After spending his youth doing cement construction work while getting his education, John Catenacci earned a Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He went on to work on the Apollo 11 Project as a member of the USAF in California, then as an engineer for the Dow Chemical Company in Midland, MI, doing both process research as well as designing and building chemical plants.
Mid-career he became interested in group dynamics, leading to another 20-year career in team building that took him across the U.S., Canada, Europe and Saudi Arabia.
With a sprinkling of published short stories and articles in small magazines along the way, his abiding passion has always been writing, something now coming to fruition in this, his first book.
Please tell us about your current release.
I will use the back cover copy as it works pretty well on its own.
John Catenacci is enthralled from the start by the beauty, radiance, and mystery of the much younger woman he meets at a party. Dianna “is in Technicolor and everyone else is in black and white.” Expecting to be the teacher, not the student, John is humbled by the gradual discovery that the opposite is true, in their marriage and in life. The author is profoundly awed by Dianna’s courage, determination, and lightness of being that remains entirely undiminished in the face of what becomes a seventeen-year battle with an aggressive form of breast cancer. John accompanies Dianna each step of the way, and is increasingly amazed by the undeniable healing affect she has on others. Theirs is a shared spiritual journey into the nature of love and transformation. Even after her passing, their relationship pierces the illusion veiling this reality.
Can you tell us about the journey that led you to write your book?
At some point in our life together, I began to notice Dianna was living her life in a genuinely powerful, almost mysterious (to me) way and suggested to her that I write her story. She was as delighted as any child running down the stairs on Christmas morning. But, as her health deteriorated, I became focused on care giving and put the writing aside. After she died, I was engulfed in grief and for a couple of years I just couldn’t climb out of it. One day, I happened upon a book by Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, which I credit with guiding me back into the game.
The book is in five parts. The first four recount our life together with the fifth devoted to my personal spiritual journey of coming to terms with her leaving, my long view of who she was and what I learned from her. The first four parts flowed like water once I began to write but I struggled mightily with the last part. Yet it is this last part that weaves together the whole of her life, her message, in a way very satisfying to me.
Well, originally the cover was going to be centered on the photo of Dianna that is now on the back cover. I love this photo of her – it is quintessential Dianna in an image.
However, my editor, Marly Cornell, convinced me this was going to be an ineffective cover and, after accidentally seeing the photo of Dianna and me from the rear taken by a dear friend/professional photographer, Giovanni Sanitate, she instantly said, “This is the one. Use this one.” Well, it has taken most of my life but I have finally learned to listen and follow advice when the advice comes from someone I respect. So, now, everyone gets to see my bald head instead of Dianna. More mystery, more intriguing, Marly said. Probably because anyone looking at it would wonder what this young woman is doing with this old man.
Anyway, unwilling to let it go completely, I pushed Dianna’s photo to the back cover because I wanted it to be seen and seen in color.
Everyone is unique. No one could have written this book but me and no one else has existed nor ever will exist who is like Dianna. So her story and how I have written it is like no other book anyone has ever read. Of course, this does not make it a good book but simply a unique one. I have read quite a few memoirs, many involving illness, care giving – and some of them were really good. What I think makes this book special is what made Dianna special, what made our relationship special – so much laughter, optimism, ways of constantly making lemonade when we needed it, and, finally, the deeply spiritual orientation to the book’s message – good or bad, there is nothing fluffy about where Dianna goes in her life nor in the way I have chosen to examine her life …. and the very meaning of life itself.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I like to write in sentence fragments and the entire book is a sort of a mosaic – there are chapters that are conventionally chronological because they had to be but other parts of the book are like bursts of light shining on an amazing woman so the reader can enjoy her in the way I – and all who knew her – enjoyed and were inspired by her. I am so happy with how the entire tapestry came together into a whole. I think Dianna is too.
Of course I could go into grammar and punctuation, which I thought I knew. And my love of ellipses and my aversion to the word “that” and my unconscious tendency to start sentences with “So.”
So, my early readers and editor ripped me to pieces on those “quirks.”
Open your book to a random page and tell us what’s happening.
In my reality, nothing in life is random — or accidental. When I was about to write this response, I happened to look out the window and saw three – three – hummingbirds dancing around a honeysuckle – have never seen this before – like Dianna saying “talk about the hummingbird chapter.”
While I was writing the book, it occurred to me to use a hummingbird as one metaphor for how Dianna lived her life – flitting from person to person, embracing their love wholeheartedly while impregnating each one with a simple grace, unflagging humor and ineffable love in return, all in one magical spontaneous exchange.
The look of triumph on her face, her excitement and joy, when the first hummingbird showed up in our yard was unforgettable. She had worked so hard for several years, planting for them, and finally there it was, this little Ruby Throated blur. In that moment I saw, once again, her determination, patience, faith, appreciation and gratitude all in one tiny vignette during one day of our lives.
Do you plan any subsequent books?
An already almost fully formed book is in my mind now. Better writers than I have said don’t talk about a book idea or the energy for writing it will bleed away, leaving it stillborn.
Tell us what you’re reading at the moment and what you think of it.
