When I met with Chicago Sun-Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani (left) earlier this week to chat about The God Factor, her collection of interviews with celebrities about spirituality, we started out by discussing some of the similarities in our backgrounds—born just three months apart, we grew up in New England and wound up at religious colleges in the midwest—and wound up bonding over our mutual admiration for Johnny Cash. In between, I asked how she’d started trying to get celebs to talk about faith. The project grew out of a series of Sun-Times columns she’d written about Illinois politicians (the Barack Obama interview is still one of the top two hits on her name in a Google search). She did a few more similar columns for the paper, but quickly realized she had the makings of a book, and took time off to put it together.
“I tried very hard, very consciously, not to bring a lot of baggage to the interviews,” she recalled of her celebrity encounters. “That said, when you drive up to the Playboy Mansion and Hef comes down in his silk pajamas, it’s hard to let go of your preconceived notions.” She was also totally caught off guard by her meeting with Anne Rice (and, she adds, “humbled by the experience”), and surprised in general by the candidness and vulnerability of everyone she met.
Tonight, at the Union Square Barnes & Noble, she’ll be sitting down with Moby for an all-new conversation; she’d tried to speak to him for the book, and it hadn’t worked out then, but it’s come together now and she couldn’t be happier. “I could’ve done the whole book with musicians,” she enthused, “but Sarah Crichton wouldn’t let me.” (Crichton’s her FSG editor; The God Factor is one of the first books in her eponymous line at the house.) Finally landing this interview is a small example of something Falsani says she’s seen happen a lot lately, as spiritual and emotional themes of her life increasingly come full circle. “All these things that seemed to be disparate and eclectic suddenly all made sense to me,” she said, joking that friends have told her that this sort of convergence is supposed to happen much later in life: “I’m being really careful now not to step in front of any oncoming cars.”