond. He was a peculiar dog and my paternal grandmother thought they treated him too much like a human being. She warned, “You’re going to mark that baby.” Her suspicions were evidently confirmed when as a toddler I developed the habit of hiding raw carrots and then later bringing them out, shriveled, to chew on.
So my credentials as a dog person go back to the beginning of my personhood. Sometime in 2012 the notion that became Tobit’s Dog was stirred by the very presence of a dog in the Book of Tobit. The presence of a dog was one of the factors that led to canonicity of the Book of Tobit being challenged, since dogs were seen as “unclean” in Semitic cultures. It is only mentioned twice, once when Tobias leaves, and when he returns home. That unexpected element of the story got this dog person to pondering.
The pondering grew, until I realized I had to write it out. Originally I intended to set the story in Persia and to keep it closer to the Biblical story, but it occurred to me that there were some parallels between the plight of exiled Jews in the Biblical story, and the plight of African-Americans in the Jim Crow South. From there it just took off. I set aside the novel I was working on (it was about ready for a cool down period anyway) and started working on Tobit’s Dog. Making Tobit and his family African-American Catholics in the Jim Crow era added another layer of prejudice and isolation as well as offering a platform for Catholic themes.
I sent the manuscript for Tobit’s Dog to Ignatius Press the Monday before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. The following Sunday one of our deacons, Rick Fisher, himself an African-American, gave a brief talk and reading concerning Dr. King before Mass. It was not lost on me, of course, that having mailed off the manuscript earlier that week, here I was listening to an African-American Catholic speaking on the plight of African-Americans during the Civil Rights era.
It became down right “spooky” for me as in the six months that followed the Book of Tobit became featured in the readings at Mass. I attend Mass on a near daily basis and it was a reading from the Book of Tobit or of the Canticle of Tobit nearly every day until the time I received an email from Ignatius Press expressing a desire to publish Tobit’s Dog.
I often read of strange “coincidences” in the lives of converts and reverts and people in spiritual struggle, and have thought, “Well, yeah, it’s easy to believe if God gives you all those signs!” Well, there it was for me. Not that the Father of Lies doesn’t still try to whisper into the back of my mind so that I might squirm out of that revelation—because, as Ace Redbone says to Lenny Morris in Tobit’s Dog, “To whom much is given, much is expected”—but it’s like Deacon Fisher said to me only a few days ago, “There are no coincidences with God.”
Is this your first novel?