The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo and The Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware because I am old enough now where I should pay attention to these things — probably before tomorrow — and A Broken Sausage Grinder by Hank Thomas, a friend of mine and The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele, a relative and friend of mine. I often read several books at a time, switching back and forth depending on my mood. All are interesting in different ways and for different reasons.
There is so very much talent in the world, isn’t there?
Read an excerpt!
The End of Something“Honey, why don’t we make love anymore?”
We are in bed. Dianna is reading a book about healing cancer, while
I’m thumbing through a bird hunting magazine. Dianna lays her book
on the end table and rolls over toward me. I lay down the magazine, too.
She has my undivided attention now.
“I think we make love every day in some way,” I say.
“You know what I mean.”
I let out a big sigh. We have not had sex since the transplant. I have
been thinking about this for quite a while, and nothing ever comes up
making sense to me.
“Don’t you find me desirable anymore? Do you still love me?”
“Do you actually have to ask me that?” I’m looking her right in the
eye. “I love you more now than I ever have.”
“I don’t have a way to explain it. It’s not that I don’t find you attractive
or desirable. It’s just with everything that has happened to us, to you, I
just…I don’t know what to say.”
“It’s because I’ve lost my breasts, isn’t it. You never touch them
“Well, honey, we’ve discussed that already. You’ve admitted you
don’t have any feeling there anymore. Why would I touch them? I don’t
fondle doorknobs, either. But, anyway, your breasts have nothing to do
“The only way I can put it is, I love you very much, and more and
more with each passing year. But expressing my love for you in a sexual
way feels…I don’t know…just feels inappropriate somehow.”
“Like you will hurt me or something?”
“I guess so. No matter how much you love someone, if the person
you love is wounded and bleeding, you don’t try to have sex with them.
Feels… just doesn’t feel…right. You protect them. You care for them, not
have sex with them. Something like that.”
“I’m not a cripple, you know. I’m not a piece of glass. I won’t break.”
“I know that, honey.”
“I’m a woman with womanly needs. I still desire you sexually. I would
love to have sex with you like a normal human being.” She slides her arm
under my arm. “I feel rejected. That hurts.”
“I realize that. I feel terrible about it. Don’t you think I haven’t thought
about how much you’ve lost? You have lost your dream of having a child.
Now your menstrual cycles have ended, reminding you that all you are
going to get from now on is hot flashes instead of the child you so dearly
wanted. You’ve lost your breasts, a part of you, you were always so proud
of…, and you have lost your hair twelve times. You…”
I laugh. Then, so does she, a little.
“What I’m trying to say, maybe not very well, is I realize all these
losses assail your femininity, of what it means to be a woman, …and…
not having sex with your partner is just another thing piled on top of all
the rest. It’s the last thing you need to have happen in your life, right now.
I know I can’t feel what you feel exactly…, but I do understand these are
losses you deal with every day. That’s why it hurts me so much to be stuck
like this, this way.”
“Then, I don’t understand why you would want to deprive me of this,
My eyes are getting wet, and my heart is thick in my throat.
“Believe me, if I could do anything about it, I would. I just can’t. Men
can’t fake it, you know.”
“I don’t want you to fake it.”
I put my arms around her and pull her close to me. I can’t stop the
“And so I don’t. I’m not faking my love for you, either. I would do
anything I know how to do for you. I do what I can. I’m so sorry, honey.”
She starts to cry, softly, quietly, burying her head into my neck.
“So am I,” she whispers.
We fall into silence. There doesn’t seem to be anything else to say. I
keep my arms around her, and she keeps her arm over me.
We fall asleep that way.
The Beginning of Something ElseThe next morning, I get up, leaving Dianna still asleep, and go into the
kitchen to make coffee. My back is facing the hallway to the bedroom.
Suddenly I feel her arms around me as she lays her head sideways against
“I know what love is, John.”
“You do?” I ask without turning toward her.
“Look at me,” she says.
I turn around and look into her eyes. They look wet, but she’s
smiling. “Love is the way you are with me,” she pauses, then, in a more
perky tone of voice, “And the way I am with you, too.”
Now I can’t help it. I fall apart. She wraps her arms tight around me
and I bury my head into her neck.
“It’s going to be okay,” she says.
“It is okay,” she says, then adds, “More than okay.”
After a minute, she steps back and looks at me with a smirk on her
face. “Do you ever desire other women?”
I think about that minefield, but decide to go ahead anyway. “Of course.
Once in awhile, I do. Some women are sexually attractive and, …and don’t
look wounded to me, I guess. Must be about a billion of ’em out there.”
She smiles, gives me a little kiss on the cheek, then walks over to
the dining room window and looks out over the lake. Finally, she says
quietly, without looking at me, “Maybe one day, honey, you’ll see we are
I stop pouring water into the coffee pot in midstream, about to enlist
my skills in mental masturbation, when she darts away to a different
“Oh, honey, I think it’s going to be a beautiful day today. In fact, I’m
sure it is.” She comes across the room and peeks over the bar. “Oh. Are
you making coffee for me?”
“Everything is for you,” I say with a smile.
Release: December 14, 2012
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