Dawn Eden Goldstein, the award-winning author whose pen name is Dawn Eden, is an assistant professor of dogmatic theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. Her books include Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories, The Thrill of the Chaste, and My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.
Born into a Jewish family in New York City, Goldstein lost her faith as a teenager and became an agnostic. During her 20s, she was a rock journalist who interviewed artists such as Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson. She went on to work in editorial positions for the New York Post and the Daily News.
At the age of 31, Goldstein underwent a dramatic conversion to Christianity that ultimately led her to enter the Catholic Church. Her books have been featured in the New York Times and L’Osservatore Romano and on EWTN.
Goldstein received her doctorate in sacred theology summa cum laude from the University of St. Mary of the Lake in 2016, becoming the first woman in the university’s history to earn a canonical doctorate. Her dissertation was on recent magisterial teaching on redemptive suffering. She has spoken about spiritual healing and conversion to thousands of people throughout North America and abroad.
CWR: You write about moral theology but with a lot of memoir and anecdote thrown in—is that a fair description?
Dawn Eden Goldstein: That description applies to my first book, The Thrill of the Chaste, in both the original edition and in the edition that I wrote after my conversion to Catholicism. But I wouldn’t apply it to My Peace I Give You or Remembering God’s Mercy. Those are works of spiritual theology.
Spiritual theology is certainly related to moral theology in that it concerns the relationship between our life on earth and the life we hope to lead in heaven. But whereas moral theology primarily concerns living in such a way that, by God’s grace, we will be fit to enter heaven, spiritual theology primarily concerns discovering how we can experience a foretaste of heaven in our earthly life.
I am particularly interested in the mysterious and seemingly paradoxical way in which our sufferings, when united with the sufferings of Christ, not only help perfect us for Heaven but also give us a sense of the divine love we will experience there.
CWR: Often you write about emotionally painful subject matter, some of which is taken from your own life—how difficult is this to do?
Goldstein: It is very hard and it takes time.
The best things that I have written, like the first and last chapters of My Peace I Give You and the last chapter of Remembering God’s Mercy, have been written amid tears. Real tears, where I have had to take my fingers off the computer keyboard and break into a Lucille Ball-style “WAAAAAHHH” for a few moments before typing further. But I know at those moments that I have done something right, because those tears do not arise from unresolved pain. They arise rather from the sudden realization that my past pain had a purpose, because it enabled me to show readers how God can use our sufferings to bring us greater intimacy with him.
CWR: In regard to each book, how long is it from conception through to publication?
Goldstein: Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, when speaking of writing a talk or sermon, said that there are two types of preparation, remote and proximate, with remote preparation taking a longer time. I have found that to be very true in my own writing. Each of my books has been the fruit of years of remote preparation, turning over ideas in my mind. But the actual writing of each book has been quick.
At the time I wrote the original edition of The Thrill of the Chaste, I had already written about 20 percent of the book’s content in the form of entries on my blog The Dawn Patrol. Composing the book itself took three months of working at night. I would return from my copyediting job at the New York Daily News, arriving in my Hoboken, New Jersey, apartment at about 10:30 pm, surf the Web for an hour, and then write until 4:30 am. Then I would wake up at 12:30 in the afternoon and be back in my cubicle at the Daily News at 2 pm.
I thought about the themes of My Peace I Give You for some years before writing it. Reading Pius XII’s encyclical Mystici Corporis in 2008 was an important catalyst for the ideas that I would develop in the book. But the actual writing of it took place mostly over six weeks that I spent holed up in a room I had rented at a convent in Quebec City during the summer of 2011. It made sense to get away from my home—which was then Washington, DC—in order to write, so that I would have fewer distractions. Plus I wanted to be in a prayerful place, especially when writing a book that involved a great deal of introspection.
I wrote the Catholic edition of The Thrill of the Chaste during two months in the spring of 2014 as I was completing my studies toward a canonical licentiate in sacred theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington. Because I was writing a book, writing term papers, and applying to a doctoral program, that time of my life was a blur.
