Katy Carl: First novel ‘As Earth Without Water’ reflects a nuanced understanding of the mysteries of faith
The path from editorial and magazine work to literary fiction has been slow but steady for birthplace Catholic Katy Carl.
Carl’s highly anticipated debut novel, “As Earth Without Water,” was published in the fall of 2021 by Wiseblood Books, a Wisconsin-based publisher specializing in Catholic arts and literature.
Although the novel was slow in coming, it represents the culmination of the author’s extensive writing and lifelong experience with the Catholic faith.
Carl was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, and later studied creative writing at St. Louis University. After graduating, she moved to the Washington metro area for publishing and writing work. Today, she resides in Houston with her husband and four children.
The new author is halfway through an MFA program at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.
When she’s not plotting future stories or caring for her family, Carl serves as editor of “Dappled Things,” a Catholic-themed quarterly journal highlighting the work of neophyte writers.
“It’s been a real gift to be able to work with the paper and develop some relationships,” Carl told Catholic News Service. “Part of the reason (the magazine) exists is to get young or emerging writers to stay in touch and learn about each other’s work.”
In a further effort to establish his Catholic good faith, Carl published the devotional work, “Praying the Great O Antiphons” in November 2021. Published by the Catholic Truth Society, the book focuses on devotional readings for the season of Advent.
“When CTS asked me for some thoughts on the O Antiphons – ancient monastic texts that I find so beautiful – the project struck me as something I should say yes to. … I hope that once they will have opened the text, readers will be able to find food for their own soul in the original words of the prayers.
But it was the release of “As Earth Without Water” that drew Carl’s attention to purveyors of Catholic arts and letters.
Carl began working on the novel in 2004, but put it aside to start a family and continue his work as a freelance editor and writer.
Carl’s involvement in Wiseblood Books’ Writers-in-Residence Program, a year-long residency fostering the development of emerging Catholic writers and poets, was a key factor in bringing the work to fruition. Carl served as Wiseblood’s first Writer-in-Residence of 2020. The residency provided a healthy mix of inspiration, feedback, and encouragement for the author to refine his manuscript.
With its action taking place over 10 years, the story follows the relationship between two former artists and lovers, Dylan Fielding and Angele Solomon, who reconnect after a long separation.
In a surprising turn of events, successful artist Dylan resurfaces as Brother Thomas Augustine in an upstate New York monastery. Weeks away from his ordination, Dylan asks his ex-lover and former colleague to join him for a brief date on the monastery grounds.
Though in disbelief that ambitious horseman Dylan has chosen an austere new life, Angele agrees to meet only to find out his horrible secret.
Dylan confesses to being sexually abused by a priest outside the monastic community, leaving him devastated and uncertain about his future. But as Angele and Dylan come to terms with the situation, they begin to reflect on their relationship and come to a vague understanding of issues such as betrayal, forgiveness, and the quest for redemption.
Literally, “As Earth Without Water” is the story of a conversion for the two protagonists. As Carl describes her character Angele, “She was raised in a post-Christian atmosphere; it represents a post-secular worldview shared by many, in which you would like to believe in something but the content of the belief is not very well defined, and often there is some anger and resistance around authority who tells you what to do.
Carl was enthusiastic about the Catholic influence in the development of his new book. “There are all these conversations going around about the revival of the Catholic novel, and I’ve been thinking about what these issues mean for writers in the 21st century,” she said.
“As I am immersed in certain Catholic circles and have been throughout my life, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for me to dismiss these questions and not bring them to light. So I decided to go ahead and embrace it.
Undoubtedly, some of the plot of Carl’s book was influenced by the priest abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in the 1990s and beyond. Without shedding light on the scandal, Carl in his author’s note offers some of his hopes for the goals of the book.
“My heart breaks for those who experienced betrayal from those who should have been trusted,” Carl wrote. “My hope for this novel is that it can lighten the burdens rather than impose them; to facilitate the communication of truth (and) to heal rather than harm.
Looking ahead, Carl has a short story book in progress, followed by a full second novel. Whatever the finished products, Carl’s deep faith will undoubtedly find expression.
“The artist is the material from which the work is made. All you have to work with in the final analysis is what you are and what you have experienced, directly or through imagination; in that sense, I had to work with what I had.
By Mike Mastromatteo, Catholic News Service
Mike Mastromatteo is a writer and editor from Toronto.