Friday, July 23, 2010

FEATURED AUTHOR: Claudia Mair Burney

God Alone is Enough: A Spirited Journey With St. Teresa of Avila

No one can teach a Christian to pray, like Teresa can.

This lively little book introduces postmodern readers to one of Christianity’s most endearing prayer warriors, and guides them through her most radical teachings. Here, Teresa of Avila is not a lofty, inaccessible saint; she’s a companion, taking readers on a rollicking journey through their own interior castles. The secrets of Teresa’s intimate devotional life are revealed, and readers learn practical ways to abandon complicated contemplative prayer techniques, and simply “enjoy” God.

This journey through the life and writings of Teresa of Avila will engage Christians who would have never before considered encountering a post-Reformation Catholic nun. Mair Burney makes Teresa accessible—and essential—for understanding what it means to come to know God, and how it’s possible.

God Alone is Enough really is about a love affair with God, and how to achieve intimacy with him.

Claudia Mair Burney is the author of seven novels, including the Amanda Bell Brown mysteries, and Zora and Nicky, a Christy Award finalist in 2009. Readers familiar with her style will enjoy this rollicking journey through their own interior castles. She lives in Kentucky, where she also authors the popular blog, "Ragamuffin Diva."

How did you start out your writing career?

By stealing a magazine out of a hospital waiting room. I know that's sounds strange, and I certainly don't recommend it, but the truth is, I saw a copy of Today's Christian Woman with a black woman on the cover (Sherri Shepherd). I read the entire thing, including the ads, and was so filled with longing to write for God that I took the magazine home with me. I held it to my heart (after I'd re-read it), and said, "Jesus, if you let me write for you, I promise I'll tell people like me that you love them." By that I meant broken, messy people with imperfect lives and no pretense otherwise. I thought NOBODY in Christian publishing will print a word I've written, so I started to blog to keep my promise to Jesus. He opened every single miraculous door. And they were miraculous, girl.

What did you learn while writing this book?

I learned that I'm not the only one who finds prayer difficult, yet, God has given us so much to simplify the process. St. Teresa's teachings tell us our souls are like gardens. God breaks the fallow ground and pulls up the noxious weeds before we even set out to pray. Our job is to water our gardens, and we do that using any of all the many methodologies of prayer available to us. She says, "Do whatever works," basically. So, St. Teresa she taught me how to pray as I never had before, and to cut myself some slack when I couldn't do it "well."

What did you hope to accomplish with this book?

I wanted people to think of their souls as something beautiful: a watered garden; and diamond or crystal of exquisite clarity; a castle, with many rooms to explore.

What is the toughest test you've faced as a writer?

To keep at it, come what may. And girl, stuff happens. It isn't particularly a charmed life, though it has it's charms, and many graces.

If you had the opportunity to talk with three writers, who would you choose and why?

I'd choose Thomas Merton because, like me, he wrestled both God and demons about his vocation as a writer. I suspect he got Jacob's broken hip, too. That was one blessed man. I'd want to chat with St. Teresa of Avila, of course, because she wrote under extreme duress during the Inquisition, when women were suspect. She was such a bad mamma jamma, I'd want to sit down and ask her about EVERYTHING. And I'd love to talk to Zora Neale Hurston. First of all, she was so smart, sassy, and funny. And Lord, have mercy, she died broke, and subsisted at one point on the kindness of a benefactor. I want to know if it hurt to have had to live so humbly. I know it causes me pain to know that I'm mostly broke, often afraid, and yet I still want to do this with all my available time, and certainly all my strength. Pray for me, sis.

What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?

That nothing is guaranteed. It could be all flow one year, or for years even, and then the tide disappears, seemingly forever, and you'll wonder if anyone will ever buy a book from you again. What's more, it's possible no one will.

I wish I knew that grace and blessings most often come through people, and it takes much more humility that I thought I had in me to do this work God called me, I'm absolutely certain of, to do. And finally, it really helps to have a skill set that will bring you money when times get lean.

Oh my gosh. I keep talking about money and making a living. Can you tell something is going on right now? Ha! Pray for me, LaShaunda. You know I have NO filters most of the time.

Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?

Do finish a draft. It's rare to sell a book you haven't finished when you're starting out. Publishers and agents need to know you can make it to "The End."

Don't fall in love with your own writing. Baby, you're gonna have to change some of what you think is your best stuff. Count on throwing away almost as much writing as you keep.

I borrowed this question from Author Carleene Brice, What is your author fantasy?

My agent calls me and says, "Mair, you've been nominated for the Nobel Prize, both for literature and for peace." LOL. Okay, I'll take ANY prize at all, including one from the box of Cracker Jacks. Or my author fantasy is, "They want to make a movie out of..." Name the novel. Any one of mine!

I love Carleene Brice! We garden. I bought some orange mint to plant and thought of her.

What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?

That it's WORK. I don't care if you are in bed, or in your pajamas all day doing it.

What was the best advice you’d ever gotten about the publishing industry? The worst?

Best advice, "Don't stop writing. You're a good, and this is a TOUGH business." The worst, " Write a vampire novel." I tried it, too! Epic fail, even though the chapter was fine. It's not what I'm made to do.

If you could visit any place in the world where would you travel to?

I dream of going to Italy. Oh, the Catholic kitsch I'd collect!

What is something readers would be surprised you do?

Watch a ridiculous amount of Law and Order: Criminal Intent

Our theme for this month is Agent Hunting? What advice would you give someone searching for the right agent?

First pray. Then look. Then see who seems to resonate with your soul. Then pray again. Then listen. Then submit if your soul says, "yes."

Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?

