The Unexpected Author:
Interview with Thomas Fargnoli
By Carin Chea
Thomas Fargnoli has worn many hats throughout his lifetime - systems engineer, magician, teacher, deacon, and (most recently) author.
But, what launched the master-of-all-trades into writing was the shroud of deep sadness that adorned him following the sudden and unexpected suicide of his wife of 40 years.
What started out as a cathartic exercise suggested by his therapist, Fargnoli has transformed years of grieving and devastation into a novel designed to reach those yearning to be heard and loved. Incidentally, that happens to be all of us.
You didn't start out as a writer. Tell us about your journey toward becoming an author.
I'm a retired engineer, teacher, and magician, and an ex-deacon on the catholic church. Deacons are ordained ministers of the church and serve the congregation in various ways.
As far as being a writer: I've written one other book, but it was an esoteric book about engineering. It did well in that environment. I was always involved in teaching and writing. But, regarding what I've been through in the past 5 years - my psychologist was telling me to write things down as a way to deal with it. Those things that I wrote down turned into this book.
The book is a true story, but I added a certain amount of fiction in telling the story. What's going on throughout the book is essentially me being interviewed by a reporter who wants to know what it was like being a deacon and why I left, especially since I loved it so much.
How do you think your various professional careers have shaped and affected your writing?
As an engineer I was often involved in teaching other engineers. I wrote a lot about visual techniques involved in systems engineering.
I was also a teacher at a community college. I used magic all throughout my teaching to stress a point. This way, the students would have an emotional connection with the subject matter. Even in spiritual or religious contexts, I can use magic to demonstrate relationships with people and God.
As I get older, I've been accumulating more magic, including live doves which (by the way) are a pain in the butt to manage.
All three have led me to writing, which is where I'm turning my life to these days.
Tell us about your book The Deacon - An Unexpected Life.
I was a systems engineer for 40 years, happily married for 40 years. I was a deacon for 5 years. It was my dream to be a deacon in my retirement. It was a 5 to 6-year commitment, and when I was ordained, it was one year before I retired.
I was setting this up to be a part of my retirement. Everything that was happening was fantastic - I was retiring, I was a deacon, I had children, grandchildren. And then, the unthinkable happened.
There was one part of being a deacon that I knew, and agreed to: Deacons can be married, but if their wives pass away, they can't get married again. They have to stay celibate. I knew that, but you know what the crazy thing was? My wife was the one who was against that rule. I thought, "What's the problem? You have nothing to worry about. I'll probably die before you."
My wife suddenly and tragically took her own life. Grieving the loss of a spouse, someone you've known for 45 years, is devastating. Grieving is even more complex when you lose a loved one to suicide. When you mention the S word, people just shut down. They don't do it out of disrespect. They just avoid you.
When I needed people to talk about it, they just weren't there. That's why I say the grieving is more complex. I learned a lot about being a suicide survivor. A suicide survivor is not someone who tried to take their life and lived. It's the one who's left behind.
Conversely, there were people that came forward that I didn't expect. They came forward and shared their stories and problems with me.
Anyway, being alone was one thing, but being alone after being with her for so many years was unbearable. I had a strong faith, and for a while it got better. But then, it got worse.
I had to make a choice. If I was to remain being a deacon, I had to commit to a life of celibacy and, essentially, a life alone. I knew about that, but after 2 years of grieving and facing the reality of that, it felt like cutting my arm off.
Blaise Pascal said that when faced with a tough decision, pick the path with heart. I looked at both paths, and they both had a heart. I loved being a deacon, but wanted to have a relationship as well. I couldn't decide. It drove me crazy; in fact, it landed me in the hospital for open-heart surgery.
I decided I would leave the diaconate, but that decision came with something worse than loneliness: Rejection. Rejection from the church, the priests, even some of my fellow deacons. They wouldn't even allow me to say goodbye to my congregation. I felt like I had leprosy. I didn't leave the church, but I was treated like I had.
So, thanks to the Holy Spirit, what began as a cathartic exercise has turned into this book. I tell it in a way that makes people feel like they're part of it. I include the ministry, the battle of my decision, the horror, the rejection, and then finally the peace and light as the reporter, Rick, takes us through it.
Could you describe the process of writing your book? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
I wasn't sure when to start it, and then COVID hit. I started thinking about everything that happened. I wrote down 10 major chapters, starting with the hospital. Then, I get into The Call, why I got into the ministry. Then, I got into the horror of losing my wife. Then, the battle - the decision and the rejection. Then, finally, the peace and acceptance.
In a way, it was easy to do because it all really happened. The challenge was bringing it out in a way that the reader could hold on to and want to read.
What do you want your readers to take away from your book?
I hope to inspire others and give them peace and hope through this book. Sure enough, I started receiving letters when the book came out. I was amazed to see how many people were really touched. Some related to the grieving, some to the loneliness, some even related to the surgery.
When we started getting the letters, I decided to market it. I think it's a good story that people can really relate to. When I looked at this book and put it together, I had a realization that we all suffer from time to time. We need to know that we're loved. I want people to know that they're loved.
Are you planning on publishing any other works? What do you find inspires you as a writer these days?
I think I'll continue this and write subsequent books with this goal in mind - striving toward helping people move from their pain to some sort of peace. This book I subtitled "An Unexpected Life". With the next book I'm thinking of The Deacon: The Path Forward.
If your book was made into a mini-series, who would play the main characters?
My brother-in-law asked me the same question. I think it'd be Gabriel Byrne.
That's a great choice! He has a peace about him, but also an air of gravitas.
Yeah, he's have to portray the happiness and joy, as well as the horror and sadness.
The reporter is middle-aged and he turns out to be a very special person. Who was that guy from The Shack? Tom Worthington.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
My current wife, Dorothy, also lost her spouse suddenly and tragically. We met online, and never, ever did I think I'd meet someone online. We're convinced that our spouses had something with us getting together.
For more information, and to keep up-to-date on Thomas Fargnoli's upcoming works, please visit ThomasFargnoli.com.
Proceeds from the book go toward suicide awareness.
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