What I do recall is that, as often as I could, I would walk to the Leavey Center at Georgetown University—the main student center—taking my laptop with me, and would work on The Thrill from a table by a window there, taking advantage of the free wi-fi. There is a passage in that book where I talk about praying at the Jesuit Cemetery at Georgetown. I felt very close to the Jesuit Holy Souls and relied on their prayers—or perhaps simply on the grace I received through praying for them—as I wrote.
By the time I was writing Remembering God’s Mercy, I was living in the conference center at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, and working on my doctoral dissertation, which was on recent magisterial teaching on redemptive suffering. Since the final chapter of my dissertation was on Pope Francis’ theology of suffering, which is also a key theme of Remembering God’s Mercy, it was easy to get into the mental space necessary to write the book.
In point of fact, I used the writing of Remembering God’s Mercy as a dress rehearsal for the final chapter of my dissertation. There is a saying among pop musicians that anything worth saying in a song can be said in three minutes. Well, I felt likewise that anything worth saying in a dissertation should be able to withstand being boiled down into popular language. So if I could express Francis’ theology of suffering in a mass-market book, then I would know that I understood it well enough to write about it on an academic level. Perhaps some professor reading this thinks I’m crazy, but something tells me G.K. Chesterton would understand. Anyway, it worked, and I wrote the book in two months of solid writing during the summer of 2015.
CWR: When and where do you write—is there a set routine?
Goldstein: My ideal is to write in a secluded place where I am not far from a tabernacle where the Eucharist is reserved. That was the case when I wrote My Peace I Give You and Remembering God’s Mercy. I set goals for myself concerning how many days I have to write each chapter.
CWR: Where and when do ideas for the next project come to you?
Goldstein: My ideas germinate below the surface before coming up. Usually I go for years without any ideas for a book and then wake up one day realizing that I have been subconsciously wanting for a long time to write a book on a particular topic.
CWR: Have you ever suffered writer’s block?
Goldstein: Not in the way that some writers claim to suffer it. I don’t depend upon writing for a living, so I only write when I already have a good idea of what I will say.
That said, every time I have set out to write a book, there has been a certain point during the writing when I have hit a wall. When that happens, I have a kind of breakdown where I become convinced that there is no way I can complete the book in time. But I keep writing and somehow, by God’s grace, the book gets done. Having the prayers of my friends and family helps a lot.
CWR: How much, if any, does other media—music, film, art—feed your creative process?
Goldstein: I like listening to music as I write. The Turtles were my soundtrack for Remembering God’s Mercy, as were the Spanish band I write about towards the end of the book, Los Negativos.
Music can be a great inspiration because it is so closely tied to memory. Hearing a favorite song or classical composition brings me to think about where I was, and who I was, when I heard it in the past.
CWR: Who are your favorite authors?
Goldstein: G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, the novel that sparked my conversion, remains my favorite work of fiction. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is my favorite writer on Catholic spirituality. I also enjoy Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and find good food for reflection in his works. Each chapter of My Peace I Give You begins with a quotation from Andersen. But, other than The Man Who Was Thursday, the novels I keep returning to are Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, which are beautifully written and philosophically fascinating.
CWR: What books would you recommend to writers?
Goldstein: I would have to say The Man Who Was Thursday again, because it’s such a spiritually rich book. It is challenging because, as Chesterton himself readily admitted, it has an unconventional narrative style. Chesterton actually called it a bad novel, but I wouldn’t call it that. It has an interior logic but it takes more than one reading to grasp what that logic is. Really, it’s about how we get to the point where we are able to recognize our own suffering in Christ and vice versa.
CWR: What do you understand as a writer’s vocation?
Goldstein: A writer’s vocation is to help readers live life more fully.
CWR: If writing has taught you anything, what is it?
Goldstein: My father has always spoken of the power of the written word, but it was only when I became an author that I understood what he meant. Books change lives. It is a great blessing to be given the opportunity to touch the lives of readers, and I don’t ever want to take that for granted.