That God really loves me, even if he drives me crazy sometimes. I'd probably drive him crazy if such a thing were possible, and who knows, maybe it is. But he loves me anyway.

Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?

Next up are the last two novels in the YA Exorsistah series, The Exorsistah 2: X Returns, and The Exorsistah 3: X Restored, coming out this December and Next January. This excerpt is from X2:

Chapter One

I hate demons. A legion of them held my mama captive in her own body a while back. For a long time after that I felt there was nothing I could do. But that particular morning – the morning I turned eighteen – seemed so full of new mercies and possibilities. I, Emme Vaughn had no reason to hide anymore.

It took me two lumbering buses and an expensive cab—complete with ogling driver—to get to Saint Dymphna’s Psychiatric Hospital. But I made it. I even dressed the part. Of a post-modern, urban-girl exorcist, that is. I wore all black: skinny jeans, a cute scarf-dress, and glorious stiletto Prada boots. An onyx rosary hung around my neck.

It was seventy-eight degrees outside. September sunshine warmed my shoulders like a kiss from God. All I had to do was strut into that hospital and kick some devil butt.

There was just one problem; my feet refused to cooperate. The imposing brown, brick building towered above me like Goliath over David, and I was terrified. In cases like this, I usually have one of three responses: I plow through with courage, I bolt away, or I blabber to buy myself time.

I chose courage. But I needed to get myself amped up first.

Got your word, Emme?

I looked down at my Bible wrapped in a pair of dark Levi’s and tucked in the corner of my duffel bag.


The jeans would protect the good book from getting knocked around. Not that my bag held much, just everything I owned: a few articles of clothing Francis bought me; a Russian icon from his Godmother, Mother Nicole; my GED paperwork; my Michigan State ID card; a pair of black Timberland boots.

I fingered one of the shiny rosary beads around my neck to calm my nervousness. “Rosary in place,” I muttered, then trailed my fingers to the Saint Benedict Jubilee Cross medal across my chest.

This made me think of Francis, who gave me the medal after a nasty incubus tried to violate me. If I’m ever looking for a reason to pray, the memory of that a lust-crazed demon does it every time.

I continued down my mental checklist, hoping to summon more courage.

Prayed up?


Kick butt diva boots for whooping devil head, while still looking fly?

My gaze fell to my feet and beheld the butter-soft Puh-rah-dah on my feet.


Francis gave me those as a birthday present. A group of demons projectile vomited all over the last pair he bought me.

I took a long, deep breath and made sure all the hell-busting gadgets I needed were accounted for. Now it was time to move, only fear paralyzed me.

Time to get your act together, sistah. You’re a grown woman now. What happened to your ‘tude? These boots aren’t made for walking!

The kicks brought Francis to mind yet again.

I should have asked him to come. It would have only taken us an hour to get here in his Camry. We could have listened to music on his iPhone. Chilled. Maybe I’d have let the brotha hold my hand.

I smiled to think of that.

I might have let him smooch me again, too.

That thought made me blush.

Warm feelings aside, my thoughts of Francis were a distraction and did nothing to propel me forward. There I was, standing alone in front of a psychiatric hospital with a million thoughts running through my head. You’d think I’d have sense enough to stop, but no.

I shuffled my feet and glanced at my boots again. The next step was getting harder and harder to take. I glanced around to see if anyone was watching me. An old man sitting on a bench in front of the hospital looked up from his sandwich and smiled at me.

I smiled a small, friendly smile back at him and knew I couldn’t stand there any longer. I was beginning to look like someone who needed to be admitted.

There was just one last thing to do before I walked in. I needed to pray.

According to my mama, the Lord’s Prayer takes care of everything. It’s worship, petition, confession, and even has an exorcism built into it.

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” I whispered. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.”

I took a step towards the hospital.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

I took another step.

“And forgive us—”
I couldn’t go on. What kind of daughter was I? I hadn’t shown my face in three years. The fear of getting caught was only part of the reason I hadn’t visited mama more often. I also didn’t want to see her looking like she did last time. Standing there, my heart beat wildly as the memories came flooding back. I remembered when the orderly opened the door and I saw an emaciated figure on the bed. Her skin was the color of caramel, just like Mama’s—a color I knew so well because I used to envy it. I’m dark-skinned. Kids can be brutal.

I was about tell the orderly he’d brought me into the wrong room when the sickly woman turned her head and looked at me. Her skin looked like it’d tear it was stretched so taut across the bones in her face. But it was the unmistakable mole beneath her left eyelid that led to my undoing. Mama had always called it her beauty mark.

A scream stuck in my throat.

My mama was always beautiful and had long, black curls that fell down her back. But this person – bound by restraints, smelling of urine, and smiling at me with broken teeth – looked like an old, discarded doll.

Mama’s glassy eyes fixed on mine, and something vile and haunting inside of her seemed to stare back at me. I knew she was in this condition because of me.

Now just feet from the hospital’s entrance, I was doing my best to take another step forward. I shook my head. Tears slipped down my cheek I hadn’t realize I’d shed.

I’m sorry, Lord. I’m ready for this. Not at all.

The old man from the bench walked past me, up the steps and through the automatic doors.

I don’t know if it was love or guilt urging me on, but I followed the old man in. I had to. Sometimes false bravado and a promise is all a sistah has.

How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)

My email is, and I love to hear from readers. Or you can find me at my blog, I'm on Facebook, too. Friend me!

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Rhonda McKnight said...

Ah, Claudia Mair, I haven't seen you in a while my sister. Eversince FB changed the settings I rarely see my writer friends.

I heard about the new book. God's speed with it.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!

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