What’s the difference between a monastery and an abbey—why do you refer to Hard Cider as both? Although the terms have become interchangeable in recent times, both define a private place where either men, or women (but not both together) live formally committed to a life of work and prayer. Generally a monastery is a single building, while an abbey is a collection of buildings and fields centered around the monastery proper. Hard Cider likely started out as just a tiny monastery building, back then in the late 1800s, but grew into a full scale abbey. The official name is Monastery of the Holy Face—the name itself explained in Christmas at Hard Cider Abbey. (Hint: St. Veronica and the day of Christ’s crucifixion).
Is there an actual Saint Philbert? No …There is a Phillibert, as the spell-check on my computer keeps reminding me. But he is not the founder of our fictional Philbertine Order.
What monastery is Hard Cider Abbey/Holy Face Monastery based on? It is a purely fictional construct, as is the Order of Philbertines. However…its inspiration lies partly with two real-life Trappist monasteries, Our Lady of Gethsemane in Kentucky and Abbey of the Genessee, in western New York State, both of which I’ve visited on a number of occasions. Anyone can visit these places provided you follow the rules, the main one being: No talking! I have also worked extensively with the Franciscans, who, while not as strict as the Trappists, do have their own monastic tradition. The Philbertines of Hard Cider Abbey loosely follow the Rule of St. Benedict, but of course, being human, they do so quite imperfectly, though most actively try to avoid, when they can, traditional occasions of sin.
Aren’t you being disrespectful, portraying our “holy fathers” is such a way? I have gotten this question/criticism on more than one occasion, which disrespects my own decades-long career as a Catholic journalist, writer and biographer, with the questioner somehow assuming they know more about clergy than I do. I strive, above all, to be honest. Like it or not, monks and priests are human, and not perfect by any means, and even a church-going novelist has a duty to be honest and portray them warts and all.
Besides, if my monks were all perfect and respectable, wouldn’t have much of a mystery novel, would I?
Do monks actually work at making alcoholic beverages? Isn’t that a sinful occupation? Our Church is not anti-drinking, not does it consider any specific form of alcohol as sinful; our major liturgy involves wine, for goodness sake. And surely you’ve heard of Chartreuse and Benedictine, liquors developed in monasteries. Cider-making is a perfectly legitimate occupation for an abbey to have. I’m surprised more monasteries don’t brew cider, which is a relatively easy thing to do as far as alcoholic beverages are concerned. There is actually a cider-making abbey in Canada. Many abbeys brew beer or ale. Just check out the draft and craft beers shelf at your local liquor store: You’ll find monk-made brews from Belgium, Germany, and other places. Who wouldn’t want a fine ale or cider brewed by chaste and pure-hearted and men?
Will Brother Emerick eventually become a priest? And what’s the difference between the Brothers and the Fathers anyway? Brother Emerick may eventually become a deacon, which will give him some liturgical responsibilities. But no, the priesthood is not in the cards for him, no matter how long my series continues. It’s just not part of his personal vocation. And that’s okay; brothers don’t have to become priests. So here is the distinction between brothers and fathers: Fathers (or priests) are ordained, after several years of study; brothers are not. In a monastery, brothers are essentially laborers, or what are called choir-monks, denoting their participation in the liturgies and services. Usually they do not take vows, although in our fictional order, they can take a vow of obedience to their abbot. They do not take formal vows of chastity or stability or poverty, although they are expected to live as if they did.
How did Brother Emerick and Sheriff Ardelle break up? Honestly, I’m not sure! This relationship has been evolving along with the series. But it seems to have gone the way most intense high-school romances go, burning hot for a few years then petering out when time and distance enters in. I can tell you Emerick and Ardelle had a pretty volatile and intense relationship as teenagers, forever fighting and breaking up then joyfully ‘making up’. Both are the great love of each other’s life, even if they don’t, or refuse, to realize it; the great tragedy of their relationship is that they just can’t get along with each other in everyday life. Seeing her, on her occasional trips up to the Abbey on official business, causes Emerick considerable pain and soul-searching, and in my next book, I introduce a rival for Ardelle’s attention, which ties poor ‘Biff’ up in so many knots, he almost can’t solve the mystery-- forcing Odo to do some heavy lifting. And speaking of Odo…
Will Brother Odo see his parents again? Maybe…but he needs time to process his interaction with them and decide whether he wants to become emotionally involved with them. They may turn up in a future book.
Will Brother Odo leave the monastery? Ah, not saying just yet! I have big plans for Brother Odo! Just wait and see… How long will you continue this series? As long as it takes. Until I run out of ideas, or time, hopefully neither for a very long while…I’m feeling like I had a true vocation, to write this series!