Interview with SJ Cunningham, Author of All This Was Mission

23 Feb 2021

What can you tell us about your new release,  All This Was Mission?

All This was Mission is a story of self-reflection and self-forgiveness, and coming to terms with human existence.

It follows the journey of Madeline, who has made many mistakes—in her marriage and her life—and has paid dearly for them. She finds herself visiting a mysterious tropical resort called Ashrama with a group of strangers, all with their own problems.

Her trinity of hosts appears to have an ulterior motive for their guests’ visit, and Madeline must figure out what they intend for her. Ashrama holds many secrets, and in the end, as in the beginning, this place is not what it seems.

But neither is Madeline.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

I’ve always been an avid reader and I’ve always written, whether that was for personal satisfaction or as a part of my job. I have a degree in English Literature and creative writing, and I’ve been lucky to be able to pursue writing as a passion and to write as a part of my profession.

Writing All This Was Mission was a little bit different, in that it was very personal for me. As I hit middle age, I started to think back a lot about my life and things that maybe I could have done differently, and I realized that a lot of other people probably feel the same way.

At the same time, there is a danger in living in the past, just as there is a danger in looking for the next best thing in the future– because life is right here, in the present moment.

Writing All This Was Mission helped to remind me of the importance of living life right now in the present moment, and I hope that reading All This Was Mission will help my readers or audience to remember that, too.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

This is a tough one!

Literary Fiction: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte—I love the dark moodiness and the poetic narrative.

Poetry/Philosophy: The Duino Elegies—Ranier Maria Rilke—Hands down the best work of literature that describes the human experience, in my opinion.

Romance: Coast Road by Barbara Delinsky—I still get chills when I read this book. It’s such a raw and honest look at failed marriage, family mistakes, regrets and hope.

Historical Fiction: The Secret Magdalene by Ki Longfellow—A controversial work that gives a feminist take on the Gospel. It offers a completely different perspective on a story that one typically accepts as Truth.

Young Adult: The Princess Bride by William Goldman—In addition to being a really great love story and action and adventure novel with amazing characterization and an extremely tight plot, I admire the use of the frame technique that Goldman uses. Masterful.

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?

William Buter Yeats. I’m fascinated with his mysticism and interest in the occult. My question to him would be: How did your particular spiritual beliefs contribute to your writing and your creative process?

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

I consider myself an organized person. Generally, in my professional life, I am a planner, but when I write, no matter how adamant I am that I am going to stick to an outline, my characters seem to do things that surprise me. So I’ve stopped planning so much in my writing process. While that is sometimes hard for me, because I like control, I love the ways in which the characters take me by surprise. In those situations, it almost feels like the writing is coming through me rather than from me.

What is a typical day like for you?

I’ve been lucky in the past few months to have the opportunity to work for myself. I typically eat breakfast, then either write or work on a project for my Communications consulting business, Four Score Strategies. Around noon, I exercise for an hour, then run any errands or take care of administrative details. After dinner, I try to either write more or I read, but sometimes I binge watch The Office or something on Netflix.

What scene from All This Was Mission was your favorite to write?

Chapter 16, which is the final chapter (before the epilogue). It felt like a total release to write that part of the story, because it was the resolution to all that Madeline has gone through in her journey. She still has work to do, but her path has become clear to her. When I was writing that chapter, the words just seemed to flow from me.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Yes, and the title of this novel comes from this passage by Ranier Maria Rilke in the Duino Elegies, the first Elegy.

Yes, the springtime needed you. Often a star was waiting for you to notice it. A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past, or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing.

All this was mission. But could you accomplish it? Weren’t you always distracted by expectation, as if every event announced a beloved?

To me, this passage is about our ability to live in the present moment and be okay with life as it comes to you. As humans, we have a hard time doing that. We’re always looking for the next best thing, when just to be here, just to exist is a gift.

SJ Cunningham is the author of the new book All This Was Mission

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