Kentucky representative pens novel on faith, healing after abuse

Rep. Jim Wayne
Rep. Jim Wayne

Kentucky state Rep. Jim Wayne has made a career of writing professionally as a veteran legislator and contributor to publications like The National Catholic Reporter and America, but Wayne’s latest work is a departure from explanations of social policy or bill proposals.

The Louisville Democrat published his first book this month, a novel called The Unfinished Man.

In Wayne’s fiction debut, Father Justin Zapp is a self-exiled priest in an Indiana parish who is forced to face his own psychological wounds from sexual abuse when he learns of a systematic cover-up of abuse within the church.

Wayne said he had been interested in writing for a long time but had only written pieces on social and political policy until he took a graduate course at the University of Louisville.

His professor encouraged him to continue and in 2008, Wayne enrolled at Spalding University in Louisville. Taking time between legislative sessions and elections, Wayne received a Master of Fine Arts in fiction in 2012.

“I find it very rewarding to delve into my own imagination and let the ideas run wild,” Wayne said.

Wayne has been a practicing therapist since 1978.

In a combination of following his convictions and the writers’ adage, “write what you know,” Wayne’s ideas formed into a critical narrative of power, corruption and healing.

In his practice as a psychotherapist for 38 years and as the author of a state law that reformed penalties for sexual abuse against minors in Kentucky, Wayne has experience in trying to understand what victims go through.

“For therapists, it’s important that they stay with the victim every step of the way as they deal with these demons and bring them out into the therapy room,” he said. “You work on your empathy and that empathy helps you see the world from the victim’s view. You see the fear and the guilt, thinking it is their fault.”

Wayne took a break from his therapy practice to recover from throat cancer diagnosed last year, but is now back to working in his office one day a week.

The novel also reflects another aspect of Wayne’s life that he holds very important: his faith.

“I think my whole life has been imbued with my faith,” Wayne said. “That’s the frame that I use to understand what life is about.”

Power will not be ceded voluntarily and if someone is using their power for evil, they have to be addressed

Jim Wayne, Louisville state representative

Wayne is Catholic and received a Masters in Arts in theology from Maryknoll School of Theology in New York.

He said that his book may be seen as critical of the way that church hierarchy handled issues of abuse but that he isn’t any more of a critic than Pope Francis was in his effort for reform.

“Power will not be ceded voluntarily, and if someone is using their power for evil, they have to be addressed,” Wayne said. “When you hide things and pretend it doesn’t exist, the problem gets worse.”

In the novel, Father Zapp has to address his own issues and start the long healing process so he might change the broken system he discovers is creating more victims. Zapp represents an aspect of healing that Wayne said is important for maintaining one’s mental health, as well as allowing an individual to speak up and help the community.

“Once you start facing your own demons, you realize that the world has its demons as well,” Wayne said.

The subjects Wayne addresses in his book are topics that are close to him, but he has the same hopes for his novel as any fiction author.

“I hope the reader finds it not only educational but satisfying to read,” Wayne said.

Wayne will be visiting Morris Book Shop in Lexington on Aug. 5, and Poor Richard’s Bookstore in Frankfort Sept. 23, to sign copies of the book published by Fleur-de-Lis Press.

For more information on signing events and how to order online, visit